Bomb Girls – 1.06 – Elements of Surprise

Warning: This recap contains discussions of religiously motivated child abuse and homophobia.

Previously on Bomb Girls: ALL INFIDELITY, ALL THE TIME, rampant drinking, Kate wished on the moon for Betty, and Gladys is kinda sorta lying to her parents about her job. Also I think there’s a war going on, but don’t quote me on that.

As morning dawns at the Withams’, Gladys’s parents are settling down to a nice leisurely breakfast, but Gladys has to dash—she’s late for work, so she just grabs a piece of toast before rushing out to hop in the car with James. Her mother grumbles that she hoped Gladys would chill out upon getting a job, but instead she’s rushing about like “a panicked gazelle.” What, you thought introducing her to the workforce would make her less likely to be in a rush? Man, I have I got news for YOU. Her father suggests that maybe showing some support would make her lose interest, and thinks that maybe they could organize a little take-your-obnoxious-parents-to-work-day. Wow, that won’t backfire horribly at all.

The bombs are booming as Gladys and James drive up to the factory, and they can’t quite resist playing some tonsil hockey before she heads in for her shift. Betty, walking by, is less than impressed, but Gladys knows by now to ignore her jibe of “hang on to your tonsils, princess” so she just giggles and hops out of the car. Man, everyone’s in a great mood this morning. I can’t wait to see how they all get screwed over by the end of the episode.

At the hospital, Marco and Vera are bonding over a cup of coffee as Vera gently teases him about not getting to meet his new girlfriend. Ha haaaaaaaaa. Marco quickly changes the subject, asking if she’ll need help removing her stuff from the hospital when she gets discharged tomorrow. Nope, she says—she’s not going back to her apartment, but back home. “I’ve got a face only a mother could love.” Marco points out what all of us are thinking—that she hated living at home—but Vera just shrugs it off. Sigh.

At the factory, Lorna’s looking rather green around the gills as she checks up on everyone’s progress. Edith notices and asks after her, but no sooner does Lorna wave the concern off with “just a little indigestion” than she’s lurching over to puke in an empty bomb casing. Edith runs to grab a glass of water while Lorna tries to shrug her off—”just had some bad milk at breakfast”—but Edith’s not falling for that, pointing out that Lorna’s also lost weight recently. “I always do,” she says, “at the beginning.” She tries to backtrack immediately, but Edith—who’s also been through this particular wringer several times—isn’t fooled. Lorna begs her to not say anything to Bob, which Edith readily agrees to, but not before congratulating them for still throwing on the Barry White after being married for twenty-plus years. Ah. Um. Well…

The face of someone contemplating how fucked she is.

Up in the office, Gladys’s friend Carol is pouring tea when the manager’s “surprise guest” walks in… And yep, it’s Mr. Witham. Or “Rollie” Witham, apparently. What kind of horrible parent names their kid Rollie? No wonder he’s such a jackass. Carol squeaks for Mr. Aikens, and while he and “Rollie” (seriously, what?) are occupied making nice with each other, she dashes downstairs to warn Gladys that the enemy has arrived. And his name is Rollie.

Downstairs, Carol darts through the crowd (“Excusemescusemescusemescuseme!”) until she reaches Gladys, but it’s no use—no sooner has she gasped out that Mr. Witham is there than Mr. Aikens has informed him that his daughter is down on the factory floor. Mr. Witham takes this about as well as you might expect, and comes storming down the stairs ready to pull her off the production line by her hair. He said she could help the war effort, but not this much! Getting your hands dirty on the factory line is for ickygrosspoor people! Gladys digs her heels in and refuses to go—”You’re the one who doesn’t belong here”—which goes over not at all, and Mr. Witham slams his hand into some of the half-finished bombs. Jesus, dude! Not that I wouldn’t find it deeply hilarious if that thing went off in your face, but there are other people in the factory! Marco, who’s been quietly arguing with Mr. Aikens, thinks the same thing and comes over to escort Mr. Witham from the building. And by “escort” I mean “drag” when he tries to smack Marco’s hand away. Rollie’s commitment to yanking Gladys out doesn’t extend to being escorted away by those dirty floor workers, so he shoves his hat back on and storms out, but not before telling “Gladdy” to say her good-byes, because she’s never going back to the factory. What are you going to do, chain her up in her room?

Out in the parking lot, Rollie is ranting to his wife about how Gladys is RUINING EVERYTHING OMG and also what if something terrible happened to her while working on the floor! What, like some idiot storming in and blowing the factory sky-high in the midst of a tantrum? Yes, that would be awful. He also thinks James will drop out of the wedding if he finds out about this, which: lol. Mrs. Witham, with a creepy smile, promises to rein Gladys in. I shudder.

I don't know what her plans are, but I'm pretty sure they involve cutting someone.

At the park, Bob is flying kites with Edith’s son Skip, and he congratulates him on getting the kite so high up. Skip has other things on his mind—like how his dad flies “even higher.” “Mom cries at night. Is it because he flew too high?” Bob is not even remotely qualified for this conversation, and tries to dodge it, but Skip’s a smart kid and knows that his dad isn’t coming back. What he wants to know is why it happened—”Did God want my daddy to die?” Ouch. Bob, who still hasn’t reconciled his own war wounds, can’t really answer that, so he just tells Skip that God’s sitting this one out. You know Bob, I think you might’ve been better off sticking with “ask your mother.”

It’s Vera’s discharge day at the hospital, and several of her co-workers have shown up to say hi—namely Lorna, Betty, and Marco. March chats with Sheila in the hallway about her career—she’s a nursing assistant, but still nourishing dreams of going to proper nursing school. Just then, Lorna walks in, and is none too happy to see the conversation—especially when Sheila lets it slip that one of the girls at the factory had a positive pregnancy test run through the lab. And just when you think this conversation couldn’t get any more awkward, Sheila takes off, and Lorna tears a new one off Marco for “flirting” with her daughter. Aww, don’t worry Lorna. We all know Sheila’s mom has got it going on.

And she is, in fact, all Marco wants.

In Vera’s hospital room, Betty is already there when Lorna walks in. They’re both there to try and convince Vera to stay—everybody at the factory misses her, and it’s not like she has any injuries that will keep her from working on the line. Vera still refuses to listen, so Lorna reads her the riot act—her husband went into the hospital and never really came out, and she does not want to see the same thing happening to Vera. Vera says she’s not Bob. “That’s right,” Lorna says. “You’re stronger.” I’m torn between “aww” and “well at least Bob didn’t hear that.”

James opens his apartment door and barely gets a word out before Gladys storms in declaring that she is NEVER SPEAKING TO HER FATHER AGAIN. Um, how does she plan on that while she lives at home? Well she’ll stay at James’s place! James points out, not wrongly, that they kind of still aren’t married, so Gladys comes up with a solution—let’s elope RIGHT NOW! James promises that they can go to the clerk’s office as soon as he gets back from Buffalo. Well maybe she can talk Betty and Kate into being her bridesmaids or something.

Speaking of Kate, she’s over at the boardinghouse taking a bath while everyone else is out at the movies. In a callback to episode two, she takes a deep breath and slides under the water, only resurfacing when she hears footsteps out in the hall. “Hello?” she calls. No answer. Eek.

At the Corbett Home For Awkward Conversations, Sheila is squeeing to Lorna and Bob about Marco. He’s the “dishiest!” Oh, but that’s not all—once Bob’s out of the room, she pulls the positive pregnancy test out of her purse and hands it to Lorna, telling her to pass it on to whichever factory girl sent it in. Uh-huh. That test is never leaving your house, Sheila. As Lorna warns her daughter to take this as a lesson—”there are some mistakes we can’t even fix”—there’s a knock at the door. And who’s there to see them, but—

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!

At the boardinghouse, Kate gets out of the bath and shrugs on a robe, but not before we see the faded scars on her back. They’re looking better since the pilot, but that might just be because she hasn’t got any new ones. As she tiptoes past the NO GUESTS ALLOWED sign and into her room, the tension builds until someone steps forward from the shadows and—JESUS CHRIST!

Well not literally, but you know what I mean.

“You’ve strayed off the straight and narrow, daughter of mine” he smirks. Kate rightly panicks and makes a run for the door, but he throws an arm across it and pushes her back into the room. He tells her that her mother’s sick—she has a lung infection, apparently—and needs money for medicine. Kate, cowering in the corner, promises to send some, but he’s not having that. He tracked her down, you see, through the pinup photos she took (which makes me wonder what Mr. Jesus-loves-me-this-I-know-and-also-you’re-going-to-hell was doing looking at pinups in the first place) and he throws them in her face, castigating her for the “filth” and everything that stemmed from it—her life, her friends, and generally not keeping herself locked in a basement and flagellating herself for questioning his will 24/7. Just when this conversation couldn’t possily get any creepier, a saviour appears—Betty’s back from the movies! Oh thank GOD. Recognizing that he can’t cow Kate as easily with someone acting as a buffer, he smirks and slinks out of the room. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of him.

Back at the Corbetts’ Lorna is having a bit more trouble getting rid of her uninvited guest, since she’s made herself at home sipping tea in front of the fireplace. As soon as Sheila and Bob are out of earshot, Mrs. Witham lays down her deal—she wants Gladys fired from the factory, and she wants Lorna to do it. Lorna, to her credit, refuses, but when Mrs. Witham offers to pay Sheila’s way through medical school, she balks. Weighing Gladys’s cushy home life against her own soon-to-be-fired self, it’s hard not to sympathize.

The next morning, as Bob listens to the radio—Japan is negotiating with the States—Edith comes storming in with a bone to pick with him. She spent most of last night consoling her daughter after Skip told her Daddy wasn’t coming home, and where exactly did he get that information? Bob doesn’t bother trying to deny it, just tells her that he told Skip nothing he hasn’t realized on his own, and that Edith really needs to stop repressing her grief over this whole thing. He’s right, but it’s not his place to say it, and she tells him as much before turning on her heel and storming out. Nicely done, Bob.

Gladys meets up with Betty and Kate at the factory, and tells them all about the fallout from her dad’s visit, and about her new wedding plans. But before they can gasp too much about that, something bigger comes along—Vera, striding through the gates, purse in hand. She took Lorna’s words to heart apparently. After re-introducing herself to Gladys (“You liked my hair once”) Lorna shoos them all in, greeting Vera with a smile and a reprimand to leave her barrette in her locker. Not that much has changed after all.

On the production line, Gladys is still going over her new engagement with Kate and Betty. Kate, presumably still thinking about her own father’s interruption the previous night, thinks that estrangement is a steep price to pay for independence, but Gladys just shrugs that if they want to be a part of her life, they have to do it on her terms. Um, as much as I respect that viewpoint, it’s a lot easier for Gladys to say so when she has a wealthy fiance backing her dreams, and doesn’t have to take pinup photos to pay the bills. Kate, however, says nothing, and when Lorna walks by, Gladys runs after her to ask if she can have a day off for the wedding. Lorna, seeing nothing but trouble springing from this, gently but firms tells Gladys that she’s far too young to make a decision like this, and at any rate, they can’t give her the time off. Gladys takes this not well at all, and tells Lorna that she may hate her life, but Gladys fully intends to build a better one. OUCH, Gladys.

Oh yeah. She went there.

Back on the line, where Vera’s taken over Gladys’s vacated position, she’s taking it…about as well as someone returned to the scene of massive trauma would. The projectiles swinging overhead and Betty’s loose hair prompt flashbacks, and Vera starts to scream and flail, sending several of those bombs swinging right at Betty’s head. She ducks, and they pull the line to a stop as Edith grabs a sobbing Vera while Marco and Kate rush over to check on Betty’s injuries. Betty insists that she’s fine—the bombs only hit and bruised her shoulder—but Kate grabs her hands. “When I saw those projectiles swinging at you, my heart stopped,” she says. “:D,” says Betty.

Lorna comes rushing over to find out what the hell’s going on, and Edith explains that someone put Vera on the production line. Lorna ia Not Happy and demands to know who was responsible. “I did,” Gladys says defiantly. “I thought it was okay.” Oh Gladys. I know you weren’t there for Vera’s injuries and I appreciate you owning your mistakes and all, but don’t you think you should maybe make a bit nicer to the woman who decides whether or not you keep your job?

Up in the office, Lorna’s made her decision about Mrs. Witham’s offer, and hands the positive pregnancy test over—with Gladys’s name on it. Dammit, Gladys. I WARNED YOU. Mr. Aikens says he won’t have any pregnant girls working the floor, and stamps a termination notice. Lorna looks half relieved, half guilty as hell, but she doesn’t get too long to brood over it before the manager kicks her out and calls Gladys in to fire her.

Lorna retreats to the canteen to sob over a cup of tea in private—only it turns out to be not so private, because Marco walks in to see what’s going on. Well, I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been Gladys. Marco is an absolute sweetheart, wanting to know if she’s okay—not about the pregnancy (since he doesn’t know about that) or firing Gladys (that either), but because she’s currently sobbing about what a “horrible person” she is. Marco’s not exactly slow on the uptake, and when Lorna starts talking about how she thought she’d finally found something good but now her life is over, he figures out that the pregnancy test was actual hers. Antonio Cupo’s eyebrows are doing amazing things in this scene.

My commentary can do nothing to improve on this.

Marco, to his credit, immediately offers to take care of her and the baby. Aww, that’s sweet. And stupid as hell. Marco, think about this—she is at least fifteen years older than you, your employer, and with three grown children and a disabled veteran husband. Did you think she was going to leave her husband and set up house with you? USE YOUR HEAD, MORETTI. Lorna is too nice to vocalize any of this, but she does tell Marco it’s not his problem and walks out.

On the floor, Gladys is seething about the pregnancy test—she thinks her father mocked it up to get her fired. Kate asks her if she really thinks that her father would rather hurt her than see her happy. I mean Gladys’s father. Gladys’s father is who she is talking about. Totally. No one else. But before Gladys can respond, the production line grinds to a halt, and the manager puts the radio up to the loudspeaker so everyone can hear. From a distance of sixty years, we all know what’s coming, but it’s still disquieting to watch everyone’s faces fall as the radio broadcaster announces Japanese attacks all across the Pacific—Pearl Harbour.

At the park, Edith is tossing bread to ducks while her kids play on the swings, when Bob comes rolling up. Edith tells him to get lost, but he refuses to leave without saying good-bye to Skip—”he’s had enough of that.” Bob, is there a reason you have to couch even your most reasonable points in the most dickish ways? But Skip’s already running over to join them, and Bob hands over the reason he came—a set of toy soldiers he’d been painting for him. Skip happily trots off to show his sister their new toys, leaving Bob with the opportunity to apologize for telling him about his dad. Edith accepts, mostly because she figures this of all days is a bad one to hold grudges, and tells Bob that maybe the fourth kid will be the charm for him. Edith! You promised!

Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeit

At Leon’s bar, Kate is singing sadly along to “Careful What You Wish For.” Leon notices, and brushes aside her excuse of worrying about the bombing victims. Her father worked so hard to find her, she explains, and he was “so very sorry” for what he’d done. Um, he said no such thing, Kate. But she’s clearly desperate to believe it. Leon doesn’t have much time to refute this before Betty comes swaggering in and plunks herself down on the piano bench next to Kate while Leon heads off for a drink. Kate scolds her gently for not being in bed resting up her shoulder, and Betty replies by picking up Kate’s hand and kissing it. “I really like you, Kate.” “I like you too, Betty,” Kate says, blinking innocently. Oh no no no no. Betty. I know you’re madly in love with this girl. Believe me, I get it. But when it comes to making a move on your best friend, “right after their hyperreligious abusive father reappears in their life” has to rank slightly behind “right after you ran over their dog” on a list of bad timing.

Sure enough, Betty moves in for a kiss, and Kate freaks the hell out. She leaps off the piano bench, wiping her mouth off, demanding to know what Betty “thinks [she] is” and accusing the other woman of being disgusting. Betty runs out in tears.

Okay. Before we go any further, this needs to be addressed. I saw a lot of vitriol directed at Kate after this scene aired—everything from calling her a bitch to accusing her of leading Betty on. This scene is horribly hard to watch, and my heart broke for Betty watching it—but there is no reason, no reason to blame Kate for it. Think about this for a second: she lives in a homophobic society to start with. (Homosexuality wasn’t decriminalized in Canada until 1969, almost thirty years after this show takes place.) Not only that, but she was raised by an even more violently abusive, homophobic parent, who we saw nearly break her hand for looking at someone of the opposite sex. What do you think she could have expected for falling in love with a woman? Moreover, how easy do you think it is to overcome years of  programming to understand—let alone accept—the possibility of loving another woman? Kate has no control over this situation, and lives in fear of being punished for the slightest infraction. You want to blame someone in this situation, blame the man who dominated her for twenty-four years and then re-appeared just when she was starting to make a life for herself.

Okay. MOVING ON.

Over at the Withams’ house, another confrontation is brewing as Gladys storms in wanting to know what the hell her father was trying to pull with that pregnancy test. For once, it actually wasn’t him, but he’s kind of used up Gladys’s goodwill at this point. All the same, he protests that he would never spread such lies about “his baby girl.” Excuse me, I need to pause the video for a second while I choke on the irony. But this placates Gladys long enough for her mother to smug into the room—EURGH—and announce that a “young soldier” is waiting for Gladys in the library. Is it Lewis? No…

"Happy wedding day! I gave you my pre-wrapped corpse!"

Gladys, not unfairly, goes “WHAT THE HELL?” James is bewildered—she’s so gung-ho about the war effort, he thought she’d be proud of him! Not WITHOUT TELLING HER FIRST, you dumbass. Is every man on this show taking stupid pills? He tells her they can get married first thing, and that’s the cue for her parents bursting into the room to start planning the wedding all over again, apparently invested in getting a “-Dunn” attached to Gladys’s name before her husband gets blown sky-high in France. Everything about this is so fucked up.

At the factory, Mr. Aikens is filing papers when Vera comes prowling in—and I do mean prowling. It doesn’t take her long to get to the point: she knows she’s useless on the floor, since the production lines send her into a screaming panic, and she wants an office job. Mr. Aikens refuses, since Vera’s scars are an “unfortunate reminder” of the dangers of factory work and he doesn’t want guests seeing them (oh, you DOUCHEBAG). Vera has no interest in floor work, though, and settles herself in his lap, flicking off the desk light. “They say all cats look grey in the dark. What do you think?” And then she moves in for a kiss. Well…if it gets her the job, I guess.

At Lorna’s place, Lorna and Bob watch Sheila head out the door for a nursing lecture, musing about her future. “She’ll never forget this day,” Bob says, softly stroking his wife’s hair. It’s quiet moments like these where you can see how this relationship might have worked, if the first war hadn’t ruined everything and they weren’t staring down the barrel of a second one. Lorna leans in to kiss him, telling him she needs more than comforting words. And Bob, who presumably knows exactly why (THANKS, EDITH) kisses her back. Sigh.

At the boardinghouse, Betty walks up to Kate’s room where Preacher I-Look-At-Pinups is waiting outside. Betty gears up to start yelling at him, but before she can, Kate slips out of her room…fully dressed and holding a suitcase. Oh honey. Betty tries to tell her that she doesn’t have to leave, but Kate—or Marion, as she’s calling herself now—insists that she was “seduced” away from her old life (interesting word choice) and has misspent the past several months “making things that kill people, debasing God’s gift, singing in dens of sin, and consorting with deviants.” Her father leads her away, but Betty gets between them, begging her not to leave. “I love you!”

Kate doesn’t have a chance to respond before her father grabs Betty and backhands her across the hall. With his Bible. Just like Jesus intended! Kate tries to grab her to make sure she’s okay, but her father gets in the way, shouting for her to “tell her!” “I don’t want this anymore,” she says, backing away, “and I never wanted you. Good-bye.” I really have to hand it to both Ali Liebert and Charlotte Hegele in this scene—you can feel the pain and fear rolling off Betty in waves, and Kate looks like someone’s turned off a light inside her and she’s running on autopilot. Left alone in the hall, Betty sobs into her hands.

You know what I think we need after that scene? A kitten.

Take away the pain, Fluffy.

Apparently the only people who have a remotely productive conversation today are James and Gladys, who are out walking along the waterfront. Gladys is fretting about the upcoming wedding—she thinks they’re doing it for the wrong reasons, that a quickie wedding before he goes overseas kind of defeats the entire purpose. So instead they make their vows there on the beach, with no priests or parents in sight. Gladys promises to love, honour, and write him every day; James promises to have and hold onto his limbs. Gladys also promises to be good, but James corrects her—not good. Amazing. “We’ll need stories to tell our grandchildren.” What, the ones you’ll create in a test tube after you get blown up overseas? James, you are in a WWII drama and you just enlisted. You are deader than the mouse my cat dragged in last week.

At the factory, Gladys and Betty meet up at the gates, Betty sporting a shiner from the Bible slap last night. “What happened to you?” Gladys asks. Should she start with Kate moving in, or moving out? Betty shortens it to “Kate left” and Gladys—who, as you’ll recall, pretty much knows how Betty feels at this point—sighs “oh dear,” but promises to help Betty find her and at least make sure she’s okay. And in return, Betty will help her get her job back, though how she’s going to do that I’m not sure.

“The big promise,” Betty says, biting back tears. “That we might actually get the things we want. What if it’s a lie?” Gladys’s answer is pretty simple: “We can’t stop trying.” And as they link arms with each other and Edith and Vera, the four women stride forward through the factory gates, ready to face the war.

Will they find Kate? What’s going to happen to Gladys’s job? What about James overseas? What’s Lorna going to do with the baby on her hands? We won’t find out until next winter, when a new twelve-episode season will be airing. Until then, keep the speculation flowing, the fanfic written, and the 1940s lesbians in good company. See you in season two!

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  • rhyfeddu

    I have it on good authority that a number of other people adore your BG recaps too. I don’t know why they’re being shy about telling you – so please just take the totally reliable word of a stranger on this!

    Hilarious as usual. “Take the pain away, Fluffy” is a saying of mine from now on. And THANKS for the (should be obvious) defense of one Kate Andrews. In short: Wordy McWord. I really look forward to how they deal with Kate’s retreat to the “safe” known of her family. Girls gonna have some buyer’s regret on that one….

    Hope you’ll be back for more recaps!

    • Laura M

      Aww, thanks! I don’t mind if people are too shy to comment- it takes me forever and a day to respond for exactly that reason.

      I think at this point Kate isn’t cognizant of any buyer’s regret- she doesn’t have the tools to understand that a life outside of her father’s rule is even an option. She was confronted with several triggering things- her father’s arrival, her best friend suddenly kissing her (people more experienced in the Evangelical tradition than I am have written about how Kate would be trained to view this as an extension of the “sinful” non-Christian life she was living) and the Pearl Harbour attack- and retreated to the only “safe” life she knew. It’s not really safe, but it’s what she’s familiar with, and I think most of us have sought comfort in familiarity at one point or another. It’s just that most of us aren’t familiar with a life of abuse.

  • rhyfeddu

    “I think at this point Kate isn’t cognizant of any buyer’s regret- she doesn’t have the tools to understand that a life outside of her father’s rule is even an option”

    Oh, I agree. Certainly at *this*point, no. Kate seems to have convinced herself that her independent experiment was a sinful disaster. I’m just anticipating some regret over her retreat back to her family as the second season progresses. I think she’s absorbed more and broadened her mind more than she realizes even with the little bit of time outside her father’s influence and presence, and I can’t imagine she will be as unquestioning and compliant to his wishes (demands) as before she left (even if she initially hides that fact). She’s changed (we think for the better, of course. It might be awhile before Kate herself agrees!), and I think it can only make her start questioning her father and his certainty about…well, everything!
    I think Kate’s story has great potential. I’m really looking forward to Hegele handling this material.
    Anyway… thanks again!