Call The Midwife Copes With Death, Then Gets Back To Life, Back To Reality
And one Poplar mother must face the music about her dad.
The citizens of Poplar are preparing to say goodbye to their beloved Barbara. And it's terrible. Tom, alone in his flat, looks at loose ends, while the ever-practical nurses of Nonnatus House get themselves ready. Valerie brings tea to Lucille and Phyllis's room. "This time last year," says Phyllis, "there was a wedding dress hanging from that picture rail." And, like, YES, there was! And now there are funeral clothes. That's what makes this the absolute WORST. I hate that they chose death for this character -- someone who had realized her purpose and was getting better and better at carrying it out. It's evil, really. I know Charlotte Ritchie was ready to move on, but Barbara and Tom could have easily gone ANYwhere, never to be seen again, rather than this. Jack Ashton could even have stayed around somehow. Now, would we all have hated it and complained just as we did with when Chummy left? Yes, but...hell, maybe Barbara could have gone to work with Chummy! I'm saying there were scenarios that could have been made to work. For example: don't you think Barbara and Tom would have made fine Canadians? Why not send them there?! ANYWAY. I'm clearly ranting as an avoidance tactic now, so let's get on with it. I have many thoughts about this episode's many lovely moments, and a few more things to be angry about...but we'll get there.
Performing a very kind and necessary service, Fred heads over to Tom's. "What I said to you when we arrived in South Africa still holds good," he says. "There are three things you need when you arrive in a foreign country: a scrub-up, a shave, and a visit to the karzee." Tom says he's not in a foreign country: "I'm in my own home, in a place I've lived for years," he says. "It just--" Fred understands: "It feels like somewhere where you've never been before." He lays down some tough love: "Now, you're big enough and ugly enough to make your own karzee and scrub-up arrangements," he gruffs. "The shave you need to leave to me." (I love that they had Jack Ashton just ever so slightly raise his eyebrows at being called ugly.) This is, I imagine, more than a gesture of deep friendship on Fred's part. It's not safe to have a grieving, distracted man wielding a straight razor.
As Old Jenny posits on the nature of grief, we see the whole crew following the customs and rituals that have guided generations of people who experience the very shadowy and confusing time after a loved one's death. It's heartbreaking because they're heartbroken. At the church, the congregation sings "Be Still My Soul," one of the most comforting and beautiful hymns in the Protestant tradition. I happened to be in a choir rehearsal two days after 9/11. That week, it was very hard to function in any regular capacity, but we were there, kind of flimflamming around, unable to do anything right. Halfway through, the director stopped everything, and we sang this hymn. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes.
Not that I needed to hear it to start crying, because now Nurse Phyllis Crane is taking the lectern to say a few words. A baby -- obviously on my same wavelength -- begins crying in the pews. As the mother quickly tries to sneak to the narthex, Phyllis stops her: "Please don't take the little one out. None of us objects to the sound of a crying child." The midwives lower their eyes, anguished. Phyllis begins to read the lovely poem "Turn Again To Life." I'm sure it's no accident that both the hymn and the poem rendered here were written by women. The short piece is so perfectly Barbara G. Hereward:
If I should die and leave you here a while
Be not like others sore undone who keep
Long vigils by the silent dust and weep.
For my sake, turn again to life, and smile,
Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
Something to comfort weaker hearts than thine.
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine,
And I, perchance, may therein comfort you.
What else is there to be said? It's beautiful.
At Nonnatus House, where Barbara's community of friends and chosen family has gathered together, Lucille tells Phyllis that the reading comforted many people. "Tom chose it," says Phyllis, still sitting in her hat and coat in her room, unable to go downstairs and partake of the cold spread. "It seemed apt," Phyllis adds. "We've got work to do, haven't we? The world doesn't stop."
Lucille, in fact, has been called out to a heavily pregnant woman, Mrs. Olive Mawson, who is staying with her father in the district. Lucille believes the contractions the lady is having are Braxton-Hicks, and assures the woman's father, Stanley, that he can go to work. He is sort of reluctant to do so, especially since his daughter seems so agitated, but he heads out. "I thought I'd feel calmer when I moved back in with my dad," says Olive, starting to cry. Lucille sweetly says she'll make her a cup of tea, so Olive can tell her all about it.
The Turners have arrived back at their house, and Shelagh is not even through the door before she's fussily saying it's good that the funeral didn't conflict with Angela's birthday party: she has so much left to prepare for it! Um, Angela's three and that was one of your best friends you just buried, lady! Dr. Turner seems to be thinking the same when he suggests, wearily, that Shelagh just buy all the stuff from a shop this time. Shelagh twirls on this hater. "We have to get back to the business of life, Patrick!" she says, and then immediately breaks down sobbing. "And everything else that's the opposite of the pain and the grief and the loss we saw today. I feel as though I'll drown if I don't do something positive." Quickly pulling herself together, she says Dr. T can help by passing her the baking things from the high shelves and, lovingly, reminds him to go and change his funeral tie before he goes back to the surgery.
Lucille is getting the tea over tea as Olive explains her current circumstances. Her husband was a cheater, so she bounced. You know I'm in full support. They are interrupted by the ringing bell, which sets this poor woman's already frayed nerves on edge. It's a senior gentleman, who she calls "Uncle Donald." He gives her a jaunty salute, announcing, "Ironing service." She looks hella annoyed at this, and says her dad's already left for work and won't need a fresh shirt that day. Uncle Donald, slightly confused, nevertheless says her dad will need a shirt for tomorrow, and kind of barges in, to Olive's further irritation. Frankly, I don't care who offered to come to my house and iron, I would welcome him with open arms and sing songs of praise to his holy name forevermore. Olive makes apologies to Lucille for her unexpected visitor as Uncle Donald comes through. Lucille notices that he has unfinished knitting sticking out of his trench coat pocket. "Uncle Donald was in the navy," Olive offers, by way of explanation, though she is obviously bothered by the interruption. "Makes men quite handy, life at sea...."
Back in the Nonnatus Chapel, Tom is sitting alone in the quiet when Sister Julienne comes in to tell him that his parents are ready to leave whenever he is. "I'm not sure I want to go with them now," says Tom, and Sister J sits down with him. With deep sadness, she says it might be preferable to spending time alone. "I've got years to do that, haven't I?" Tom asks, allowing himself a tinge of whinge. He asks if Sister Julienne knows that Barbara's name is still on the call board in the clinical room. She gasps with emotion. "Chalk doesn't rub out as completely as you'd think," says Tom, and they clasp hands for support. "I'll go with my parents," he says, finally resolved. "And next week I will come back. And I will start again." To think of how many times this generation of Brits has had to start over...it's hard.
Also hard: Sister Monica Joan's misplaced rage at her BFF, the television. It's on the fritz, causing her to smack it in frustration and bring Sister Julienne running. "I cannot obtain access to the television news," she says. "Have the angels abandoned us completely?" Sister Julienne maintains her composure only barely at the seeming tone-deafness of her Sister in this time of much bigger problems. In silence, Sister Julienne marches into the clinical room, where she sees Barbara's name on the board. Erasing it, this very strong nun allows herself to break.
Some semblance of joy is going on at the Turners', where Dr. T is filming Angela's birthday party. The cake has turned out very nicely! Timothy asks for a turn at the movie camera while Dr. Turner goes to investigate whom Shelagh is telling OFF who's just dared to call on the telephone. Don't interrupt a Scottish ex-nun while she tries to coordinate a bunch of pre-schoolers. Everyone knows this! She's mad as hell! Apparently, it was the Officer for Health, who called to inform them urgently that Warkworth Street maternity home is about to be closed down, with most of the patients referred to the Turners'! Dr. Turner very rightly begins to panic. They've only got four beds, and they're always at capacity! Shelagh takes a deep breath and gets a grip on the sitch. "The children are going to finish their jelly and cream and have a lovely game of oranges and lemons," she says, grim-faced. "Then, we'll come up with a plan."
The next morning, Lucille and Phyllis are getting up with their alarm when Phyllis throws her back out. If you've never done it, pray you never do -- I can't think of many worse ways to do it than bending down to pick up soil beside a friend's grave, which is how Phyllis says it happened to her. Still, she must rally...
...because she's in her spot (albeit hunched over) a short time later. It's all hands on deck as the Turners arrive to give everyone the news about Warkworth Street. Everyone takes it badly, as would anyone. Sister Julienne looks over the papers, noting that it will mean thirty extra mothers delivering on their rota that month alone. "Dare I ask whether Warkworth Street have passed on details of all their discarded patients?" Phyllis says, disgusted by this turn of events. Shelagh says no.
Now, I know Barbara was eminently practical, and that everybody is right that life must go on and all that, but I'm not really ready to jump back into the swing of things, including the homey grouchiness of Phyllis's bad back and all this neighborhood drama we're about to get into. Sure, we can't spend an entire hour on Barbara's funeral, but FIRST of all, WHY NOT? And SECONDLY, where in the good godDAMN is TRIXIE? I'll get to her one "appearance" in this episode shortly, but uh...this is bullshit? They couldn't spare one or two lines among both last week's death scenes and this week's farewells addressing her concurrent feelings on the matter? Here, I will write some. How about: "I've just spoken to Nurse Franklin and a Mediterranean tsunami is preventing her from racing to the bedside of her beloved friend," or "Our dear Trixie sent this message of sisterhood to Tom/Barbara/her Nonnatus family until she can be with us again." Then they try to read the message but it's too beautiful and everyone cries uncontrollably for an entire day. Honestly, there were a LOT of people missing from that funeral -- Sgt. Noakes? Sister Mary Cynthia? Patsy! -- but the absence of Trixie is unforgivable and I am mad about it. Even to see the names of her friends on sympathy cards would be something. These things matter, especially in a show that bangs on so hard about the everlasting bonds of community, and none of these characters is the type to ignore a funeral. I hate to harp on it, but -- wait, no I don't. This won't even be the last time I harp on it. I'm about to be like young David in the court of Saul over here. It's in the Bible. LOOK IT UP.
Aaaanyway, dumb old Warkworth Street sent over a bunch of disordered crap with their thirty extra patients, and everyone is rightfully shocked and appalled.
But is this more upsetting than the breakdown of Sister Monica Joan's television? Hardly. A repairman arrives to address the reports of audiovisual ghosting and whistling and gets to work. Like the IT descendants his industry will someday spawn, he smugly asks whether they've tried wiggling the aerial. "I haven't tried any remedy at all," Sister Julienne matter-of-factly retorts. Sister MJ is sanguine. "Your mind has been fixed on matters of great sadness," she tells her sister with a positive smile. "But our young friend has passed to a better place than this and leaves behind a world more in need of prayer than ever. That is why I require untrammelled access to the television news, so that we know who to pray for." The repairman wishes her luck with all that, but says the cathode ray tube is busted.
Not to be deterred, Sister Monica Joan makes her way to the local movie house, where she encounters none other than Olive's dad, Stanley. He's the only person she encounters, in fact, because the theater is totally empty. "I'm afraid you're slightly early, madam," he says. "Has anyone taken your ticket?" See, Sister MJ didn't buy a ticket, having surmised that the newsreel, which is her sole interest here, is complimentary. He says, not unkindly, that it's generally considered complimentary as long as you've paid to see the main attraction. "And what is that?" asks Sister MJ. "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," he answers. Sister Monica Joan nods, serious: "A philosophical treatise, perhaps." Cute. She says, in that case, her order will surely not mind her purchasing a ticket, but Stanley seems inclined to let her slide this time -- and, because his daughter is currently under care of the Nonnatus midwives, is even going to hook her up with movie snacks! This couldn't be working out better, frankly.
Fred and Reggie are at the graveyard, planting tulips on the grave of Reggie's mother, Ivy. Fred comments that this is the perfect time of year to be planting bulbs, since the soil is cold and they don't have to worry about fungus and "all the creepie-crawlies" in the dirt. I mean, is this the sort of thing to say when you're planting on someone's grave? I don't imagine Reggie would like to think about things creeping and/or crawling in the soil covering his mother, but he does not seem bothered by that. No, he is actually bothered by something else: looking across the yard to Barbara's fresh grave, he worries that she's lonely. Fred is caught not knowing how to answer, but says nah, Barbara has Reggie's mum to keep her company. Aw, man. This idea does not satisfy Reggie. "My mum was old," he says, worried.
Sister Monica Joan is dedicating herself to her task back at the cinema, dutifully taking notes on the "news" about the latest fashion trends in suits and swimwear and digging in to the joint's best chocolate bars.
At Clinic, Shelagh is in her element, bossing all the ladies into two lines: one for established patients, and another for all these Warkworth hoes who have just shown up to be re-registered. In the kitchen-slash-lab, Phyllis is testing various body fluids from their new patients when Valerie comes in to see if she can get Phyllis a cup of tea. "Another one with more sugar than Shirley Temple," Phyllis complains, of the patient's test tube she's holding, and adds that she doesn't think any of these new patients were being properly looked after by their former physician. As if on cue, one of the women -- well, it's a girl, practically -- rolls up with a jar of wee. A peanut butter jar. Val tries to make a joke about it, no doubt sensing a Phyllis stormfront brewing, but it doesn't work. Testily, Phyllis says she hopes the girl washed the jar properly, or else her urine will be chock-full of protein before they even start. The teen, whose name is Josie, smiles anyway, and Val gives her a wink, indicating that they can escape the wrath of Crane and go in to see Dr. Turner.
"You're lovely and perky for a first-time visitor," Val tells her. "Some people find it all a bit daunting." Josie, honestly, doesn't seem daunted by anything. Ah, youth. "I've had long enough to get used to the idea," she says, cheerful. "I kept hoping it would go away." Dr. Turner pipes up to say that "hope doesn't really help in these cases." Uh...rude? What a weird statement for him to make. He notices a loose wedding ring on the girl's finger and asks how long she's been married. Josie has no problem admitting she's not, but that her mum lent her the ring to come there that day. Val asks where her mum is. "On a shift at the sugar works," says Josie, shrugging. "We made up our minds; I'm not keeping the baby." Val steadies herself to keep on a positive face -- after all, the girl seems to have genuinely decided -- and says she'll talk to the social worker.
Outside, Uncle Donald is making his way somewhere, though he seems to be struggling to figure out where he's going. Folks in the street seem to be struggling, as well -- struggling not to stare, because Uncle Donald is walking around outside with no pants on. He notices that people are looking and whispering and quickly heads toward a familiar place...
...Stanley's house, where Lucille is checking in on Olive. Sitting up on the sofa after her exam, Olive asks Lucille how long it will take for her to get a council flat. Lucille seems surprised she's looking to move, but says she'll get Olive the forms. "I'm just not sure this is going to be a very good house for a baby to live in," she says, and proving her point is...
...Uncle Donald, who suddenly bursts through the door, calling for someone named "Myrna." Olive doesn't waste even a split second of patience on him. "I'm not my mother, Uncle Donald," she yells, upsetting him even further. "Your father really loves her," he says, clearly confused. Finally, Lucille is able to speak, and tries to get the situation in hand, telling Olive she'll "just get this gentleman organized and then we can find a way ahead." Poor Lucille!
Moments later, Uncle Donald is on the run, and Lucille can't go after him because Olive has another Braxton-Hicks contraction and needs her attention. Unfortunately, none of your run-of-the-mill Poplar folks is willing to help, and Uncle Donald stumbles around the street while everyone gawks. Later, Lucille goes to the station to see Sgt. Walrus, who says he'll be on the lookout.
Nurse Crane is at Violet's when Reggie comes in with a bundle of...spoons? "How lovely, Reggie," says Violet, sighing. "You can never have too many spoons." Violet explains to Phyllis that since he's been home visiting from his residential place, Reggie is bored. "They were doing shopping in independence training before he went away," she says. "Now every time I turn my back, he's down Chrisp Street buying tat."
At the community center, Olive's dad, Stanley, is giving a class to some local lads -- including Timothy Turner -- on how to edit film using a splicer. Timothy gets to have a go at it when Stanley is called away to the telephone.
Back at Nonnatus House, Sister Julienne is in her office poring over some maps of the district when Valerie comes in. Seeing Sister J looking tense, Val assures her that she is not coming bearing bad news. "I'm glad to hear it," says Sister Julienne. "We are sorely tried at the present time and your good humour has not gone unnoticed." Aw. Valerie -- though she clearly feels the opposite -- says that smiling isn't hard: "You just make the shape with your face, and the rest takes care of itself." Sister Julienne, for the first time in a long while, smiles a little herself. Valerie has come to ask if she might attend prayers once in a while to try to understand how the nuns are helped by their faith in such a difficult time as they are experiencing now. Sister Julienne is happily taken aback, and says Valerie's completely welcome to come anytime. (It would surprise me if Valerie hasn't been, at least generally, church-raised in her life. I don't think many would have been able to escape it in that era, but she seems rather unfamiliar with the territory.)
Dr. Turner is at the police station, because officers apparently found Uncle Donald down by the river and called in the doc to give him the once-over. Dr. Turner tells Uncle D that he does have a slight fever, which may be exacerbating whatever other symptoms he's been having lately. "Weather's been a bit nippy," says Uncle Donald, not fully processing. Dr. Turner asks if there's someone who can tuck him up with a hot water bottle until he's well. "I'm a very lucky man," says Uncle Donald. Dr. Turner asks if his wife is in good health. "I don't have one of those," says Uncle D. Now Dr. Turner is the one who's confused, especially considering the big pile of knitting he's found in Uncle Donald's coat pocket. "That's not her knitting, then?" he asks. Uncle Donald: "...I was in the Navy...." Dr. T nods uncomfortably and goes to tell Sgt. Walrus that he'll drop the man at home. Sgt. Walrus, though, has been doing a bit of research. Seems Uncle Donald got around back in the day, to the tune of a couple of gross indecency arrests, wink nudge. Dr. Turner rolls his eyes. "If he is homosexual, he is homosexual," he says. "It makes no difference to his current plight." The Walrus blusters that it makes a difference if the guy is running around his district without his nether-garments! They are interrupted by the arrival of Stanley, who nervously says he has come to inquire about Uncle Donald. Seeing the way they're staring at him, he quickly adds that he's Donald's neighbor.
The next morning, Val attends the nuns' chapel service, in which Sister Winifred is responsible for reading off the prayers for the world that Sister Monica Joan has transcribed. Things begin fairly normally: we pray for the Queen, for the factory workers in Japan, yada yada, may the Lord sustain and help them, etc. Here, however, things begin to go slightly sideways. "For those preparing for the by-election in Dumfriesshire, and for all those called upon to participate...in the Royal Variety Performance," reads Sister Winifred in growing confusion. "Lord have mercy," Sister Julienne responds, with dawning awareness, as Sister Monica Joan nods with encouragement. Sister Winifred goes bravely on. "For the British nylon industry, most notably those workers engaged in the manufacture of beachwear, lingerie, novelty embroidered hose, and concealed zip fasteners," she prays, as Sister Julienne turns to look at Sister MJ and Valerie valiantly tries to keep from laughing. "For Mr. Spencer Tracy, so selflessly engaged in the pursuit of the missing fortune," reads Sister W, now cracking up, to the consternation of Sister Julienne, "and for all those professionally engaged in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." This is the best. Sister Julienne firmly requests that they move on to the prayers for the sick and needy. Val is barely keeping it together...
...and a short time later, over tea with the sisters, Valerie must control herself again as Sister Julienne remarks, looking over Sister Monica Joan's prayer list, that she's glad they drew matters to a close before they asked the Lord to help and sustain the showgirls of Ricardo's Revuebar. Under vigorous protest from Sister Monica Joan, Sister J puts the kibosh on any more visits to the movie house, and says she can gather her world news content from the radio until the TV is repaired. Miffed, Sister Monica Joan reaches for a tea cake, which Sister Winifred says Shelagh brought over from Angela's party. "I had thought to save it for the anniversary of my own birth," Sister MJ says with the passive-aggressive strength of one hundred nuns, "which will otherwise doubtless go unmarked since joy now sits so ill within these walls." Sending it right back over the net, Sister Julienne says she really doesn't think this is the proper time for any sort of levity. I loved every minute of that whole thing.
At the shop, Reggie comes in from his daily jaunt, thrilled to give yet another present to Violet: a half empty bottle of perfume. As he leaves with a big smile, Violet gets upset wondering how much money someone in the stalls took off him for that. "It lowers my opinion of people, Fred," she says, worried. Fred wonders, however, if being able to give to others raises Reggie's opinion of himself.
It's another day at Clinic for mean old Phyllis Crane, still down in her back and once again saddled with the unaccountably cheery teen mom OG, Josie. Seems this young lady hasn't brought the required urine sample, nor her registry card, and has stopped taking the iron pills she was prescribed because she, quote, didn't like them. Well, obviously, Phyllis is thrilled. "I'm sorry, Nurse, but they made my jobs go black," says Josie. "Every time I went to the lav it was like an explosion in a charcoal factory." Grimacing, Nurse Crane says that a factual account will suffice, and waves Josie up on the table, unable to help because of her lumbago. Never having met a room she was unable to read, Josie asks, "Do you reckon you might be a bit old to be doing this?" GIRL. That tears it. "Do you reckon you might be too young?" Phyllis shoots back, and Josie, still sort of laughing, says she hopes she won't be stuck with Phyllis on the big day.
Outside, in street clothes, Tom has arrived back in Poplar. He goes to his flat, where he can hardly open the door with all the cards and letters that have been pushed through the mailslot. Sighing, he goes inside and begins to read, until he is distracted by the full laundry basket, containing one of Barbara's uniforms. He picks it up and nearly cries -- and, though I ALSO nearly cry, I have to say I find it highly unlikely that the Nonnatus gang would have left Tom's flat in any state of disarray, and certainly believe they would have at least taken care of the laundry. I know they're busy, but come on. Tom, overwhelmed, angrily throws over the basket and the chair it's sitting on. Bless his heart.
Bless, also, the heart of Uncle Donald, who is in Dr. Turner's office submitting to a memory test, Stanley by his side. Stanley, encouraging him, says that it will surely be a breeze, the antibiotics he was on having been just the ticket. The test, though, stymies poor Uncle Donald, who tries to jump up and leave. "Hey, come on, pal," says Stanley, stopping him at the door. "There's no point running. We'll face up to this together." Dr. Turner sees and understands all.
At the maternity home, Lucille and Shelagh are getting organized for the Laborgeddon they're about to experience when all these extra mothers come due at the same time. They're laying in extra supplies and hoping to get extra beds, but even if all of that falls through, Shelagh's tight-as-hell roster should guarantee that they'll at least have enough midwives on hand. "Sister Evangelina used to say that the best medicine for pain was the presence of another person," she says, reminiscing, and she's so right. Isn't it cool how they still mention Sister Evangelina a year after her death, but nobody cares to bring up Trixie, who is alive and well and could have at the very least been called on the phone when her BFF was dying? Pardon me while I put fresh strings on my harp.
That night, in a park (where nothing good ever happens), Stanley and Donald sit under a tree and sweetly reminisce about the many walks they've taken there together. "One day we might see it in daylight," Stanley jokes, ruefully. They go over what Dr. Turner told them, which is that Donald has pre-senile dementia. Donald says his memory is like all the little bits of film that used to end up on Stanley's projection room floor at the cinema. Stanley could splice all those pieces together, shine a light through them, and they'd all make sense again, but Donald can't do that in his mind. This is all very touching, and legendary British Hey! It's That Guy!s David Bamber and David Calder would absolutely be shredding my heart in any other episode, but I feel disconnected from this because...all I care about is Barbara and the midwives and the nuns right now.
And Tom. I care about Tom. I said it! And here he is, arriving at Nonnatus House with several suitcases, to be met at the door by Sister Winifred. She covers her surprise at seeing him by saying he's just in time for coffee and a gingernut. "I brought you these," he says, blankly, indicating the cases. Sister Winifred carefully opens one to find it full of Barbara's clothes. Just as carefully, she quickly closes the lid, and her shock causes me to tear up. It's really terribly sad that they're finally letting Victoria Yeats shine in such a sad story. She tells Tom that if a parishioner were to come to him two weeks after his wife's death and try to give away all her things, Tom would tell him it was too soon. Tom shakes his head and says that he always tells mourners to choose one gesture to help them start moving forward again. He thought this might be his, considering how much Barbara lived to help others. "The person Barbara would most want to help right now is you," says Sister Winifred, fighting back tears. "And she can't, so I'm going to do it for her. I will take these for safekeeping until you're more sure of your own mind." Tom says that Barbara's father has asked him to join his mission in New Guinea, and that he's been offered a leave by the bishop. Sister W, somewhere between hope and sadness, asks if Tom's going to do it. "How can I?" Tom says. "How can I go anywhere if I can't take Barbara? And I can't leave her behind." From one holy person to another, Sister Winifred tells him he will find his way, or he will be shown. Who would have thought Sister Winifred would be so good at helping the grieving?
From this quiet moment, we are thrust into the home of Stanley and Olive, where Donald sits in the corner while Olive absolutely rails on her dad about how he can't possibly consider moving Uncle Donald into the house. "I'm about to have a baby," she practically screams, and yes, okay, she DOES have a point about that, but hey, girl, it's not your house, either. Trying to spare Donald the humiliation being heaped on him by Olive -- who speaks at maximum volume, always -- Stanley sends Donald into the kitchen to make tea. "Tea's in the caddy with the Queen on," he explains. "Sugar's in Princess Margaret." Hee. Donald, trying to smooth Olive's feathers, says they won't need sugar, seeing as she's so sweet. She is, in fact, anything but, and he's hardly out of the room before she starts in again. When her mother died, she screeches at Stanley, she told the two of them to look out for each other. "And she said much the same to me and Donald," Stanley shoots back, ramping up Olive's dudgeon even further. "Why?! Why would she say that?" Olive asks. "Well, you can draw your own conclusions," says Stanley, frazzled but determined. "Or settle for least said, soonest mended. Your mother and I set a lot of store by that." Okay, Stanley! I see you. This is a rough moment to be coming out, but sometimes greatness is thrust upon us, right? Olive starts bitching about all of Uncle Donald's arrests, which Stanley is shocked to learn she knew about. They go around and around about how Donald has always been Stanley's friend, and became more when Olive's mother died. Her mother knew all about their true feelings for each other, Stanley says, and accepted it. "Olive, he loved you like a niece," he adds, in Donald's defense, but this only upsets her further. "But what did you love him like, Dad?" she screams, and by God, Stanley's had enough. "In a way that's best left unsaid!" he screams back, and of course then she goes into labor, because these girls always do in all the my-dad's-in-love-with-his-senile-neighbor situations. Typical!
Sister Winifred has brought Barbara's bags to Valerie's room in Nonnatus House, not knowing where else they might go. Val and Lucille rally round and agree that Barbara belongs there, with them. "And what's more," she adds, determined to be positive, "we're going to have a sherry, in her memory." Sister Winifred looks over her shoulder: "A sherry?" Val says it's the only thing Barbara would drink, of course, being a vicar's wife, and takes another moment to steel herself for this celebration. Sister Winifred is nervously game, since she's not on call, and Lucille puts in that they should also raise a glass to Trixie, off "sunning herself at her godmother's in Portofino." UM, NO. You're going to mention Trixie now? And in this context only? Not throwing in anything like "sunning herself in a deep depression in Portofino, from whence she calls every night crying about Barbara and offering sage wisdom and encouragement"? I've never felt so let down by television OR nurses OR nuns. Val distributes the sherry, and asks Sister Winifred if Sister Julienne is really dead set against any kind of birthday do for Sister Monica Joan. Sister W supposes the order might run to a sponge cake with a candle, but much else would be a no go, and, obviously, Sister MJ couldn't receive any presents, since they would be considered personal possessions. Val has a brain wave: maybe they could pull together some old photos of Sister Monica Joan and display them on the sideboard. "Between some nicely arranged balloons?" Lucille adds. Sister Winifred is into it -- all except the balloons, which are, of course, out of the question. The trio, having had this little moment of happiness, makes a toast to Barbara.
Speaking of Barbara: Tom visits her grave the next morning with a bouquet of red roses. In short order, he is joined by Reggie, who sweetly asks, "Did Nurse Barbara like roses?" Tom says that Barbara carried some just like them on their wedding day, though she really wasn't a red roses sort of girl. "You had a carousel," Reggie remembers, and as Tom stands there lost in thought, Reggie quietly goes away.
Olive has arrived at the maternity home -- with all her possessions -- to find it in organized chaos, complete with laboring mothers, crying babies, an uptight doctor, a human spreadsheet of a Scottish nurse...
...and even an elderly pregnant lady vomiting on Sister Winifred. Everything's fine! Olive is just getting in the mix of it all when she sees her dad standing in the door. "Hello, love," he says. She gives him an exhausted look.
Phyllis has just come out of the bathroom at Nonnatus House when she hears the telephone. The thing is, she can't get to the telephone or anywhere else at speed, because her back is still jacked up. Sister Julienne comes running, but since it's a husband with a wife in advanced labor who needs her, she can't stop to help Nurse Crane, who is now literally dragging herself down the stairs step by step. If you've never thrown your back out, pray you never do. It's exactly like this.
You'd think she had bigger things to worry about, seeing as how a baby is trying to push its way out of her body, but Olive can still muster the energy, between contractions, to yell at her dad about something that's none of her business! You know what, though? Olive has some good, if loud, points. She needs her dad to understand the situation she is literally in right now. "Maybe I need you to look at me, on my own, and try and imagine what that must be like to spend half your life looking at people like you and Mum who loved each other, regardless," she says, "and then you're standing next to him, regardless!" Lucille tries to intervene, to say these things will keep, but Olive is going to get out her loud-ass thoughts, by God, wailing, "And then to find that when you need to be loved, when you need to be stood by, that there is no one doing anything of the kind!" Stanley says he'd say that all of that was terrible, if it were true, but it just isn't. Lucille, seeing that Olive is in distress, says he can tell her again when she's done. "It isn't true," he tries again, and leaves the room to go and sit in the waiting area with Donald.
Stanley and Donald are in perfect position to watch the parade of laboring women that now begins, and includes a smiling Josie. Shelagh, naturally, has everything under control, but must make a call to Nonnatus House for extra gas and air. No one but Phyllis is there to answer it -- and, thank goodness, she has been able to slowly edge herself close enough to the phone. The problem is, now she has to somehow get over to the maternity home! While all kinds of pushing and hollering goes on over there, with Lucille, Val, Sister Winifred, and the Turners all in the game, Phyllis somehow gets herself out the front door with the supplies, and is trying to get to her car when the Walrus arrives. For once, he is prepared to help without any bullshit! I don't know why Phyllis wouldn't have just put the bags full of cannisters into the car and sent him off -- or, hell, called him or Fred from Nonnatus and had them do all this -- but Phyllis gets into his back seat with all the gear and prevails upon him to put his foot down.
I mean, there is some WILD screaming going on at the maternity home. Olive's pushing, the barfing Irish lady is pushing -- it's crazy. Poor Josie -- who has, up until this point, been very easygoing about this thing called life -- is having a time of it; everyone else is busy as she enters into hard labor by herself. Olive has a lovely baby girl, and the Irish lady...well, when Shelagh deems her baby boy beautiful, she laughs. "Beautiful?" she says. "He looks like my Grandad Cafferty. And he was a bare-knuckle fighter!"
Josie, getting more and more scared, is still fully dressed and standing by her bed, suffering terrible contractions in silence, toughing through them like a warrior. The worst of it for her is when help finally arrives and...it's Phyllis. "I was hoping for one of the young ones," she says. "You don't like me." Phyllis -- chastened, but still in pain -- does her best to stand a little taller. "I'm your midwife," she says. "And our personal feelings for each other are neither here nor there." Hearing another scream, Josie admits that she's scared. Phyllis digs deep and pulls out her best Nurse Crane self. "You stick with me, lass," she says, patting her shoulder. "I'll see you through."
And, of course, she does. "If they were going to give out medals for pushing," she tells Josie a short while later, "they'd have to mint you one in solid gold." Even in labor, Josie smiles, and says it would be nice to finally win a prize for something. With one final push, her baby is born: a perfect girl.
"Look what you've done," says Phyllis. "Here's your prize." Aw.
In the other room, Stanley and Donald have come in to see Olive and the baby. "Didn't you do so well?" Donald says, smiling. Olive is touched, but says she wonders if Uncle Donald actually knows who she is right now. "No, I don't," he admits. "But I know you're someone we love." As impossibly impossible as it might be, historically, I love it. I even love it when Olive dreamily tells the baby that she can't give her much, but that she can show her what a family is. Stanley fights back tears as he puts his hand on Donald's shoulder and silently thanks his daughter.
Josie is holding her daughter when Phyllis comes in. Her lumbago is much better -- she can even pick a lucky pin up off the ground! Miracle. Josie looks at the baby again. "Some people aren't in your life for very long -- her father wasn't in mine for more than a minute," she shrugs. "I won't be in hers for more than a few days. Maybe a fortnight." Phyllis says they could have as much as six weeks together in a good mother and baby home. Josie asks if she'll be allowed to give the baby a name -- something to remember her by, even if the people who adopt her change it later. Phyllis asks if she has something in mind. "Yes, I do," says Josie, and yes, I know you saw it coming a mile away and it's maximum cheese but, this little Kylie Jenner and Linda Bassett manage to make me bawl about it, somehow. "It popped into my head, just before, I don't know why," says Josie. "Barbara." Phyllis repeats it in a surprised whisper. "Must have been floating round the room like a moth or a butterfly or something," says Josie. "Waiting to be caught." With utmost poignancy, Phyllis says she'll take the baby and put her in the nursery. "Come along, Barbara," she says, and I really almost die.
The medical staff is weighing the new birthday gang in the nursery -- Olive's baby won! -- and everyone is all smiles when Sister Winifred bursts through the door, crying. "President Kennedy's been shot!"
Later, faces grim, all our faves are gathered around the radio getting the play-by-play. Finally, Sister MJ turns it off in frustration. "We have mourned enough in recent weeks," she says. "We have shed tears for one we loved and lived in the hollow she left behind. We cannot surrender to more tears because of this." Lucille, in agony, points out that they're talking about the President of the United States being killed. I mean...I could make some inappropriate statements right here, but I won't. Anyway, Sister Monica Joan is going on and I feel like Judy Parfitt is talking directly to me: "We are leaping into grief as if we had embraced it as a form of recreation. We are not what we have lost. We are not what has been taken from us. You are all too willing to embrace the void." She says that if they don't cherish what remains in life, they will become nothing. "We are each as whole as we will ever be again," she says. "And in the end, when we cease to be, we will all become memories." With that, she leaves them all to contemplate her deep wisdom (and probably goes to the kitchen to find cake, tbh).
Later, Reggie is doing his part to bring joy by delivering a present to Tom. It's something Nurse Barbara would like, he says. In the graveyard, Tom reaches into the paper bag Reggie has given him and pulls out a sweet toy carousel, placing it on Barbara's grave. "The wind won't blow that away," says Tom. "And it would have made her smile." Reggie smiles too. "She'll be all right now," he says, and Tom hugs him.
Over at Nonnatus House, the midwives and Sister Winifred sneak around sharing the things they've found in the archive. Everyone's so happy, it's hard not to be happy with them. They get a few boxes together and pack them off with Timothy on his bike.
Timothy brings his parcels to the cinema, where Uncle Donald is enjoying a chocolate bar and doing some knitting. Stanley looks over the film cannisters and photographs and gets to work.
It's none too soon, really, since that very night, Sister Monica Joan's television is brought back to Nonnatus and, rather than being happy at this reunion, Sister MJ finds herself frustrated thinking of her new love, the cinema. "It is an art form," she tells Valerie, "suited to the documentation of great lives." I guess Sister Monica Joan saw Infinity War and doesn't care that she's spoiling everyone! Val tells her to go upstairs and put on her best wimple, because they're going somewhere nice.
And they are! The whole community has turned out at the community center to sing "Happy Birthday," have cake and ice cream, and screen a special film. It's a patched-together story of Sister Monica Joan's life, including pictures of her childhood and her time as a novitiate. They do a wonderful thing here, showing the faces of the other nuns (and Shelagh) as they look at these images and remember their own vows.
Sister Winifred smiles at some footage of Sister MJ in her wedding gown, and I am reminded that they wore the same one. This is followed by images of Poplar during the war, a time when Sister Monica Joan was so instrumental to the survival of so many. Each person in the room nods painfully, sorting their own difficult memories of that shared trauma. Especially moving are their glistening eyes when images of Sister Evangelina appear, and of each of Poplar's most famous weddings -- Chummy's, the Turners', and the Buckles'.
A short break between these reveals a special message from Trixie!
In...a swimsuit? Holding a Happy Birthday/See You Soon sign, looking glamourous and rested on a balcony over the Riviera? Ugh. Bring out the harp! She just wouldn't do this in a period of grief, and it's dumb and wrong, but seeing her does make everyone smile and cheer for a moment before they're all struck again by pictures of the Herewards' wedding and many other wonderful pictures of Barbara. "We fold and unfold upon the mind's eye," says Old Jenny, in a farewell. "Brittle as wings, eternal as a heartbeat. And even when the heart falls silent, we do not cease to be. Because, in the end, we all become memories."
Will you have fond memories of this season? Mine are mixed, to be sure, but I appreciate you all crying along.