Let’s breakdown the thirteen essentials of Call the Midwife on PBS, Episode 2. (In case you missed it: stream episode 2 online.)
- Twisted Sister
It has become obvious that Sister Grinch is a Tory. Not only has she cut funding for clinic biscuits and midwife lunches, but just about everything else within her purview that is meaningful, needed, or fun. Her announcement begins innocently enough, lulling all assembled into a false sense of security by praising the midwives for going above and beyond the call of duty for their patients. Then in the next breath, she tells the stunned staff they will not be allowed to do that anymore. They were encouraging dependence, the expectation that when patients need medical attention and compassion they’ll get it.That can only lead to dancing and we cannot have that. It’s like that old saying, ‘If you give a man a fish he eats for a day. If you ration his healthcare he swims with the fishes,’ or something like that. I believe it was Sister Monica Joan who said it – or thought it.
According to Sister Grinch there is to be no fat on the lamb, and no lamb chops either. She says efficiency is the name of the game; nothing else will be tolerated. Those who do not earn their place will be tossed into a dumpster out back, and she set Sister Monica Joan in her laser sight as she said it. It is clear that, after too many non-sequiturs, Grinch finds Sister Monica Joan Superstar superfluous to needs. At the clinic, she even shakes her down for bon bons and steals her lunch money.
- Nevertheless they persisted
Sister Grinch’s cuts cut to the very heart of the humanity that drew all these dedicated midwives to Nonnatus House in the first place. In their own ways, our Nonnatuns are staging small, quiet revolts every day, (otherwise known as acts of kindness) against orders. #Resist
- Parting is such sweet sorrow
Just as I predicted last week, all it takes is one person on night patrol to see Patsy and Delia playing musical rooms and the cat is out of the bag. Before we get to that though, another letter arrives from Hong Kong, and this one is more dire than the last. At first Patsy refuses to even read it. When she finally does, it is just as she feared – her father is dying and her presence is required. She tosses the letter and tries to run from it. Sister Monica Joan sees this and (naturally) has to retrieve it and sneak a peek. She seeks out Patsy, who’s escaping by scrubbing every surface to within an inch of its life, and offers words of wisdom, counsel and a gentle force to convince Patsy she must return home, like a swallow to San Juan Capistrano, to ease her father on his way. And this is the person Sister Grinch thinks offers no value to the order? We beg to differ. We think it’s more like Sister Grinch doesn’t like Monica Joan’s sense of loopy subversiveness and whimsical anarchy. Hers is a spirit that cannot be broken by even the most determined tyrant.
As for those musical rooms, thankfully it was Nurse Crane who spied with her little eye the furtive lovers parting in the night. At first, we feared she would turn them in; instead (thankfully) she keeps shtum, and never says a word until after Patsy’s exit, when she sees that brokenhearted Delia needs consoling. She offers words of understanding instead of judgment; ‘The pain it costs to love is worth it’, and prescribes a volume of Garcia Lorca poetry, offering to lend Delia her copy (late charges may apply). Delia creeps into Patsy’s empty room and curls up in her bed to read the book of poems about love and loss.
- Goodnight Nurse
How will this end though? Now that Nurse Crane knows their secret, how long before it goes viral? With every person who discovers a secret, the chances of it staying a secret diminish exponentially (see Hughes, Mrs.). And, not for nothing, but it’s interesting to note that everyone was on the steps to see Patsy off… except Sister Grinch. On top of that, Delia made an enemy at the hospital when she chased off the arrogant doctor who was playing show and tell with Mrs. Reed and her new baby. For a hospital nurse to countermand a doctor takes guts, even now, let alone in 1962! Will there be repercussions for Delia? If she gets fired, will she lose her room at Nonnatus House too and then not even be there (or anywhere to be found) when Patsy gets back?
10.1. FYI: Poetry Man: Federico Garcia Lorca was a poet and playwright, and one of Spain’s most prominent artists of his day (or ever). He had an intimate friendship with Salvador Dali that led him to experiment with the avant-garde and exhibit his drawings. After their relationship ended, Lorca searched for new inspiration which led him to briefly move to New York City and live in Harlem (where he wrote Poet in New York). Sadly, after returning to Spain, he became one of the most high profile victims of the Spanish Civil War. He was targeted by Franco’s right wing regime because he was gay and held liberal views. He was imprisoned without trial, then taken out, beaten and murdered on orders of military officials who refused to ever say where they buried his body. He was 38 years old.
- Baby on Board
It’s time! Shelagh and Dr. Turner sheepishly begin to announce their big news but Timothy cuts them off. He has already diagnosed the situation (this is what comes from letting your kid read The Lancet). He’s happy about the impending bambino, though doesn’t want to know any details about any birds or bees. If you’re going to drop your pants and fire a rocket he doesn’t need to hear about it, thank you very much. (And thank you Mr. Rickles!)
- I Have a Dream
Mr. and Mrs. Reed, a couple with Achondroplasia, (or, to use a term of that time, Dwarfism), just moved to Poplar from White Chapel, bringing with them just enough denial to maintain high hopes in the face of a very risky pregnancy. They had been told about the dangers – both she and her baby could die – but hopes the doubting doctors are wrong. She won’t give up on her dream. She’s looking for a miracle, or at least the chance to hold onto her hopes for as long as she can. She finds friendship among the initial curious stares at the clinic, and care from Patsy that doesn’t let fear stamp out her joyful anticipation (even though her husband is terrified he’ll lose her).
- It’s a Small World After All
Because a vaginal birth adds to the risk, Mrs. Reed is scheduled for a c-section, but her water breaks unexpectedly and she has to be rushed in earlier than anticipated. At the hospital, Mrs. Reed is treated like a freak by the arrogant doctor on rounds with students. Nurse-on-duty Delia tries to mitigate the situation, but there’s really no getting around it. Upon hearing that Mrs. Reed is in labor, Patsy rushes to her patient despite the fact that she is on telephone duty, and Sister Grinch’s specific instructions that patients are to be ignored. She reassures panicked Mrs. Reed that she’ll handle all the incidentals and she should just relax.
7.1. It’s a girl! After the surgery, Mrs. Reed is left hanging about the fate of her baby. Finally, Patsy seeks out the doctor and delivers the news with just one push. Finding out that her daughter is not a little person like she and her husband, Mrs. Reed worries their daughter will outgrow them or reject them; she even worries her arms will be too short to hold her. Patsy comforts Mrs. Reed with the story of her own childhood fears, growing up in a prisoner of war camp, and Mrs. Reed comforts her in return. As Mrs. Reed is handed her daughter for the first time, doctors turn up on rounds again – almost spoiling the lovely moment. This time Delia speaks up, steps in, gives the doctor what for, and tosses them out. She is told there will be repercussions.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, as Patsy returns from visiting Mrs. Reed in the hospital, Sister Grinch catches her, reprimands her, and docks her wages. But Patsy is not having it. She pulls some coins from her purse, puts them on the table and tells Sister Grinch she can take this job and shove it; she’s going to see her dying father. Sister Grinch briefly looks like she realizes she may have pushed Patsy too far, but then returns to her senses and takes the coins, lest Sister Monica Joan find them and use them to buy candy.
- I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing
Kindly warehouse worker George Marsh and his bread-baking wife Jessie are expecting their first. She is ready to pop at any moment, and he is excitedly spreading the word that today is the day. But while Jessie is at home giving birth to their son, Bobby, (with an assist from Sister Winifred) a tragedy is unfolding nearby at George’s job.
It’s dirty and dangerous work unloading flour sacks. George helps his friend Arthur Pillbury, who can barely do it anymore as he is weakened from who knows how many years of inhaling all that flour dust. Then things go from bad to worse: something triggers an explosion of all that flammable flour, knocking workers off their feet and sending everyone in the vicinity scrambling. As it happens, Shelagh is down at the docks, having just finished giving smallpox vaccinations, and missed being caught in the fireball by mere seconds. She jumps into action to triage the injured and finds there were no safety measures – not even any water (except from the dirty Thames) to assist the workers. Once the fire is out they discover that George and Arthur are still inside, huddled together and badly burned. Despite her best efforts, Shelagh cannot revive Arthur, and George’s hands and face are scorched. He is blind.
At the hospital, George is in a panic, wanting answers about his eyes that no one can give him. He thinks that without his sight he has nothing. As George’s mood moves from confusion and anxiety to bitterness, he is refusing to meet baby Bobby. He doesn’t want his son to see him like this. Jessie is heartbroken, telling him, ‘Excuse me, have we met? I’m the woman who loves your pilgrim soul, who will take you any way you come and love you.’ For her part, Jessie is struggling to make ends meet without George’s wage coming in. Just as Sister Winifred tells her it’s always darkest before the dawn, the lights go out. Jinx! And there’s no money to top up the meter. Jessie is proud and when Sister Winifred brings a neighborly food basket says she doesn’t need charity, but Sister Winifred has an empathetic way of delivering the help with making Jessie feel like she is accepting charity.
- You Can’t Handle the Truth
Shelagh is summoned to Coroner’s court to testify in the inquest over the death of Arthur (along with Valerie, who gives nervous Shelagh a pre-testimony pep talk, telling her to go out and win one for the Gipper). They both want to get justice for Arthur and George. When the judge dismisses her out of hand, frustrated Shelagh has her Norma Rae moment, and when that doesn’t seem to be enough to move the judge, she convinces George to testify, if not for himself, for Arthur. He’s too proud to enter the courtroom in a wheelchair so Shelagh leads him shuffling in, his hands and eyes still bandaged, wiping the smug look off the judge’s face. George smells Jessie’s perfume; she assures him she’s there and he apologizes. We don’t hear his testimony, but it’s a success! Even though Arthur’s death was ruled an accident, new safety measures will be put in place to help protect workers from now on. It’s a small victory.
- An Attitude of Gratitude
As for George, it would have been nice if the bandages came off and (miraculously) he could see again, but that wouldn’t have been realistic and this show has never shied away from hard truths. Instead, when the results don’t go their way, Jessie reminds him that he doesn’t have nothing, (as he’d claimed). In fact, they have everything, and should be grateful for that, rather than dwelling on what they’ve lost – a good reminder for us all!
- Timing is Everything
First Trixie was left behind at Hope Clinic in South Africa. Then last week, Sister Cynthia had her nervous breakdown and left (or was kidnapped) for parts unknown. Now, Patsy is going to Hong Kong to tend to her father (for who knows how long). All this makes the Nonnatuns a bit thin on the ground at the moment, which is not a good thing given that the residents of Poplar seem to breed like rabbits. What a lucky break it is then, that we are introduced to a retired army nurse (even if it is in sadly tragic circumstances). Recently back home, Valerie Dyer has been pulling pints in her Auntie’s pub down by the docks while she gets her head together and decides on her next move. When she hears the warehouse explosion she jumps in to assist. She comforts George while Shelagh tries to save Arthur. After it’s over she joins Shelagh in fighting for justice for the victims at the coroner’s inquest. As it turns out, she’s also a lifelong Nonnatus House fan girl who’s excited at being inside midwife central. Who knew midwives had groupies? But it brings home, yet again, the outsized impact these selfless midwives have on the community.
We are guessing that Valerie’s appearance in this episode is telegraphing that she’ll be joining Nonnatus House at some point in the near future. Hopefully she does. She seems like she’d fit right in.
2.1. FYI: Queen Alexandra’s Army Corp, the regiment Valerie mentioned being a member of, is the nursing branch of the British Army and traces its roots back to Florence Nightingale. It was established in 1902 by Royal Warrant and named for Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, who became its first president. The Corp survives to this day, now training nurses as well, and (since 1992) male nursesincluded. Its current Colonel-in-Chief is HRH The Countess of Wessex.
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
As Sisters Winifred and Julienne prepare a food basket for destitute Jessie Marsh, Sister Grinch catches them and swats their noses with a newspaper. Grinch says no, no, no; they are there to nurse not nanny. It doesn’t occur to her that providing food to hungry patients (Hello! Nursing mothers!) is nursing. No matter, Sister Grinch is expecting bigger catastrophes to come. What if a meteor hits and we need those pickled onions? She takes this opportune moment to admonish Sister Winifred for ferrying new mum Jessie Marsh to the hospital to see her badly injured husband, telling her, “Don’t let that happen again! Oh yeah, and your little dog too!”
Sister Julienne is left with no choice but to take her basket and collect carrots door to door. As she waits for Fred to discretely pull some spuds from the Victory Garden, Sister Monica Joan, in the best line of the episode, assures Sister Julienne, “this is the Auchloss of Nonnatus House and we just have to sit it out and wait for Churchill.” But might their Churchill be sitting right there on the bench with her? We think so. We think that quietly, methodically, Sister Julienne is girding for the good fight. If nuns could defeat Nazis at random Abbeys in Salzburg, they can defeat them in Poplar as well (and they even have Fred to help them steal spark plugs).
P.S. – Poll Numbers: This week Radio Times Magazine, the official magazine of the BBC, released the results of their recent reader’s poll which asked the question, ‘What is the UK’s best period drama of the 21st century?’ As it happens, PBS broadcasts four out of the top five: Call the Midwife came in first place, Poldark second, Downton Abbey in fourth, and Wolf Hall in fifth. The top five of best contemporary drama included Last Tango in Halifax and Doc Martin. Thank you PBS, for bringing us the Best of British — and so much more!
What did you think of this episode? Join the conversation below or Tweet using the hashtag #MidwifePBS.
If you are on Twitter you can follow THIRTEEN at @THIRTEENWNET and me at @E20Launderette. On Instagram, find THIRTEEN at @THIRTEENWNET and me at @GothamTomato.