Few things give me as much joy as Call the Midwife, with its main cast of incredibly perky Mary Poppins-esque nurses and nuns, and it’s weekly exploration of some new facet of human misery.
How time has flown by these past nine weeks. From the power of Sister Julienne’s maternal monologuing single-handedly turn around culturally-ingrained racism, via the mini-arc of Sister Ursula learning to embrace the warm and fuzzy approach of Nonnatus House (remember kids, when you follow the rules, babies die), all the way up to thalidomide part two: dawn of the prosthetic limbs. We’ve tackled issues such as domestic violence, complicated pregnancies, the closure of maternity homes, adoption, mental illness, female genital mutilation, and even vehicular manslaughter. We welcomed new nurse Valerie Dyer; wondered if either Cynthia or Patsy would return to the series full time; and raged against the cruelty of the world as Sister Monica Joan’s TV was taken away.
But enough of the past. Let’s look to the here and now – November/December, 1962.
The episode begins, as all must, with Vanessa Redgrave talking at us in platitudes. I always zone out during these, and just sit back and enjoy the pretty images of squalor instead.
Exciting news; a Family Contraceptive Clinic is coming to Poplar. The FCC asks that women access it via the side door, which is the same way the unmarried mothers come in. Valerie doesn’t understand why everyone can’t just use the front door, but Sister Julienne gently reminds her that women who have sex outside of marriage or for purposes other than procreation are whores who aren’t fit to be seen in decent company.
But Barbara is distracted. She’s received a letter, saying her reverend father has been posted to New Guinea. Sister Monica Joan naturally assumes that she’s worried about cannibals, but Barbara’s more upset because he’ll be gone for three years and won’t be able to conduct her wedding to walking brylcreem dispenser, Tom Hereward.
Violet is fanning herself and looking generally unwell. Uh oh, is this the season finale death that the internet spoilers warned me about? No, it’s just a comedy menopause subplot. Our case study of the week, Wilma, walks into the shop. She’s starting a new job now that her children are older. Violet hopes that her plans for a career won’t be jeopardised by an unexpected pregnancy, but Wilma has a plan…
At the FCC, Wilma is being debriefed on her new contraceptive pills. She comments on how they look just like aspirin, and reveals that she’s not planning on telling her husband, who’s desperate for a son. The format of the show means that something has to go wrong, and at this point it’s looking like either an accidental overdose from someone mistaking the pills for aspirin, or domestic violence when her husband finds out.
Back at the clinic, Phyllis has a quiet word with the heavily-pregnant Shelagh about calming the hell down. She urges her to rest, and reminds her that she can choose who of her colleagues will deliver her baby.
Barbara and Tom announce that they will get married during Reverand Gilbert’s stopover in London. But, as Valerie points out for the trailer, that means they have just three weeks to plan the wedding. Oh, what hilarious hijinks will ensue from this set up, I wonder?
As the nurses giggle over wedding dress patterns, Barbara frets that all the commercial patterns are far too extravagant for her. Everyone’s having a grand time, but Delia looks sad, probably because Patsy is still MIA, and in any case she can’t get married because she’s accidentally fallen in love with someone with the wrong set of genitals. Silly girl.
Shelagh pops around Nonnatus house to drop off some insulin and announce which of her colleagues she wants pulling a human out of her insides. She chooses Sister Julienne, and Phyllis tries to disguise her hurt.
Barbara shares with Tom a story about begging to go on the carousel at the county fair when she was little, and how it was the first time she realised how poor her father was. Tom says that she’s never told him that story before, and Barbara muses that one day they will have nothing left to share because they will have shared everything, hammering home once again just how terrible the prospect of spending the rest of her life with Tom sounds. Barbara chooses this moment to tell him that she’s going to the family planning clinic so everything will be in hand by the wedding night. Ew.
The first signs of trouble are showing as Wilma experiences a sudden pain in her leg. What could it be?
What’s the worst thing to see when walking into a family planning clinic? A nun? Your boss? How about both, as is the case for poor Barbara. She brings up Phylis’s bad mood to Sister Julienne who reminds her that in times of great happiness, it is well to remember some may be ploughing a less congenial path. I would quite like to have Sister Julienne just follow me around, dispensing motherly wisdom as required.
The FCC nurse presents Barbara with the most horrific thing I have ever seen and shoves it up inside her. Barbara puts on a brave face, but the moment she gets home, she takes it out. Given the choice between that and having a dozen kids, no wonder so many women became nuns.
At home with the Turner’s, Shelagh says she doesn’t want Dr Turner in the room when she gives birth, because she wants her to be her husband and not her doctor.
Later, Barbara asks Phyllis to be her bridesmaid. Phyllis tells her to choose someone prettier one of her friends, but Barbara says that Phyllis is her friend, and everything she learnt about living with another person, she learnt from her middle-aged roommate. They have a bittersweet conversation about who will help Phyllis with her Spanish vocab once Barbara’s moved out, and I get all teary-eyed. Oh, don’t do it Barbara! Join me and Phyllis and choose a life of spinsterhood!
Wilma shows off the new settee she bought with her paycheck to her husband, Trevor. He’s upset, because his wife’s financial success is emasculating him. At this point I was expecting the episode to go the domestic violence root, but instead it results in spooning. Who knew?
Trixie comes back from a date with her new boyfriend Christopher, a man who smiles so much I can only assume he tortures women in his basement. Christopher wants Trixie to meet his secret daughter, but Trixie isn’t sure. She says she’ll consider it.
Wilma and Trevor wake up having fallen asleep on the settee. They both have work in the morning. Wilma hurriedly takes two pills and goes to bed.
Meanwhile, Valerie finds Barbara asleep over an unfinished wedding dress. It’s hard going, but Barbara can’t afford to buy one, so she has no choice but to make her own. Or, as she’s decided by morning, to borrow a dress from her sister and splash out on a new hairband for a veil. Luckily, everyone has banded together to raise money for Barbara. Cinderella, you will go to the ball.
Add Phyllis to the list of people I want following me around, for her ability to ward off pushy shop assistants with an imperious stare.
At the most depressing gay bar I’ve ever seen, Patsy is drowning her sorrows and pouring out her woes to an unseen barkeep. Someone lays a hand on hers. It’s Delia! No, it’s just a waitress offering to call her a taxi.
Wilma is looking increasingly unwell and collapses on her new settee. Dr Turner notices a suspicious red patch on her leg and sends her to the hospital where Trixie has been seconded.
Meanwhile, Shelagh’s commenced her labour with her customary Scottish efficiency. She hurries a bewildered Sister Julienne upstairs explaining she’s eaten “a whole packet of pink wafers and the pain’s in [her] lower back.”
At the hospital, it turns out Wilma’s had a pulmonary embolism. They’re going to treat her with medication and perform a tracheotomy. Trixie recommends that Trevor send for his children. It seems there have been a number of cases of women on the pill having blood clots. Of course, when Trixie asks Trevor, he knows nothing about it, and is hurt because she knew how much he wanted a son.
Tom performs last rights on Wilma. Trixie asks for him to wait before letting Wilma’s family in, while she puts some makeup on her, as Trevor had earlier said he didn’t want the children being frightened seeing their mother so sick. While looking for a comb in Wilma’s handbag, she finds the pills. I was unaware that early contraceptive pills caused blood clots. Thank you Call the Midwife, for reading me another chapter of that hefty tome, ‘Why it Sucks to Have an XX Chromosome.’
Back at the Turner’s, Dr Turner is feeling helpless as he’s kept outside the delivery room while his wife cries out in pain. Sister Julienne suggests Shelagh try singing to calm herself down. Dr Turner joins in, and at this beautiful moment I can’t help but laugh uncontrollably at his attempt. Shelagh asks for him to come in, because they’re such a pair of crazy kids, it’s useless for them to try to be like everyone else. Imagine, a husband in the delivery room. The horror. Finally, Shelagh gives birth to a healthy two week old baby boy. And so begins adopted daughter Angela’s descent in to sociopathy. Just you watch, she’ll be trying drown her brother before the episode’s out.
Wilma is officially dead. Trixie and Tom talk about life, the universe, and how funny it was that time they almost got married. Tom has high hopes for Trixie and Christopher, and assures Trixie that she’s great with kids, as he saw how she was with Wilma’s children.
At last, Barbara’s father arrives, and, like his daughter, he is a suspiciously accent-less Liverpudlian. I was expecting Dave Lister and all I got was Father Brown.
So Trixie finally meets Christopher’s ridiculously named daughter, and almost straight away blows it by opening with a dead bunny story. Luckily, she rescues it at the last minute, and they bond over nail varnish.
Meanwhile Fred and some other locals turn up on Tom’s doorstep, hoping for a booze-up to take him on his stag do. This results in Fred waking up in the garden shed and Tom looking more human than I’ve ever seen him. He’s also won a fair chunk of cash, thanks to some betting on dogs. I wonder what he’ll spend it on?
It’s the wedding day. It was always going to be a simple wedding for Barbara. After all, as her father said, she finds joy in the little things. So what does this simple girl’s wedding dress look like? I can only describe it as the Snow Queen meets the Ghost of Christmas Past. Truly, it is something to behold.
After the ceremony, Tom has a surprise for Barbara, and no, it’s not the six waving tentacles he hides under his human skin suit (he’s saving that for the wedding night.) It’s a carousel! Yes, he spent the money he won on a carousel. Not a mortgage down-payment. Not a trust fund of any kind. A carousel. All I can say is I hope he outright bought the damned thing, as it’ll be the only bit of happiness in a life of poverty from now on. But of course, Barbara loves it, and as the music swells and Vanessa Redgrave narrates something about the march of time, we are invited to love it too.
Everyone beams happily, either waving from he carousel or simply watching their loved ones on it. Everyone, that is, but Patsy. But then she spies Delia under the bridge and they kiss and promise to never be apart again, and then rejoin the party before the police can arrest them, and their friends in a religious order can shun them for the abomination against nature that is their selfless love for each other. Hooray!
And so ends another series. Next season will be set in 1963, and all I can say is, there had better be Daleks.