Some sense of normality has been restored now that Sister Ursula’s no longer in charge, but it’s not like everything can ever really just return back to the way it used to be for the midwives of Nonnatus House.
Trixie learns that as she presses Sister Julienne for more information on what’s happened to Sister Mary Cynthia and finds herself struggling to get back into the swing of things when it comes to running her fitness classes.
The absence of Sister Mary Cynthia isn’t the only loss contributing to the central theme of the hour, as the central subplot finds a woman struck by financial troubles having to consider giving up her baby, both Shelagh and Patrick confront the very real possibility that they might lose this child, while Phylis finds she has to step into a role previously run by the now gone Patsy, and a new midwife has to be hired to fill a vacancy at Nonnatus House.
Having Trixie back does bring a lightness and a feeling of positivity into the show, but that doesn’t mean it pulls its punches.
The main subplot is all about Marnie Wallace (Claire Lams), a woman unable to make ends meet. She’s suffering with debt and pregnant, which puts her in the position to make the incredibly difficult decision to allow her wealthy cousin to adopt her new baby. She already has two other children and struggles to afford enough to provide for them, telling her cousin that she can’t even afford to get them birthday presents. Marnie’s tale is one that seems hopeless, and it’s telling that the only times we really see her able to smile are when she’s with her kids.
While it could be read as a story that is about adoption, this is far more about this specific character and her decisions.
Call the Midwife isn’t really saying that there’s anything inherently sad about adoption, which is something that we know the show doesn’t believe considering its previous stories and the revelation that Tom is adopted, but it’s showing us how being forced into a situation where you feel like giving up on a child is the only option is deeply upsetting. Tom does everything he can possibly do to help Marnie, but the show doesn’t pretend that the choices she has to make are easy ones, or that there’s a right or wrong path she can opt for.
Elsewhere, we see that Sister Julienne is far from infallible as Trixie rightly calls her out on her willingness to not fight to find out what’s going on with Sister Mary Cynthia. By suggesting that everything must be okay because Sister Mary Cynthia has been sent to “a place of greater sympathy” even if she’s not being allowed to fully control her own decisions, Sister Julienne is clearly denying Sister Mary Cynthia’s rights as a person to have a say in where she goes and how she’s helped. Trixie, appropriately, isn’t going to be so quick to agree with that line of thinking.
It’s also heartbreaking to see what Shelagh and another patient at the hospital have to go through as they deal with complicated pregnancies. We see that Shelagh quickly becomes friends with the woman in the hospital bed next to hers, but that the woman is unable to have the surgery she needs in time to avoid another devastating loss of a child.
Shelagh may still be lucky enough to give birth in the future, as the episode ends on the positive note of Patrick and her listening to the heartbeat, but the show definitely doesn’t pretend that her miraculous pregnancy will be an easy one. The talk about the heartbeat early on in the episode acts as foreshadowing that things might work out well enough for Shelagh by the end of the hour, even if Call the Midwife keeps you wondering if it might not be so simple.
This episode also brings Timothy closer to his parents as they start to be more honest with him and treat him more like the young adult that he’s growing up to be. Not only does he get to have a beer with his father and talk with him about things more frankly, but he also visits his mother in hospital and has a much-needed supportive heart-to-heart conversation with her too.
Unsurprisingly, this episode also sees the return of Jennifer Kirby’s former army nurse Valerie Dyer. Introduced in the second episode of this season, her calmness under pressure and confidence during the crisis at the docks in that episode instantly made her seem like someone who’d be a recurring character. Even before a series of poor job applicants are interviewed by Sister Julienne and Phylis, it’s hardly difficult to guess that she’ll be the one taking the vacancy at Nonnatus House.
What’ll be interesting to watch is how easily she settles in, and how much Trixie continues to feel like they’re trying to find a replacement for Sister Mary Cynthia without fully working out whether she’s being properly cared for or not.
With its stories of loss and heartbreak intermingled with changing developments for all of the characters, this episode makes for another challenging and emotional instalment of Call the Midwife, and even if it is good to see a slightly more optimistic and hopeful tone to the show, it certainly hasn’t lost its commitment to showing how living in this community at this time in history often came with certain harsh realities.
Aired at 8pm on Sunday 12 February 2017 on BBC One.
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