In the penultimate episode of Season 7, viewers endured the emotional rollercoaster of serious illness and the untimely death of Nurse Barbara Hereward played by Charlotte Ritchie. Other things happened which you can review here in our full recap, but mainly it was this tragedy and the tear-jerking aftermath that dominated episode seven.
This week we braced ourselves for an emotional Call the Midwife season finale. And while Barbara’s funeral was surprisingly brief, the episode was chockablock with new babies, a birthday celebration, a historical tragedy and poignant moments that honored our dearly departed midwife beautifully.
The Funeral and the Grieving
Valerie and Lucille bring Phyllis tea as she prepares for Barbara's funeral. She comments that this time last year there was a wedding dress hanging on the picture rail (rather than the somber black dresses hanging there today.) Fred stopped by to give Tom a shave which I found very intimate and touching.
The funeral itself was represented by Phyllis’ reading of the poem “Turn Again to Life” by A. Price Hughes and Mary Lee Hall (This poem was also read at Princess Diana’s funeral by her sister.) It’s fitting that Phyllis asks the mother of a fussy baby not to take her out of the church because “none of us objects to the sound of a crying child.”
As Tom prepares for a short absence to stay with his parents and settle into his widowerhood, the sisters and midwives are left to grieve in their own small yet personal ways. Normally stoic Sister Julienne breaks down as she erases Barbara’s name from the call board. A self-professed atheist, Nurse Dyer requests permission to join the nuns during prayers. Meanwhile Nurse Crane suffers a bad back and a short temper as an obvious result of the loss of her dear friend. Nevertheless, life and work must go on…
A Non-Traditional Family in the Making - Olive, Stan, Donald and Baby Makes Four
Lucille calls in on mother-to-be, Olive Mawson (Scarlett Alice Johnson). Olive has left her cheating husband and is living with her father, a projectionist at the Palozzo Cinema. During the visit, a neighbor called “Uncle Donald” shows up to do the laundry. He used to be in the Navy, so he’s very handy that way.
On Lucille’s next visit, Olive asks about getting a council flat. She’s not going back to her husband but doesn’t think this house would be good for raising a baby. It's apparent why she feels this way when Donald barges in again. This time he calls Olive by her mother’s name and has neglected to put on his trousers. Olive’s agitation sends her into “practice contractions” and drives Donald from the house where people in the street look at him, but offer no assistance. Afterwards Lucille reports Mr. Donald Chapman (David Calder) to Sgt. Woolf as she’s concerned about his confusion and state of undress.
After Donald is located, Dr. Turner is called in by the police to examine him. The elderly man has a fever and since he appears to have no family to care for him, Patrick offers to drop him off at home. Sgt. Woolf informs the doctor that Donald was arrested for gross indecency (code for homosexual acts) fifteen years ago. Patrick argues that his sexuality is immaterial to his patient’s current plight. Just then Olive’s father, Stanley Hodgkiss (David Bamber) appears at the station to inquire about his neighbor, Donald.
After taking antibiotics for a few days, Donald returns to Dr. Turner‘s surgery for a memory test involving items on a tray. (For those who’ve attended bridal or baby showers, you’ll be familiar with this game.) Donald gets so flustered he tries to bolt from the office. Stan assures him they’ll get through this together. Dr. Turner diagnoses Donald with incurable pre-senile dementia. Later in the park, Stan and Donald sit together in the dark, holding hands. Donald compares how he feels to pieces of cut-up film that won’t run smoothly together.
Olive is upset that her father wants to move Donald into the house. She’s concerned what people will think and is understandably fuzzy about their relationship. Stan says they were friends until her mother died and he’s been more than that ever since in a way that’s better left unsaid. Olive’s mother was apparently aware of their feelings and they lived by the motto “least said, soonest mended.” That’s one way to make peace with a situation, I suppose.
Olive arrives at the maternity home with all her possessions saying she can’t live in her father’s house anymore. Stan shows up later, but his daughter is distraught and feeling abandoned. Lucille shoos him out saying they can talk about this later. Valerie calms her down by telling her to close her eyes and remember a time she felt really safe to which she replies she always felt safe when she was little. Olive goes on to give birth to a healthy baby girl.
When Stan and Donald come in to see the baby afterwards, Olive is much calmer. She still notes that Donald doesn’t know who she is. He admits that he doesn't, but he knows she’s someone that they love. Olive reckons they can all make a go of it together and she can show her baby what a family looks like.
A Baby Boom in Poplar
On the same day as Olive Mawson goes into labor so do three other expectant mothers. This is due in large part to the Warkworth Street maternity home being shut down and all the mothers there being referred to Poplar. Shelagh isn’t happy about it but takes charge anyway. She organizes the clinic intake for all the new patients and requisitions beds, linens and gas and air for the maternity home. Most importantly, they will have enough midwives because Sister Evangelina always said that “the best medicine for pain was the presence of another person.”
Nurse Crane is grumpy with her lumbago and lingering grief. None of the new patients have been properly monitored and one of them, an unmarried young girl named Josie (Barbara Smith), brings her urine sample in a peanut butter jar. She seems pretty cavalier about the whole process since she has no intention of keeping the child.
On her next visit Josie and Nurse Crane get on even worse with each suggesting the other is too old or young to be doing this. “Blimey. I hope I don't get you when the big day comes,” Josie complains. So when she does go into labor, who does she get as her midwife? Nurse Crane, of course, so incapacitated by her frozen-up back that she has to scoot down the stairs on her bottom.
Duty calls, nonetheless, so Phyllis hitches a ride with Sgt. Woolf to the maternity home. Josie is disappointed not to get one of the younger midwives, but Phyllis reassures the scared young girl, telling her to “stick with me, lass.”
Josie has a fairly easy time of it and delivers a baby girl. She asks if she can name the baby even though the family who adopts her might change it. Phyllis says of course and asks if she has a name in mind. (And this is when the tears just flooded out of me)
“Yes, I do. It popped into my head, just before, I don't know why. Barbara. Must have been floating round the room like a moth or a butterfly or something waiting to be caught.”
And magically Nurse Crane’s back has loosened up as well!
Tom Gets Some Help from Reggie
When Tom returns to Poplar, he brings Barbara’s clothes to donate to charity. Sister Winifred tells him it’s too soon. He reasons that Barbara lived to help others and he thinks it will help him move forward. The sister says Barbara would have most wanted to help him, so Winifred will do it for her. She says she will keep Barbara’s things for safe keeping until he knows for sure what he wants to do.
Tom has been asked by Barbara’s father to come to New Guinea to do mission work with him. The young vicar has been given a leave of absence, but wonders how he can go anywhere without Barbara. Winifred promises he will find a way or be shown one.
While leaving flowers at Barbara’s grave, Tom happens upon Reggie whose mother is buried at the same cemetery. Reggie asks if Barbara really liked roses. Tom replies that she carried them at their wedding but isn’t really a red roses kind of girl. Reggie recalls they had a carousel and it was a lovely wedding.
Recently in independence training at the group home, Reggie had been learning about shopping. Violet was concerned he was being taken advantage of when he brought her gifts of spoons and a mostly empty perfume bottle. Fred suggests it gives Reggie pleasure to do this for others. So how touching and joyful is it when Reggie brings Tom a wind-up carousel for Barbara’s grave? He found just the thing to make her smile and Reggie’s convinced she won't be lonely any more.
Sister Monica Joan at the Cinema
So the cathode ray tube has gone bad on the TV and Sister Monica Joan needs access to the news so she knows who the nuns need to pray for. She heads off to the cinema where Stanley Hodgkiss works with the intention of watching the news reel only but inevitably stays for the feature, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, as well.
When Sister Winfred reads out the prayer concerns Sister Monica Joan has compiled at chapel all seems in order at first – The Queen, The Archbishop, victims of a Japanese factory explosion. But then the prayer recipients take an unexpected turn– the Royal Variety performers, British nylon industry workers and Mr. Spencer Tracy who selflessly pursues the missing treasure in the aforementioned film– causing Nurse Dyer and Sister Winfred to giggle and Sister Julienne to be more than a little peeved. Subsequently Sister Julienne bans Monica Joan from visiting the cinema. She is to draw content for their prayers from the BBC Home Service until the TV is repaired.
Monica Joan mentions her upcoming birthday, grumbling that since joy has been banished from Nonnatus House, she’ll most likely not get to celebrate it. Despite party-pooper Julienne’s pronouncement that now is not the time for levity, the rest of the Nonnatus House residents move forward to plan a surprise celebration for their eldest member.
When the special day arrives, Valerie tells Sister Monica Joan to put on her best wimple and accompanies her to the community center where the entire neighborhood is waiting with cake, candles and the Happy Birthday song. But the high point of the evening is the movie, produced by Stan with help from Tim Turner, which features archive photos interspersed with footage of a young Monica Joan taking her vows. We see a visual parade of Poplar and its residents through the years. Even Trixie has sent birthday wishes from the Italian Riviera! Tom shows up just as images of he and Barbara flash on the screen including the lovely wedding carousel photos taken one short year ago.
As this season of Call the Midwife ends and we look ahead to the next, please share your thoughts and emotions in the comments. And if you’re feeling particularly profound, feel free to discuss Sister Monica Joan’s response to the shocking assassination of President Kennedy and all other trying events we encounter.
“We are not what we have lost… If you do not cherish what remains, you will all become as nothing…We are not broken. We are each as whole as we will ever be again. And in the end, when we cease to be, we will all become memories.”