This Christmas, Call The Midwife Gets Wrapped Up In Apartheid
And once again, the women of Poplar get the job done.
Not that we need to be reminded, but: the Nonnatans are celebrating Christmas this year without their beloved Sister Evangelina.
Trixie has been assisting in, among other things, hospital C-sections, learning and growing and generally increasing exponentially in confidence and bravery. I've said it before, but I won't hear a bad word about Trixie: she's the best of us all.
O Come, All Ye Faithful
What's the occasion? It's Christmas, Carol!
What are the refreshments? The very best holiday feast Nonnatus House can provide (including what appears to be a fake turkey, but we won't be mad at it).
Whose big public scene will everyone be talking about tomorrow? Leave it to Mother Jesu Emmanuel calling from the Mother House to try to upstage the Big JC on His birthday!
So Much For Christmas Vacation
Who called the meeting? Sister Julienne.
What's it about? Turns out Mother JE is sending the crew to Hope Clinic in South Africa because the presiding sister there has died. The clinic is in desperate need of help to distribute crucial polio vaccines to the surrounding villages.
How'd it go? Excitement all around. The nurse-midwives are eager to help. Sister J even invites Tom and Fred to go along, though Lord only knows why. Well, okay, she wants Tom to oversee the disbursement of a small grant for fixing up the clinic and needs Fred to utilize his Civil Defence Corps sanitation skills (i.e. ditch digging).
Hope (Clinic) and Healing
Alert Type: Emotional Labor Alert.
Issue: Shelia wants to go on the South African trip.
Complicating Factors: The Turners are obviously still reeling from the Thalidomide nightmare -- Dr. T especially.
Resolution: Shelagh is empathetic, but ready for them to get back on the horse and go where they can give out medication that they know will definitely help; like the strong former-nun Scotswoman she is, she will brook no whining about it. She reminds Dr. Baby that their own son had polio, for crying out loud.
Spoiler: It won't even be the last time in this episode Shelagh has to get real on this dude. #BanMen
I Still Know What You Did Last Christmas
Situation: Barbara is doling out the travel shots and is ready to stick it to Tom, as well.
What makes it awkward? Sister Julienne coolly notes that since Barbara and Tom will need to observe their boundaries while traveling, they should start now. With a look that suggests she knows FULL WELL how that parlor wallpaper stain got there.
How is order restored? Tom is poked by another!
Modesty Is In
Barbara's sister helpfully sends along some summer hand-me-downs for her trip across the Equator.
Practically Perfect: I'm sure that Trixie, scandalized by Barbara's old-fashioned suit, would be quite surprised that modern ladies are once again "wearing ruched one pieces with modesty panels," and THANK GOD for that. Granny suits for all.
Everyone Is Going To Apartheid South Africa!
Where it's not only hot as Hell, it's also full of White Devils.
South Africa in 1962 FAQ
Q: Why is it so hot at Christmas time?
A: That's a great question. Because South Africa is in the tropical zone of the Southern Hemisphere, December happens in their summer season! Also, just in general, it's Africa.
Q: Why are conditions at Hope Clinic so awful?
A: That's a great question. When the Nationalist Party rose to power in SA, they instituted the policy of Apartheid, which was all about racial segregation and discrimination! So, black people couldn't get medical care, or proper food and water or even have permission to work except by practical enslavement! Yeah, it was a policy! Put in place by the government! And thousands of human beings died and suffered because of it and, though it was abolished in 1991, things are still truly terrible for black people there. I don't know, y'all, it's like somehow people can't bounce back quickly from decade upon decade of abuse? Weirdly enough, you can't bootstrap your way out of institutionalized poverty and oppression? Hmm. SHRUG. OH, WELL. Keep oooonnnn whiting, white guys!
Physician, Heal Thyself
Name: Dr. Myra Fitzsimmons. Age: Early 60s. Occupation: Hope Clinic's resident doc. Goal: To help her patients however she can, being respectful of their ways, and not to hesitate to look a brutal reality in the eye. Sample Dialogue: "These people and I understand each other."
In Your Face, Phyllis
Situation: Barbara is still queasy from their ocean journey.
What makes it awkward? Nurse Crane, as she does, suggests that she gird up her loins, grow a backbone, and be prepared to face the hard work ahead.
How is order restored? A tarantula strolls in, causing Phyllis to scream like a little child. Barbara summarily dispatches it with one of Phyllis's size 9s. "I'd give your shoe a rinse; it may have some venom on it," remarks Barbara G. "Or some backbone."
Place Of Interest
The medical clinic is, uh...rustic. It's at times like this, Shelagh muses, that she wonders what Sister Evangelina would do. "First of all, she'd mention the war," says Sister Winifred, prepared to roll up her sleeves. "Then, she'd remind us that we're here for our patients."
Tom and Fred find the conditions of the "karzy" -- which turns out to be a long-drop loo over an open trench (eeeek) -- to be more foul than anything they ever saw, even during the war. They resolve to get things in better sanitary shape.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Dr. Turner vs. Dr. Myra
Dr. Turner, who cared for women and families through Britain's darkest, dirtiest modern times, has the gall to act kind of scandalized by the conditions at Hope Clinic, namely that the women served there continue to have so many children, despite the physical risks and economic realities.
Dr. T is educated with a quickness by Dr. Myra: "These women are poor. And they are black. And they live in a society that is gradually stripping them of any dignities or freedoms that they ever had. So, motherhood is everything. It's status, purpose, life itself. We have to help it to happen. It isn't always easy, but medicine is never about doing what's easy. It's about doing what's essential."
Winner: Dr. Myra.
Mother, May I?
Name: Roza. Age: Early 30s. Occupation: Mother-to-be, former secretary -- a job she loved and was fulfilled by before being pushed out of it by the new Apartheid laws. Goal: To have her infected cut treated while being otherwise charming and delightful and so, so cute about the baby she has on the way after ten years of waiting to fall pregnant, that I start feeling nervous.... Sample Dialogue: "My mother says 'bloom where you're planted,' and I'm blooming now."
Not Helping, Tom
Situation: Barbara is conflicted over how difficult her patients' lives are.
What makes it awkward? Tom creeps up and watches her rocking a baby whose life she helped save and tells her: "In my mind, I'm kissing you, gently." Ew, Tom. #BanMen
How is order restored? Barbara's like, yeah, I'm kissing you back, but...this baby, tho? Tom gets slightly more woke to what a rock his lady really is.
Mutual of PTV's Animal Kingdom
You're Gonna Hear Me Roar
Meanwhile, a young man runs practically across the whole desert to find help for his wife, who has gone into labor on the side of the road. Phyllis must head out with Fred in the clinic's beater truck to find the woman, and naturally, Nurse Crane handles the whole business despite being stalked by a lion. Fred helps as much as he can, being a man and basically useless. (No, he very sweetly encourages the poor woman as Phyllis gets on her knees and basically pulls the baby out of her. Still, #BanMen.) When the baby girl is born, Fred is thrilled, though less so when has to carry the afterbirth back on his lap.
Plot Lightning Round
The truck having broken down on their return to the clinic, Phyllis is glad to hang out with Trixie and Barbara while Trixie talks about all the cool stuff she's learned watching Dr. Myra doing literal bush-league C-sections, and teaches Barbara to smoke. "Keep Fit and smoking both require discipline and poise!"
Sister Winifred shows up looking for lotion for her sunburn: "Underneath all this, I'm a redhead." She also offers Barbara some smoking tips. She even gets up and cuts a little rug when Trixie turns on her portable record player. I see you, Sister Dubs!
Roza and Constance tentatively approach and Trixie warmly invites them to join the gang. They guilelessly share stories of their difficult lives. Constance has lost two children, but is happily expecting another, determined to look forward and not dwell on the past. All is going fine, until....
These assholes. They order everyone to their separate quarters, accusing them of "mixing," which is illegal, and insisting that they all go and push the truck a quarter mile out to clear the road. Nurse Crane and Trixie -- very frostily and Britishly and with the efficiency of the nurses they are -- tell them, in so many words, to get stuffed.
My Brother's Keeper
Name: Abel and Matthias. Age: 12 and 8ish. Occupation: Brothers. Goal: Abel walks eight miles with his younger brother, Matthias, on his back, to come to the polio clinic so that his legs will be healed. Dr. Turner must face yet another difficult truth and give this sweet child the hard news, man-to-man, that the affects polio has already had on Matthias cannot be reversed the vaccine. Sample Dialogue: "He was a good walker before he had polio."
Not A Drop To Drink
The water situation at the clinic is gross and miserable. Tom is determined to lay a new pipeline from a better source, but the only one available is on the land of Mr. Starke, a white landowner, who is...well, not that into the idea. Tom's attempts to convince him are, natch, an utter failure, and he has the "brilliant" idea to build the pipeline around the land borders. Except this is not brilliant at all, because it will take months and the whole clinic is already dying of diarrhea. Way to go, Tom.
Name: Mr. Starke. Age: Late 60s. Occupation: Landowner; white man. Goal: To live and die in misery, mourning the loss of his wife and child, whose deaths he wrongly blames on Dr. Myra, which is why he won't let the clinic use his water. Main hobbies include pasting and re-pasting photographs of said wife into an album. Sample Dialogue: "Photographs fade and the glue disintegrates."
Alert Type: Crushing Sadness Alert.
Issue: Roza has apparently gone into labor. Trixie and Barbara rush to her aid.
Complicating Factors: Though Roza has not had any maternity exams thus far -- she left the clinic after her wounded hand healed -- she seemed to be blooming with a healthy, happy pregnancy. In what turns out to be the most realistically gutting moment I have ever seen in this show (and that is saying a lot) Trixie discovers that Roza is experiencing a phantom pregnancy.
Resolution: Trixie must go outside to smoke to prepare herself to break this news; Barbara, ever stalwart, steps in to lend her strength to Roza, who has spent so much time hoping and praying for happiness.
Spoiler: Trixie is reminded of Barbara's incredible backbone; Roza is reminded of her worth.
Love, Hate & Everything In Between
Because Trixie is a queen, she has remained on the high road in re: Tom as he has macked on her friend and now helps him -- because please don't forget that guys are hopeless, #BanMen -- get across the line to see that it's time for him to make it happen with Barbara. And, like, Tom? Please don't give her that dusty old ring you gave Trixie when you proposed to her: "Barbara's had so many secondhand things over the years; get her something brand-new. She deserves it." Tom, you didn't deserve Trixie and you don't deserve Barbara, but it's time to shit or get off the long-drop.
Wrap It Up
Dr. Myra has convinced herself she has liver cancer and, after initially refusing to allow Dr. T to examine her, lets him -- using no anesthetic! -- drain what he discovers to merely be a liver abscess. Sister Julienne stands by like the Rock of damn Gibraltar that she is.
Did I say "merely"? Ha ha. Turns this infection is particularly bad and won't respond to any drug they have at the clinic, so he must take her to the hospital, hours away, but not before Shelagh must AGAIN get his mopey ass to snap out of it. #... you know.
Sister J is fed up with the water situation and goes and gets the job done where Tom couldn't, using the most powerful force on Earth: NUN GUILT. Her face, I'm telling you. Jenny Agutter is a genius. She leaves Starke with the truthbomb that a pipeline of clean water would be a greater memorial to his wife and daughter than any faded photograph.
Constance, who has already lost multiple children, is now in labor, and her narrow pelvis is not allowing things to progress. Since Dr. T is with Dr. Myra at the hospital, no physician is present to perform a much-needed C-section. Guess what, though? Trixie ain't scared, and neither are any of these other women, so they get the job done. When Trixie is unable to pull the baby out through the Cesarean incision, Barbara must put her hand in the BIRTH CANAL to PUSH THE BABY BACK UP. I mean, women go through THIS and we let a man say or do ANYthing? RISE UP, DAMN.
Trixie and Barbara are transformed and overwhelmed. "I'm so glad you taught me to smoke," says Barbara, "because right now there's nothing I want more than a cigarette." Sisterhood. Absolutely nothing is better.
Starke shows up, humbled and apologetic, ready to make amends. He is especially ashamed when he sees that Sister Julienne can't bathe Constance's new baby because the clinic does not have sufficient water. Sister Julienne is righteous. Starke allows the new pipeline; Tom, Fred and crew get to digging.
Tom proposes with absolutely heart-stopping and sincere romance, using as a temporary ring a blade of grass that no one's hand but his has ever touched. Barbara accepts. OKAY, TOM IS ALL RIGHT. Lift the ban, temporarily.
Dr. Turner and Shelagh return from the hospital with news that Dr. Myra is being treated there. They also stopped off at the airport to pick up the shipment from Sister Monica Joan: she sent a Christmas fruitcake, obviously, but also, on request from Shelagh, Timothy's old leg braces for Matthias!
The new water line works!
Roza recovers and is appointed clinic administrator. Her dignity is restored, as is Dr. Myra -- back in good health -- and once again the women of Nonnatus House have bestowed the gift of humanity and healing on a community.