You guys, does anyone else feel like this show should start coming with some kind of trigger warning? Just me?
Ok, we’ll save the big thing for the end, because it is a BIG THING.
Let’s start with Lucille. She pays a post-natal checkup visit on a delightful woman, Mrs Palmer, who’s also a Jamaican immigrant. The look of pure joy and ‘oh my god, I’m not the only one!’ on Lucille’s face when Mrs P opens her door is really touching. Mrs P is lovely: chipper, so incredibly happy to be a mother at last (it seems she’s been trying for some time), warm and affectionate. I kind of hate to say it, but she’s a lot like Barbara. And, interestingly enough, she, too, is married to a clergyman. Mr Palmer leads a congregation right in their front room every Sunday, with regular prayer meetings in between. Mrs Palmer invites Lucille to join them, but Lucille demurs.
Valerie, who is fast becoming one of my absolute favourite characters because she’s tough but kind, and even though she has no illusions about Poplar’s issues and shortcomings, she also loves the place and knows what it can offer and wants other people to love it too, wonders why Lucille won’t go to the prayer meeting. She’s worried that Lucille isn’t feeling welcome in Poplar and wants her to be happy there. Lucille’s reasons are… odd, in my view. See, Lucille already goes to a church, but it sounds like it’s fairly out of her way, since she has to take a bus to get there. Also, said church is full of racist assholes who threw a fit when Lucille was given a solo in the church choir because how dare the black girl bring attention to herself? Doesn’t she know that only white people get to enjoy the spotlight? Nice Christians, there.
You’d think this would be a good reason for Lucille to peace out on this particular church and hightail it over to the Palmers’, but no, in some sort of twisted logic, she thinks she should stay at the church so these hateful bigots won’t have the satisfaction of having run her out. Uh, ok, I guess I can kind of see where you’re going here, but good heavens, why would you do that to yourself? You are not going to change these people’s minds, and you know it. They’re not going to look at you, still standing there with the choir, and think, ‘Well, that girl has guts. Maybe I was entirely wrong to think she was a lesser human being after all!’ Why would you continuously subject yourself to a situation that makes you unhappy, when it’s well within your power to change it to a situation that WILL make you happy? This seems odd.
And then, she completely changes her story (within the same scene, which Valerie does not remark upon) and says that Mrs P reminds her so much of her mother and aunties that she feels like going to the meetings will make her painfully homesick. Ahh, see, that makes a bit more sense. Still, though, Lucille, you might want to find a different church.
Ultimately, circumstances cause her to change her mind. She heads to the Palmers for the service, and everyone sings Amazing Grace, which really cuts to the bone at that point in the episode. I mean, even joyfully sung that’s one of those songs that really gets to you, right?
Turning to Turners: Saint Timothy’s a teenager now! And he really wants to go see the Rolling Stones with his friends, which his parents are a little leery of.
Doctor Turner is doing some side work tending to the inmates at a young offenders’ institution, and he feels a particular affinity for one of them, Michael. The kid’s about Timothy’s age and clearly having a rough time. He’s being bullied by the others, and Turner notices marks on his wrist that suggest suicide attempts (though this is never actually addressed). Michael is also married and has a baby on the way.
It turns out, completely coincidentally, that Shelagh, back working with Nonnatus while Barbara’s out of commission, is assigned Michael’s young wife, Alison, as a patient. Alison’s basically about to pop any day now, and she’s got a bully of a mother who never stops harping on about what a loser Michael is. Which explains why Alison hasn’t visited him once since he’s been locked up.
Michael’s coming up for trial, and Turner urges him to speak up for himself and express remorse for what he’s done (stole a car). Michael doesn’t believe he quite has it in him to articulate all he’s feeling, so Turner goes to the powers that be and asks if he can speak in the young man’s defense. He may not. Michael’s on his own, though at least he gets a new suit, which Turner pinches from Tim. (Not the best move, since Tim was banned from going to the concert for the terrible sin of having come home late from orchestra practice and now he and his dad aren’t speaking.)
Michael acquits himself well, and though the panel that’s to decide his fate believe he feels badly for what he’s done, they still lock him up for three years.
Alison, who came to the courthouse but was turned away, goes into labour. Shelagh helps her deliver a baby boy, and Alison takes him to visit Michael, who hopes to be a better father than his own was, once he’s released.
And Turner makes it up with Timothy, of course, by admitting he may have gone into slight panic mode, after having seen all these other teenage boys with their dead-ending lives. Tim forgives his dad both for that and for stealing his suit, and extracts a near promise to go to the Stones the following month.
Ok, everyone, you ready?
So, Barbara’s in really poor shape. She has meningitis and septicaemia, which does not sound survivable. She’s in isolation, Crane is wrecked (the two of them are very close friends), and Tom is basically camped out at the hospital and has to be reminded to shave.
It’s touch and go for a while there, but then Barbara begins to rally. Hurrah! As she starts to improve, to Tom’s immense relief, her friends stop by for visits, bringing flowers and gifts that have been pouring in from the neighbourhood.
Barbara’s grateful for all this, but there’s cause for concern: three fingers on one hand are not looking too great. It looks like she’s going to lose them, maybe. Possibly. But because this is Barbara we’re talking about, she remains optimistic. She tells Tom that, yes, being a midwife is the one thing she’s always wanted to do, ever since she was a little girl, but if she can’t do that, then it’s fine, she’ll just devote herself to being the greatest curate’s wife and breeder she can be. She’ll just have lots and lots of babies of her own! They’ll move to the countryside, where there’s no such thing as meningitis or sepsis! Oh, happy day!
And then the show decides to kick us all right in the balls.
A nurse comes by to check on Barbara in the night and finds her shaking, feverish, with gray skin. She frantically rings for help.
Tom phones Nonnatus to tell Phyllis to get to the hospital NOW, and then he himself runs down a veeeeery long corridor to his wife’s room. A kind nurse (hey! Someone who works at the London who isn’t a jerk! How refreshing!) stops him and gently breaks the news that the sepsis did too much damage to Barbara and there’s nothing left for them to do.
Oh my god, they’re actually going to kill off Barbara. Why, Call the Midwife, why? Who hurt you? Are you mad at us? Did we do something? Did we piss you off somehow? What can we do to fix this? We already lost Patsy, and Delia, and Cynthia this year–why Barbara too?
Crane and Tom settle on either side of Barbara and do the ‘Lord is my shepherd’ prayer, which Tom can’t finish, because he’s about as wrecked as the audience at this point. I’m basically a heap of sobbing emotion, folded into the corner of the sofa by now. Even my husband, who doesn’t even watch the show but just happened to be sitting downstairs with me, reading his book, is watching this bit unfold in horror, and getting upset over it, because man, this is a hell of a gut punch.
Oh, and just to make sure they really got us, just at the end, Tom pulls a box out of his pocket and retrieves the grass ring he made for Barbara when he proposed in South Africa. Guys, I just can’t.
Yes, Barbara dies. There are no miracles here.
And I and probably half of Twitter just…
So, um, have a good week, everyone?