Strap in, everyone, because this is the episode many of us have been dreading. But you know what? The writers did an excellent job, here. This could have been a relentlessly harrowing episode, but it wasn’t. Believe it or not, it even had a moment of (slightly questionable) female empowerment. From a woman who’s undergone female genital mutilation. Now, one might argue about just how ’empowered’ her whole stance and rebuke to the midwives really were, but she was taking the opportunity to tell them that she wasn’t just a victim here, as they assumed. She was standing up for herself and for her culture, even if it is a part of a culture most people outside of it find horrifying and repulsive.
But we’ll get to that. The woman in question, Nadifa, is a Somali immigrant living in London with her husband and her sister, Deka. Deka’s a cheeky, curious little girl of maybe 11. Nadifa’s expecting her first baby any day now, but when she goes to the clinic for a check up, Valerie and Barbara are both horrified and baffled by what they see. They bring in Turner, who’s just as astonished, and Nadifa is sent along to the hospital.
The doctor there is less of a condescending douchebag than most of the others we’ve seen, but he still scares the hell out of Nadifa by talking about having to perform an episiotomy in order to enable her to give birth. The hole she’s been left with is simply too small to do anything, which kind of gives me a fridge horror moment when I wonder what the hell women who have had this procedure do if they’re about to give birth and don’t have access to a hospital. If you know the answer to that, please don’t tell me, because I think I can guess and it’s already turning my stomach. The things we humans do to each other.
Nadifa is probably about 70% freaked out and 30% grossed out by being spoken of like some sort of medical mistake, so she hightails it out of the hospital and promptly goes into labour. She’s eventually found at home by Valerie and Deka. An ambulance is called, but it’s not going to get to the hospital in time, so Valerie has no choice but to cut this poor woman with surgical scissors by the side of the road and deliver the baby. By the time they get to the hospital and Nadifa is whisked away to be tended to, Valerie’s clearly in a bit of shock, covered in blood, but definitely aware of what she’s capable of. Well done, Valerie, that was super badass. You really do fit right in here!
Nadifa is going to be ok, but she’s really upset to discover that the doctors haven’t restitched her ‘properly’. The doctors at the hospital don’t feel that they, in good conscience, can restore a procedure that should never have been done in the first place. Never mind that this is part of the woman’s culture and has become a pretty ingrained part of who she is. It’s so intrinsic, in fact, that she doesn’t protest when her sister is summoned back to Somalia so she can have it done to her as well. Valerie and Barbara freak out at the news, and Nadifa draws herself up and delivers a smackdown on them, informing them that they are wrong, this isn’t something done by a man looking to butcher women, it’s done by women, and it’s the mother’s choice. Furthermore, women don’t take their husband’s name in her culture, because they aren’t owned by a man. Ok, Nadifa, I get that you’re asserting yourself here, but unless I’m mistaken, FGM is done, essentially, for the benefit of men. It’s done so women are incapable of enjoying sex, so they’ll remain ‘pure.’ So, the argument for female empowerment here doesn’t hold a whole lot of water. Still, props to her for standing up for herself. And it seems that even she questions whether this is a good idea, because the ending VO informs us that she decides not to have it done to her own daughter. Good for her, bad for poor Deka. I think we can all assume that Deka never got to pursue the medical career she seemed rather keen on, which is very sad.
There’s something of a spectre of doom lurking here. The Cuban Missile Crisis is unfolding throughout the episode, which is making everyone somewhat tense. Shelagh pats her big belly and wonders if bringing new life into this world is even a good idea. Trixie decides to stop playing hard-to-get and has an adorable second date (and first kiss!) with Dockerill. Tom and Barbara drink martinis in the garden, and Fred and Violet slow dance in their kitchen (awwww!) The things people do when facing the end of the world.
But the world doesn’t end! Hurrah! Trixie and Dockerill get to have a third date, which is all cute until he hands her a glass of champagne and her face freezes. She throws out an excuse about being on call and unable to drink, which he accepts, but it’s clear she has no idea how she should handle this situation going forward. I’m with her–it’s an awkward one. People still struggle to fully comprehend alcoholism and how it affects people. Back in the ’60’s it would have been really baffling.
And finally: Cynthia. She has her electroshock therapy, and then the doctors decide she’s doing so well she can leave her private room and join a ward. Progress? She has just enough time to get (understandably) upset when first her habit and then her bible disappear, and then MJ and Julienne appear to take her back to Nonnatus. Like the whole storyline with Sister Ursula, I felt like this one was tied up too fast and neatly. I was expecting a fair bit of drama and tension surrounding her release but…nothing. Ok, then.
She’s brought home and given rest, but it’s clear she needs more. She’s still upset that God doesn’t seem to be speaking to her, so Julienne consults Turner. He recommends she go stay at the place where he received some mental health help, years ago. She agrees to go, but before she does she sets her habit aside and dresses in her postulent’s dress, in an attempt to step back to a time when she was happy and hopeful. And, as she’s kindly greeted at the door of the place, it seems like she’s taking a step in the right direction.
And finally: the Turners move. And they suck at it. Shelagh’s terrible handwriting confused the van drivers so badly they wound up in Kent, and Turner gave the electric company the wrong date, so they have no furniture and no lights. But these are the Turners, the most upbeat family to hit our televisions ever, and they’re certainly not going to let little things like that get them down! They camp out, Tim recalls the Great Camping Holiday Disaster (ha!) and they generally share the love. Let’s face it, we all wish we were that family, right?
Moment of Historical Flavour: Fred going around painting windows white to ‘deflect radiation heat’. Did people actually think that would work, or were they just desperately making busy work to feel like at least they were doing something?
Other note: Nurse Crane is, unsurprisingly, rocking it as leader of the scouts in Patsy’s absence! I love how she noted that young boys are pretty similar to dogs and can be controlled the same way. Ha!