Call the Midwife: In the Bleak Midwinter

All right, I know this is a bold statement, but I’m going to make it: I think this was the bleakest, most depressing episode of this show yet. It was just one downer after another. And yes, I do remember the SIDS baby, the thalidomide baby who was left to die, and the neglected children who were shipped off to certain abuse in Australia. Somehow, this episode beats those out.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what the hour consisted of: two people, one of them a young child, suffering from a horrible, degenerative neurological disease. A family living in filth and abject poverty. That same family being torn apart, the children sent to foster care. A self-induced abortion. An emotionally distressed young girl not at all getting the help she really needs, but getting instead a poor solution that will certainly make all parties involved completely miserable and will probably be more damaging to her in the long run. A breakup. And Trixie falling off the wagon.

There may actually have been more, but I think I reached my limit and started just tuning some of it out, in a sort of desperate self-preservation effort.

Oh, there’s also a beauty pageant. That’s a thing that happened. It did nothing to lift the mood of the episode, however hard it tried.

You ready for this? Ok, here we go.

Mum o’the Week is Mrs Lunt. She lives in an absolute hovel (like, you can smell that place right off the screen) with her two kids and her husband, and now she’s expecting her third baby. When Crane comes to do a check up she’s obviously concerned about the state of the place. Poor Mrs L is trying to brighten it up in little ways, with some daisies on the table and a ‘Home Sweet Home’ embroidery on the wall, but the place is a mess and it seems Mrs L just can’t keep up. Crane suggests having the baby in the maternity home, but when Mr L comes home and hears the plan he cuts Crane off with a brisk, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ So, great, it looks like we have an asshole husband situation.

Off at school, Mrs L’s eldest, Wendy, is struggling. The teacher mentions she’s been having trouble keeping up with the other kids, both physically and academically. Sister Winifred, who’s at the school to give a lesson in personal hygiene, notices that Wendy’s covered in bruises and appears to be somewhat malnourished. She’s also absolutely filthy.

She takes this back to Nonnatus, where Crane connects the girl to the mother and everyone concludes there’s a serious problem here. Crane tells Mrs L to come to the clinic for her next check-up, and she does, bringing Wendy and her younger child, a boy, along with her. The kids are sent to wait in the cafe.

Crane gently asks Mrs L if everything is all right at home, and Mrs L gets really jittery and says her husband wouldn’t like her talking to them. Crane withdraws to fetch Turner, and while she’s gone, Mrs L just bolts. Without her kids. They’re found later, still sitting in the cafe, by the midwives, and Trixie offers to take them home.

At the Lunt Hovel, Mr L greets them at the door, hustles the kids inside, and tries to get rid of Trixie, but Trixie will not be got rid of. She comes in, looks around, and asks Mr L how long things have been like this. He admits that his wife’s not been right for months now, even before she became pregnant, and he’s really concerned. Trixie urges him to have her see a doctor, but she’s scared of doctors because her father was apparently locked up in a mental asylum and she’s afraid the same thing will happen to her. Trixie works her magic, though, and Mrs L does go to see Turner. While she’s with him, she starts exhibiting some movement and speech issues, so Turner starts to suspect she has something neurological going on, possibly a tumor. He refers her to a specialist.

The specialist rules out a tumor, but diagnoses Huntington’s disease. Yikes! I think I’d rather have the tumor! At least a bad enough brain tumor will probably kill you fairly quickly, whereas Huntington’s is a really sad, fairly slow decline.

It’s also genetic, and suddenly Wendy’s problems become horribly clear. Yes, she, too, at the age of 12, which is quite rare, already has Huntington’s.

This is not a good time for this family. Not good at all. They now have an expectant mother and one child with the disease, and who knows if the other two kids will have inherited it as well? And how will the Lunts cope with an infant and a sick mother and child?

The answer is: not hugely well. They try–oh, believe me, they try. Mrs L gives birth to a baby girl, and although she doesn’t seem terribly interested in feeding or changing the baby, she’s clearly besotted with it. She tries taking care of it, but her own condition is deteriorating, and Mr L, though he does what he can, can’t be around all the time because he has to work. It becomes clear that this is all too much for the Lunts as it is, and it’s only going to get harder as Mrs L gets worse and needs full-time care. Turner very gently tells them that Mrs L and Wendy will have to go to a specialist care home, and the other two kids will have to be fostered out. There’s just no other way, and it’s heartbreaking watching this family get busted up in this manner.

Trixie delivers Wendy to her new home, where the girl hopefully notes that everyone looks happy. Here’s hoping she’ll be ok for whatever short amount of quality time she has left.

So, that happened.

In other news: Shelagh has decided that Magda needs more of a social life, so she asks Valerie to loop her into something. Valerie invites Magda along to a Keep Fit class, where the girls learn that Violet and Fred are staging a Miss Poplar beauty pageant for charity. They gamely agree to take part. Turns out finding young ladies to take part isn’t difficult, but finding an audience is, because the wives of Poplar don’t want their husbands going to this thing and ogling local girls in swimsuits. But Fred being Fred, he tries the direct approach and sells tickets over pints at the pub and before long they’re sold out.

Magda and Valerie are becoming fast friends, and during a martini session at Nonnatus, we learn a little more about Magda’s history. She escaped from Communist-controlled Hungary by crawling under fences at night, got to Paris and met a boy. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a horrible, abusive asshole who left a scar on the back of her neck when he thought she was looking at one of his friends. Jesus. She brightsides that now she can focus on landing Sean Connery. Oh, honey…

Anyway, it turns out that Abusive Parisian Asshole left Magda with more than just a scar. She’s pregnant, and when she finds out, she desperately asks the doctor she’s with to help her secure an abortion. The doctor informs her that those are illegal (which wasn’t, strictly speaking, true: a doctor could perform one if the woman convinced him or her that they were at some serious physical or emotional risk if they went through with the pregnancy. Some doctors basically took women saying that at face value, at the time. For the right price.)

Next, Magda turns to Valerie, asking if she knows of ‘a woman’ who can help her. Valerie begs her not to go that route, because it’s super dangerous, and urges her to tell the Turners what’s going on. You’d think that, living in a household with a doctor and a midwife, Magda would be perfectly positioned to get the help she needs, but she doesn’t see it that way and instead decides to take matters into her own hands.

First, she borrows from nursing books from Shelagh, claiming she wants to study nursing at some point in the future. She tries one medication that induces contractions, but that doesn’t get the job done. So, she ducks out on the beauty pageant, and while everyone else is occupied, she sneaks into Nonnatus house and injects herself with ergometrine. That stuff seems to work fast, because she can barely stumble out of Nonnatus, catching the attention of Sister MJ, who sees her staggering towards Fred’s allotment. MJ phones the pageant and Shelagh and Valerie both hurry back. They find the ergometrine and Valerie tells Shelagh about Magda’s pregnancy. Magda’s found lying in the garden, looking terrible, and they summon an ambulance.

Magda will be ok, and she no longer has the baby to worry about, but she’s understandably shaken by the whole experience. And she doesn’t even know about Winifred delicately bringing up the possibility of pressing charges against her for theft and aborting on church property. Sister Julienne, thankfully, decides Magda’s already been through enough.

But Magda decides she’s done with au-pairing and is going to return to Paris and actually study nursing. I’m not sure why she’s not staying in London, where at least she wouldn’t face the prospect of her psycho ex coming after her, but apparently her time on this show is DONE. Which is a shame, because we barely got to know her. And now, off she goes. Good luck, Magda! Use protection next time!

And finally…sigh. Christopher’s daughter, Alexandra, is going through some emotional stuff, it seems. She’s been having accidents, so her school’s recommended she see a psychiatrist. Apparently she’s sent to the laziest psychiatrist ever, because he or she clearly just sees ‘divorced parents’ and goes, ‘eh, easy case.’ Obviously, this is all Christopher’s fault, because he… picks her up from school sometimes? It’s all pretty shady, if you ask me, and I honestly think they should seek a second opinion. I’m willing to bet that this child’s distress has a lot more to do with her mother’s hideous behaviour and obvious jealousy over Trixie, rather than her parents’ break-up, which happened some time ago, now, didn’t it?

But Trixie freaks out, kind of makes the whole thing about her, and tells Christopher that he needs to do what needs to be done to make his little girl feel safe and protected, or she’ll wind up an alcoholic mess. Or something like that. Trixie orders him to get back together with his wife. Trixie, I love you, but don’t become a shrink, because that is TERRIBLE advice. Living in a home with two parents who are incompatible and only staying together because of you is NOT going to help Alexandra become a functional, productive, emotionally balanced adult. It will almost certainly do the exact opposite. That poor child is going to be a mess.

Christopher argues over this, because he doesn’t love his wife and he does love Trixie and this sounds like absolute hell for all involved and Oh My God, Christopher, GET ANOTHER OPINION ABOUT YOUR DAUGHTER! Find out what else might be going on in her life!

But Trixie’s mind is made up. She dumps Christopher and, in despair, goes home and starts drinking. And so it begins again.

Man, you guys. MAN.

Now, don’t get me wrong: just because this was depressing as hell doesn’t make this a bad episode. Far from it. It was a great episode with many fine and poignant performances. Big round of applause to all, and I do, as always, respect the show for tackling difficult subjects that don’t tend to find their way to prime time very often, if at all. But still, it’s a bit much to take, when you’re settling down with your tea on a chilly winter’s evening. We all had to go into work today with this memory seared into our brains.


Happy February, everybody. Love, Call the Midwife.

5 thoughts on “Call the Midwife: In the Bleak Midwinter

  1. I loved your review of the episode. And I completely agree with you about the break-up storyline. Completely unnecessary, and just written in to cause more drama.

  2. Hello there. I just watched the episode. In the end i cried (as my parents are devorced it was a bit too much…) And yes thank you I fully agree with you! Usually they manage to have the same amount of happy and sad in one epidsode but this was just sad. And usually the episodes end well, this ending was horrible?! hope the next one is different! xx

  3. Magda isn’t returning to Paris (merely) to study nursing. She’s fleeing the jurisdiction one step ahead of a police investigation. Because while Sister Julienne isn’t pressing charges, odds are good that the hospital has some policy for reporting suspected illegal abortions. Magda doesn’t know if or when someone might decide to take her to court. Plus, there is the issue of her stealing the prescription drugs she used, which would have its own criminal penalties.

    “Studying nursing” is the excuse she gives for leaving – an excuse the Turners will accept, and that lets them save face. It would look bad if it became public that she had an illegal abortion while under their roof – they’d be suspected of illegally helping, as well as the potential insinuations that Turner or Tim was the father, etc.

    As for going to the Turners for help, their help wouldn’t be the kind she wants. They’d help her through the pregnancy, and send her to Chummy’s home for unwed mothers for the birth, and expect her to give the child up for adoption. Magda doesn’t want this “help”, she wants to end her pregnancy.

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