When a fire breaks out at the maternity home, Sister Evangelina makes a grave error that will forever change the lives of two new sets of parents.

Credit: Laurence Cendrowicz

It never ceases to amaze me how Call the Midwife can continue to throw such agonizing story lines at us. But as long as the Nonnatus House midwives are around, offering up the kind of steadfast, loyal, and comforting presence that seems all but forgotten in 2015, we can see our way toward returning for yet another tear-jerking episode week after week.

I also think it’s that kind of loyalty that allows the Nonnatuns to get up every morning and fight the daily battle that is their existence in 1960 Poplar. This week’s Tragic Story Line concerned Sister Evangelina accidentally switching two newborn babies, which was indeed a catastrophe, but given her all-encompassing guilt over her mistake, she could have very easily slipped into a paralyzing depression had it not been for the support of her fellow nuns. But all it took were a few simple words from Sister Julienne to reassure Evie—and the audience—that she was not alone in her suffering: “We go forward together, Sister, as a family.” Even Sister Monica Joan, who always seems to revert back to lucidity whenever we need her the most, reminds a mid-breakdown Evie that she is “irreplaceable, and we would be so lost without you.” Then she absconds with a biscuit from the tin because, Sister Monica Joan.

The Nonnatus House brand of selfless devotion is also exhibited in the subplot of elderly couple Tommy and Gert Mills (Sherlock fans will be thrilled to see Gert is played by Una Stubbs, a.k.a. Sherlock’s landlady, Mrs. Hudson). When Gert, who waits on her bedridden husband hand and foot, is revealed to have a nasty lesion on her breast and must once and for all put her health above that of Tommy’s, the Nonnatus nurses immediately spring into action: Barbara accompanies Gert to every doctor’s appointment, as well as to her mastectomy (cancer was discovered), while Sister Mary Cynthia takes over Tommy’s care. That kind of nursing, if it does still exist, most likely now comes with a very hefty price tag.

So at the start of the episode, Sister Evie appears to be more concerned with proving that she’s back to her pre-hysterectomy-surgery self than admitting that the packed Maternity Home could use some reinforcements. “Delivering a baby when the Luftwaffe is raining down all kinds of carnage, now that’s a challenge!” is her overconfident reply to Shelagh’s offer of additional help. Because this is Call the Midwife, and because that kind of dialogue positively reeks with foreboding, Sister Evie’s words will come to haunt her soon enough: A fire breaks out, and while everyone is evacuated safely, Evie “muddles” two newborn girls amid the chaos.

This story line is as much about the actual switch as it is the ever-present British class struggle. The mothers, Shirley Dent and Marion Smith, once went to school together, but Marion has married up—and her husband’s snobbery has rubbed off on Marion over the years. Plus, as if learning your baby was swapped wasn’t hard enough, the Smiths also have the double whammy of finding out that the child they went home with, Deborah, has been diagnosed with a heart murmur. (Those of us old enough to remember the 1991 TV movie “Switched at Birth“—which was based on a true story—will note that the Deborah Smith heart-defect plotline sounds awfully familiar.)

NEXT: “We don’t like cake”

So once the couples learn the devastating news of their babies, a debate ensues over whether or not the children should be switched back. In one corner, we have Marion’s jerk of a husband, Godfrey, who refuses to be inconvenienced by a sickly baby, especially if it’s not his flesh and blood. “Don’t ask me to bring up a child that’s not even mine, that won’t live beyond infancy,” he sneers. However, Marion, like Shirley, has already bonded with the daughter she’s taken home and isn’t so eager to give Deborah up. The snob-in-training—clearly suffering from resting bitchface syndrome—also deems the working-class Shirley unfit to look after Deborah’s delicate health.

As with many of the story lines on Call the Midwife this season, this narrative is not tied up in a nice little bow at the end. We don’t know what the couples ultimately decided to do, but judging from Marion and Shirley’s eventual détente (which includes Marion apologizing to her old school chum for her cruel words), I get the sense that Shirley and her husband, Ian, kept the Smiths’ biological baby, whom they had named Jackie, and Marion, Godfrey’s feelings be damned, remained Deborah’s mother. At least that’s what I’m hoping for.

Next week sees Chummy’s long-awaited return to Nonnatus House and Call the Midwife—which also, sadly, means it’s the season finale and the last episode until the annual Christmas Special.

Quick thoughts:

  • Usually, the closer a couple gets to openly admitting their true feelings is a cause for shipping—Fred and Violet Gee are a prime example (more on them in a bit). But on Call the Midwife, there is a perpetual sense of dread whenever Delia and Patsy go on a date or start saying things like they want to get married—to each other—out loud. It’s not that we don’t want to see them live happily ever after together, quite the opposite. It’s just that we know from the Tony Amos episode that the chances of that happening in the span of the series’ run are slim to none. Even just sitting in a coffee shop is painful for Patsy and Delia, because instead of enjoying each other’s company, they’re stuck fending off lecherous guys who want to buy them dessert (When Delia snaps, “We don’t like cake,” she might as well be saying, “I’m tired of dancing with Patsy only in my head! So don’t push me, fella”).
  • The only really happy couples right now are Fred and Violet—who end up engaged by the end of the episode—and Gert and Tommy Mills. So again, it’s good to be on the other side of 50 on Call the Midwife. Between Tommy’s bed sores and Gert’s cancer, their future together remains uncertain, but Tommy pleads with his wife to do everything she can to beat the disease: “We live for one another, Gert. Be with me as long as you can, please.” In the case of Fred and Violet, or, as he sweetly calls her, “Vi,” their courtship is chugging along quite nicely, except that Fred, stubborn old man that he is, feels threatened by the ghost of Vi’s dead husband, whom she had known since they were teenagers. However, considering they had only been dating for maybe half an episode at this point, I still don’t get why Vi was putting the pressure on Fred. But, there she was, packing up her haberdashery shop and announcing she was going to move in with her son. There’s nothing like a subtle ultimatum to get your man to propose, is there?
  • It’s been downplayed the past couple of episodes, but Trixie’s bar is still open for business. This week she declined Patsy’s invitation to go out, opting instead for the company of a bottle while Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” played in the background.
  • The episode is dedicated to the actor David Ryall (Tommy Mills), who passed away in December 2014.

Episode Recaps

Call the Midwife

Set in the 1950s, this BBC period drama (which airs on PBS stateside) follows nurse midwives working on the East End of London.

  • TV Show
  • 4
  • PBS