While the end of the previous episode would have you expecting that this one would be all about welcoming Valerie into the community at Nonnatus House, her character surprisingly takes a backseat in an episode that is much more focused on Fred and Violet.
When Fred’s distant cousin Reggie (Daniel Laurie) with Down’s Syndrome is left without his doting mother after she suddenly dies, Fred takes him in to support him and help him come to terms with the loss of his mother. This is heartbreaking stuff. When Reggie gestures to the clock and asks “where will the little hand be when my mum comes back from seeing God?”, you’d almost need a heart of stone to be unaffected.
But it’s ultimately not a sad story. It’s one that looks at Fred and Violet and shows us the strength they have as a couple and the capacity that they have to care for and love Reggie when he’s all alone. He’s been sheltered for a long time and we soon find out that he’s too old for professional care and might be sent to an institution.
While it’s a fear for him, we also know Fred wouldn’t do that to someone so harmless and helpless. He does visit the cold and oppressive Linchmere Hospital to see if there’s any way it could be the right place for Reggie, and it’s unsurprising to us that it’s definitely not where he’s meant to be.
What’s surprising, though, is the discovery of Sister Mary Cynthia at the hospital. We know she needs help, but she’s hardly meant to be institutionalised. The direness of the situation is heightened when we find out that she’s being given electroconvulsive therapy against her wishes too.
The revelation of her whereabouts has a particularly strong effect on Sister Monica Joan, but it’s certain that Trixie and the others will be outraged when they find out in the next episode. This should also prompt some self-reflection for Sister Julienne, who has put her unwavering and unquestioning trust in the Mother House, and we’re now seeing the flaws in her faith be exposed.
Of course, there is still some time spent on Valerie’s first day on the job. The character fits into the core cast really effectively, and her arrival goes smoothly. Initially it seems like she might not get along quite so well with her new roommate Trixie, but we soon find that it’s likely she’ll fit in perfectly with all the other midwives. She’s not given one of the main stories this week, though, as most of the narrative is given over to Trixie and a patient of hers who is terrified of dentists but has a critical tooth infection that could put her pregnancy at risk.
It’s an interesting storyline, but the stakes do feel somewhat lower than they have in recent weeks. It’s mostly a way for Trixie to be introduced to handsome dentist and new suitor Christopher (Jack Hawkins) as he operates on the petrified patient and then continues to be on hand as she almost immediately goes into labour after her dental surgery! This is a decent but undemanding plotline, as this is a week where the show spends a little more time on developing its characters than it does its episodic story.
That’s highly worthwhile from time to time, especially for people like Fred and Violet who are so often on the sidelines but rarely in the limelight. Here, they get shades of complexity as the show explores Reggie’s predicament in a way that feels honest and moving without pretending that it has all the answers. That he eventually ends up in a community with other people who have Down’s Syndrome does feel like a positive development for him, but it certainly doesn’t feel like the right way for people with disabilities to be treated.
This is still the ‘60s, though, and it’s not like there are a wide array of options for him. There certainly weren’t for Sister Mary Cynthia. But she’s not beyond help, and we’ll hopefully see Nonnatus House mobilise to rescue her from the institution in the next episode.
Aired at 8pm on Sunday 19 February 2017 on BBC One.
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