The over-arching theme of Episode 4 reminded me of the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
…and not just because Trixie returned to her AA meetings. This week, in every storyline, we found our characters working out what they could and could not accept, and what they could and could not change – and finding the hard-won wisdom to know the difference. Knowing that difference is the tough stuff of our emotional lives.
We hope you will accept these Thirteen Essentials of Call the Midwife, Season 7, Episode 4.
13. High Flyer
This week the Nonnatus House ladies are agog over Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, and all the new possibilities her adventures promised – like vodka flavored Tang! No one was more thrilled at the news than Sister Monica Joan. When Trixie fretted about her space helmet ruining her bouffant or whether she was lonely up there all on her own, the good Sister insisted Valentina had no time to be lonely; she is a fearless adventurer!
True History: Valentina Tereshkova (b. 1937) became the first woman in space on June 16, 1963. She spent three days orbiting the earth 48 times, becoming an international celebrity and a national hero, ranking along side Yuri Gagarin, and she is still a national hero to this day. After coming back to earth she had a long political career, and remains the only woman to have been on a solo space mission. In 2013 she volunteered to fly to Mars, even if it could only be a one-way trip.
12. Take My Wife, Please. No, Not That One; the Other One
Thoroughly modern Pakistani immigrants Saddiq and Mumtaz Gani have built a successful business in the East End rag trade. Mumtaz is the Boss Lady and this business is their baby. Mumtaz gets home from a tough day at the sweatshop, expecting to see her cousin Parveen, newly arrived from Pakistan. Saddiq tries to manage expectations, telling her, um, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Just then the bad news comes waddling around the corner. SURPRISE! Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that when I was back in Pakistan for my father’s funeral, oh, about nine months ago, I married your cousin Parveen and got her pregnant. I also forgot where I left my car keys. Silly me. It could happen to anyone. You understand, right? Suddenly it is the wife who’s not pregnant who has morning sickness: Mumtaz runs from the room, sick at the news.
Like their own marriage, this was arranged by Saddiq’s mother, and Mumtaz’s parents agreed. Talk about mother-in-laws from hell! Reading between the lines, it seems this arrangement was made because Mumtaz can’t have children – so they found a 15-year-old to do the job. He claims he had no choice. Now, neither does she. Ever since they got married, they have shared everything and built a good life, even without kids, but Mumtaz tells him she cannot share this.
11. Share and Share Alike
When pregnant Parveen receives a home visit from Nurse Val, she innocently tells her that her husband is also married to her cousin. Sensing that this job is above her pay grade, Val calls in Sister Julienne off the bench to check out the situation up in here. She sees Mumtaz who rails against the situation she is being forced to accept, about the rage and grief she feels for her marriage, about the decisions that were made by others, knowing there is nothing she can do about any of it. Sister Julienne counsels her to make the best of a bad situation. These are the choices? Mumtaz turns up at the maternity hospital when Parveen is in labor and ends up being her birth coach. When Mumtaz marvels at the newborn baby, Parveen insists it was teamwork; they both did it. Mumtaz is taken by the baby, but when her husband comes in to meet his new son, and says “our son” to Parveen, Mumtaz is crestfallen and has to leave.
10. Mommie Clearest
Things are no better for Parveen, who is not the slightest bit interested in caring for baby, complaining (like the 15-year-old she is) it’s too hard, and tries to block out his cries by covering her head with a pillow. At least she’s not covering the baby’s head with the pillow! Sister Julienne goes to the Gani’s factory to speak to Mumtaz about it, and Mumtaz gets so upset at the intrusion she accidentally sews through her hand. This brings her to Dr. Turner who gives her the full Mike and Carol Brady Lesson of the Week; he says it’s not about who gives birth, but about love. He compares his family situation to hers (forgetting that while he’s had two wives, they weren’t his wives at the same time). He reasons that he and Shelagh embraced what they were given and built a happy family out of spare parts and surprises, and if Mumtaz could just open her heart to Parveen she could do the same.
Mumtaz accepts and makes a graceful gesture; she brings food to the hospital for Parveen. Sister Julienne smiles. Not sure I like that the story concludes with Mumtaz having to accept a sister wife in the house. I think that’s taking the whole love and acceptance thing a bit too far for me, but whatevs.
9. Doctor My Eyes
Sister Monica Joan can no longer hide her failing eyesight. When she loses her magnifying glass at the allotment she panics. It is hard to know what mortifies her most: losing her eyesight, or the indignity it brings; losing independence and being treated like a child? As Fred tries to console her, she says when she took the veil she vowed to surrender the world of the senses, but some are harder than others to give up. Fred speaks to Sister Julienne about it. She brings in Dr. Turner to see Sister Monica Joan, who promptly diagnoses his intentions as malignant. He says a little bird told him about her magnifying glass and he suspects she has cataracts. He wants her to see a specialist.
It is rather ironic that Sister Monica Joan is so suspicious of medical attention when she’s a nurse. Could it be that what she’s seen, as a nurse, has given her a front row seat (and TMI), and she knows whereof she speaks? Or is this just another part of her charming independent (stubborn) streak?
8. The Book Thief
Shelagh takes it upon herself to wrangle Sister Monica Joan to see the specialist, coaching her to get ready spit spot (like Mary Poppins), bribing her with the promise of post-appointment cake. That, at least, gets her there. But once in the doctor’s office, it all goes pear shaped. She is told she has bilateral cataracts that can be fixed with surgery, but she insists she will not submit to his butchery. She flees.
Shelagh relays this latest news to Sister Julienne and Fred, who asks, if she goes blind, will she have to return to the mother ship? Sister Julienne assures him (and us) no on that; it would be better she stay somewhere familiar – but we’ve seen before that executive decisions are often taken out of her hands. When Sister Julienne tries to reason with her, Sister Monica Joan clings to her teddy bear and insists she won’t submit to the surgery. She has memorized many books which she can retreat to when the light deserts her. But Sister Julienne says she doesn’t want to abandon her sister friend to darkness. They must help prepare her for going blind. Shelagh gets all the info for her and suggests she start learning Braille now; the white stick will come later. It is the thought of losing her ability to read that breaks Sister Monica Joan’s heart most.
7. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
As Sister Monica Joan sits in the chapel on her own, Fred comes in bringing roses from the garden for the alter. She says she can barely see them. She tells him about how, when she first became a nun, she fought every rule; outwardly she did what she was supposed to do, but inside she questioned everything. Her biggest lesson of the religious life was learning acceptance. Does she have a right to question God now? We see that this all comes down to a crisis of faith. If blindness is what God intends for her, she feels she must accept it and surrender.
Fred disagrees, and implores her to see things another way: he tells her that if she believes God created the world, then she must believe he made all the medical and scientific progress possible. That means God would intend for her to have the surgery, and that by rejecting the help and kindness that is offered her, she is throwing it all back in God’s face, and God would be rather ticked off about it. He tells her to think of the lady astronaut who was, no doubt, scared to get in her rocket, just like she is scared of the surgery, but she faced her fear and look at what she’s seeing now! That’s the lightbulb moment for Sister Monica Joan.
She marches into Sister Julienne’s office to tell her she’s getting the surgery after all. If a woman can go up in space, Sister Monica Joan reasons, she can face her fear of doctors. Sister Julienne, unusually playing the part of the wet blanket, tries to correct her, saying the two experiences (astronaut and cataract surgery patient) are not comparable. Ah, ye of little faith, Julie, they are both brides of science!
6. The Munchies
At the maternity clinic we meet Loretta Campbell, a pregnant mum with an unusual craving: Coal. Yes, coal. She carries it around in her handbag and munches on it (in secret) when she feels the need – and she is ashamed of this need. When Nurse Anderson catches her, she explains that during her first pregnancy she craved marmalade sandwiches, but during this pregnancy it’s charcoal. Am I the only one who wondered what made her try eating coal in the first place? Anyway, Nurse Anderson assures her it is not uncommon (it’s not?), and there is even a name for it: Pica. This makes Loretta feel a bit less strange, but still she worries she is hurting the baby. Nurse Anderson assures her she’s not.
FYI: Pica is the term for craving non-food items (like dirt, charcoal, chalk, rocks, coffee grounds, moth balls, etc). It happens in both children and pregnant women. It is not known for sure what causes the cravings, but it is thought to be connected to vitamin or mineral deficiencies. The word Pica is Latin for magpie, a bird who will eat anything. Despite what our midwives said, it can be harmful to both mother and baby, depending on what those cravings are, because some non-food items are toxic.
5. You’ve Got To Have Friends…of Bill
Trixie has become the Lady Edith of Nonnatus House. Everything is going wrong for her. With her breakup with Christopher, she has lost her energy, her sense of humor and her sparkle. And the bedroom martini bar (that should have been gotten rid of long ago) has been challenging her to a staring contest – and the bar is winning. She is back drinking – still secretly, but (we can sense) that is about to change.
At morning roll call, Nurse Crane hands out assignments and tells Trixie she’s getting an “easy wicket” this week. When Trixie asks why, the other midwives leave skid marks as they snap their bags shut and exit the room. Nurse Crane tells her she’s had a bad break and needs time to recover. Trixie says she needs to keep busy. Nurse Crane says it is not about her needs, but her patients, and she will as soon as she is back up to her usual standards. Clearly, the others sense something is wrong, but they just don’t know fully what it is.
FYI, Easy Wicket: Wicket comes from the very complicated game of cricket (which Americans are genetically predisposed to be confused by). A wicket is three vertical sticks topped by two horizontal sticks. If the pitcher can knock the horizontal sticks off their perch but the person at bat doesn’t hit the ball, someone scores something. An easy wicket is a cricket pitch that favors the batman (no, not THAT Batman), or in others words, it means an easy life.
4. We Thinks Thou Doth Protest Too Little
Trixie attends to Loretta Campbell for her home birth. Loretta expresses her shame about her coal craving, and how she tries not to give in to it. Trixie asks if she feels better when she does give in. Loretta says it feels brilliant, but only briefly. Then it starts all over again. She has no idea how much Trixie can relate.
Loretta’s perfect baby is born, unharmed by the coal munching, and Mr. Campbell is eager to wet the baby’s head with some sherry. He offers a glass to Trixie, who has the perfect excuse to say no, she’s on duty. But he asks what could be the harm in a drink as innocent as a “granny’s tipple.” She takes the drink. So, what could be the harm? At a follow-up visit the next day, Nurse Crane finds out about said tipple when the Campbells mention it in passing. Uh-oh.
3. Promises, Promises
As soon as Nurse Crane returns from her visit with Loretta Campbell she makes a bee-line for Trixie and confronts her about her drinking. At first Trixie denies it, then makes light of it (as is her way), but finally admits to ace interrogator Crane she’s stopped going to AA meetings. She asks Nurse Crane if she will report her to Sister Julienne. She says not this time, but that she’d better buck up; she’s not only broken Nonnatus House rules, but also promises to herself. She insists Trixie return to AA.
As she promised, Trixie does (technically) go to the AA meeting; or rather (having turned down Nurse Crane’s offer of a ride there with an elaborate story about how riding the bus was part of her process), she goes to the room where the meeting will be held, hovers near the entrance, but leaves as the meeting is called to order, answering “not today,” when asked if she’s staying. It reminded me (just a bit) of when I was in high school and my parents made me go to Weight Watchers, and I’d leave the meetings to go get ice cream. Though, Trixie’s cheating would have much more serious consequences than my chocolate chip mint.
When she gets home, Trixie is greeted by Nurse Crane and pretends all was as it should have been. Then she locks herself in the bathroom, with the water running, chugging gin from the bottle she had stashed in her purse.
2. I’ll Be Back, You Won’t
Lovelorn Christopher stops by Nonnatus House hoping against hope that Trixie will see him. She’s out, but Nurse Crane is in, and takes the opportunity to tell him that the last thing Trixie needs is to be messed about by someone who is (essentially) a married man. What she needs is a friend. He cares and wants to be that friend.
He hangs around in the courtyard until Trixie returns, and after they catch up on news of little Alexandra, he tells her that Big Bird told him she is unhappy. She is upset: Nurse Crane had no right to tell him she is unhappy when she is making such a valiant effort to deny it, but he tells her he cares and helps her to realize and admit she needs help. Once she does, it’s a relief. He takes her to an AA meeting, making sure she goes in by waiting outside until she comes out. But afterwards she tells him the meeting was helpful because she realized they cannot see each other anymore, even just as friends. They still love each other, and that is the problem. They both have to look to the future, not the past.
1. Frankly My Dear, We All Give a Damn
After her AA meeting, Trixie apologizes to Nurse Crane for putting her in a tough spot, and for being less than honest with her. It looks like she’s already up to Step 9, asking for forgiveness. That’s good. But Trixie also realizes that she needs more help than she can get at weekly meetings. She needs to go away for treatment. Nurse Crane wishes her well and quotes the Bible by way of her mother, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” meaning, in the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “After all, tomorrow is another day!”
Trixie asks to meet with Sister Julienne, who is glad of the request as she was going to call Trixie in anyway. But have no fear, she’s not being put out to pasture; Sister Julienne understands her issues and grants her a leave of absence, sending tearful Trixie off with love and prayers, and the promise her job will be waiting for her when she gets back.
FYI, The Serenity Prayer: While most closely associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, the prayer was written by Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1930’s, though other versions of it already existed in Buddhism, ancient Greek philosophy, Judaism, and Mother Goose rhyme. The prayer, in the form we know now, was popularized in 1941, when an early member of AA brought it to the attention of AA co-founder Bill W. They modified it, started printing and distributing it, and it has been a part of AA and other twelve-step programs ever since.
Conclusion: It’s a World of Laughter; a World of Tears
As we catch our last glimpses of everyone this week, Jenny Lee’s voiceover reminds us, “The world is no bigger than the people who inhabit it … together or alone, we are closer than we know,” or, as Walt Disney said, “it’s a small world after all.” Accept it.
**Bonus Essential: The Write Stuff. The co-writer of Episode 4 was Lauren Klee, who also writes for other top British dramas, including EastEnders, where she’s written 90 episodes! After all that time in Albert Square, we think she must know a thing or two about characters making the best of bad situations! And that could also be why Fred (AKA EastEnders alum Cliff Parisi) had some great scenes in this episode.
What did you think Nonatuns? Join the conversation in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #MidwifePBS. Watch Call the Midwife episodes and behind-the-scenes clips.