Spring has arrived in Poplar, and with it comes more secrets and heartbreak for the nuns and midwives.
“Spring can be brutal—breaking open secrets, dragging into light those things unseen, and giving voice to words unsaid.” —Vanessa Redgrave narrating as Jennifer Worth
This week’s opening narration for Call the Midwife was a little on the heavy-handed side—anyone watching the episode could see, without Vanessa Redgrave’s Captain Obvious words from afar, that things were going to get “brutal.” For chrissakes, within the first few minutes, poor Barbara had to dispose of a placenta that Trixie brought back in her briefcase—the excuse being no coal for the incinerator at the birthplace. (But thank heavens for Patsy’s deadpan reaction: “Oh dear, no gardeners in the family?”).
But, yes, almost all of the CTM characters had a secret to share in this episode, each one slowly bubbling up to the surface until the biggest secret of all is revealed during the series’ Tragedy (But Not Entirely) of the Week. We finally get a bit of background on the steadfastly selfless Sister Julienne, who goes to visit with her pre-religious-life lost love, Charles Newgarden. The wealthy Charles is dying of heart failure, but for some strange reason he wants to leave a generous legacy to Nonnatus House (three guesses). Julienne’s reunion with her old beau triggers a whole mother lode of feelings she thought she had locked away forever when she stood him up at the pictures in 1932 and stopped calling herself “Louise.” (That and Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights is a good one, Julie. Your loss there.) And we know it’s a real crisis of conscience she feels, because she’s taken off her wimple when she’s gazing longingly at her clandestine photo of her and Charles from 1929—which is hidden away in her copy of Revelations of Divine Love (another reason to adore Julienne here—RoDL was the first book written in the English language by a woman, Julian of Norwich, in 1395).
Even though both Charles and Julienne are at peace with their life choices, we still get a beautiful scene in which Charles re-creates their missed date right in his living room: A film projector screens City Lights while the two erstwhile lovers hold hands and eat Julie’s “favorite refreshment,” choc-ices (the British term for a Klondike bar). Both are then able to move on with happiness in their hearts once the inevitable happens: Charles succumbs to heart failure, and Julienne, not without several stealthy tears of her own, accepts his endowment to repair the leaky Nonnatus House roof.
Although Patsy’s lack of boyfriends and her not-so-cryptic line last season about Trixie’s fiancé Tom Hereward (“He has not enough of some things and too much of others”) didn’t make her revealed sexual inclination all that shocking, I liked how Call the Midwife really took into account how furtive the elegant nurse had to be in 1960 Britain. We meet her dear pal, Delia Busby, in this episode, but without nary a kiss, it is plainly obvious that Patsy and Delia are much more than good buddies. First off, there is the brilliantly executed fake-out as the two eat their fish-and-chips dinner in the Nonnatus House chapel. Delia: “Do you suppose we’ll go to hell?” Big, pregnant (pun intended) pause. “Sitting here and eating our supper in the house of God?” Then, following the devastating delivery of a stillborn baby, Patsy seeks solace and comfort in her girlfriend’s arms. And keeping with the necessity of discretion, Call the Midwife gave Patsy a great line when she had to sneak out of Delia’s room at the nurses’ boarding house the next morning: “No one will see me leave. No one will see anything at all.”
So the big story line of the week, which gave credence to Redgrave’s line about “dragging into light those things unseen,” revolved around Terence and Abigail Bissette, a happy-go-lucky West Indian couple expecting their first child. At the start, the biggest concern the island-born Abigail had was knitting a pair of booties to ensure her baby will always have toasty tootsies, because Abigail hasn’t had warm feet since arriving in cold, damp England. But in a gutting string of events, Abigail delivers a stillborn daughter, shattering both the inexperienced Barbara and the not-senior-enough Patsy (who resorts to calling in Sister Evangelina and the newly arrived Nurse Phyllis Crane before tumbling into bed with Delia).
NEXT: And it just gets worse…
If you don’t think this was upsetting enough, the Bissettes’ tragedy comes after Abigail accidentally witnessed a botched abortion during a short stint at the hospital. Since Call the Midwife never shies away from grisly details, this meant that Abigail saw a hysterical mother, her body saturated with blood, in full view. There is such a thing as overkill on this show sometimes, and this was it. That scene was not necessary.
However, a glimmer of hope arrives for the Bissettes in the form of undiagnosed twins. A son is born, alive and healthy, shortly after Patsy and Barbara called in reinforcements. This allows for Terence and Abigail to have a bittersweet ending, instead of a tragic one, even though they are understandably thrown into a deep depression following their ordeal. They feel scared to love their son, and Terence feels as if the baby is “crying for two.” Not helping matters is the fact that for some reason, stillborns can’t have a religious burial. So in order to give the grieving couple the funeral their daughter deserves, by-the-book curate Tom kicks church protocol to the curb—heavily encouraged by Julienne, who at the very moment she was offering him counsel, received the letter she had been dreading about Charles’ death. “What is love, if it cannot be acknowledged?” she says, in a very loaded statement.
During the small service for the Bissettes’ baby daughter, named April, Abigail makes sure both of her children have warm feet at last: One yellow bootie will be buried with April, while the other will stay with her brother, Terence Jr. Cue the bawling now. The episode ends with the Bissettes cradling their baby son in their arms while an upbeat, jazzy version of “Hello, Young Lovers” from The King and I plays as they begin their family’s healing process. It’s a fitting tune, and not just for Terence and Abigail, but for Julienne, who will always have Charles in her heart—and for Patsy and Delia, who, like King and I characters Tuptim and Lun Tha, must keep their forbidden love hidden. “Hello, Young Lovers” is also a good choice for celebrating Trixie and Tom, who, after spending the episode at odds with each other over canapés and china patterns (she’s a bride now, Tom, deal) happily cut a cake during a simple engagement party at Nonnatus House.
–Believe it or not, the placenta disposal was one of Barbara’s easier tasks this week. The young nurse is still being put through the wringer by Sister Evangelina (whose medical condition from last week has been diagnosed as fibroids) and by Evie’s temporary replacement, Nurse Crane. Since Nurse Crane’s methods differ tremendously from Evie’s, and Evie conveniently postpones her fibroid surgery out of sheer pride, Barbara winds up a pawn in the two veteran nurses’ power struggle. Plus, Barbara is stuck rooming with Nonnatus’ newest arrival, and the girl can’t even greet Nurse Crane without getting an earful: “Hello” is deemed too colloquial (or, as Crane jokes, “American”), so Barbara must reacquaint herself with the terms “Good morning” and “Good afternoon.” At least Patsy’s always around to provide Barbara with the best form of posh circa 1960 British reassurance: “Come along, old thing, whistle a happy tune!”
–For all her quirks, Nurse Crane (and, by extension, actress Linda Bassett) is a great addition to the Call the Midwife cast, because her character is a long-overdue portrayal of a female who illustrates an alternative to becoming a nun or getting married. Up until now, that’s been the endgame for every inhabitant of Nonnatus House: The religious life—or marriage. (Yes, there’s Patsy, but unlike Phyllis Crane, Patsy must keep her life goals hidden behind her outward glamour.) Phyllis is obviously in her 50s or 60s, unmarried, and comfortable in her own skin, whether it’s barreling through Poplar in her car or asserting the newfangled concepts of vegetarianism and a Rolodex. But don’t let her brusque nature fool you—she’s got a heart of gold deep down just like the other nuns and midwives. When she comes to assist during the Bissettes’ harrowing ordeal, and sees Barbara moments away from crumpling to the floor, her line of “You poor kid,” followed by a swift embrace is what will convince you that she’s someone you want in your corner.