Rear-gunner Eric Finch (Paul Copley) is seeking refuge in Switzerland (Finch, sickened by the war, is determined not to return to England to fight again). A bargeman called Hans Van Broecken (Gunnar Möller) offers to help, but can he be trusted?
An uncompromising episode, from early on there’s an air of doom that settles around Eric Finch. Injured, weary and frightened, he’s a far cry from most of the airmen we’ve met in the series so far. One or two have been a touch on the nervy side, but in the main they’ve all been rather gung-ho and blithely unconcerned about their fate.
Another British airman, Alan (Richard Austin) who briefly features today, certainly falls into this latter category. Sidelined with a foot injury, he’s anxious to get up and about but still has time to flirt with Lisa (surprisingly, Lisa is quite keen to respond – which is the first time we’ve seen her in quite so playful a mood).
There’s no such jollity with Finch though, who’s deftly brought to life thanks to Paul Copley’s sensitive performance. Late on in the episode he’s given a very decent speech in which he outlines his philosophy – not only to Van Broecken and his wife, Lena (Marianne Stone) but also to Natalie and Curtis who have been brought in to try and help.
Matching Copley’s fine performance, are two equally good turns from Gunnar Möller and Marianne Stone. To begin with, both Finch and the viewer at home might be unsure whether Hans can be trusted – he claims he wants to help, but at times he casts a sinister shadow. This is only heightened when he reveals that he’s not, as he initially claimed, Dutch but is in fact German. But as a German deserter from the First World War, he’s able to sympathise instantly with the slightly crumpled and pathetic figure of Finch.
Lena is more fearful though – not only for herself and her husband should Finch be discovered, but she’s also been worn down by the strain of Hans’ double life over the last twenty years or more.
Hans and Lena will both return later in the series, but Finch is less fortunate – coldly sacrificed by Lifeline in order that they can strengthen their reputation with the German authorities. It’s a chilling moment, although it’s only afterwards that a few questions bubble to the surface – most notably, what would have happened if Finch hadn’t been shot dead? Had the Gestapo questioned him, it’s certain he would have revealed all he knew about the escape line (Curtis, Natalie, etc) so surely Curtis was running an incredible risk by betraying him.
But on the positive side, it means that Gestapo man Dupont (David Trevena) is now be happy that the Candide is a hotbed of collaborators and will no longer keep them under surveillance. The future ghost of Allo! Allo! is strong with Dupont – maybe it’s the hat or the spectacles, but there’s something unintentionally comic about him. Oh, and why choose an undercover man who sticks out a mile as he does? Yes, maybe that has its positives, but surely selecting someone who blends in just a little would have been more sensible.
Other brief items to report – Hetty Baynes makes her first appearance as bitchy Candide waitress Yvonne (Yvonne and Monique entertain themselves by spitting fire at each other), Monique sings for the first time and Curtis and Lisa continue to enjoy an awkward relationship – not least because of the possible feelings each has for the other.
Second Chance is quite an ironic title, as Finch was denied one. The way the Candide regulars react to his death is quite instructive – Monique is shaken whilst Curtis confesses to feeling rather sick. On the other hand, Albert, Lisa and Natalie appear to shrug it off more easily. Natalie is by far the most outspoken, telling the others that they risk their lives to get airmen back to the UK (since Finch didn’t want to fight any more, he now has his wish).
Whether she’s really so ruthless or is simply good at compartmentalising her feelings is something that the viewer will have to decide for themselves. The first of a handful of Secret Army scripts by James Andrew Hall, the quality of this one suggests that the others will be worth looking out for.