The story line of a diabetic teenage girl impregnated by her wrong-side-of-the-tracks boyfriend provided all sorts of discussion fodder on this week’s Call the Midwife: There was the historical exploration of how 55 years ago, having children was out of the question for women with diabetes due to the potential medical risks. There was the burgeoning modern concept of diabetes patients administering their own injections and urine tests instead of having a nurse visit daily. There was Nurse Phyllis Crane’s admission that she too has a dark past just like a couple of her fellow midwives (quick refresher: Trixie had an alcoholic dad; Patsy spent WWII in a Japanese internment camp). And there was yet another (still-unanswered) ethical question posed to the audience: Should the boyfriend with-a-criminal-past go to jail for stealing a car—even though his actions wound up saving someone’s life?
Meet 17-year-old Paulette Roland—played by Outlander actress Nell Hudson. Like Scottish teen Laoghaire MacKenzie, whom Hudson portrays on the epic Starz series, Paulette likes to live on the wild side. She may not accuse women of being witches or seduce ginger-haired Highlanders while wearing little more than a corset, but she does wear Tabu, “The Forbidden Fragrance,” and enjoys having sex with her delinquent boyfriend, Vaughan Sellars. All pretty typical for a restless teenager in 1960 Poplar, but Paulette is playing with fire with this kind of behavior, because she’s got diabetes.
Back then, diabetic pregnancies were considered so dangerous that as soon as Nurse Crane realizes Paulette isn’t throwing up every morning due to blood-sugar issues, Dr. Turner is called in to recommend a legal, in-hospital abortion. Throw in the complication that Paulette and Vaughan are in love—even though Paulette’s mom despises Vaughan and his bad-boy reputation—and they want to keep the baby and get married, and you’ve got CTM‘s controversy of the week.
With her mother and Dr. Turner pressuring her to go through with the pregnancy termination, Paulette eventually snaps and runs away with Vaughan. But with their plan consisting of little more than teenage wits and a few apples to eat along the way, it’s hardly a surprise when Paulette goes into diabetic shock and Vaughan has no choice but to “borrow” someone else’s car in order to get his girlfriend medical assistance. And all these two kids get for their trouble is one National Health Service-funded abortion and an impending jail sentence. But, hey, at least now Mrs. Roland doesn’t think Vaughan is hazardous to Paulette’s health anymore, so, I guess that’s good for something, right?
It’s no secret that I am not a fan of the Vanessa Redgrave voice-overs that bookend the CTM episodes, especially now that her character, Jennifer (Lee) Worth, is no longer part of the show. However, this was one of those rare moments where I think the audience would’ve benefited from the kind of closure her narration provides, because the Paulette/Vaughn plotline is left atrociously open-ended: All we know is he was arrested and ostensibly faced prison time, and that Nurse Crane vowed to alert the court that Paulette would have died had it not been for his so-called crime. Even if Vaughn still went to jail—which, judging from CTM‘s track record of gloomy denouements—was likely, that would have been a better conclusion to the story than the half-baked mess we saw.
NEXT: “Call Me Phyllis”