This Call the Midwife episode’s opening monologue from Jenny Lee really hit home because I spent the week sitting by the hospice bed of a loved one, pondering the same questions myself, wondering how much of the soul I knew was still in there. I know there are many others out there who’ve been in the same boat.
Is the soul in the heart? Or in the brain? Or in the courage we summon to deal what life throws at us? Even if the place the soul lives isn’t always clear, what does reside with it are memories. For better or worse, those memories go with you wherever you go – and this week it was memories that affected each of our characters in ways good and bad. Let’s get started with the thirteen essentials of Call the Midwife, episode 6…
- Sister Monica Joan holds a solo vigil for Sister Cynthia.
As we begin, Sister Monica Joan is holding vigil outside The Linchmere Hospital gates where Sister Cynthia is being held. Inside, as she goes to another electro convulsive therapy session, Sister Ramsey (aka Nurse Ratched) notes that Cynthia has stopped fighting the treatments. The fact is she’s too tired to fight anymore. She has no choice but to submit. As they fire up the doomsday machine, Cynthia clutches her bible for comfort.
- Let None Eat Cake: Sister Monica Joan goes on a hunger strike.
Having been returned to Nonnatus House by Fred, Sister Monica Joan announces she is going on a hunger strike until Sister Cynthia is released. Meanwhile, Cynthia’s submission to the electro shock therapy is seen as progress, and as a result she is transferred to a ward full of all sorts. That means no more privacy and lots of chaos. To make matters worse, when she gets her laundry handed back after shower time, she is given someone else’s clothes. Her habit, and the security it provides her, is gone. She panics. A nurse retrieves it from the laundry and Cynthia is relieved when it is returned, explaining to the seemingly sympathetic nurse that her habit is an important symbol of her commitment to God.
Later, however, the same seemingly sympathetic nurse orders her to fall in line and get back into bed when she’s praying. Cynthia tells the nurse her bible has been stolen from under her pillow, and all she gets is a lecture about how things go missing if you aren’t careful. The only positive change is now she can have visitors. Sister Julienne and Sister Monica Joan arrive like the Cavalry to tell her they are working for her release – and they secure it!
- Not all who wait are lost: Sister Cynthia meets Mrs. Archibald.
Sister Cynthia inquires to the nurse about a woman who sits all dressed up. The nurse tells her it’s Mrs. Archibald, who waits (every day) for her son to come collect her and take her home, but she’s had a lobotomy so she doesn’t understand he’s never coming. When it comes time for Sister Cynthia to leave she sits waiting for Sister Julienne, and Mrs. Archibald commiserates with her. Mrs. Archibald (in possibly one of the saddest lines ever on this show), “they never come.” Mrs. Archibald does understand. But she is locked in a place where the hope she clings to is dismissed as confusion. As Cynthia’s ride does turn up she sees that Mrs. Archibald has her bible in her handbag. At first Cynthia is startled, but tells her she can keep it with the hope that it brings her comfort.
- Home Sweet Convent: Sister Cynthia returns to Nonnatus House.
Now that she’s back, Sister Julienne is keeping Sister Cynthia isolated for a while, but at least she’s home and…exhale! But too soon that joy is pushed aside. Once she is back to the stress of cramming for her life vows, the noise in her head returns. She is questioning God. She can’t understand why she can’t pray. Sister Cynthia’s got what she calls a mist in her brain.
Dr. Turner is called in. He understands the lonely road Cynthia is on. He has walked that road himself, after war. He gets her a placement in the facility that helped him recover from PTSD, Northfield Hospital, where they will help her deal with the memories, not try to erase them. And she is going in as just Cynthia. She wants a clean reset to when nothing was impossible, to breathe and reboot. And she decides she wants to go in her postulant’s dress (maybe taking a page out of Trixie’s book of dressing right for any occasion) because back when she was wearing that postulant’s dress, the whole world, with all its possibilities, was wide open in front of her. Before that awful night and all that followed. What do we think of Cynthia’s journey? How will she fare? We cannot be sure, but we do know that quiet though she may be, she has shown she has a spirit that cannot be broken. #TeamCynthia
- The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow: Trixie gives Sister Cynthia hope.
Sister Julienne kept Sister Cynthia away from the others (except Sister Monica Joan) to help her recover from her ordeal. Still, she ran into Trixie (who has been longing to see her) in the upstairs hallway. Trixie gives fragile Cynthia a promising forecast: things may seem bleak now, but if she can just see her way to surviving them, she can bet her bottom dollar that tomorrow and ever after there will be better days ahead. Trixie always presents as so put together we forget she has had her own serious struggles. When we scratch the surface, maybe it is that presentation of fashionable perfection that is merely a coping mechanism.
- The midwives confront Female Genital Mutilation.
I don’t mean to be flippant about a very serious subject, but if you watched parts of this episode with your legs tightly crossed, I’m thinking you would not be alone in that. I know I was. There is a whole world of problems out there. Poplar hasn’t cornered the market by a long shot. And this week brings an issue from elsewhere on the globe when we meet very pregnant Nadifa Farah as she is hiding the daily mail delivery from her Merchant Seaman husband. She suspects that the letter arriving has news she doesn’t want to receive: a ticket back to her home country of Somaliland. Her husband wants her to return to have their baby there, but she doesn’t want to go back. It seems the baby has other ideas as well: the travel conversation is halted by contractions and in fly the Nonnatuns!
Nurse Barbara explains to Mrs. Farah and her husband that she is too close to her due date to travel anywhere. He frets that he’ll be out to sea, but Nurse Barbara assures him they’ll take good care of her and book her in to the clinic for a prenatal checkup. At the clinic, both Nurse Barbara and Nurse Dyer try to conceal their shock when they get Nadifa in the stirrups: all her external genitalia is gone, with nothing left but a scar from front to back. They ask if she’s had any sort of surgery down below, and she says only what is usual. The looks on the nurses faces must give her pause because she asks if she is not normal, and Nurse Dyer tries to assure her there is no such thing as normal. Every woman and every delivery is different. They book her an appointment at St. Cuthbert’s.
- Nadifa gives birth with the help of Nurse Dyer.
At St. Cuthbert’s, Mr. Kenley Arrogant Doctor is doing a pelvic exam on Mrs. Farah with his crew along. He talks about cutting to let the baby out and she is rather traumatized, either by the talk or Mr. Kenley’s pelvic floor show. We don’t know for sure, but when she goes into labor for real, by herself at home, she is too frightened to call for help or even answer the door when Barbara calls in for a checkup.
It is only by chance that Nurse Dyer happens upon her in labor. She was walking little sister Deka home with some baby things and they find her on her knees and tell her not to push. Somehow Nurse Dyer understood that what she was seeing in Nadifa was PTSD (or whatever they called it then), as a result of her mutilation. It is probably because of her service in the Army medical corp that she understands how to treat Nadifa. She shows Nadifa her hands so she understands she has no knife, but she does need scissors to cut because there is no time to get to the hospital now. The baby is tearing its way out and must be delivered in the ambulance on the side of the road.
Afterwards, when Nurse Dyer explains that she had to be repaired, what upsets Nadifa isn’t that she was torn, or the mutilation that had been done to her in the first place, but rather that a man did the sewing and how would he know how she had to be sewn up for her husband? While Nadifa is completely oblivious to the fact that this is not the norm everywhere, the fact that her husband insists she go back for the birth makes one wonder if he understands it is not.
- Sister Act: Little Deka is to follow in her big sister’s footsteps.
And then there is the matter of Nadifa’s sister, Deka, who lives with the Farahs. She is a bright and curious nurse wannabe whom the nurses take a liking to and begin to tutor on all things medical. Her big sister Nadifa does not seem too impressed at the idea of little Deka wanting a career. She has not been cut, but she is going to be as soon as she gets back to Somaliland.
The ticket for that journey has come and Deka is packed off while Nadifa is in the hospital delivering (maybe it was actually the ticket’s arrival that sent Nadifa into her PTSD response). But Nadifa insists Deka will be fine, that she is stronger than she is. When Nurse Dyer angrily questions her on how she could allow that to be done, Nadifa takes them to task, saying what happened to her, and will happen to Deka, is about love and respect that they know nothing about. True, they do not understand her culture, she, by the same token, she does not understand that there is another (healthier) way that does not steal parts of her body and sexual fulfillment. Barbara and Valerie rush to the boat dock and get there just in time to see the ship pulling away. Deka happily waves goodbye from the ship deck, blithely unaware of the fate that awaits her when she returns to Somaliland. How can she do it? How can her sister Nadifa send her back to that fate?
FYI: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision, as it was erroneously dubbed during the time period this Call the Midwife episode takes place, has zero health benefits. It is born out of gender inequality and attempts to control female sexuality. FGM can occur at any age from newborn through the onset of puberty, though it usually happens by the time the victim is five years old. There are different variations from country to country, but all FGM removes some or all of the external genitalia. The use of sharp instruments (razor blades, sharpened rocks, glass, or even fingernails) is employed often without anesthesia, and then the girl is sewn shut. It is most often women who do the cutting. Among the side effects of this procedure are: urinary infections, septicemia, gangrene, endometriosis, and (as the result of dirty instruments) hepatitis and HIV. It is unknown how many girls die from genital mutilations each year. When a girl marries, she has to be cut open to have sex, and cut open farther to give birth (after which she is sewn up again). Female Genital Mutilation is still practiced in thirty countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Indonesia. Since the 70’s, women’s rights activists have been educating the populace and lobbying to have the procedure banned. It is now banned or restricted in most of the countries where it is practiced, but the laws are poorly enforced. There has been pushback from those claiming it is a cultural practice rather than a human rights violation. It is estimated that there are over 200 million women and girls living today who have been subjected to FGM.
- Trixie is playing hard to get with Mr. Dockerill.
Trixie had a lovely date with Dentist Dockerill but now she is putting him off. Desperate, he goes bold and takes a chance; he shows up at the Nonnatus House, flowers in hand. What he gets for his troubles is the third degree from Sister Monica Joan — about both Trixie and mercury fillings. She pins him down, wanting to know why she’s getting Radio Free Europe transmitting through the fillings in her teeth, when she would prefer to get The Archers, until Nurse Crane swoops in. (It must have been her turn to play zone defense at the door.)
Nurse Crane not only saves him and the flowers, she has a heart to heart (off camera) where she gathers some intel that she later relays to Trixie. Dentist Dockerill doesn’t understand why Trixie has been putting him off and neither does Nurse Crane. Trixie claims a girl shouldn’t look too keen, but then admits she just doesn’t know if she can open her heart again. Nurse Crane’s advice, ‘failure isn’t fatal, but hesitation can be.’
- Top Down, Bottoms Up: Trixie decides to give love another chance.
Between Nurse Crane’s advice and the threat of nuclear annihilation, Trixie decides to take another chance on love. She and Mr. Dockerill have date #2. They sit on the hood of his convertible and share a moonlight kiss by a lovely lake and… Wait, what? Where did that lake come from? Anyway, things are going swimmingly with the new It Couple until he declares it’s time for a toast and hands her a drink. She looks at the glass like it’s full of kryptonite, making the excuse that she can’t drink because she’s on-call, volunteering to just pose fashionably while holding it. He buys it. She’s not ready yet, to tell him that she’s a recovering alcoholic. She has worked so hard to get her life back together; will trying to keep this secret for the sake of appearances hurt all that? We hope not! #TeamTrixie
- Everyone is reacting to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Forget about all the usual tsuris in Poplar, this week everyone is distracted by events elsewhere: the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is affecting everyone, though each is reacting differently: Fred is preparing for nuclear winter by having everyone paint their windows white to reflect away the radiation, Shelagh is questioning the wisdom of bringing their much-wanted baby into the world right now, the Nonnatuns pray, Delia pines over Patsy, and Nurse Crane has her scouts doing some sort of defensive square dancing drills.
- Ask not what your midwife can do for you: Kennedy saves the day.
They all have faith in President Kennedy. (Do you remember what it was like to have a President with a 70% approval rating?) But none have more faith than Trixie, who thinks all will be fine because JFK is just too, too cute to not be able to charm his way out of any situation. And he does. Clearly Khrushchev felt the same as Trixie. Either that or as fate would have it (that time around), both leaders had a realistic sense of self preservation. The Soviets stand down and the world resumes turning…and…relief!
FYI: This is Not a Drill: I’m old enough to remember when civil defense drills were a regular occurrence in elementary school, climbing under our desks or lining up in the hallways to prepare for nuclear attack from the Soviets. (Who knew they’d eventually find an easier way in?) I still recall 6th grade when my job during these drills was to pull down all the window shades to protect everyone from the nuclear fallout should any atomic bombs land nearby. No dumb bunny, I had my doubts about whether the fabric window shades could actually save anyone from anything, but I kept those doubts to myself so as not to panic the other children. And thankfully, cooler heads prevailed…for a while at least.
- Movin’ On Up: The Turner family’s new digs.
Shelagh is so eager for the Turner family’s impending move to their new house. She’s packed everything, including the ketchup, ten days in advance! She also warns the Collier Brothers, AKA Dr. Turner and Timothy, about their hoarding tendencies and suggests they have a good clearout in advance so there’s less to carry. Shelagh is a bit melancholy to leave their first little home together, but Pa Walton (How’d he get in there?) reminds her that they may be moving on, but they’ll take all the happy memories they’ve made with them.
They arrive at their new home, but there’s a glitch. (Ain’t there always?) The moving van went to the wrong place – Kent. (About a day’s drive away!) On top of that, Dr. Turner forgot to contact the power company, so they start their new life with no belongings and no electricity, camping out together in the living room with dodgy sleeping bags borrowed from the scout troop, and happy as clams just to be together. They count themselves among the lucky ones – which makes me nervous because (as I’ve said before in my Downton Abbey recaps) whenever anyone on a drama talks too much about how happy they are something bad happens. Let’s all throw some salt over our shoulders and hope the evil eye doesn’t have their new address, kine hora, pooh pooh!
Bonus: FYI: The Old Switcheroo: Last week Stephen McGann (Dr. Turner) did an interview where he was asked what other parts on the show he’d like to play. His answer: Fred (easy answer, since he’s the only other principle male character on Call the Midwife), but he also said… Sister Monica Joan! If I was good at Photoshop I’d put a composite picture right here. I think he’d look quite fetching in his habit!
What did you think of this episode? Join the conversation below or tweet using the hashtag #MidwifePBS.