How was everyone’s Christmas and New Year’s? Are we all excited to start a new decade? Are we all excited to start a new season of CtM? Let’s see how this shapes up!
This episode has quite a lot of B plots that don’t have a whole lot to do with the A plot, so let’s get those out of the way.
The Turners have to look after some rabbits that are apparently Angela’s and May’s class pets. Yikes, and I thought having to haul Adventure Ted around for a weekend was a pain. The rabbits, both presumed to be female, are not, as it turns out. They end up birthing a bunch of kittens and freaking out the kids. Also, Shelagh really misses Tim, who’s away at boarding school.
The midwives bemoan the cost of stockings. So, Trixie convinces them all to enter a photo contest where they pose in their nurse uniforms, showing off their legs. I thought they were going to end up getting in a huge amount of trouble for this, but no. It’s fine, and they’re even the runners up! Their prize is a box of some really fab looking stockings that are probably now collectors’ items being hawked on eBay for an absolute fortune. Don’t ladder them, ladies!
And: Winston Churchill dies. Which means we can definitively date this episode to on and around 24 January 1965. Wow, it’s already 1965? Seems like only yesterday it was still the 50’s.
The death hits everyone pretty hard, because let’s not forget, this is the man who rallied them all through World War II, and that’s no small thing. He was an icon, in his day and beyond, and people at the time must have felt a profound loss at his passing. The older generation especially.
Indeed, the whole thing puts Fred into a bit of a melancholy. He gets sad and digs up an old photo of his wife, who died in the Blitz. She was really, really pretty. Violet, quite sweetly, comments on how lovely she was and kind of quietly encourages Fred to go ahead and feel what he’s feeling. Way to strike a blow against toxic masculinity, there, Vi! And men of the world: you go ahead and be sad when you’re feeling sad. There’s no shame in it.
Violet then goes a step further and gets a beautiful frame for the late Mrs Buckle’s photo, so she can live on the mantelpiece with all the other loved ones. Aww!
Ok, so, the A-plots. An extremely well-timed power outage puts Fred outside the maternity home on a cold night. As he’s walking past some bins, he hears a noise, opens one, and finds an abandoned infant inside, wrapped in a flowered nightie.
He hustles the little girl inside and she’s immediately checked over by Turner. He says she was born quite recently, probably not delivered by a professional, and notes the cord is tied off with some purple thread. Sgt Woolf is called in, and the baby is sent off to the hospital to be cared for. Before she goes, Fred gets to name her: Primrose.
Not long after, a woman swings by the maternity home to drop off a matinee jacket for the baby. She claims to have read all about her in the newspapers, but Sister Frances notes that: 1. She knows a few details that were not released to the press, and 2. She’s actively lactating. She correctly deduces that this is the baby’s mother but is unable to catch up with her.
Not long after, Woolf phones to say they’ve had to pick up a woman who was in distress at the hospital. Seems she was making a scene and claiming to be the baby’s mother. She’s in police care now, so Mother Mildred and Trixie head to the station to take care of the woman.
Her name is Brenda, and she is, understandably, very upset. She cries and says she wants her baby. Mildred kindly tries to get a little information out of her, but she panics and says she can’t say anything to a woman of the church. Clue #1.
Trixie brightly points out that she’s not a nun, so Brenda can feel free to speak to her. Or not speak, it’s her choice entirely. After Trixie helps her freshen up, Brenda opens up and admits she worked as a housekeeper for a priest. Oh, Lord.
Mildred goes to the rectory and meets Father Duncombe, who seems like quite the piece of work. Seems Brenda’s former home was condemned, so she was brought to live at the rectory, where she could more easily see to her duties. Mmm hmmm. He also tries to sell the idea that Brenda has mental issues.
Mildred definitely knows what’s going on here, and her suspicions are only heightened when she finds Brenda’s sewing box in the priest’s study, complete with purple thread. His insistence that they had a totally professional relationship starts to seem a bit shady once you realise she was just hanging out doing her domestic work in his study. You know, like a wife might.
Brenda is taken to the hospital to see and hold the baby. Duncombe shows up and immediately tries to pressure her into just giving the child up for adoption. Mildred steps right in and tells him to get lost. She then invites Brenda to come and stay at Nonnatus until she can get herself sorted.
Poor Brenda has a ton of baggage: her mother left her in an orphanage shortly before her death, and Brenda married young to a brute of a man who beat her badly enough to leave scars across her back. And then she fell in with Duncombe, who seems like he probably exploited her. (She was, after all, reliant on him for a home and a job.) And now he’s basically threatening to see to it the baby gets adopted away from her mother.
Brenda gets her baby back, and Mildred offers her a home at the mother house. Mildred also urges Brenda not to name the father on the child’s birth certificate, because if she does than he’ll have parental rights. But if no one is named, then only Brenda can decide what happens to her.
Duncombe shows up at Nonnatus to give Brenda some money (back pay, perhaps?). Brenda, strengthened by what she’s gone through, tells Mildred it’s ok for her to leave the two alone with the baby for a little while. Once they’re on their own, he cuddles the child and tells Brenda that he actually did love her. Well, sir, if that’s true maybe you shouldn’t have made her seem crazy for your own benefit and tried to steamroll her into giving up her child. And left her without a job. I know they’re trying to nuance him a bit, and I commend them for that, but I still think he’s terrible.
But good for Brenda! Things are looking up!
Our other family is a pregnant single mum, Dena, who’s living in a homeless shelter with her young son, Terry. I won’t mince words here: the shelter is a Dickensian shithole. Like, even Dickens himself would recoil at the sight. Crane is appalled at this place, and just as appalled to learn that Dena’s been on a waiting list for a council flat for months. She gets on the phone and goes Full Crane on whomever is at the other end and, just like that, Dena and Terry have a flat! I love Crane!
None too soon, because Dena’s about to pop, and Terry’s studying hard for the exams which could mean he gets into grammar school and, hopefully, takes a step upward out of the difficult life he and his mother live together.
(And I’d just like to note: their lives are financially difficult, not emotionally. The affection between mother and son is very real, very strong, and very sweet. They clearly see themselves as a strong team, and, thus, they are.)
While out collecting some things for the baby, Dena goes into labour and heads to the maternity home. While there, she keeps insisting someone go and check on Terry. Lucille promises that Miss Higgins, Turner’s secretary, will go tell him what’s up.
Good thing she does, too, because when Higgins gets to the flat, she finds Terry collapsed on the floor, seriously ill. She summons Turner, who diagnoses diptheria. Oh, yikes, that is a horrible disease to have. And an absolutely terrible way to die. The pair can’t believe this is making some kind of comeback. I mean, there are vaccines for that! But that only really works if the majority of the population has the vaccine! Vaccinate your kids, folks! And get your boosters! This is your weekly CtM public service announcement.
Terry is sent to the hospital and everyone he’s come in contact with starts getting swabbed and tested. Dena, who’s just given birth to another boy, is freaking out. And to make matters worse, she tests positive for diptheria herself, so the baby’s taken away to the nursery, for its own safety.
More people become ill. The isolation ward at the hospital is filling up. There seem to be a lot of connections to that homeless shelter, but it’s unclear if other people who caught it there got it from Terry, or someone else.
Happily, the question answers itself. A little girl who lived at the shelter for a little while turns up for a TB vaccine and shows Sister Hilda a truly disgusting looking open sore on her arm. Hilda’s never seen anything like it, but Turner realises it’s cutaneous diptheria. Basically, diptheria of the skin. I honestly didn’t know such horror existed before this episode.
Basically: this little girl is Patient 0. The homeless shelter is fumigated (should be pulled down, actually, because it really is that bad), and patients begin to recover. Yay, antibiotics!
Terry’s going to be ok! He passes his exams and will go on to grammar school and the Turners gift him Tim’s old school blazer. Awww!
Also heartwarming: Valerie, waiting for a bus so she can go visit her gran in prison. She’s been avoiding it (which is understandable, really), a move that earned her a hiding from a rather bitchy cousin, Maureen. But then Maureen thought her kids had diptheria and was so relieved to hear it was only German measles (…yay?) that she apologised to Val, and Val apologised to her and I guess everything’s going to be fine there.
(Just one thing, though: isn’t Turner’s surgery connected to the maternity home? Or is it a totally separate building? I’ve never been clear on that, but if it is connected to the maternity home, then bringing in two kids with German measels is very bad, because German measeles is very, very, very bad to have around pregnant women. Just saying, this might not quite be the “good” news everyone’s treating it as.)
Not so fine: Sister Julienne gets a notice in the post that Nonnatus House and most of the block are going to be demolished over the next two years. Well, they already had to move once, so what’s another shift to new premises?