OK, Nonnatuns, its last call for Call the Midwife Season 7.
A recurring theme of Call the Midwife is that life is not fair – but yet it goes on anyway, in all its tattered glory – and we have to find a way to go on with it. In this final episode, as in life, the comfort of ritual allows us to put one foot in front of the other, relieving us of the necessity to think, when thinking can be too painful. This finale is also about memories – holding onto them and losing them. If you lose your memory does that mean you lose those you a love a second time? And how many of your memories have to leave you before you cease to be who you are?
This recap of an episode full of grief and fear, love and reconciliation, leads us to the 18 Essentials of Call the Midwife, Season 7, Episode 8 (the season finale).
18. Angel of the MourningAs Nonnatus House mourns Barbara, everyone rallies around each other with tea and sympathy. Phyllis, upon seeing their black dresses set out for Barbara’s funeral, remembers how at this time last year there was a wedding dress hanging there. Fred turns up to give Tom a shave, or maybe he doesn’t trust him with the straight razor.
At the funeral, when called to give a reading, Phyllis wearily walks to the alter and bows to the lily covered coffin. Before she can begin to speak, a baby starts to cry and the mum gets up to take her out, but Phyllis says, don’t; none of them objects to that sound. She reads the poem chosen by Tom, “Turn Again To Life.”
FYI: Poem. “Turn Again To Life” is by poet Mary Lee Hall (1843-1927), the first female lawyer in Connecticut, and a suffragette. Her poem was also read at Princess Diana’s funeral by her sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale. Here it is in full:
If I should die and leave you here a while,
be not like others sore undone, who keep
long vigils by the silent dust, and weep.
For my sake – turn again to life and smile,
nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
something to comfort weaker hearts than thine.
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine
and I, perchance may therein comfort you.
17. There’s Nothing So Bad For a Woman (or a Man)
Tom, who is not sure where to go or what to do, notes that Barbara’s name is still on the call board in the clinic room. Sister Julienne thinks he should go to his parents rather than be alone. He says he has the rest of his life to be alone, but he will go to his parents, then come back and start again. Emotions run high all around. When a simple broken TV causes Sister Monica Joan to have a melt down and ask if all the angels have deserted them, the usually unflappable Sister Julienne goes into the clinic room room and tries to erase Barbara’s name from the board but that only seems to make her feel worse. She tells Sister Julienne that she is thinking of Barbara’s loss all wrong, that she has gone to a better place, leaving behind a world more in need of prayers than before.
16. Iron DeficiencyWe meet Mr. Stan Hodgekiss, projectionist at the local movie house, via his pregnant daughter Olive. She has left her cheating husband and come back home to have her baby, but there’s a problem. We meet that problem during Nurse Anderson’s pre-natal visit when a man known as Uncle Donald walks in on them, intent on ironing her father’s shirt, even though she exasperatedly tells him he’s already left for work and doesn’t need a shirt.
At first we think old Uncle Donald is just a manic shirt ironer, then one day, during another pre-natal visit he shows up for his daily ironing duty with no pants on. Lucille goes to shuffle him off to Buffalo but Olive suddenly calls out in pain, causing Lucille to lose sight of him for a moment, and in that moment and he slips out the door and (confused) goes wandering the neighborhood streets. Lucille reports the M.I.A. senior to the police, but it seems that Sgt. Wolf cares more that Uncle Donald (AKA Donald Chapman, AKA Donnie NoPants) has an old arrested record for “gross indecency,” (AKA meaning he’s gay), in Lime House (a notorious area of the East End, down by the docks).
15. What’s the Use of Wondering
Dr. Turner’s job of the week is on-call Duty Doctor for the local police precinct, so he is summoned when they find Donald wandering down by the docks. He’s got a fever that might have exacerbated the symptoms he already had. He inquires as to whether Donald has anyone to tuck him up in bed with a hot water bottle and he replies that he is lucky. Seeing the knitting Donald had been carrying around, Dr. Turner inquires about his wife, but Donald explains he has none, he was in the Navy.
With Stan there, Dr. Turner gives Donald a test for dementia and he flunks, though he understands enough to realize he’s losing it and panics. Stan assures frightened Donald that whatever comes they’ll face it together.
FYI: Knitting and the Navy? During WWII, not only were knitters on this side of the pond helping the war effort by knitting for Britain (ask your grandparents about that – there were a lot of knitted items sent over as part of Bundles for Britain), but the Royal Navy has a long history of knitting as well. It is a tradition for soldiers to knit as a way of staving off boredom. It was also to save money during WWI and WWII. Americans were highly encouraged to knit for allied troops in World War I.
14. Longtime Companion
It turns out Uncle Donald is not Olive’s uncle at all; he is her father’s longtime love. Stan tells his questioning daughter that this is a love best left unsaid; he and his wife, Olive’s mother, had an understanding about it. But daughter Olive is not so understanding. Stan wants Donald to move in, so he can care for him, but Olive doesn’t want Uncle Donald there when she brings the baby home. She fears what people will think, referencing his notorious arrest that was all over the news years ago. Her dad says he didn’t know she knew, but she did. She didn’t know what she knew, but she knew something.
She reminds her father that before her mother died, she asked them to take care of each other, but her father says her mother had said the same thing to him and Donald. She wants to know why her mother would have asked him such a thing, but he insists he and Donald were just friends until she died, and then they became more than that. Olive says she doesn’t understand him and he says he doesn’t need her to understand.
Stan calls Donald “Pal,” which one supposes is the only pet name they could have gotten away with. We later see them sitting on park bench like any sweet old couple, reminiscing, except they are sitting there at night, in the dark, talking wistfully about one day being able to sit there as a couple in the daylight. Sadly, we know from our 2018 perspective that that won’t happen for them in their lifetimes.
13. You’ll Never Walk Alone
At Nonnatus House, they don’t need Dr. Turner’s tray to figure out what’s missing. Everyone knows exactly what’s missing: Barbara. Tom turns up at Nonnatus House carrying suitcases containing Barbara’s belongings. He doesn’t know where else to take them. Sister Winifred thinks it is too soon for him to be disposing of his wife’s belongings. She asks if he would advise a parishioner who had just lost his wife to do that? He says he advises parishioners to do one gesture to begin the process of moving forward, and this is his one gesture; Barbara always loved to take care of people and she would want her clothes to help someone. Sister Winfred says the person Barbara would most want to help now is him, but since Barbara cannot be here to do it, she will. She will hold everything for safekeeping, until he knows his mind better.
He tells Sister Winifred Barbara’s father wants him to go with him to a mission in New Guinea, but he can’t go without Barbara, but can’t leave her behind either. He is in a kind of Pergatory.
12. The Rabbit (Ears) Died
The Nonnatus House telly is busted and not even Sister Monica Joan’s best banging on the top can bring it back to life. Its catho ray tube has bit the dust. This is a crisis, the good sister reasons, because without her beloved TV news she won’t know who to pray for. Desperate, she turns up at the cinema to watch the newsreels, sauntering in without paying (naturally). When found and questioned, Sister Monica Joan, who is a gold medal schnorrer, innocently says she assumes the newsreel is a public service, thus complimentary. We like her logic. It is, but only for those who buy a ticket to the feature which currently is It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (which it is). Luckily for her, the theater manager is Stan Hodgekiss. He says his daughter Olive is currently under the care of the Nonnatuns so he’ll see to it that Sister Monica Joan can stay – and he keeps her supplied with free treats. She is in heaven as she snacks on ice cream while taking notes.
FYI: Schnorrer. Schnorrer literally means beggar in Yiddish, but it is most often used jokingly to describe someone who likes (or asks for) free stuff, a little too much.
11. The Highest Judge of All
As a result of Sister Monica Joan’s mad, mad, mad, mad research, Sister Winifred is handed a list of prayer requests that begins earnestly enough, starting with victims of a factory explosion in Japan, but then it veers off into random movie stars, the nylon industry and a partridge in a pear tree. One supposes it is like the Nonnatus House version of celebrities who thank God for their latest trophy, as if God meddles in who wins Oscars and Grammys. Sister Monica Joan thinks maybe he does though; she reasons that the Lord Almighty has imposed these celebrities upon the world and so it is their duty to pray for them. Sister Julienne says nope, no dice, Sis; and there will be no more of that, young lady. She bans further prayer research forays to the cinema. Instead, Sister Monica Joan will now have to rely on the more staid BBC Home Service (radio). There is no joy in Mudville as Sister Monica Joan has struck out.
10. Love is in the Details
One of the things we love about Call the Midwife is all the little period details that go by almost unremarked, but they are there nonetheless, and they bring us back in time as efficiently as a Tardis, acting as story markers. In this episode, one that stood out for me was the milk delivery (remember those?). We knew it was a new day because we saw the milkman dropping off his morning delivery on the Nonnatus House doorstep.
FYI: Poplar. The real life borough of Poplar, East London, (postal code E14) was first recorded in the year 1327. It gets its name from the Black Poplar trees that used to be common there. Poplar was heavily bombed in both world wars; the tiny borough lost 770 civilians during the Blitz of WWII. In 1965 it merged with Stepney and Bethnal Green to become the Borough of Tower Hamlets – all three are within the sound of Bow Bells (AKA the church of St Mary LeBow, so anyone born there is a Cockney).
9. Brat Pack
On her mum’s instructions, a bratty teen named Josie shows up at the clinic with a peanut butter jar of her wee, wearing a wedding ring her mum lent her (for appearances). She says they’ve already decided she’s not keeping baby. She quickly butts heads with Nurse Crane who is more brusk than usual due to her lumbago (sciatica) is acting up; she’s in a lot of back pain (and psychic pain).
When Nurse Crane cannot help her onto the examination table, Josie snaps, “aren’t you too old to be doing this?” Nurse Crane bites back, “aren’t you too young?” Josie says she hopes that when her big day comes she gets one of the younger midwives which means, of course, when the day comes, she gets Nurse Crane.
Josie is none too pleased to be stuck with Nurse Crane. She was hoping for a young, or a nice one. But in the throes of labor Josie and Nurse Crane become foxhole buddies. Josie drops the bravado and admits she’s scared and Phyllis coaches her through. After a rocky start, they win each other over.
Josie wonders if she’ll be allowed to give her baby girl a name, even though she won’t be keeping her. She talks about how some people are in your life for only a short time; her baby’s father was only in hers for a brief encounter, and she’ll be in her daughter’s for only a matter days before she goes to live with adoptive parents. She wants to leave her baby with the gift of a name, even if the new parents change it, it will still be on paper somewhere.
Nurse Crane says yes, Josie can name her and asks if she has a name in mind. She does: Barbara. Barbara? Josie says the name popped into her head, she doesn’t know why, like it had been floating around the room waiting to be called. Nurse Crane is wonderstruck. Phyllis greets little Barbara like an old friend – which she just might be. As Barbara had said, no one needs to teach Phyllis about caring for people; maybe it was Barbara floating around the room who showed Josie that.
7. If I Loved You
When Olive goes into labor she gets herself to the maternity hospital with all her luggage, intent on never going back to her dad’s place. Her Dad and Donald show up and sit vigil. After the baby comes and her two dads are cooing over the crib, Olive, who seems to have had an epiphany, asks if Donald even knows who she is. He responds that he doesn’t know who she is but he know she’s someone they (he and Stan) love. She finally comes to the compassionate realization that that’s enough to make a family and she wants to include Donald in that family.
FYI: A treat for EastEnders fans. Sharp-eyed Nonnatuns may have wondered why Olive looked familiar. Actress Scarlett Alice Johnson also played Vicki Fowler on EastEnders (as a teen – about 15 years ago), where she was best known for her migrating accent and for bringing Den Watts back from Spain (and the dead).
6. You Gotta Have Faith
Nurse Valerie Dyer tells Sister Julienne she wants to understand how faith helps the sisters deal with their troubles and asks if she can sit in on prayers. The answer is yes, she is always welcome. Her first sit in is the chapel session that includes Sister Monica Joan’s prayer laundry list, and she can barely stifle a giggle. But later as she listens to Sister Julienne take her to task, and Sister Monica Joan mentions her upcoming birthday and how she expects it to pass by unremarked, Val has an idea…
5. They Say It’s Your BirthdaySister Monica Joan’s birthday is approaching and that is usually her favorite holiday, because it includes cake, but this year she is blue at the thought it will pass by ignored. No party, no nothing. Frivolity is banned. Due to recent events, Sister Julienne doesn’t think it is a time for levity. But Val and the midwives have a surprise up their sleeves. On surprise eve, as Sister Monica Joan sits alone in front of the repaired telly, Val tells her to get her glad rags on; they’re going out. Where they go is to the community center, where there is a full house and a cake gigantic enough to hold all her candles.
Then the room goes dark. The midwives had researched the birthday sister and with the help of cinema projectionist Stan (and Tim who, like his dad Dr. Turner, is a Swiss Army Knife of a character), they created a This Is Your Life tribute film devoted to the Birthday girl. Ken Burns eat your heart out! As the film plays, and the different pictures of the life and times of Sister Monica Joan come up on the screen there are oohs and ahs; then when it gets to pictures of the Blitz, quiet hushes fall over the room. We see the young sisters Julienne, Evangelina and Monice Joan standing in the rubble and see just how deep their connection to the community has been – they have been part of it through joy and sorrow.
Watching all the memories go by, I’m sure many of you felt the same tug of a few tears as the characters did (funny that there were no pictures of Jenny Lee though). And to cheer us up with a little hope for the future (next season), there’s even a greeting from Trixie, a clip of her having tea in the Portofino sunshine (we hope the tea’s not spiked!).
FYI: Newsreels. In the U.S. Movietone newsreels started in 1928 and ran through 1963. In Britain they lasted longer – until 1979. The local movie house where I went on Saturday afternoons as a kid had started out its life as a vaudeville theater, so it had been there forever and still had a bunch of old Movietone newsreels from the 1940’s and 1950’s hanging around, which they’d show before the matinee features. It was like being in a time capsule, seeing serious news, like the WWII battles or war effort drives on the homefront, or completely silly reports, like 1950’s fads of students trying to stuff as many people as possible into a phone booth.
4. Push CoalitionNearby Watford Street Maternity Home is closing, effective immediately, and all their patients are being transferred to…you guessed it. Now Shelagh’s clinic and maternity home is overrun with waddling women waiting to pop. She has the midwives cramming in extra beds on the wards and hires an air traffic controller to handle the crush. When one of the midwives voices fear of running low on pain meds, Shelagh hauls out the big guns, quoting the dearly departed Sister Evangeline who said, “the best medicine for pain is the presence of another person.”
Their prep is put to good use when rush hour hits and all the pregnant women within the sound of Bow Bells descend upon the maternity hospital at once. It looks like no one is having a home birth this week. So many babies arrive, so fast and furious, it’s like that Macy’s 4th of July fireworks boom-boom-boom crescendo (just without the John Philip Sousa background music)!
3. The Way We Were
Sister Winfred interrupts the bumper crop of bambinos with a news flash: President Kennedy was shot! Later, as everyone gathers around the telly, Sister Monica Joan, in a role reversal, turns it off saying, “we’ve mourned enough.” She implores everyone to not identify themselves by what they’ve lost, and reject mourning as recreation. Instead they should embrace what remains, and what they will all become in the end: misty watercolor memories.
2. The Carousel WaltzAt Reggie’s school, in independence training, he is learning to shop on his own and has taken to buying all sorts of little random gifts for Violet. She feels he is being ripped off by tat merchants at the markets, but Fred reasons that Reggie enjoys being able to buy gifts for people, regardless of what they are.
When Fred and Reggie are at the cemetery planting bulbs on Reggie’s mum’s grave, Reggie notes that Nurse Barbara looks lonely across the graveyard on her own. Fred says she’s not lonely, she’s near his mum. But Reggie thinks his mum was too old to keep Barbara company. Later when he sees Tom leaving roses, Reggie asks him if Barbara liked roses. Tom tells him she liked many things and they talk about how lovely their wedding was.
Reggie remembers the carousel Tom and Barbara had at their wedding, and it gives him an idea. He brings Tom a gift for Barbara’s grave and together they place it – a toy carousel. If you watch Antiques Roadshow you know how rare those old vintage metal toys are after all the WWII scrap drives — but then, Barbara was a rare bird as well. As it does so often, the innocence of Reggie shall lead them; his thoughtful gift is the perfect grave marker/memory. And we end the season with a picture of the toy carousel on Barbara’s grave; maybe as a metaphor for how the circle of life goes ‘round and ‘round?
1. That’s All Folks!Well, it’s not all, all…at least, not for good. It’s just the end of Season 7. Season 8 of Call the Midwife is already in production in London, so plan to reconvene here on THIRTEEN, on a yet to be determined Sunday evening next winter for more stories of being lucky and unlucky in love, and babies; drama and tears, and babies; and perseverance over adversity…and babies. Lots of babies!
What did you think, Nonnatuns? What did you like most about this season of Call the Midwife? What are your hopes for Season 8? Keep in touch with social media (I have exciting plans to share this spring)!
For a Poplar fix before we convene again, here are some recommendations. Productions set in the East End neighborhood, like Call the Midwife, include To Sir With Love (starring Sidney Poitier) and A Fish Called Wanda (Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese). Among the notables who hail from Polar are Jennifer Worth (author of the Call the Midwife memoirs) and Angela Lansbury (though she claims otherwise).