Call the Midwife recap: Episode 8
So, who’s started counting the days until Christmas?
(Psst! Seven months and eight days to go!)
That’s how long we’ll have to wait to find out if things have turned a corner for our beloved Nonnatus House residents after tonight’s rather dismal season finale. The Christmas Special is currently filming across the pond, which we can only hope will bring happier days for Trixie, Patsy, and, frankly, anyone who isn’t the new Mr. and Mrs. Fred Buckle (that’s Fred and Violet Gee, to you)—who closed out Call the Midwife season 4 with a jolly good wedding.
As I have mentioned in previous recaps, CTM continues to succeed in drawing us in week after week through our unwavering love for the characters—we are given zero reason to ever want to turn our backs on any of them. However, the overly depressing, shock-value level of the story lines is on a dangerous trajectory toward Jump-the-Shark Land (case in point, one pregnant woman is prescribed thalidomide), which is the last place CTM wants to be. While I applaud how well the show addressed Trixie’s drinking problem, at the same time, her personal issues overshadowed the quiet child-birthing revolution she helped to usher into Poplar this episode.
But the worst plotline offender here is the Delia and Patsy romance, which came to a devastating conclusion tonight. Now, given what we know of the time period and poor Tony Amos, no one expected Deils and Pats to move into a flat together and become openly accepted members of the community—but, come on, Call the Midwife, brain damage? It felt lazy and clichéd. (Right after they get a flat together, Delia is hit by an oncoming car while riding Patsy’s bike. She conveniently forgets who she is, who Patsy is—or even who her mother is—and is taken back home to Wales to recuperate with her family, with no guarantee of ever regaining her memory.) I think a much more realistic—and interesting—take on this subject would have been to see how long the young couple could keep up the ruse that they were “just flatmates.” What sort of lengths would they have to go to in order to evade the law (and neighborhood gossips)? It seemed like that was the route CTM was going, at least at first, with the latest in their clever fake-out lines: “I have a dark secret,” Patsy confesses to Sister Julienne when she announces her decision to vacate Nonnatus. “I’ve never lived independently.”
Nope. Instead, after spending one delicious night together in their new home, complete with an indoor picnic, Delia is ripped from Patsy’s life in the span of a few seconds. I was pleased, though, with how CTM acknowledged the second-class treatment same-sex partners received (for far too long) when it came to things like medical emergencies and emotional support: Patsy, not being a Busby family member, was denied information on Delia’s condition at first. And because Mrs. Busby is oblivious to the truth about her daughter’s romantic leanings, Patsy is relegated to the status of “the lady [Delia] helps at [Cub Scouts],” and is discouraged from coming to Wales to visit. The Busbys have no telephone (seriously? In 1960?), so Patsy’s only option is to write.
NEXT: Revolution in the delivery room
Once again, thanks to Vanessa Redgrave’s heavy-handed voice-over at the start of the episode (“The mirror sees it all—our fears, our little triumphs, and keeps our secrets, holds our disappointments in”), we knew the odds were good that Trixie would hit rock bottom tonight. The sadness in her eyes as she applied her lipstick was impossible to ignore. But, before she got down to the business of helping herself, the bubbly blond midwife played a vital role in instituting a new wave of child-birthing practices to the citizens of Poplar: the participation of the husband in the delivery room. Trixie pays a home visit to June Dillen, a young, pregnant wife—who is also deaf. June can only communicate via her devoted (and non-hearing-impaired) husband, Kevin, as none of the Nonnatuns are skilled in British Sign Language (Sister Mary Cynthia knows a few words, but not enough to help out in a delivery). Thus begins the dinnertime debate over whether or not Kevin should be present for the birth; there is a literal dropping of the cutlery when Trixie dares to suggest such a thing. Not surprisingly, Sister Evangelina is dead-set against it, and strangely enough, the modern-thinking Nurse Crane doesn’t argue much support either: “I’ve seen it done once—with an artistic family in Leeds,” she says. “Suffice to say there was a fainting episode, and it wasn’t the mother.” (Linda Bassett also wins the Most Unfortunate Line Award tonight, with Nurse Crane referring to June Dillen in period-correct fashion as “the little deaf-and-dumb lady.”) But Trixie admirably argues her case for the need of someone fluent in BSL during delivery, despite experiencing some initial “fun and games” with Kevin Dillen figuring out translations for “cervix and vagina.” To Sister Evie’s chagrin, Sister Julienne agrees with Trixie and gives her blessing to have Kevin by his wife’s side when she goes into labor.
But childbirth participation doesn’t begin and end in the delivery room, so Kevin accompanies June to what appears to be a Lamaze class run by Trixie and Sister Mary Cynthia. And it’s a good thing Sister Evie wasn’t around—because instead of the other women pitching a fit over a man’s presence, they all voice a desire to have their husbands there, too! It will be interesting to see how old-school midwives like Sister Evie deal with this monumental change to child-birthing process in the coming seasons, because as much as she wants to fight against it, the dads are here to stay.
After Trixie delivers the Dillens’ healthy baby boy, her story line shifts drastically from spearheading a revolution back to the problem she’s been dealing with since, well, we first met her in season 1. While cycling back to Nonnatus House, she bumps into ex-fiancé Tom Hereward, and their exchange is as awkward as ever, prompting her to reach for the Scotch. But this time, after she downs a glass, she also makes the bravest move of her life—and calls the Samaritans. Through tears, she begs the person at the other end of the phone for help to stop drinking, but is stopped by her old friend Sister Mary Cynthia, who overhears the conversation and immediately takes over, assuring the Samaritans that Trixie “is in a place of safety.” Sister MC, once again, demonstrating incredible personal growth in her transition to the religious life, reassures both Trixie and the audience that she is there to help her. “You are not alone, Trixie,” insists Sister MC. “I promise you, you are not alone.” It’s a wonderful scene, superbly acted by both Helen George and Bryony Hannah.
NEXT: What ho, Chummy!
Helen George, however, does get the edge when it comes to fantastic performances this episode when Trixie ends up at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and begins her road to recovery. Dressed all in black, the camera fixed on her face, Trixie tells her story to an unseen group of people: She talks about how she is the daughter of “a man who drank”—and the only things that ever made her father happy were a bottle of Scotch and Trixie herself. But she’s become just like her father when it comes to the Scotch part. I loved the part of her monologue that has her admitting how much she enjoys drinking, because that is such a real, integral part of alcoholism recovery: “The one thing that makes me feel better is a glass of Scotch—or something like it,” she says. “There are so many things like it. Looking back, it seems my father was quite unadventurous.” Her wish to avoid actually saying the words of the first step, “admittance,” was also beautifully done (“Do I have to say it now?”), but with off-camera prompting, she manages the hardest part of all: “My name is Beatrix, but people call me Trixie. And I am an alcoholic.”
Bravo, Trixie. We’re so proud of you, and we can’t wait to check in on your progress this December.
- As promised, Miranda Hart’s Chummy returned to Call the Midwife for the finale, but having missed most of the season, she was woefully underused. Chummy spent the episode carting around her late mother’s (a.k.a “Mater”) ashes in an attempt to find a “top-notch and tickety-boo” final resting place for the once-demanding Lady Browne (Chummy ultimately decides on the steady River Thames, which Fred refers to as the only thing that stays the same). She was also stuck playing mediator between Fred and his daughter Marlene, who was the source of an irksome plot contrivance to break up her father and Violet. But at least Chummy got the best line of the episode, in response to Coco Chanel’s famous fashion tip of taking off the last thing you put on before leaving the house: “What if the last thing was one’s skirt?”
- The season finale also gave a little shout-out to Britain’s own Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, whose well-documented bouts with hyperemesis gravidarum put the rare pregnancy-related illness in the international headlines. But unlike for Duchess Kate, the treatments for this complication were far different back in 1960, and just like at the end of Call the Midwife’s season premiere, where the neglected children traded in one version of hell for another, the same fate is in store for one unlucky Poplar mother. Maureen Gadsby is diagnosed with the debilitating, dehydrating condition (as if having one kid at home and a husband doing time in Wormwood Scrubs weren’t enough), and Dr. Turner tries out a new drug that works wonders. What’s the “magic ingredient”? Oh, just something called thalidomide. Judging by Call the Midwife‘s track record of never revisiting old story lines, it’s unlikely we’ll ever hear from Maureen again. Though, it’s not like we’d need to—the knowledge of thalidomide’s appalling side effects is far worse than any scripted scene.
Set in the 1950s, this BBC period drama (which airs on PBS stateside) follows nurse midwives working on the East End of London.