In this week’s episode of Call the Midwife, Sister Ursula’s obsession with efficiency contributes to a near fatal oversight. The Turners' maternity home faces the threat of closure and Shelagh suffers a dangerous setback in her miraculous pregnancy. Finally, a sorely missed member of the Nonnatus crew returns to Poplar, but brings with her troubling questions about another of their number.
If you feel a bit fuzzy about where we left off last time, you can get up to speed with our previous recap here.
So this week we find Sister Ursula ramping up her campaign to turn the midwives into cold medical machines. First, she tells the Turners who are facing a Board of Health inspection that, due to recent staff departures, the maternity home can’t be their first concern. Then she horns in on Nurse Crane’s roster planning duties with her most recent commandment, “Thou shalt not spend more than twenty minutes on any in-home maternity or district nursing calls.” Both of these judgments have very real consequences for patients and their health care providers alike.
Liverpudlian Lucy Chen (Alice Connor) has been transplanted to London’s East End and is happily awaiting the birth of her first child. Being only half Chinese and raised by an English mother, Lucy is not familiar with many of the traditions her mother-in-law Oilen (Lucy Sheen) insists upon including observing a thirty-day confinement after the baby arrives. Easy going Lucy is willing to oblige her Ma who turns testy over a lock of hair found in a picture frame and a gets a sad, faraway look when the baby is revealed to be a girl. Mrs. Chen also nixes Lucy’s wish to name her daughter Linda after her mother since it is bad luck to have the same name as a dead relative. They reach a compromise and call the infant a more Chinese sounding Lin instead.
After a few days stuck in a stuffy overheated bedroom being spoon-fed fish soup, however, Lucy seems to be losing her tolerance for her mother-in-law’s overprotective wishes. Nurse Gilbert comes by to check on the new mother and baby to find Lucy tearful, irritable and relieved that her baby has finally fallen asleep. Lucy pleads with Barbara not to wake Lin so with the twenty minutes allotted quickly running out, the young nurse reluctantly takes her leave and promises to return the next morning to examine the baby.
The next morning Lucy wakes to find she cannot rouse her baby from sleep. She frantically calls down to Oilen who rushes into the room, puts a mirror to the baby’s mouth which shows though unconscious the child is still breathing. The panicked grandmother gathers up the infant and bolts from the house with a frightened Lucy running along behind barefoot and in her night dress.
The women burst into the maternity home interrupting Dr. Turner who happens to be giving a tour of the facility to an inspector from the Board of Health. As Patrick and Shelagh look over the baby, Lucy vomits in a corner. Barbara is there to fill Doctor Turner in on Lucy’s symptoms and the situation in the overheated room where both mother and baby were living. He quickly surmises that carbon monoxide poisoning is the culprit and orders an ambulance to whisk all three generations of the Chen family off to the hospital.
While the two women wait to see if the baby will wake up, Mrs. Chen tells Lucy of her ordeal during the war. She gave birth to a daughter while her family was on the run from the Japanese. The baby died from exposure to cold and rain thus explaining Oilen’s extreme preoccupation with keeping Lin safe and warm. She is heartbroken that she may have damaged her granddaughter in the process. Thankfully, the next day with her parents and grandmother surrounding her, baby Lin fights her way back into consciousness with a resounding wail.
The Turners’ Very Bad Week
Shelagh has been popping her buttons as of late and finally splurges on some maternity clothes and a baby bonnet. But don’t get too confident, Mrs. Turner, this is Call the Midwife after all.
Meanwhile Patrick learns that the Board of Health has a new hospital strategy with plans to move away from small maternity homes. They are tp undergo an inspection in a week that will decide the future of their facility . The Turners tell the midwives of the challenge ahead and appeal to them continue giving the very best care. Sister Ursula offers her stamp of approval to the Board's hospital plan and withdraws staff support. This leaves Shelagh to shoulder all the nursing duties at the maternity home, a state of affairs that forces Patrick to confront Sister Ursula. His elderly primigravida wife is stressed and in need of help. Sister Ursula finally realizes she could perhaps be doing something other than stealing joy from everyone in Poplar. (Perhaps we should have been calling her Sister Dementor all this time?) She reassigns Sister Winifred to the maternity home, mounts a bike and heads off to see actual patients - with the Miss Gulch cycling music from The Wizard of Oz as accompaniment playing in my head.
The day of the inspection, Mr. Greenwood (Patrick Brennan) arrives with his mind set to closing the Poplar facility. With only four beds this little hospital could easily be absorbed by a nice shiny big one. However, after seeing how impressively Dr. Turner and his staff respond to the Chen baby emergency and listening to Patrick’s passionate case for community hospitals in neighborhoods like theirs, Mr. Greenwood was seeing the benefit of the Turners’ modest establishment. Nurse Crane closed the deal by taking over the tour and convincing Mr. Greenwood to hold one of the newborns. The maternity hospital is safe for now, but not for always seeing as progress will not allow it to survive.
Despite the reprieve for the Turners’ professional fortunes, a much more personal crisis is imminent. You and I both knew as soon as Shelagh started having tummy twinges at work that something was going terribly awry. Mrs. Turner discovered she had begun to bleed. Not wanting to trouble her husband during his big presentation to the inspector she called on Nurse Crane for help. But Patrick got wind and insisted on interrupting his meeting to take Shelagh to the hospital himself.
Once settled in at the hospital, the immediate danger to Shelagh’s pregnancy passed. Nevertheless, Dr. Turner was reminded that even with complete bed rest his wife could still miscarry. Patrick went immediately to Shelagh’s bedside and assuring her that she was not at fault for anything and that no matter what happens, they were happy before and they will be again.
The Fall of Sister Ursula
I’ll be honest. I really didn’t think we’d see the back of Sister Ursula quite so soon. So for that alone, can we all say “Hallelujah”? Her reign as the superior nun at Nonnatus House has run its course and the rightful leader, Sister Julienne, has been restored. Though I still contend we never got a proper justification for her removal in the first place.
What we finally got was the explanation for the sister’s misguided mission. Before she came to Poplar, Ursula had been in charge of the order’s cottage hospital when it was closed down for inefficiency. She felt responsible and vowed to make sure it didn’t happen again in her next endeavor. Once more I must ask, if she was such a poor manager before, why was she put in charge of Nonnatus House?
This is the woman who threatened her nurses for helping and caring too much, called Barbara Gilbert a slacker, put patients in danger with her time saving measures and took away an elderly woman’s sole pleasure and entertainment. So when Sister Ursula saw the error of her ways, apologized to Nurse Gilbert and repented for her mistakes in prayer and fasting, I appreciated that she took responsibility. But I was not sorry to see her leave and I don’t think anyone in Poplar felt a bit of regret either. A weight has been lifted its name is Ursula.
Kudos must be given to Harriet Walter for playing an unlikeable character in such a dignified way. She avoided going for over the top evil but, but at the same time, held back from making her sympathetic. Her Ursula was human and well-meaning, but not well suited to the task she was given. We saw that and so did she.
I can’t end without mentioning two things. First, the return of Nurse Franklin was certainly a sight for sore eyes and we can only wonder how long she would have stayed silent about the Sister Ursula’s “improvements” had she been there as they were being installed. Nurse Crane stepped into that breach very well though I daresay. Alas I fear Trixie’s questions about Sister Mary Cynthia’s whereabouts don’t bode well.
And secondly, who didn’t smile when Sister Julienne surveilled Sister Monica Joan to the destination of her secret rendezvous? Dear MJ had tracked down her television and was enjoying nights out watching it with the men of the Seaman’s Mission. From a distance of course, it is a men’s only club after all.
Thanks for sticking with me to the end of this rambling recap. I obviously had strong feelings about anyone or anything that would threaten to mutate our beloved midwives into anything less than the compassionate, dedicated women they are. Please feel free to vent, rant or gloat as you see fit in the comments section below.