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.
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.