Ok, let’s close out this rather sad season.
It’s the day of Barbara’s funeral, and there is, predictably, a pall over Nonnatus and its environs. Everyone’s soberly getting into their funeral wear, with Phyllis recalling that it’s just about a year since Barbara’s and Tom’s wedding, because of course it is. Fred, a man familiar with young widowhood, goes to Tom’s place to help him get ready, and gives him a shave that’s so tenderly sweet I nearly start to cry. We’re only five minutes in!
Not at all surprisingly, there is quite a turnout at the church, which is nice to see. Barbara was loved by all, and what wasn’t there to love? Phyllis reads a lovely poem that has the perfect Barbara-esque message, which is basically, ‘I know you’re all super sad, but please don’t be. Let’s smile and press on, shall we?’
The Turners return home from the funeral, and the first words out of Shelagh’s mouth are, ‘Thank God the funeral didn’t interfere with Angela’s birthday.’
That is seriously one of the most tone-deaf, insensitive things I’ve ever heard uttered on this show. And what a bizarre person to give that line to, it feels so incredibly callus and out of character for Shelagh to be all, ‘yeah, tragic death and all, but MY BABY’S BIRTHDAY HOW DARE THEY HAVE A FUNERAL SO CLOSE TO IT, NEARLY RUINED EVERYTHING!!!!’ Yes, she does then get upset and shows some emotion, but seriously, what an utterly shitty parentzilla thing to say. I guess we should just be grateful she didn’t make that comment graveside.
The precious party goes forward the following day, as planned, but smack in the middle of it Shelagh gets a phone call informing her that some maternity home in the area is shutting down with no notice whatsoever, and all the pregnant women it has on its books are being dumped on Nonnatus. With no notice. Really? Would they actually do that?
With something like 30 women due to give birth in the coming weeks, things are looking chaotic. This is not a great time to be down a midwife, and matters only get more difficult when Phyllis throws her back out, which means bending over is basically impossible for her. Pain coupled with grief is making her a bit snippier than usual, as one rather irritating, childish, but perky young mum-to-be, Josie, discovers. Josie doesn’t let it faze her, because Josie seems like the type who doesn’t get fazed.
There’s bad news all around: the TV’s on the blink, which means Sister MJ can’t watch the news. She heads to the local cinema to watch the newsreels there and makes the acquaintance of the projectionist, Mr Hodgkiss (Hi, David Bamber! Always nice to see you!). He lets her stay, free of charge, because his daughter, Olive, is pregnant and being tended by one of the Nonnatus midwives.
That would be Lucille, who reports to the mum-to-be because Olive thinks she’s in labour. But, it’s just Braxton-Hicks. Lucille manages to gently extract the information that Olive has left her unfaithful husband and moved back in with her dad. While Lucille is there, an elderly man named Donald shows up. She refers to him as ‘Uncle Donald’, so clearly he’s been close to the family for some time. She doesn’t seem all that pleased to see him, though. Mostly he seems to irritate her, as he mistakes her for her own (late) mother and cheerfully goes to do some ironing. Seems Donald, who used to be in the navy and therefore has all sorts of practical skills, does a bit of odd work at the Hodgkiss house now and again.
Something’s not right with Donald, poor man. Not long after, he’s found wandering the streets of Poplar fully dressed from the waist up, but wearing only his boxers down below. He walks down crowded streets, looking increasingly confused and distressed, as all these people just stare at him instead of making even the vaguest attempt to help what is clearly an elderly man in need. Nice, Poplar.
He’s picked up by the police, who summon Turner to check the man out. Turner notes the man has a slight fever, but also suspects there’s dementia at play here. He reports back to Wolff and offers to take Donald home. Wolff kind of purses his lips and says he looked into Donald’s records and found a couple of previous arrests for ‘gross indecency’, which is basically how homosexual acts were referred to back then. Wolff is all up in arms about it, but Turner’s all, ‘Who cares? The man needs medical help, not moral guidance, thank you very much.’
Someone, mysteriously, has summoned Hodgkiss to the police station, and he arrives while this debate is taking place and introduces himself as Donald’s neighbour. Mmm hmmm.
Turner administers a memory test, which Donald does not do so well with. He’s diagnosed with dementia, and Hodgkiss takes him to a park they both love so they can talk things through. Donald’s quite upset about the fact he’s having trouble piecing together so many of his own memories. Hodgkiss gently takes his hand and tells him they’ll face whatever is ahead together. Awwww!
Hodgkiss’s plan is to move Donald into his home so he can look after him. But when Olive is informed of the idea, she turns into a screeching harpy and screams about how they can’t have Donald living there, because there’s barely enough room for her and her incoming baby, and WHAT WILL THE NEIGHBOURS THINK? Uh, I think they’ll think that your dad chose to take an old family friend who could no longer properly care for himself under his roof, which is extremely generous. It’s sort of like how he took you and your spawn under his roof when you were in need, Olive.
Oh, and she’s having this tantrum RIGHT IN FRONT OF DONALD. Basically, she’s screaming in this man’s ear about how unwanted he is. Olive sucks. She’s also a baby, whining about how much her Braxton-Hicks hurt. They don’t. I had loads of them when I was pregnant with my first. The fact they don’t hurt is how you know they’re fake.
Hodgkiss quickly sends Donald off to make some tea, and Donald, bless him, is still incredibly sweet to this woman, who’s acting like such a total bitch to him right now. Once Donald’s gone, Hodgkiss basically lays out the truth of their relationship to his daughter, who sobs and sobs and then gathers up all her stuff and heads to the maternity home, because now she’s in actual labour.
Ok, I know I’m being hard on her here, which is perhaps a bit unfair. After all, she’s facing being a single mother at a time when that was not exactly seen as socially acceptable, her hormones are raging away, and she’s being hit with the news (which she clearly always knew on some level, but never had spelled out) that her father is gay. It’s a lot to take in. But even so, being so mean to such a sweet man is fairly uncalled for. She could have pulled her dad aside to have this discussion, instead of doing it right in front of Donald. The poor man is dealing with quite a lot himself, so maybe cut him just a little slack and treat him like a human being?
The maternity home is slammed today, so Olive showing up with about eight pieces of luggage is not looked on terribly kindly. I think it’s clear that Olive does not do a great job of thinking of others.
Maybe it’s hereditary, because Hodgkiss arrives at the maternity home to continue the debate about Donald with his daughter while she’s in labour. Hodgkiss, this is not the time! Lucille intervenes when she hears raised voices and sends the grandpa-to-be away. He waits outside with Donald.
And Josie shows up, of course. And of course, Phyllis is the only midwife who can tend to her. Josie is not all that pleased, saying she’d hoped to get one of the ‘younger or nicer’ midwives. Phyllis unbends a bit and soothes the girl, who goes on to deliver a healthy baby, which she will be giving up for adoption.
Olive, too, has her baby–a girl, and as is often the case on this show, birthing a baby helps her magically realise what true family is, so she accepts Donald into their home after all. She also immediately dresses the baby in a jacket Donald’s been knitting, which is pretty sweet.
Turner and the midwives celebrate having got through a long and difficult night. But their happiness is short-lived, because Winifred bursts in and tearfully informs them that Kennedy has been shot. Sigh. This show just isn’t going to let us go gently into that good night, is it?
Everyone gathers around the (now repaired) television to watch news broadcasts and cry. Sister MJ finally gets fed up with all the grief they’ve been living with and gives a rousing, ‘we really need to find some good in life, people!’ talk.
That kind of kicks everyone into high gear. Sister MJ’s birthday is coming up, and despite the fact that Winifred told them the order would probably only fund a cake, they manage something much, much better. The ladies all raid the archives and find all sorts of pictures and film of Sister MJ throughout the years and plan a shindig.
Meanwhile, Tom is at definite loose ends. After the funeral, he left with his parents for a while, but now he returns home to a massive pile of condolence cards and Barbara’s clean laundry in a basket. I can’t even imagine how depressing it would be to have to return home after something like that happens. If anything happened to my husband or son, I think I’d have a really hard time facing a place where I had so many happy memories of them. I remember when my great-uncle died, my great-aunt couldn’t bear to sleep in their room anymore, immediately got rid of the bed, and then just had the room redone. I totally get that.
Anyway, Tom’s father wants him to join the rest of the family on a mission trip to the other side of the world, but Tom can’t bring himself to go. Instead, he decides to stay in Poplar, but he packs up all of Barbara’s things and gives them to Winifred to donate. Winifred’s like, ‘Uh, maybe you should slow down a bit?’ and instead stashes the suitcases in Barbara’s old room, with Valerie’s and Lucille’s approval.
In the F-plot, apparently Reggie’s turned into some sort of bizarre shopaholic. He’s off to the shops every day, hauling back junk for Violet, who’s not best pleased by the idea he’s being taken advantage of. Fred points out that some people just get pleasure from giving gifts, and, indeed, Reggie eventually knocks it out of the park when he procures a small tin carousel and gives it to Tom to put on Barbara’s grave. Tom is touched. It’s quite sweet.
Everyone gathers for the big showing of The Life and Times of Sister MJ. It’s pretty comprehensive–where did they get photos of her as a little girl? And who was taking film of her taking her vows in what appears to be the very early 1900s? Film cameras were expensive and bulky back then, so I find it a little hard to believe that a pretty poor holy order would splash out on one. But, whatever, it’s nice. There are plenty of pictures and things of her helping people during the war, posing with Sister Julienne, getting a message from Trixie (sunning herself in Portofino, because apparently she’s just on holiday now), attending several weddings (Chummy and Noakes! Fred and Violet! Shelagh and Turner! And… Tom and Barbara.)
This is where the tribute gets a little strange. The focus shifts entirely from MJ and onto Barbara. There are all these pictures where she is front and centre, while MJ, if she’s present at all, is off in the unfocused background. It’s…odd. I mean, touching that Barbara’s getting a little tribute and all, but shouldn’t she get her own? Whose decision was it to mash it together with MJ’s? The woman’s in her nineties, let her have her moment!
But, ok, Barbara gets her last moment in the spotlight, and then the episode closes with a shot of that carousel sitting on her grave, to remind us of the lovely carousel the healthy, very much alive Barbara got to ride on her wedding day JUST LAST YEAR.
Hoo, boy, this season wasn’t pulling any punches, was it? There was something depressing going on EVERY WEEK. Child sexual abuse? Check. Stillbirth? Check. Dying woman nearly gets chucked out of her house, and then dies with her husband of 30+ years weeping at her side? Check. Racism? Check. Woman has sudden, debilitating stroke after giving birth? Check. A dual Huntingdon’s diagnosis that destroys an entire family? Check. Trixie and Christopher break up and she falls off the wagon? Check. Woman has her barrenness thrown brutally back in her face? Check. Abuse backstory and desperate, nearly botched abortion? Check. Horrible past birth experience leading to incredible phobia and ideas of suicide? Check. Man dies within minutes of arriving in Poplar, leaving pregnant wife with two young children to manage without any family or support nearby? Check. And then her HOUSE BURNS DOWN? Check. Barbara dies? Check. And then we have dementia, death, and assassination. Is this show TRYING to make me stop watching? Because as much as I love it, I’m having trouble dealing with this onslaught of misery. I mean, it’s not nearly as bad as, say The Village, which was beautiful but so deeply, relentlessly bleak that I just couldn’t deal with it anymore, but it’s still a pretty rough watch every week. I don’t expect by TV shows to be all light and happy all the time, and yes, there were some bright moments, but the depressing bits did start to overshadow everything else.
Let’s get Trixie and Christopher back together. And give Fred and Violet something to do other than plan entertainments for the neighbours while mired deep in C-plots. They deserve better.
Right everyone, see you in nine months for the Christmas special (maybe)!