Oh Canada! Our home and native land filled with kickass ladies, bombs, and of course, excellent television. If you haven’t watched Bomb Girls yet, let me tell you, you are missing out. It’s just what a period drama should be—relevant, timely, and still tons of fun to watch. But why tell you that you should be watching it instead of telling you why? Let’s dive in.
The first characters we meet are a group of people singing Biblical hymns—well, all except one member, who’s busier checking out the legs of a woman nearby fooling around with some soldiers. It’s what Jesus would do! I mean, not being a Christian, I can’t say for sure, but I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t mind her checking out a nice pair of legs. Oh yes, this is a her—we won’t find out her name yet, but what we know so far is that she belongs to this family of singers, whose job appears to be standing around on street corners while the paterfamilias screams at people about repenting for their sins. Shit, I’d spend my time checking people out too. Unfortunately for her, her dad notices, and starts screaming in her face about conquering demons and sin and blahhhhhhh. I mean God. Because as we all know, God favoured screaming at people. “Blessed are the assholes,” am I right?
Elsewhere, another young woman, Gladys, is somewhat more successful in getting a little something-something with a man we soon discover is her fiancé (James). Gladys is more than ready to go all the way now that they’re engaged and can cover up evidence of improper shenanigans with a shotgun marriage, but James removes her hand from his trousers and says he’d rather wait. Gladys pouts. Aww, denied!
Well, at least Gladys has one thing going for her: she and her family are filthy stinking rich, and apparently using that wealth to throw her and James a huge engagement party. And the wine, it does flow. Also, relevant to the plot, Papa Gladys (Mr. Witham) is discussing with his friends and business partners how the factories are now being staffed by women—Gladys included—since the men are all overseas. Gladys, baby feminist that she is, is delighted, but her father shuts her down: “You girls are just filling in until the boys get home.” And then he compares her to plastic and shuts his office door in her face. I guess we can figure out where Gladys didn’t get her charm from.
Back at the house (or rather, trailer) of the Von Trapp Family Bible-Thumpers, mystery girl’s mother is engineering a breakout for her daughter. Daughter’s name is apparently Marion, but she’ll be going by “Kate” now, since her mom got some false identification papers made up for her, plus a job under her new name at Victory Munitions Bomb Factory. If I’m ever on the run, I want Kate’s mom on my side. Unfortunately for both of them, Kate’s younger brother creeps up, figures out what’s going on, and yells for their dad. Papa Preacher shows up and tries to grab Kate, hissing in her face about how she “shall not stray.” Except yes, yes she will, and she’ll shove her dad down in the process, ignoring her brother’s yells of “You’re gonna burn, sister! You’re gonna burn!” It’s like the PG-13 version of Seventh Heaven.
Now a member of the Victory Munitions team, Kate has a room at their boarding house. And ooh, what’s this? A blonde with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and Katherine Hepburn swagger shows up to help Kate with the lock on her door. Although I suspect she’s more interested in Kate unlocking her door, if you know what I mean. (I mean sex.)
Morning dawns at the factory the next day, and what do you know! Kate and the blonde from last night (Betty) are on the same shift! Kate shyly suggests that they ride the streetcar together from now on, and I will refrain from a “riding her streetcar” joke because I’m sure you’re all still recovering from the door. Also in attendance are Edith, who’s working to support her kids while her husband is overseas, and Vera, who’s working because…. Why not? There are worse things for a young single girl to do in wartime Canada. Besides, the factory is full of hot guys, and the stuff they use in the bombs dyes her hair yellow for free. Win-win! Gladys shows up via chauffeur, which makes Betty roll her eyes: “One broken nail, she’s out of here.”
Roll call! Lorna, the factory matron, lines the women up and confiscates anything that might be hazardous, including Gladys’s wedding ring. Gladys gets led upstairs—she’s not working on the floor, she’s going to be a secretary—while Kate and the rest of the new recruits get their first lesson, via Betty: “The guys are crapping bullets, afraid they won’t get their easy-street jobs back after they’ve fought their little war. You ignore them first, talk tough second, and if that doesn’t work, you slap ’em silly.” I think I’m in love.
Up in the office, Gladys is already bored to tears with her secretarial job, but Lorna has bigger problems: most of England’s factories have been bombed by the Germans, leaving Canada to carry the load—and they’re falling behind, with the factory girls taking the blame. Lorna suggests that productivity might be better if they had “the right kind of people” working there, a thinly veiled jab at Marco, the Italian materials controller. Unkind, yeah, but unfortunately very typical of the times—especially since Marco is apparently working at Victory Munitions because his own father is in an internment camp. The manager won’t hear of it, and tells Lorna not to worry her pretty little head and get her “big mouth” out of his office. Such a lovely working environment they’ve got going on here.
Down on the floor, Kate gets flustered when one of the male workers tries to flirt with her, and drops a bomb. Fortunately it’s not completed, but it does send off a few sparks and a very loud bang. Betty comes storming over, ready to send Kate packing, but Kate’s Bambi eyes convince her to give the other woman a second chance. She holds Kate’s hand through the bomb-making process—literally—and by the end, Kate is smiling. She can do this after all.
Lunch break occurs not long after, and Betty isn’t in attendance, but Gladys, Kate, Vera, and Edith are. Gladys’s friend Carol skedaddles when the other girls show up, apparently afraid that their floor-girl germs will get on her, but Gladys stays to make conversation. She and Kate end up getting invited to a dance at the Sandy Shores pavilion later that night, as well as learning that Vera and Edith have accepted marriage proposals from about twenty soldiers between them. Are they going to marry all those guys? No, but feeling like they have a girl back home makes the boys feel better about going into battle. That should be an interesting conversation when everyone gets home.
Except not everyone is getting home. Back on the floor, some soldiers show up to deliver the bad news—Edith’s husband was shot down over Germany. Lorna goes to give her the news, and Edith collapses on the floor, sobbing as Lorna helps her away. Everyone is silent and numb, until Kate starts singing softly—“It’s a lovely day tomorrow.” Not the song I would have picked, but if it works for you…
From the office, Gladys looks on, horrified, but the young soldier who brought the news is more interested in asking her to go out with him. Hey, she hasn’t got an engagement ring! And golly gee, he’s going to be at the Sandy Shores that night too. It’s a small world after all!
In the showers after work, Kate is anxious about washing in front of the other girls, and we soon see why—her back is completely covered with scars that look like they came from a whip. Some of them are older, but some are still livid and red. I guess now we know why Kate’s mom was so desperate to get her away from there. Betty notices, but doesn’t comment—instead she compliments Kate on her singing voice, and Kate allows herself a tiny smile. Aww. Meanwhile, Lorna spies a bit of light shining through a peephole-sized hole in the wall. Right where the men’s change room is. She storms off to tell someone to stay the hell away from her girls.
Over in the changeroom, the men are mourning their sad, girlfriend-less lot in lift when Lorna storms in calling Marco a pervert. “You’re the one busting in here!” he points out, still in his underwear. I have to admit, that gave me a good laugh. The other men (who were the ones actually peeping, but I doubt that would matter to Lorna anyway) quickly file out while Lorna lays it out for Marco: she doesn’t want him at her factory, she thinks he’s a spy, and if she says two words about the peephole to the manager, he’ll be out on his ass. He grabs her and snaps that he left Italy when he was a baby, he needs the job to feed his family, and who the hell is she to tell him he isn’t loyal? And by the by, if she says anything, she’ll regret it. Lorna runs out.
Home for the night, Gladys is having trouble shaking the feeling that she’s not doing enough—especially in light of what happened to Edith’s husband. Her fiancé just pats her on the head and trots off to go schmooze at the club with her father, leaving Gladys alone for the night. And hey, isn’t there a dance she could be going to?
Also at home and dealing with uncooperative men is Lorna—she complains about Marco to her husband, but he’s unconcerned. “Just proves he’s a red-blooded man.” Lorna is all fired up about winning the war, but her husband—in a wheelchair after being injured the first time around—is more sedate about it. As far as he’s concerned, both sides are culpable, and Edith’s husband is “lucky” to have died instead of coming home as “half a man.” Guess we know how much he values his home life with Lorna, and I suspect Lorna knows it too. The argument is broken up when Lorna’s daughter Sheila finds Gladys’s engagement ring in the laundry, and Lorna dashes out to return it.
Gladys, meanwhile, has forgotten the ring entirely—it’s party time at the Sandy Shores! Kate is there as well, along with Betty and Vera, and looks like she’s never seen a place like this before, which…she probably hasn’t. Gladys tries to make nice with the other girls, but Betty snarks about her brand new silk stockings, so she heads off to dance with the soldier who chatted her up at the factory earlier. Vera tries to pick up a dance with Marco, but some soldiers decide that no stinking Italian is gonna dance with one of THEIR girls (who…didn’t want to dance with them anyway…) and it all ends up in a brawl, with Kate and Betty still standing awkwardly at their table. Isn’t that always the way? You go out for a dance with your girlfriends and they end up inadvertently getting involved in a fistfight. Just like junior prom.
Back at Casa Witham, Lorna arrives to return Gladys’s ring. Mrs. Witham is surprised to see her—isn’t there a late meeting at the factory? That’s where Gladys said she was going…
Nope, she’s still shaking it with the soldier on the dance floor. Betty and Kate are still chilling awkwardly in the corner. “You dance much?” Betty asks. Of course, Kate dances all the time!…alone. [Insert Billy Idol joke here.] But as the music turns slower, Kate notices a pair of women dancing by, and you can practically see the lightbulb over her head. “You wanna try a twirl?” she asks Betty. Betty’s surprised, but Kate doesn’t wait—she takes the other girl’s hand and pulls her out onto the dance floor, snuggling happily into her shoulder. Again: aww. Kate’s being exposed to all kinds of new freedoms, it seems.
Gladys is fixing up her stockings in the girls’ room when Kate and Betty come in, still giggling over the dance. Kate is happy to see her (and to feel her leg—I mean, her stocking. Ahem.) but Betty thinks Gladys is nothing but a poor-little-rich-girl poser, and tells her as much. In response, Gladys yanks off her stockings and gives them to Kate before storming out. I have never actually tried throwing my lingerie at someone to end an argument, but hey, it seems to work.
Gladys heads back out to join her soldier (Lewis) for some “fresh air,” which quickly becomes “tonsil hockey.” Gladys hesitates for a moment, but then she remembers what Edith and Vera told her—and after all, it’s not cheating if you’re doing it for your country, right?—and dives in.
Lorna, at home, is getting ready for bed. Alone. That is to say, her husband’s there with her—she helps him into bed—but when she reaches over to touch him, saying he’s not “entirely crippled” (hint hint) he rolls over and refuses to look at her. Hmm. Maybe she should be taking a leaf from Gladys’s book.
Speaking of Gladys, she’s arriving home—several hours late, sans stockings, and with no explanation for where she’s been. Her father shows up to berate her for being a “goddamn liar” (daddy dearest’s words, not mine) but Gladys is ready to fire back—she’s meant nothing to him since her brother died, and the only reason he’s taking an interest in her now is because he wants a son-in-law to helm the company when he’s gone. Her father slaps her and huffs off, leaving her alone and teary and very small in the very large front hallway.
Gladys walks alone to work the next morning, and misses the queue of other girls going into work. This means that when Lewis shows up, he’s got a private moment…to go down on one knee and pull out a ring. Oh dear. Gladys dithers for a moment, but then accepts—after all, she leaves her “real” engagement ring in the drawer at home when she goes to work. What’s one more? Lewis pecks her on the cheek and bounces off like a happy puppy. He is so dead.
Back in the factory—and I have to pause for a moment to warn you that it gets gruesome here, so if blood/injuries upset you, you might want to skip to the next paragraph. Vera, on the line, is laughing with Marco when one of the hooks used to lift the bombs catches on her hair and pulls her up. The other women on the floor scream and try to reach her, but she’s already been hoisted beyond their reach. There was a moment I wondered what the dark stuff on her forehead was before I realized it was blood—the hook is literally pulling the skin away from her flesh. There’s a ripping noise, and Vera falls to the factory floor, with her hair and most of her scalp still dangling from the hook. All together now: DDDDDDDDDD:
At the hospital after the accident, Lorna’s daughter—who is a nurse—assures her mother that Vera will live, but she’ll be scarred for the rest of her life. Lorna grabs a doctor and asks if he can’t do something more—maybe this new “plastic surgery” could help? He tells her curtly that they’ve saving their medical resources for the soldiers, but Lorna isn’t having that: “Vera is a soldier. Vera risks her life every day to help win this war—do not turn your back on her. If you want to see our boys with bullets in their guns and bombs in their planes, you will show her the same respect.” FOUR FOR YOU LORNA! YOU GO LORNA!
Back at the boardinghouse, Kate and Betty are still shaken up over what happened to Vera. Kate’s concerned about whether or not Vera will be scarred, but Vera’s scars aren’t what Betty’s concerned with; she wants to know what happened to Kate. Kate isn’t ready to explain, but that doesn’t matter to Betty. “Whatever you’re running from? You’re safe here now. I’ll make sure.” Once more for the road: AWWW.
Spurred on by Vera’s injury, Gladys is more convinced than ever that she has to do more at the factory—specifically, taking the other woman’s place. Her fiancé objects, but she extracts a promise from him that he won’t tell her father. I wonder how long that promise will last when he finds out their marriage just swelled by one.
At the factory the next morning, Gladys is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on the assembly line. She picks up a bomb to put on the hook, kisses it (umm, I hope it wasn’t covered with chemicals) and whispers “go get em” before lifting it up onto the hook. As music swells on the soundtrack—Canadian artist Jill Barber singing about “a hundred years from today”—the bomb with Gladys’s lipstick still on it floats above the factory girls, on its way to Europe and the future.