Previously on Call the Midwife: Half the cast headed off to Africa to do some good there. Cynthia decided to become a nun and was horrifically attacked by a man stalking women in the East End.
OMG, you guys, new credits! With colour and 60’s hairstyles and racial diversity! This is hint one that there’s change afoot. Hint 2: Timothy is shaving now. He’s 15, can you believe it? And at one point he’s also left to man the telephones at the doctor’s surgery, because Shelagh was taken ‘suddenly ill’. Anyone who didn’t immediately shout ‘Pregnant!’ either hasn’t been watching much television, or hasn’t been paying much attention to Shelagh’s character. No way would that woman leave her post for any petty, ordinary illness. She’d probably work those phones through a bout of bubonic plague. So, yeah, despite her previous diagnosis of infertility, she and Turner are having a baby. Yay! That African trip was magical! And how like this show to go back to the miracle pregnancy well on a fairly dire episode.
Big change comes to Nonnatus almost immediately. Julienne and the others (minus Trixie, who has decided to stay in Africa for an extra two months for reasons that are never explained) return and barely has Julienne set a foot in the door before she’s being telephoned by the Mother House and demoted.
The what now?
Yeah, this was a major WTF? moment for me. During Julienne’s absence, the Mother House sent Sister Ursula (Harriet Walter!) to run things at Nonnatus. Odd that she was never mentioned before, but ok, we’ll go with it. Ursula’s a holy hardass, scolding Sister MJ for ‘gyrating’ to music from the television and serving up such spartan lunches it’s amazing nobody passes out in the midst of their duties. She won’t even allow a splash of lemon barley in the water. Heavens, sister!
Suffice to say, nobody’s exactly saddened by the thought of showing her the door. But like I said, as soon as she comes back from a pretty gruelling trip she undertook at the request of the Mother House itself, Julienne is informed that Ursula will now be in charge, and Julienne will just be an ordinary nun like the others. I know the writers on the show had to do some frantic reworking when Miranda Hart pulled out at the last minute, but this still seems bizarre. Why would the Mother House do such a thing? I’m guessing even the writers themselves didn’t know, because again, we get no explanation. It just is.
Soooo, ok. That’s sad, and strange. And one of the first things Ursula does is to spirit away Sister MJ’s TV and kind of bully Cynthia, who’s getting ready to take her vows. Just in case we weren’t already clear that his woman’s kind of a bitch. MJ is sad, but Cynthia starts getting super anxious, and Ursula can’t be bothered to listen when Julienne warns her that Cynthia really needs careful handling, because she did, after all, suffer a terrible assault not too long ago. I’m glad to see the show picking that up again, since it really seemed terribly brushed under the carpet at the time. Though it also feels unnatural, since Cynthia, to this point, hasn’t actually shown any signs of lingering trauma.
And on the subject of people enduring ongoing trauma, we have our mother-of-the-week: Trudy Watts. She’s heavily pregnant with her second child, and her first, the cutest little boy named Mickey, has astigmatism and also seems a little disturbingly withdrawn. That could be because his dad’s just ending a spell in prison, and the guy is definitely no prize. Though Trudy is happy, at first, to welcome him home with a raucous party largely driven by his laddish friends and her absolutely disgusting mother, things take a turn for the worst when the party ends and her husband, Lester, reveals himself to be a horrible, abusive asshole. Of course, little Mickey sees his dad hurt his mum, but he’s all of about 5 and can’t do anything other than look on in horror while his loving mother tries to comfort him with lies about all of this just being a game.
Things go seriously south when Lester takes Mickey out of school to take him to a boxing gym so he can start the kid’s thug training. Boxing, of course, being an excellent thing to try and teach a child who can’t see properly and wears glasses. Oh, and of course he just tosses him right into the ring with a much older and larger boy and basically just says, ‘Win, kid!’
Mickey does not win. Trudy, alarmed, arrives at the gym and yanks her son out of there, screaming at Lester for ignoring her orders not to take the kid boxing. She’s upset enough to go to the police about it, but Noakes sadly tells her there’s not much he can do to prevent a father from taking his own kid boxing, even if he did remove the boy from school to do so.
The police apparently do go give Lester a talking to, which sends him into a rage, and he rushes home to put his cigarette out on his wife’s chest for a while, and then lock her in her bedroom. She goes into labour while she’s in there, and when things get really rough she asks little Mickey to fetch her a knife from the kitchen. He does, sliding it under the door to her. Despite her pain, she summons some superhuman MumStrength and actually hacks at the lock on the door until it gives way.
She and Mickey manage to get to Nonnatus House, where Julienne assesses the situation and decides they need to get this woman into birthing position stat. Ursula objects, but Julienne overrules because you can’t actually just stop labour, Ursula. Also, when the waters break, there’s meconium in there, which is very, very bad. Julienne and Cynthia bundle Trudy off to the room where they keep all their instruments and Trudy gives birth to a daughter. Ursula manages not to be horrible for a second and actually comforts little Mickey and fetches him a biscuit.
Trudy realises the only way forward is divorce, and she gets the locks changed and engages a lawyer. But then she finds out that the law wasn’t exactly kind to women seeking divorces in the early 1960s. Apparently, even clear evidence of cigarette burns on her flesh isn’t enough to prove cruelty. An incredulous Nurse Crane offers to give medical evidence, but then Trudy’s mother, who will surely burn in hell someday, nastily chimes in that her daughter probably did that to herself. After all, Trudy apparently had an issue with postpartum depression after having Mickey (and with that home life, it’s not surprising) and put her head in an oven. I can’t even wrap my head around Trudy’s mother, she’s such a monster. It’d be one thing if she showed some anxiety about the challenges her daughter would be facing as a single mother, but she hasn’t. All she’s doing is bleating about how her son-in-law has prospects (Christ, lady, the first we saw him he was getting out of jail!) and her daughter should be grateful to have him and stop whining. She clearly doesn’t give even the vaguest, teensiest whisper of a shit about her daughter or her grandkids. Why is she so Team Lester? We will never know. She’s our paper villain this week.
Things look pretty hopeless for Trudy, especially when Lester applies for full custody of the children (even at that time, I find it a little hard to believe they’d grant that to an ex-felon over a clearly loving mother). The only thing she can think of to do is to dump the children at the police station and take herself to a garden she told Crane she used to daydream in. Noakes calls Nonnatus about the kids and Crane convinces him not to call in the authorities, because if the kids wind up going into foster care, it’ll be hard to get them back out. Instead, she and Noakes go and find Trudy, and Crane gently talks her around and offers to find the poor woman some help. And she does! Trudy goes to stay at a women’s shelter for a while, gets back on her feet, and gets her divorce. Hurrah! A happy ending!
But…Cynthia. Oh, poor, poor Cynthia. She’s present for the birth of Trudy’s daughter, which means she gets a good look at the woman’s wounds. Then, while doing a home visit after the birth, Lester shows up and screams about his wife changing the locks and acts so threatening even I feel intimidated, and Cynthia, who’s had waaaay more than her fair share of aggressive men, gets really triggered. That, combined with the stress Ursula’s unduly placing on her over her upcoming vows sends her into a sort of hysterical tailspin.
Julienne intervenes, taking Cynthia off the schedule for a while, because this poor girl seriously needs some help. Turner is called in, and after some gentle questions determines that, well, Cynthia needs some serious help. He recommends sending her to a place near her family, but Ursula, having done her one human duty of the hour by giving Mickey a biscuit, instead dispatches her to another place, simply because it’s close to the Mother House. Julienne and Turner quietly agree that this shall be officially noted. And Ursula scolds Julienne for intervening at all, even though it was clear somebody had to.
And then there’s Patsy. She gets a letter from Hong Kong, and after acting uncharacteristically bitchy towards Delia for no reason, admits to her girlfriend that the letter contains bad news. Her father’s got some sort of degenerative disease and is now paralysed, and he wants her to come and tend to him. She’s not keen, obviously, and saddened by the fact this would mean a very long term (possibly permanent) separation from Delia.
In happier news: I totally hope my husband and I are Fred and Violet in about 25 years, because they’re cute as hell. Also, Tom’s a bit low that he can’t get Barbara a proper ring, especially because people keep asking about it. Finally, Barbara seizes the feminist bull by the horns and buys her own damn ring. Tom reminds her that’s not the traditional method, but it’s probably more fitting, because the tradition of a man giving a woman an expensive engagement ring came about because the ring was meant to be a symbol of the fact he can afford to keep her. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Tom and Barbara–they’re equals and clearly see each other as such. Barbara basically says that, and Tom makes no actual objection to her wearing the ring she bought and paid for herself. At least you know she likes it, Tom!
And finally: Shelagh hands her husband a note with a (fairly accomplished) drawing of a baby all curled up in the womb and the message: ‘Will you be my dad?’ Dammit, CtM, I almost made it through an episode without crying!