The townspeople move slowly and somberly through the day. In the mayoral palace, Joseph and Annie try awkwardly to move a large table into the drawing-room, where a trial is soon to be held. As they do so, they talk about Alexander Morden, the man who killed Captain Bentick in the mine. Joseph tells Annie that the trial will be for Alexander, who used to be an alderman. Annie is enraged to hear that the soldiers will most likely shoot Alex after the trial, but Joseph soothes her with rumors he has heard—like that two men escaped from the town the night before, and that people are talking about killing Mr. Corell.
Yet again, Joseph is seen organizing furniture, the one act in which he’s able to find a sense of power or control—although the fact that he’s moving the table into the draw-room for the military officers to use it during Alex’s trial shows the extent to which his usual activity has come to be dominated by the invaders. In the same way that Colonel Lanser wants to use Mayor Orden’s democratic influence to his own advantage, the conquerors benefit from other townspeople’s desire to maintain a sense of order.
Mayor Orden and Doctor Winter come into the drawing-room, dismiss Joseph and Annie, and discuss the upcoming trial. After several minutes, Molly Morden, Alex’s wife, enters and asks to speak to the mayor. She says the townspeople have been talking and that everybody believes Orden will be the one to sentence poor Alex. “It will be your words that send him out,” she says. This baffles Orden, who wonders how the citizens of his town could know his actions before even he does. “That is a great mystery,” Doctor Winter says. “That is a mystery that has disturbed rulers all over the world—how the people know. It disturbs the invaders now, I am told, how news runs through censorships, how the truth of things fights free of control.” Before Molly leaves, Orden promises her he won’t sentence Alex to death.
It is notable that Orden is surprised to learn the townspeople have anticipated the outcome of the trial, considering that he has already told Lanser that “authority” lies in the village. When Winter asserts that the dissemination of knowledge despite censorship has “disturbed rulers all over the world,” he illuminates that one of fascism’s weaknesses is allowing people to propagate the “truth.” Fascist regimes depend upon the total subordination of a population, and this kind of subordination only succeeds when speech is controlled by the government itself.
Just as Molly departs, Colonel Lanser arrives. He asks to speak to the mayor privately, so Doctor Winter takes his leave. Lanser opens by expressing his sorrow over the circumstances that have led to Alexander’s trial, but Orden cuts to the chase, asking why, if Colonel Lanser intended to kill the young man anyway, he didn’t simply shoot Alex in the coal mine. Lanser admits that he agrees with Orden’s point of view, but notes that punishment must be dramatized in order to discourage other potential criminals. As expected, he asks Orden to be the person to issue the death sentence, an approach he thinks will help keep order over the townspeople.
Yet again, Lanser tries to use Mayor Orden’s position of leadership to trick the villagers into subservience. Above all, this is just another kind of appearance—this time, though, the appearance Lanser is trying to cultivate is not one of his own civility, but one of Orden’s brutality, which is why he wants to “dramatize” Alex’s sentencing. By doing so, he hopes to deter other villagers from rebelling and also show that Orden is cooperating with the enemy.
Mayor Orden insists that he isn’t qualified to sentence Alexander Morden to death, since this falls outside the purview of a mayor’s duty. He criticizes Lanser for his obsession with pretending like this is a simple matter of law-breaking, rather than a complicated war-time situation. Exasperated, Lanser asks if he can sit, and Orden says, “Why do you ask? That is another lie. You could make me stand if you wished.” Still, Lanser maintains that he respects Orden, saying, “You see, what I think, sir […] is of no importance. I might agree with you, but that would change nothing. The military, the political pattern I work in has certain tendencies and practices which are invariable.”
By saying that his own thoughts are “of no importance” when it comes to carrying out military orders, Lanser relinquishes his own agency and capacity to act upon any feelings of empathy. Instead, he devotes himself to the military and its protocol, throwing his faith into a “political pattern” that is “invariable.” It is exactly this belief that keeps Lanser from being deterred by his own misgivings. He finds himself aligned with a fascist regime that champions authoritarianism above all else—and he represents himself as helpless because of this.
Lanser continues by emphasizing that he needs Orden’s help to control the situation. Finally, Orden says that if Lanser shoots the men who killed the six townspeople on the day of the invasion, then he—Orden—will sentence Alex. Of course, Lanser cannot agree to this, and thus resolves to sentence Alex himself. He looks at Orden, smiles, and says, “We have taken on a job, haven’t we?” Orden agrees, saying, “Yes, the one impossible job in the world, the one thing that can’t be done.” When Lanser asks what the mayor is referring to, Orden says, “To break man’s spirit permanently.”
Once more, Orden demonstrates his wise belief that the power of fascism and authoritarianism pales in comparison to the power of democratic rule, which allows for citizens to live as free people, therefore bolstering their “spirit[s].” Oppression, on the other hand, tries to “break” a population’s will, a task that is violent and deeply harmful but never lasting.