'Call the Midwife' Recap: Series 5 Episode 1

Welcome back! I’m looking forward to recapping another series and chatting with my fellow Midwife fans about it. We already know that a sixth series has been ordered so this won’t be the end. Nonetheless, if you’ve been watching this show from the beginning, you know some measure of heartbreak or loss is certainly in store for us over the next eight weeks. So grab your tissue box and join me for our first CTM rundown of 2016.

It’s the spring of 1961 in Poplar and the residents of Nonnatus House seem eager for the invigoration of the Easter season.  In fact the midwives are in the midst of getting a bit of a fashion makeover; smart new uniforms with waspy belts which Sister Evangelina sees as quite impractical. Nurse Crane prickles at being a glamour puss, but is eager to see the new kit as well. Trixie nixes any thought of going the Norwegian nurse route of wearing slacks while Patsy would welcome a more practical ensemble with open arms.

Patsy, Trixie and Barbara in their fashionable new uniforms   Image credit Red Productions Ltd. 2015

In the weeks leading up to the holiday, the sisters and their boarders adhere to the Lenten deprivation of sugar – no cake, only honey for bread. This observance is the most trying for Sister Monica Joan who has the biggest sweet tooth of anyone in the history of Nonnatus House, I would imagine.

Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s look at the main storylines from this first installment:

Trixie: Champion of Female Empowerment -Since we last saw Trixie, she has turned her life around quite remarkably. Besides attending AA meetings, she has joined an exercise course called Keep Fit. Nurse Franklin has been so dedicated she’s advanced to instructor certification in only six months.  She started the class as a distraction from her problems, but over time found it made her focused, strong and trimmer. The men on the streets of Poplar are certainly noticing anyway.

Trixie recruits some of her colleagues namely Barbara and Patsy to attend her class mainly because she is afraid no one will show. To Barbara’s chagrin, bossy Beatrix makes them wear leotards as they trim their waists and firm their busts to a bossa nova beat. All the women seem to enjoy the class especially jovial local, Olive Nattrass (Maggie McCarthy).

Later a free-lance photographer approaches Trixie as she and Barbara bike to work. He’s taking pictures of the “old East End” before it disappears. Trixie wants to show him the New East End and he tags along taking snaps of babies and Trixie’s Keep Fit class in action.

Sister Evangelina comes upon an article in the paper containing said photographs and is scandalize they feature the Nonnatus midwives in their “combinations.” Sister Julinenne too is concerned about the image this projects.

With her newfound exercise-induced boldness, Nurse Franklin defies Sister Julienne who requests the midwives take on the bulk of the deliveries Easter weekend.  Not only does she second her colleagues to her Keep Fit class again but she also brings forbidden éclairs on the premises.

Olive has a substantial bladder accident during the class. Trixie urges her to see the doctor because this isn’t normal, even if she has had seven children. Dr. Turner tells her she has prolapsed womb into her vagina. (Reportedly, this is the first time this female anatomy term has been uttered on Call the Midwife.) Patrick refers her to the NHS for surgical repair. Mrs. Nattrass tried to fix it herself in the past and never asked for help because she “never had the words” before.

Eventually Trixie’s failure to promote harmony in the house gets her dragged up in front of a displeased Sister Julienne. The nun suggests in a roundabout way that Trixie should abandon her Keep Fit commitments and refers to AA as her “other class”. Nurse Franklin sticks to her guns and says that Alcoholics Anonymous “saved her and Keep Fit makes her whole”. She won’t leave her exercise class because other women like Olive need the benefits of fitness and to realize that “owning a female body should be a joy”. Sister Julienne apologizes for discounting something so important to Trixie and helpful to others in their care.

The Mullucks Baby – Rhoda Mullocks (Liz White) is a busy mother of two. She and her husband Bernie (Chris Reilly) know the drill as she goes into labor with third baby which Rhoda wants to name her Jonquil if it’s a girl. Mr. Mullocks is amenable to whatever his wife chooses and reassures her with a calming “we’ll manage” as he drops her off to magically have a baby. After a difficult labor overseen by Nurse Mount and Shelagh Turner, we discover the baby girl has been born with deformed arms and legs. They don’t tell Rhoda right away saying the baby needs some special attention and the mother needs to rest.

After examining the infant, Dr. Turner says she might not even live for the damage could be internal as well. He diagnoses her with Phocomelia or seal limb; a congenital disorder caused by genetic inheritance and (as we now know)Thalidomide, a drug given to pregnant mothers with extreme morning sickness. Dr. Turner stays with her the baby through the night and her condition improves.  She willingly takes a bottle and Patrick reads to her from the 'Lancet' medical journal as if it's a storybook. Adorable.

The next day Rhoda must be told about the condition of her daughter. She knows something’s up because Sister Mary Cynthia and Shelagh are calling her by her first name and letting her smoke on the ward. While the nurses try to find a gentle way to break the news, Mr. Mullucks has arrived to visit his wife and baby. He hears the infant crying and sneaks into the nursery where he finds his daughter deformed and, in his shock, monstrous.  While the news has just been broken to Rhoda, her husband bursts into her room and declares that “thing” will not be allowed in his house. In his opinion, it shouldn’t have been allowed to live.

In tears but undeterred, Rhoda walks with Shelagh’s assistance to the nursery to meet her child. Rhoda asks to be alone with her and tells the baby that she is hers and that she is not bailing on her. She also settles on the name for her daughter – Susan. Unlike Jonquil, it’s a name she’ll never have to spell or explain and it will be one less thing that will draw attention from curious and even cruel people.

Once she has laid eyes on her beautiful baby, Rhoda doesn’t give permission for Susan to go to the children’s hospital as Dr. Turner had arranged. If the tests they want to run won’t tell them how she came to be this way, she sees no point in putting her through the trauma.

A bit later Mary Cynthia and Rhoda have difficulties trying to diaper and dress Susan.  Sister Mary Cynthia takes this opportunity to visit the Mullucks’ home in order to pick up baby clothes they can try to alter but mainly to attempt to talk Mr. Mullucks into accepting Susan. Big sister Belinda comes out with a stack of clothes commenting that her mum said she had all these things ready because “you never know what you’re going to get” to which her father agreed with sad irony.

At last the day arrives when the whole Mullucks family goes to see their newest member. Rhoda explains to her kids that Susan didn’t come out quite right and that they will need to stand up for her in the future. Dad finally comes around taking his daughter in his arms, showing gratitude for what he’s got.

Bernie and Rhoda Mullucks with new daughter, Susan    Image Credit Red Productions Ltd. 2015

For the Mullucks, we know their lives will not be as positive and can-do as on that first day setting out of the hospital. Raising Susan will be a physical, economic and emotional challenge. Hopefully, Mr. Mullucks’ mantra of “we’ll manage” will stand them in good stead.

The Return of Delia Busby- After her traumatic brain injury from a bicycle accident last season, Patsy’s girlfriend Miss Busby comes back to London where she is given a clean bill of health by her doctors and an okay to return to her nursing job. She and Patsy meet in a restaurant to celebrate but before they can make plans the couple is joined by Delia’s mother who is dead set against her daughter working or living away from her in Wales. She forbids Delia to stay in London – particularly because she has nowhere suitable to live.

Before Delia is forced to return to home with her parents, Patsy invites her to come to Easter dinner at Nonnatus House with her mother. Mrs. Busby comments approvingly on the accommodations the midwives have at the convent and Sister Julienne offers Delia room and board with them. Her mother can hardly refuse so it appears Nurse Busby will be taking up residence with her girlfriend and a house full of kindly nuns.

Miscellaneous- Sister Monica Joan claims she likes TV because watching the news helps her decide which cataclysm to pray for. She also joins in the éclair rebellion spearheaded by Trixie and attends her Keep Fit class as well, wisely doing most of the exercises from the safety of a chair.

Sadly there was no Nurse Noakes in sight in this episode and, from what I’ve read, Miranda Hart’s character will not be making an appearance at all this series. We will be seeing some of Sgt. Noakes from time to time, but alas Peter cannot replace our beloved Chummy

Rev. Tom asks Nurse Gilbert for help with the Poplar Easter bonnet parade, collecting and decorating hats for many of the neighborhood’s children, which she quite willingly agrees to do. Anyone else think he’s just making up reasons to spend time with the pretty young midwife? Or testing out her suitability as a vicar’s wife, more like?

Later when Sister Julienne asks if they should invite Rev. Hereward for Easter dinner, Trixie assumes the question is meant for her and says why not. But on the day of the bonnet parade, Trixie finally spies the budding romance between her ex-fiancé and Barbara. Though Nurse Gilbert is a far more appropriate match for the young vicar, we’ll have to watch this space to see how Trixie handles this blow to her ego.

So there we are! The first episode is in the books and I’d have to say for me it was a two out of five hankie affair, mainly for the Baby Susan story. Be prepared for more on the Thalidomide plotline as the early 60’s was the time when this scandalous medical tragedy was being revealed.

No matter what more tears are imminent so please take this opportunity to share your thoughts about episode one and your hopes and concerns for the rest of the series. Don't worry, we'll get through this together.