Autumn is approaching in Poplar as evidenced by the glut of donated apples left on the doorstep of Nonnatus House. Plus there’s a simultaneous full moon and a big storm brewing. How much foreshadowing do we need to understand that a mini-baby boom is on its way? I’m also happy to report that this penultimate episode of series five features the long-awaited return of a beloved character so let’s get on with examining the events of this week’s Call the Midwife.
The Pill Comes to Poplar – Granted Doctor Turner is a very dedicated and forward thinking physician most of the time, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen him this enthusiastic about the arrival of any other medical advancement. I’m referring of course to the miraculous contraceptive pill. As we learn from his discussion with Sister Julienne, who is unable to mask her disapproval, his patients won’t have to be referred to the family planning clinic but can receive a prescription directly from him. This makes it possible for him to distribute this contraceptive to unmarried women. Sister Julienne is so uncomfortable with the implications of this development that she requests a plainer biscuit from Shelagh who she obviously sees as having lost some of her former nunly morals by her offer of a lemon puff.
After prayer and reflection, Sister Julienne invites Dr. Turner to the house to present a seminar to the midwives on the history and efficacy of the Pill. Vicar Tom has been invited along by the head nun as she apparently hopes to get some spiritual support and a Christian perspective from his presence.
Dr. Turner provides data that the Pill is 100% effective and Shelagh touts its arrival puts the power of birth control in the hands of the woman. Sister Winfred notes some of the husbands won’t like this, but Nurse Crane rather bluntly relates that she’s had plenty of mothers with four or five children whose husbands won’t comply with the methods that require their initiative or, at the very least, their cooperation. (I believe “wooden penises” is a term she used).
Sister Julienne reiterates that she does not wish to encourage recreational sex and calls on Tom for religious back-up. Visibly uncomfortable with this conversation, he stumbles about first asking about government guidelines and then when pushed by Julienne resorts to scripture that condones sex after marriage only. When pressed by Delia about how to counsel a young unmarried couple about their desires, he relies on the expected but totally unrealistic concept of self-restraint as the Church’s favored advice.
After the meeting, Barbara gives Tom an earful, expressing her disappointment with his contributions to the meeting particularly in light of the couples’ recent impassioned encounter at Nonnatus House – let’s just refer to it as the Brylcreem incident with that rather bizarre Marilyn Monroe song, ‘Teach Me Tiger’, playing in the background. Barbara clarifies that she is not an advocate of sex before marriage, but she understands how it happens and also how it ruins lives and reputations. (Really, doesn’t he remember saving a young man from committing suicide after he had to abandon his dreams of college to marry his pregnant sweetheart, for heaven’s sake?)
Another case in point, Barbara’s patient of the week, Gina Matlin (Grace Stone) is close to delivering and is quite excited about the arrival of her first child. Meanwhile, her husband, Leslie (Danny Walters) seems completely miserable about their pending bundle of joy and has disengaged from the process entirely. When her son is born after a long labor, Gina reveals that the young couple had to get married just three months into courting because of her pregnancy and that she knows Leslie never really wanted a wife or family.
Nurse Crane, who was also present at the Matlin birth, confides to Barbara that being illegitimate herself colored her views on sex, but during the war “all morals were tossed to the winds.” Even so she almost backed out of a chance to have an intimate encounter with an Air Force sergeant. He died in battle and she’s still glad they seized the moment - with the proper precautions employed, of course.
The Blackers of the Barge- We meet the matriarch of the Blacker family, Daisy (Kathryn O’Reilly), as she is working the locks to move her family’s barge, the Molly Belle, through the canal. Heavily pregnant, we see she is struggling with the task and finally collapses on the dock. The next day, Patsy and Sister Winifred are sent out on the hospital’s referral to check on the patient. Daisy politely refuses their assistance, but her husband suggests they look her over to put their minds at rest.
After the exam, Patsy finds that Daisy, already the mother of four, is doing pretty well. Daisy feels a failure for collapsing and needing blood tests. Patsy tells her she can deliver the results from the hospital or Daisy can pop by the clinic where they can also give her things for the children like orange juice or rosehips syrup. Daisy dismisses the midwife and thanks her for her time.
The following day Daisy arrives at the clinic after all, asking to see Patsy. She’s had another dizzy spell. The woman’s blood pressure is low and her blood results show she is anemic. She’s given iron tablets and Dr. Turner prescribes bedrest at the maternity home until the baby is born. Daisy is hesitant to be separated from her family but Shelagh talks up their generous visiting hours and offers a cup of tea and the ice seems to melt, if only a little.
When Daisy arrives at the maternity home, she seems suspicious and overwhelmed by all that the nurses are giving her. She also doesn’t like wearing clothes marked as “Property of” anything on them.
Meanwhile Sister Winifred, forever a teacher in her heart, has arranged for the Blacker children to attend school until the baby is born and the family has to move on. But her good intentions backfire a bit when the children are given a hard time on their first day for their clothing and hygiene. The midwives bring the kids to Nonnatus for baths, some new “knickers and vests” and a mandatory delousing.
When they visit their mother at the maternity home, Daisy is insulted and angry about the interference. Bargies do things their own way; they don’t care about fitting in. Daisy demands her clothes and takes her leave with her family in tow.
The Stormy Night and the Return of Sister Evangelina – The six month deadline has passed since Sister Evangelina was supposed to rejoin her Nonnatus family after her retreat with the silent order. Having had very little contact with her over that time, the nuns are quite concerned that Evangelina may have sensed another calling and may never return to them. Sister Monica Joan is actually anxious that her sister’s mind has been addled by the “ostentatious silence” and can’t imagine a person “built for noise and motion” would thrive in such a place.
Then comes the night of the big storm – a force 9 gale is forecast for London – so of course all hell breaks loose.
-At the maternity hospital, Trixie is called for much needed reinforcements. She juggles two laboring mothers at the same time while Dr. Turner and Shelagh are in surgery with another. Meanwhile, Tim mans the generator when the power goes out.
-The phones at Nonnatus house are on the blink as well which proves a problem when Nurse Crane tries to call an ambulance to the Matlin’s flat. Leslie has contacted her in a panic about Gina who has a bad headache and is seeing spots before her eyes. When Phyllis arrives at high rise, the lift is out of order, but no obstacle can stop Nurse Crane. She ascends eight flights of stairs and after examining Gina surmises that she has a very rare and dangerous condition indeed called postnatal preeclampsia.
Leslie Matlin has finally seen the light and doesn’t want to be separated from his wife in her time of need. He helps Nurse Crane bring Gina and the baby down the stairs to the waiting ambulance. The new mother is in a bad way, but Phyllis reckons having her husband there (really there, at last) will make all the difference.
-Meanwhile, Daisy has gone into labor as well and tells her husband that their daughter Lou is old enough to help her. One big bellow from her mother and Lou is off like a shot to fetch help in the form of Patsy.
When Patsy arrives at the Molly Belle, neighboring women in the barge community are already on the scene. They are strangers but they all live the same life so they feel connected. They leave Patsy to it and take the rest of the family out of the way for the duration. While Daisy is experienced in childbirth she is happy to have Patsy there on her turf respecting her way of doing things. Daisy is delighted with her new baby girl.
The next morning, the aftermath of storm is clearly visible and devastating. A railway signal fell from a nearby bridge and brought most of the wall down with it. As Fred and his crew try to clear a path for the midwives to bike through, we hear a familiar voice coming up over the rubble. It’s Sister Evangelina and she’s raring to go! Her first order of business to take care of the communication situation at Nonnatus House and requisitions a nearby shop’s phone until service is back up.
Back at Nonnatus, Sister Evangelina tells Julienne she would like to ease back into the schedule with district nursing work before actually dealing with the “precious cargo”. Sister Monica Joan enters the room and is overcome with joy at the sight of Evangelina who promises her she will not leave again.
Later when on their own, Julienne gently confronts Evangelina about the subject of her heretofore unmentioned limp arm. She admits she had a stroke which took the use of her arm and speech about two months into her retreat. She felt it was God’s answer to her prayer to learn to keep her peace and she discovered that when things change we must find a different way. In that regard we must always keep on learning. Sister Evangelina seems truly at peace, content and happy to be home. Just as it’s obvious all the residents of Nonnatus House are as well.
Thus ends another week of hope and joy for our midwives and those whose lives are touched by them. The Blackers left for another port but they have been forever changed by Sister Winifred who arranged for the children to continue their lessons by post. Patsy acquiesced to Delia’s request to visit a lesbian club so they could hold hands and dance together in the open like other couples. And Trixie’s AA testimonial shows how far she’s come in her journey. A life without alcohol may be boring at times, but sobriety and true friendship are more valuable by far.
Only one more episode remains in this series so please join in the chat. What are your feelings about season five as a whole? Which characters have touched you most? And what do hope to see in the finale and beyond – yes, Series 6 is already in the works!