Call the Midwife is back, baby (pun intended)! When THIRTEEN asked me to do recaps for the new season of Call the Midwife I thought, wait a minute, how can I recap this show (in my usual nutty style) when they often cover such heavy issues? I’m not sure I can but I’m going to give it a go. I hope you’ll come along each week and join in the discussion in the comments section below.
The drama Call the Midwife returns to PBS for a sixth season April 2-May 21, 2017, 8-9 pm.
Here we go with the Thirteen Essentials of Call the Midwife, Episode 1…
In Polar, East London, time marches on and change is always in the air. The 60’s was a decade that belonged to London and it will be interesting to see how our friends at Nonnatus House are a part of it. As the post-war years recede further into the distance we’ve got new, updated pictures over the titles, more casual diversity, and surroundings that become cleaner and brighter as time goes by, (even though there are always new problems – and old ones popping up too). Another sign time is passing? Little Timothy is shaving and his voice has dropped about seven octaves. He’s now singing bass in a doo-wop group. They’ve still got him in the short pants though. Some things are eternal.
Whoever designed the uniforms of our midwives was not kidding around. It is entirely appropriate that they wear capes. Most superheroes do. These midwives, especially when they are flying to the rescue to the strains of that tense background music, are superheroes. Superheroes in sensible shoes.
- Home Sweet(?) Home
Our conquering warriors return from Hope Clinic in sunny South Africa to pouring down rain London to find one very big change at Nonnatus House: There’s a new sheriff in town! For some reason that we are not privy to, while they were away saving lives, the Mother Ship decided to replace Sister Julienne with some Folgers Crystals (AKA an evil nun, Sister Ursula, whom would be more accurately called Sister Mary Grinch). This is why people don’t take time away from the office – the minute you do the vultures circle.
And how does Sister Julienne find out this news? Miss Ursula delays the group’s lunch, making everyone stand at attention around the table while Sister Julienne goes to take the phone call Grinch knows is coming. She knows what the news will be for Sister Julienne and that she will be blindsided, yet allows her to go skipping off to grab the phone unprepared. Pretty ruthless. Ever the Pollyanna, Sister Julienne takes the high road and returns to the kitchen to congratulate her replacement as all the faces around the table fall. Sister Ursula further humiliates Sister Julienne by making her move furniture. Sister Ursula demands obedience in all things, including her interpretation of ‘the will of the almighty’. Translation: Don’t question my authority. Sit down and shut up…and go back to rearranging the furniture in the sitting room.
- No Soup For You!
Need more evidence that Sister Grinch is evil? She took away the TV! Monster. It all began innocently enough: Sister Monica Joan was enjoying herself, standing in front of the telly, pole dancing to the BBC test patterns, as a person is wont to do, when Sister Grinch walked in wanting to know why the flower arrangements had not been done and was shocked to find someone having fun. She instantly snapped off the TV and admonished Sister Monica Joan who panicked and warned her that suddenly cutting off the signal would kill all the garden fairies in Poplar. Alas, evil Sister Grinch would not heed the warning. She wanted her flower arrangements and she wanted them now, dead garden fairies be damned. So there. Of course, Sister Monica Joan is not the only one upset about the AWOL TV. When Sister Mary Grinch was questioned later by the group as to the whereabouts of the missing television, all she would say is that ‘it was sent to live on a farm’.
- Trix Are For Kids
Sister Mary Grinch’s reign of terror continues as her new budget eliminates biscuit funding at the maternity clinic. Biscuits are now for fainters only. No more of this self-indulgence of munching on a cookie while waiting hours for needed medical attention. Back home at Nonnatus House, she has reinstated war-time rationing and has proceeded to slowly starve the staff in clear violation of the Geneva Convention. I expect a future episodes to include random nuns standing out on the High Street holding signs that read, ‘WILL BIRTH BABIES FOR FOOD’, and Sister Monica Joan bludgeoning Sister Mary Grinch with an empty cake tin. Something to look forward too!
- FYI: Reception Committee
Younger viewers might have been shocked and confused to see what Sister Grinch did with the TV. No, not when she had it carted away; when she touched it and it and the screen went black. You see boys and girls, in the olden days, before the earth’s crusts cooled, if you wanted to turn the TV on or off, or even wanted to change the channel, you had to stand up and walk across the room, (which required dexterity and balance) to turn knobs that were on the front of the TV. Sometimes, (if you drew the short straw), you even had to stand holding one of the small metal poles which protruded from the top of the TV (called ‘the antennas’) with one hand and some tin foil in the other, while holding your foot in the air at just the right angle to get clear reception. Don’t be alarmed. We survived – but at least we had a freakin’ TV, Sister Mary Grinch I’m looking at you!
- We’ll Drink to That
Nurse Patsy is the new bartender, but newly engaged Barbara is now joining in for the first time, bracing herself for her future as a Curate’s wife. Patsy’s relationship with Delia continues, buthow long will their secret stay a secret? What is the first rule of drama? A secret is always a ticking time bomb that can go off at any time. All it will take is Sister Grinch on night patrol, catching Patsy creeping into Delia’s room post-lights out and boom goes the dynamite. So far this season, the only time bomb going off comes in the form of a letter bringing bad news that Patsy says will hurt both of them: Her father has ‘degenerative condition of the nervous system’ and is paralyzed (I’m wondering if that means ALS?). And why would it hurt both of them? Something else that has the potential to hurt them all: Does Sister Mary Grinch know about these little end of shift cocktail parties? I’m guessing she does not, and when she finds out it’s gonna be prohibition-time in the OK Corral. Just a hunch.
- What’s Love Got To Do, Got To Do With It?
As we move into the 60’s, it is the era when the Kray Brothers, the infamous East End gangsters, ruled London, and they are represented in this episode by Lester Watts, and his cohorts. Lester is a ‘made man’ (as they say in Jersey) who is newly released from prison and quickly getting back to his old abusive ways.
We meet pregnant Trudy Watts and her son Mickey when she visits the clinic. Nurse Crane asks why Mickey isn’t in school and Trudy says he’s been wetting the bed and when he does he doesn’t want to go to school the next day. He’s getting teased at school, about that and his eye-patch astigmatism glasses. Nurse Crane offers to give the eye clinic a push to get them to fit him for new, proper glasses. Maybe they’ll even take them today. This causes Trudy to panic. She has obligations she must attend to and she’s already been sitting there for hours. Nurse Crane reassures her that she’ll just get the appointment for her and drop it by. Little did Nurse Crane know that when she did that and walked through the door of Trudy’s house that she’d be entering one of Dante’s circles of hell.
All dolled up, Trudy goes to meet Lester as he is released. We can see, the moment Lester approaches his son that the boy is terrified of him. That must be why he wet the bed last night; the anticipation of his dad getting out. It must also be why the thought of missing this obligation caused Trudy the panic. After the welcome home party, when Trudy is too exhausted to really welcome him home, he attacks her then storms off to see the hookers on Dock Road that he says are so much better than she is anyway.
- The First Rule About Fight Club
Prison boxing champion, Lester wants his tiny son to follow in his footsteps but Trudy is against it. The next day when she thinks Nurse Barbara is picking Mickey up from school, Lester gets him instead and takes him to the boxing gym. Lester tells his terrified son that he’s got to learn to fight his corner (when all little Mickey wants is his own little corner in his own little chair). Lester tosses him in the ring with a much older boy who knocks him out just as Trudy rushes in too late to stop it. She goes to the police to keep her son away from him but Sergeant Noakes says there’s nothing he can do other than have a friendly word with him. But a gangster doesn’t appreciate a friendly word from a copper. It backfires bigly.
An argument ensues when Lester is furious about the cops visiting him at the gym, and Trudy says that maybe he abuses her in a way that doesn’t leave visible marks because he’s a coward. He decides to prove her wrong on that score; he grabs her and stubs his cigarette out on her chest three times, shoves her to the floor, locks her in her room, and once again storms out, leaving Mickey sitting there alone as his dad says he’s too stupid to get into any trouble. Mummy tries to make him think they are playing a pirate game but we guess he knows the score. As the ‘game’ drags on for hours, Trudy goes into labor and needs to get help. With an assist from Mickey, who brings her a butcher’s knife from the kitchen, she chops her way out and packs off to Nonnatus House with Mickey in tow, getting there just in time. When her water breaks, it’s green slime. After the baby is born we learn that that was the baby’s first bowel movement, which happened in utero. Lester literally scared he crap out of the baby, and Trudy is alarmed that Lester was able to waltz right into the clinic hospital and touch the baby. Against doctor’s orders, she flees.
- Garden of Dreams
At Nonnatus House Sister Mary Grinch is Mother Superior, but at Lester’s gaff, Trudy’s mum is Mother Inferior; a nasty piece of work who undermines her daughter at every turn, sacrificing her happiness and (possibly)life to stay in the orbit of ‘connected’ gangster Lester. When Trudy changes the locks and calls a lawyer to file for divorce, her mother, Zelda, sides with Lester, asking “how do we know you didn’t do all this abuse to yourself?” Now, under Zelda’s supervision, the locks are changed back and Lester is filing for custody. At the end of her rope, Trudy takes her kids to the police station and disappears. To find her, Nurse Crane does some ace detective work (actually, she just listens to her patients so she had a feeling Trudy would go to the garden she had described as her childhood dreaming spot. Trudy admits she was considering suicide (we assume to sacrifice herself so that her kids would go to foster care and get away from their father). Nurse Crane tries to reassure her that there is another way. There is always another way.
- And They Lived Happily Ever After
The episode epilogue hints at a happy ending. Trudy, Mickey and new baby got help at a hostel for women, and she was awarded custody and a council flat in a galaxy far, far away with blue skies. This is much better than the epilogue (in an earlier season) where those horrifically neglected kids were taken away to Australia and as they happily waved from the plane (or boat). Jenny Lee’s voice-over informed us that program meant to help children was actually sending them to a life of servitude and abuse. Hopefully, these three will fare better (and Lester will never find them). We hope that especially for Mickey who was just about the cutest little thing we’ve ever seen.
- FYI: The Kray Brothers
Twins, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, along with their older brother Charlie, were gangsters (every bit as ruthless as Sister Ursula) in the East End of London, running an organized crime syndicate known as ‘The Firm’. In the 1950’s, before becoming successful at protection rackets and murder, they went on a violent spree while conscripted into the military, that included assaulting officers, going AWOL, and when caught, becoming among the last prisoners held at the Tower of London, (before being transferred to military prison). They became celebrities in swinging 60’s London after being photographed by iconic fashion photographer David Bailey. They hobnobbed with politicians, movie stars and socialites. Ronnie caused a big scandal when a tabloid reported he’d had an affair with Conservative politician Lord Boothby at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK. The Krays’ celebrity, and their legitimate business running a nightclub, camouflaged their violent criminal activities. But, they couldn’t escape Scotland Yard forever. In 1968 all three were finally arrested, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. Ronnie died in prison in 1995. Reggie died weeks after getting compassionate leave because he had inoperable cancer. Charlie, who only served seven years on the original conviction, returned to his old ways after release, and was later caught smuggling cocaine and sent back to prison again in 1997, where he died a few years later.
4.1 Mama Mia
It is also interesting to note that the Kray Brothers’ mother, Violet, was rather well known, just like her sons. Another East End legend, Barbara Windsor, AKA The Cockney Sparrow (now, Dame Barbara Windsor!), who played Peggy Mitchell on EastEnders, based the character of Peggy partly on Violet Kray (whom she knew because she had dated two of her sons). So it was only fitting that Granny Zelda was played so brilliantly by another EastEnders alumni, Lucy Speed – though Peggy Mitchell, while she could be a tiny terror, would never have behaved like Trudy’s monster mom and plotted against her with her abusive husband!
- She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Sister
Trudy’s fear and Lester’s violent outbursts trigger Sister Cynthia, who was already barely hanging on by a thread after her attack last year. Now the unresolved issues from the attack, combined with the pressure Sister Grinch is putting on her to tackle a mountain of homework before taking her vows, (not to mention the brow beating she thinks of as spiritual mentoring), causes Cynthia to have what seems like a nervous breakdown. Sister Julienne takes away her medical bag (one thinks she must have feared her harming herself with something in it) and Sister Monica Joan offers her own brand of hazy, but wise, comfort. Dr. Turner is called and gently questions her with Sister Grinch present. Cynthia hears voices and feels like her noisy mind is a blackboard filled with scribbles that she cannot decipher, and she cannot make sense of some of Dr. Turner’s simple questions. She clearly needs help, but before the good doctor can get her a placement at a facility near her family, she is secretly sent away to the Mother Ship by Sister Ursula Grinch, who pulls rank, insisting that they are her family now. Is she worried about Cynthia or is she worried about the possibility of losing a recruit? Either way, alarmed Dr. Turner rushes out and runs into Sister Julienne who is as upset as he is. Even though she is now powerless to stop this, Sister Julienne wants it noted that she objects. Is she building a case against Sister Grinch?
- One Ringy-Dingy
As the travelers are welcomed home, there’s also excitement and congratulations over the engagement of sweet couple, Nurse Barbara and Curate Tom. Sister Grinch isa bit of a wet blanket as Barbara excitedly shares the news, and shows off her non-ring ring. Sister Grinch is only concerned that an empty ointment tin, used to store Barbara’s knotted blade of grass ring, not be wasted on such frivolity. With the happy couple, the only bump in the road is that Tom can’t afford a ‘real’ ring and is upset about that even though Barbara insists she is thrilled by her precious blade of African grass and that’s all she needs. She can live on love. But in the end, she buys a ring for herself, for him, really, because she thinks he needs her to have it more than she does. It hurts his male pride a bit but hey, they are affianced and nothing can burst their bubble. It’s like Thorn Birds, but with a happy ending (though Trixie might object to that idea, and want it noted).
- Great Expectations
It’s not all doom and gloom: Shelagh is expecting! She’s been keeping it a secret, but cannot help but confess all to Sister Julienne after almost puking in the milky tea she made for her. Shelagh would be completely over the moon at the news, if she weren’t so afraid; she’d been told she couldn’t have children, so we are guessing her fear is that something will go wrong. She hasn’t even told Dr. Turner yet, but with a nudge from Sister Julienne, and a drawing she makes, (a sweet anatomically correct valentine), she does. He’s thrilled, obviously!
Extra: MIA this episode
Chummy is not in this season premiere episode. Her hubby Sargent Noakes appeared, though, and as long as he’s around there’s hope she’ll return. Nurse Trixie was left behind in South Africa (temporarily, we are told) to continue the Nonnatan’s midwifery work. The pictures of her idol Marilyn Monroe are still pasted to the wall above her bed. It is the spring of 1962, and little does the world know that it is just a few months away from Marilyn’s passing. One wonders if that news will be part of an upcoming story turn.
Do you have a favorite story line from this episode, or past seasons? A favorite scene? Who were you most interested in seeing return this season? Join the conversation below or Tweet using the hashtag #MidwifePBS.