Welcome back, everybody! Hope you all had a lovely day yesterday, whether you celebrate Christmas or not.
It’s certainly holiday season in Poplar, with Fred kicking things off by dressing as Santa and arriving at Nonnatus in an improvised rocket-sled (apparently the guy who was supposed to supply reindeer let them down or whatever). Everyone keeps giving him crap about this change but honestly, I think this is kind of awesome and small children, especially in the mid-60s, would love it, so I don’t know why they’re giving him a hard time. The guy’s working with what he’s got, people!
There are a lot of comings and goings this episode, so here we go.
Coming: Trixie! She’s back from her utterly ludicrous alcoholism-curing sojourn to Portofino. I’m glad to see her, but I can’t get over how stupid it was to send her to Italy, of all places, to deal with a drinking problem. That’s like someone going, ‘Wow, I’ve developed gluten and lactose intolerance. Where can I go to get away from the constant temptation of dairy and carbs? Paris, here I come!’ It’s actually kind of insulting of the show to intimate that just sitting around on a beach for a couple of months will simply cure something as serious as alcoholism. Let me just tell you, CtM: It doesn’t. You’re usually pretty good with serious matters, show, but in this case, you’ve failed.
Anyway (sorry for the rant, there), on the subject of Paris, Trixie’s godmother apparently took her on a couture shopping trip there and kitted her out with dresses and accessories. Damn, who’s her godmother? She must be loaded.
There’s not much point to any of this other than padding, to be honest. We spend far too much time watching Trixie try to explain her new wardrobe to Lucille and Valerie, who both just seem bored and confused. As am I. And then of course Trixie ends up wrecking the dress delivering a baby on a nearby street, so it was all sort of pointless anyway.
Also coming: Miriam Margolyes, AKA Professor Sprout/Mrs Jennings. She’s a fellow Nonnatun named Sister Mildred who arrives with a quartet of adorable orphans from Hong Kong. The girls are bound for new families in Britain as part of a refugee project. The others at Nonnatus note that one of the children, May, is a fair bit older than the other kids. Mildred acts really squirrelly about this one kid, so much so that I suspected there was something completely off here. When May’s adoptive parents (who sound far too good to be true) later fail to show up to a visiting day with the orphans, I totally thought that there were no adoptive parents and that she pretended this kid was going to be adopted so she could rescue her from what sounds like a very sad and abusive situation and bring her to England. But apparently not? Maybe that’ll come to light later in the season.
Going: Sister Jesu Emmanuel, the mother superior of the Nonnatus order. Sadly, she has terminal cancer.
Sisters Julienne and Winifred head back to the mother house, along with Mildred and the orphans, to help out and vote for Sister J-E’s replacement. Julienne’s nervous about this, because she’s the natural successor. Apparently Sister J-E really wants her to take over, but Julienne doesn’t want to leave Poplar.
When they arrive, Julienne finds the records in complete disarray and asks Shelagh to come and help sort everything out. Winifred, meanwhile, starts to bond with a boy named Neil, who’s severely brain-damaged, but under her care he really begins to do well. She’s shocked to hear that he’s not on the list to be adopted (apparently the mother house is an orphanage, which I never realised before). This is one of those jarring moments where I feel like the writers forgot what era these people are living in. In the 1960s people commonly institutionalised relatives like young Neil. Even today, the number of people who seek out special needs children to adopt is incredibly small (which is utterly tragic); I imagine that, back in the 60s, that number would have been essentially non-existent. It makes no sense for Winifred to be surprised here, is what I’m trying to say.
Anyhow, she’s feeling so fulfilled by her work at the mother house, she says she wants to stay for a while, instead of returning to Nonnatus. There’s a lot of talk over that about how she needs to be obedient, but Mildred steps in and gives a whole giant speech about how we all have competing needs within ourselves and really, who’s to say where our calling is? It’s so good, the nuns eventually vote her in as Mother Superior, to Julienne’s intense relief. So, for anyone keeping score at home: Going–Winifred, Staying–Julienne.
Back to little May: She’s not doing well in a care-home situation, and everyone knows it. She’s really withdrawn, though it seems she opens up a bit with Shelagh. When the whole Turner family arrives at the mother house later in the episode, she suggests to Doc Turner they foster her at home with them, just until May’s (maybe non-existent?) adoptive parents can finally take her. (Apparently they have TB and that’s why they couldn’t come to the visiting day? Yeah, this whole story feels off to me.) Conveniently, May is just about Angela’s age, and they’re already cute little besties, so it all works out. And of course Turner’s like, ‘Sure! What’s one more kid anyway?’ I guess when you have St Timothy helping out it’s not actually all that hard.
We have a pair of Mums o’the Week. First, back in Poplar, is Mavis, who’s due her second kid. She already has a toddler running around, and decides she wants to have her baby in hospital, mostly because of the R&R she can get afterwards, with people bringing her food on a try and everything! Trixie’s rather affronted by this, but I totally get this woman. I mean, right after you give birth you do NOT want to have to deal with your 2-year-old. You need a moment, you know?
Unfortunately, when Mavis gets to hospital, having started her labour quite early, they keep her waiting for ages and then tell her she has to go to another hospital clear on the other side of the district. And that’s how she winds up giving birth on the street, thankfully attended by Trixie, Valerie, and Lucille, because apparently Nonnatus wasn’t far away. (For anyone who thinks this sort of thing only happens on TV or in movies, let me just say, that’s not true. A woman in my ante-natal class ended up not making it to the hospital and had to give birth by the side of the motorway, attended only by her dad. She was amazingly chill about the whole thing. And everyone was fine, so, happy ending!)
Mavis has her baby boy, but shortly afterwards starts complaining of lots and lots of pain ‘down below’. Turner checks her out and finds a giant vaginal haematoma, which obviously needs to be attended to. It is, but then poor Mavis is stressing about how she didn’t have time to get a Christmas tree or decorate the house or anything because she had the baby early, and her son will notice and get upset. I’m just wondering why her husband can’t do something like decorate a damn tree, or why the relatives she mentions can’t pitch in.
Instead, of course, it falls to the world of Nonnatus to take care of things. Turner lends them his family’s much-loved (and super-tacky in that way that was popular mid-century) aluminium Christmas tree and the midwives help her wrap the gifts she bought for her son. So, that’s nice, but honestly I felt like this whole storyline was sort of filler-y. It didn’t lend much to the episode other than to remind us that these people pull together, but I think we’ve all received that memo, and there were other storylines for that.
Over at the mother house, we get mum 2: Lena. She keeps tentatively stepping up to the mother house, only to flee as soon as anyone makes eye contact. Everyone’s concerned, because she’s obviously heavily pregnant and in need of help, and finally Winifred manages to get her to stop running away and sit down with them already. She explains that she was raised at this orphanage after her parents died, and that she was separated from her younger brother, Billy, who had a club foot and, I guess, was sent elsewhere. Lena, horribly, was sent to Australia under a government scheme that was supposed to benefit orphans like her (and also remove some unwanted kids from the state’s care and make them someone else’s problem, all in the name of ‘giving them valuable skills and experience.’) Like most of the children under this scheme, she was horrifically abused. At some point, she married a much older man and, when he died, came back to England. They don’t mention if he’s the father of her child, or if someone else is. The father of the baby is kind of treated as an unimportant detail, though you’d think that, ‘Where’s the father?’ would be a pretty early question when you’re dealing with a pregnant woman whose welfare you’re concerned about.
Lena talks a lot about her brother, and it’s clear the separation from him really traumatised her. She’s determined to be a great mum to her baby (a boy whom she names Billy–awww!) because he’s the only family she has now. Shelagh hears that and is like, ‘Oh, hell no!’ She gets on the phone to the new receptionist at Turner’s surgery and has her track down Billy, who arrives at the mother house and is sprung on Lena as a total surprise. It’s a sweet idea, but that’s quite a lot to throw at a woman immediately post-partum. Those hormones are nuts, you’re tired and confused, and I just think that it probably would have been a better idea to give her a head’s up first.
But anyway, Lena’s delighted to see her brother, and it’s super sweet and everyone’s happy. He offers her a home with himself and his wife. Christmas miracle!
And Shelagh, while she’s sorting out all these books, takes a moment to call Violet and ask her to arrange costumes for a nativity play at the mother house. Violet, being a trooper, sits down to sew a hell of a lot of costumes at short notice, while Fred and Reggie secretly care for a donkey that’s been totally dumped on them by the guy who was supposed to supply the reindeer. I honestly don’t quite know what happened there–I clearly missed something, but it kind of feels like that guy is a dick. But the donkey can be used in the nativity play, so… all good?
And then everyone returns to Nonnatus to find that Lucille has brought her church’s congregation over to sing gospel Christmas hymns in the chapel, so Sister M-J won’t feel so lonely, praying solo in there while the others are away. It’s an appropriately uplifting ending, though I’ll admit I was a little sad that the bishop who gave that amazing speech at the royal wedding earlier this year didn’t make a cameo. How great would that be? Also great, by the way: Valerie’s super adorable That Girl-esque dress-and-hat combo.
Feeling all full of the Christmas spirit now? Excellent. Enjoy your Boxing Day, everyone!