What Can Possibly Thaw The Hard Freeze On Call The Midwife's Christmas Special?

'Have yourself a merry little midwife.' 'Babies, it's cold outside.' Take your pick.

How nice to return to the Epic Old-School Recap style just as, from what I can tell, Call The Midwife has returned to Epic Old-School Form with this Christmas episode. Not that I didn't enjoy -- and loudly sob through -- last season, of course. I obviously did. This thing, however, warmed my heart to an open blaze -- one that not even the presence of Tom could damper! Anyway, I'm so happy to be here, spreading holiday cheer, and very much appreciate those who have pitched in to Make Recaps Epic Again. Thanks also to Tara, Sarah, and Dave for cracking the whip generously inviting me to participate in this honored tradition. And speaking of traditions...

It's Christmas 1962. Sisters Julienne and Winifred lay out the white altar cloth to signify the end of Advent, as the Poplar community peels a million Brussels sprouts and prepares for that extremely English tradition: the holiday pantomime. "You've certainly got the legs for the principal boy," Violet says, making alterations to Valerie's Jack (he of the Beanstalk) costume. Valerie smirks: "That's what my Aunt Edie said when the other girl dropped out." Violet smiles, remembering watching Valerie dancing in the back rows of "Madam" Edie's dance school shows when Valerie was a child. "You were tall, even then," Violet says, and I raise a fist in back-row solidarity. Fred bursts in wearing his Father Christmas getup and looking half-frozen, only to receive immediate orders from Violet to change into an enormous bra: he'll be playing Jack's mother, and not exactly voluntarily, but like a smart man, he makes no argument.

Upstairs at Nonnatus House, another sort of costuming is going on. Trixie, on trend as ever, is prepping, as her fellow midwives watch in practical bewilderment, for a ski trip to Zurich with Christopher. It sounds glam as hell, and is no less than the sort of Christmas our girl deserves. I mean, there's not just going to be skiing, there's going to be après-skiing, as she tells Barbara with her eyebrows shooting off her head.


So, yeah, she's going to need those slingbacks, and the mink hat, the foxfur trim, and whatever other dead animals she can drape around her person. Take a seat, PETA, Trixie is not interested. Barbara worries the lovebirds won't be able to go on their trip, since snow is predicted in London. "They don't just close airports because of an inch of snow, Barbara," Trixie sasses back, and Barbara cringes and doesn't say "okay, dummy," because she is nice.

Christmas morning dawns, and the Turners happily and sleepily watch Angela and Timothy open their gifts around the tree as young Teddy nestles in his mother's arms. At the Buckle residence, Violet and Fred look on as Reggie tries out his new Old Spice. And over at Nonnatus, the gang has a festive gift exchange topped off by the return of an old, beloved friend. No, not Chummy! I know: it is cruel of me to even mention the possibility of such a Christmas miracle. In fact, it's Sister Monica Joan's dear television set, so cruelly taken from her by the witch Sister Ursula and given to the Seaman's Mission.


Turns out those old bastards got an even better one, and Sister Julienne swooped in to bring this baby home. Sister MJ reacts like a happy child: "Unless my perusal of the Radio Times deceives me, Bronco will be broadcast at half-past noon!" Listen, she may be a nun, but she's not dead: that Ty Hardin was hot stuff.

And, honestly, they could all use some hot stuff around there, because by Boxing Day, the biggest winter storm in a century covers London in feet of snow. While Poplar has never looked more beautiful, most of the country is now at a standstill. Imagine living in sub-par conditions, or being pregnant, or both, when the things you need for very basic survival -- food, milk, heat, healthcare access -- are unavailable. Imagine the compounding nightmare of the dancing school holiday pantomime being cancelled because of a burst pipe flooding the community center! That's the level of emergency we're dealing with here, people! Chop fucking chop! The Nonnatans hop to, rearranging to hold clinic in Aunt Florrie's pub. "The fate of Jack And The Beanstalk," Sister Julienne says, hands spread, "I entrust to the Almighty."

Over at the surgery, the ever-harried Dr. T is trying to get out the door to clinic when a nice old geezer comes in. He hates to bother the doctor, he says, but he burned his leg on his paraffin heater. Stephen McGann -- who, God bless him, never fails to play it for the cheap seats -- pulls a face dramatic enough to be seen in the balcony of the international space station. Still, Dr. Turner of course gets down to work, because what's better than helping sweet, innocent old people with their crinkly eyes and homespun goodness? Yes, it really warms the heart.

Back on the icy road, Nurse Crane and Sister J are headed down the pub. Not like that! They're going to set up clinic, doing as they always do: whatever is necessary to help the women of Poplar, come hell or high lager. Suddenly, there appears before them a mustachioed police sergeant who dares to 1) not be Sgt. "Mr. Chummy" Noakes; and 2) rudely imply that Nurse Crane is a "less-skilled driver."


Now, this, of course, cannot stand even for a moment, and Nurse Crane doesn't waste time letting him know, but let's not forget she did nearly kill a child with her car once. I mean, it was an accident, but that did happen. So, though her dudgeon may be a little higher than is warranted, Nurse Crane reminds him that he can step aside with confidence: she is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, and her vehicle has been prepared thanks to the timely application of a set of snow chains. And if you don't know, now you know, Sgt. WHOEVER-you-are. Boy bye.


Back in his office, Dr. Turner continues to administer aid to the cute old man and oh, how this old-timer DOES love to go on and on about his dear wife, Mabel. She doesn't get down to the shops much, it's true, he says, but she still turns him out well, buying his stay-pressed slacks from catalogues. Dr. Turner and his patient, Mr. Tillerson, share a cute and crinkly chortle over their excellent wives. No, no, Mr. Tillerman says, Dr. Turner needn't bother scheduling a nurse for home visits: he'll just come to the surgery. No need to make any fuss! Don't want to upset dear ol' Mabel at home! Chortle, chuckle, crinkle, etc. Old men are just the best, aren't they, just super-loving their wives and stuff?

As Aunt Florae tries to figure out how she'll feed her regular customers through the taproom window while her pub tables are being used for pelvic exams, young Ms. Linda Openshaw and her "husband," Selwyn, arrive for clinic. They're frozen, and a little confused, having just come to London so that Selwyn can get work as a roofer. Val barely has to get into the basic questions before Linda breaks down. Turns out Selwyn is not her husband, though he keeps asking her to marry him, and is not the father of the baby she's carrying. Val doesn't judge and even passes on her best handkerchief. "I haven't even blown my nose in it yet," she says, adding that because of the bedlam going on with the clinic, she'll be glad to come out to Linda's home to carry out the needed exams. Shamefacedly, Linda says that she and Selwyn are currently living in a caravan. Valerie shrugs: "So? Where are you parked?"

Between the snowbanks that have formed in front of Nonnatus House, Sister Julienne and Phyllis are pushing their car home. Oops. Well, look, even the most advanced members of the Institute of Advanced Motorists can have a cold-weather breakdown. Christopher and Trixie emerge from the house to help them, having been -- as Barbara G. previously called it -- trapped in London due to the storm. Christopher puts his shoulder into the job, as does Trixie, decked out in fur, with the added muscle of some neighborhood kids. No sooner do they begin making progress than Sgt. Walrus -- or whatEVER his name is; he looks like a walrus -- absolutely BELLOWS at them to get the car out of the road. First of all, biiiiiitch, that's what they're doing. Secondly, just who are you, out in these streets, yelling at a NUN and some NURSES in front of a house named after a SAINT? Third, who exactly are you protecting and serving with your non-helping walrus-stache ass? I mean, I do hate to repeat myself, but I SAID BOY BYE.

Later, the snowbound crew is doing what they can to make merry. "There are twelve days of Christmas, after all," Sister J says, taking on musical chairs record player duty. Sister Monica Joan is delighted to watch Trixie, Val, and Sister Winifred go round and round with Christopher -- who, unable to even make it back to his flat, will have to bunk in the guest room. Phyllis has treated him to the electric blanket and is so filled with the Christmas spirit that she was even prepared to provide him with the ultimate honor: "I had thought Sister Evangelina's old dressing gown to be appropriately masculine," she says. "But it would seem that it has been donated to the poor." At the mention of her late sister, the briefest, saddest, most beautiful shadow crosses Sister Monica Joan's face. I had barely had time to laugh at Nurse Crane's straightforward shading of Sister E's bedclothes before that little moment brought tears to my eyes. Never one to overlook Saint Paul's encouragement of the ancient Hebrews to be good hosts, Sister MJ mentions that she's prepared to offer Christopher a slice of sherry log when he's done with his musical chairs exertions. Overhearing, Christopher begs Trixie to save him, but she, like all girlfriends bringing a man home for Christmas should do, laughs in his face. If you can't hang with the crazy relations, stay home, gentlemen. Bougie dentists unwilling to play the game get no sherry log! I know it's hard for adults to cram into a house full of people for the holidays -- I'm no different; it's hard -- but the Nonnatans are the best of us and therefore are game for anything. I love them and strive to be like them. Shut up, I know they're not real, but they kind of are.


Over at the vicarage, Barbara is snuggled up in her bed, wearing multiple robes and a toboggan hat. Wait -- that's not what non-Americans call them, is it? Maybe a Canadian I know will weigh in. ["That's a toque, girl." -- Tara.] ANYway, whatever you call it, Barbara manages to look both cute and practical as she tries to stay warm under the duvet. Tom comes in from the cold, having sat with a dying sailor at the mission all night. "It's not often the corpse is the warmest thing in the room," he says, for which Barbara chides him. Don't complain to a nurse about anything, ever. I work with them and am related to many and unless you're coming in carrying one of your own limbs that has been shorn off, you're fine. Tom, generally being the worst, doesn't yet understand this rule, and goes on to complain even further! Seems he's been asked to take over temporarily at St. Dionysus in Birmingham. "As vicar?" Barbara says, hopefully. But, no. As curate, which is a lateral move, and for only six months. "I love this parish," Tom says. "If I'm going to struggle and starve, I want to do that here." Barbara reminds him that they barely struggle, and that they don't remotely know what it means to starve. In fact, she even has a Penguin biscuit under her pillow, you alleged man of God. Tom says he knows he's supposed to go where God calls him, but wonders why He'd call Tom away from Poplar. "If I don't know why," he continues, "how can I be sure I'm being called at all?" Ummm...where did you attend seminary, again, Tom? Pretty sure that "not understanding but doing anyway" is literally the definition of faith, or something...? But, okay.

When Trixie and Val wake up the next morning, it's now so cold and frozen-over out there that they have ice inside their windows. Trixie is pretty iced-over herself. "Serves you right for not sleeping in a vest," Val snarks. A vest! As if Trixie would own a vest. "I had to hope that two satin camisoles would have the same effect," Trixie replies. She bundles a silk robe around herself and heads to the bathroom, where she runs into Christopher!


And though he is wearing a pink chenille ladies' robe -- and looking fly in it -- Trixie screams, clutches her snood, and races back into her room. "Christopher just saw me in my rollers," she whispers to Val, in horror. Val is too cold to deal with this nonsense: "Dentists have scientific training, Trixie. He can't think your hair looks the way it does naturally."

Poor Christopher must now face another trauma. The man is just trying to go to the bathroom, but is now accosted by Sister Winifred, running up with a mop. "Whatever you do," she says, nervously, "please don't go in there!" It seems that even the lav is frozen, and now Sister W is going to bust up the ice with a mop handle. Before Christopher can stop her, she breaks the toilet. Of course she does. One day, Sister Winifred is going to prove useful, but that day is STILL not today. Christopher, who more and more seems like the best of eggs, saves the day by getting the old privy up and running outside. It will require adding boiling water to the cistern on the hour, but no one cares as their bladders are about to explode.

At the Turner residence, Shelagh is bustling around making Scotch pancakes, all energy and levelheadedness. The house is wonderful, the kids are wonderful, the baby's wonderful. In fact, Shelagh is particularly pleased with her choice, rather than being seduced by that American Spock's way, to stick with the Truby King breastfeeding method of nursing "fifteen minutes on each breast, every four hours." Timothy, unable to avoid hearing all of this, excuses himself, probably to willingly die of hypothermia outside rather than hear anything more about his mom's boobs.

Back at Nonnatus, Phyllis is giving the daily assignments and notes that the weather service believes these tundra-style conditions will persist for at least ten days. (In fact, the UK didn't really thaw out until March, and it's never been as cold since. The sea froze for a mile out offshore in Kent!) Trixie has agreed to postpone her vacation altogether, being stuck in Poplar, and is back on the clock and the schedule. That does not mean, however, that she's going to be wearing the regulation long underwear, no matter how cold it gets. "I think I've sacrificed enough," she says, with dignity, and it may be dumb, but that's why we love her.

Good God it's cold. Poor Val struggles out to the caravan to see Linda, who still feels the need to explain herself and her situation. Her baby's father left her, and Selwyn, one of the builders who came to work on her terrible lodgings, was kind to her. "There he was, smiling," Linda says. Val, taking Linda's blood pressure, declares it perfect, but the poor young woman is lost in her worries. "Not if I don't love him," she moans. Lady, please look around. Yes, this caravan is a tragedy, but Selwyn is handsome and kind. Fake it 'til you make it, damn. That's basically Val's advice as well. When Linda wonders how Selwyn can love the baby "like his own" as he claims he will, Val says that sometimes, when you think you can do something, you're halfway there. Wise up, Linda.

Sister MJ is minding her own business, trying to stay warm, when Phyllis comes in with a task for her. "I have a task assigned to me already," Sister Monica Joan answers, "by Nurse Franklin's titian-haired suitor." She's to keep the water boiling for the privy, and seems fine doing it, but...well, it's Phyllis's one flaw that she believes no one's hands should be idle. This is an example of meaning well and not knowing when everything's already well enough without your input. It's easy to be guilty of this where children and old people are concerned, in my personal experience. Being a world-class busybody is what makes Nurse Crane good at her job, so she thinks she's doing the right thing setting Sister MJ to the task of finishing a knit cap for Reggie, but...she ain't. In fact, Sister MJ eventually weeps, saying she has become "distracted from vital work by a petty-folly and inessential task." Bless her heart, Phyllis is mortified.

On New Year's Eve, Dr. T and Trixie successfully deliver a baby girl in the maternity home while, back at home, Shelagh and Teddy rock around the Christmas tree and Linda and Selwyn tough it out in the caravan. Selwyn sweetly asks if he can feel Linda's belly while the baby kicks and, though she makes a sour face like she smelled something awful, she allows it. Linda, WISE UP.

The days tick by with no end to the frozen weather in sight. Things are getting tougher -- milk deliveries are compromised, and that's bad for everyone, not least the Nonnatus tea-time situation, but mostly for the families in Poplar who rely on milk for the health of their kids. So, of course, now's the perfect time for half of Poplar to lose their water and the primary water main pipe in town to be threatened by a burst sewer line. Will life ever get easier? The answer is no. Fred, in his capacity as Civil Defense watchman, rumbles off to call someone about the sewer when he encounters a bunch of kids poking a pile of snow with a stick. Guess what? It's Doc Turner's cute old man with the burned leg, Mr. Tillerson, frozen solid still gripping his paraffin tin! How utterly tragic. He must have, Dr. Turner believes, become disoriented in the storm and died. His family will have to be told, of course. Dr. Turner doesn't feel like he can send the police to break the bad news, but of course his practice is in a shambles because no one is there to perform all his emotional labor -- sorry, but, ban men -- and Sister Julienne is dispatched to handle it.

Arriving at the flat, Sister J sees through the mail slot that a woman is passed out in the freezing front room. She rallies the neighbors to break down the door.

Back at the caravan, Val finds Linda on all fours in the thick of labor. Selwyn is by her side, doing what he can -- which is nothing, but he IS trying. "What's going on, Linda?" Val jokes. "There's no room in here for a piggyback race!" I believe humor can help in almost any situation, but IS NOW THE TIME FOR JOKES? Read the wheeled room, girl.

In the Tillersons' flat, Sister J smacks the old woman back awake. "Close the door," Mrs. Tillerson begs. "You have to go! Percy won't have people comin' in!"

Val is still running that bedside standup routine, suggesting that Linda let her contractions wash over her like a wave at the seaside. HA HA HA. Even Selwyn, inexperienced in ALL of these matters, is feeling less than confident. The baby is four weeks early but, Val says, nothing they can't handle. Though she is, herself, worried, she warms up Linda with hot water bottles and gets ready to make it happen. Selwyn wonders if they shouldn't call for help. "Selwyn," Val says. "I am the help, and so are you." Linda lets out an enormous groan. Let's do this thing!


Sister Julienne must now break the news of Percy's death to Mrs. Tillerson, who is coming around with the help of tea and a room heater. She had fallen into hypothermia there in the flat, which will delude a person into thinking she is warm so she actually removes clothing as the temperature drops further. "Percy doesn't like women showing their arms," Mrs. Tillerson tells Sister J in a worried voice. "When's he coming back? He's been a long time fetching the paraffin." Sister Julienne gives her the terrible 411. "I know this is a great deal to take in, Mrs. Tillerson," she says, meaning to go on with some sort of affirmation. Mabel cuts her off, flat as ice. "I have taken it in. Percy liked to be the one who said what happens when. What was what, who did what." Huh. Is it getting colder in here? With the voice of the Ghost of Christmas Future, and the frozen glass eyes of a wraith, Mabel lays it out: "Sounds like he had no say at all in how he met his end. And I'm glaaaaad." DAMN. Sister Julienne is clearly beside herself, but holds it together like a pro.

Not holding it together at all is Dr. Turner, flimflamming around his desk with his files and about to eat a lunch of a diseased pie he bought from a contaminated shop, when Shelagh walks in. This superwoman just wrestled her post-partum body into a girdle, AND IT WAS NOT EASY.


Shelagh then hauled her toddler and infant across a frozen wasteland to the nursery and the office, respectively, and is here to save the goddamn day. Forget a maternity leave, I guess: "I've a practice to run and a crisis to survive."


Things are getting serious in the caravan. Val assures Linda that the baby is quite small and will come quickly, but Linda is hurting badly, of course. Selwyn, a champion, is in it to win it, holding Linda's hand and telling her to dig her nails in if she needs to. "I'm scared I'll hurt you," Linda says, but Selwyn, prince among swine, tells her that the only thing that could ever hurt him is what hurts her. Linda's ready.

Ready in her own way is Mrs. Tillerson. Like, ready to drop truth bombs all over Sister J, who is reeling beneath her wimple. Apparently, ol' Percy wasn't the sweet old pensioner. He was, to put it mildly, the actual devil. When Sister Julienne says that she will help tell the Tillersons' children of the death of their father, Mrs. T puts her firmly in the picture. Her son, Edwin, died in the war, a prisoner of the Japanese. "I thought, 'Nah, he'll be able to bear it,'" she says, because poor Edwin had learned from experience to be very good at standing up to blows. Shit! "I was never brave," Mabel says. "I just learned to do what Percy said. He used to say, 'You can't argue with what God wants.'" Sister Julienne quietly reminds Mabel that her husband wasn't God. "Maybe not," Mabel says, pushing away a mantle crucifix with her cane. "But they was as thick as thieves." Sister J, bowing her head no doubt to reflect on the nightmares that can be perpetuated in the name of the religion she holds so dear, asks about the Tillersons' beautiful daughter. "Anthea," Mabel says. "I wish she wasn't. I used to think...if she was plain, would Percy have done what he did to her." The dawning horror washing over Sister Julienne's compassionate face is too much. "Anthea ran away," Mabel adds. "And I was glaaaaad."

At the community center, Violet is volunteering to help the displaced old people who have no one else to help them through this weather drama. Tom comes in with some day-old mince pies and must once again learn a lesson in holiness from someone else. Seriously, Tom should get his money back from whatever technical college annex he attended. Anyway, Violet is there to remind him that though family ties may fray or break, the community should be there to help each other, or what's the point?

Sister J must now take on the unenviable task of tracking down Anthea Tillerson. From old records -- which OF COURSE Shelagh can get her hands on quickly -- they learn that Anthea last came into the clinic as a fifteen-year-old. A pregnant one. With belt-thrashing contusions all over her. And was never seen again. Gee, I hope ol' Percy T died slowly. However, there is conveniently a current address in her file with Anthea's married name, from a letter asking for a reference when she applied to the council to become a foster parent. Mabel Tillerson's notes indicate that, the day after that consultation, she was found crawling to the lavatory by a neighbor, and had black eyes and broken ribs. Gaaaah. The nun and the nurse share a moment of rage about the fate of the Tillerson women, and all women victimized by men like Percy. They don't say it, but I will: ban men. Thank God it's time to go back to the caravan.

OH GOD. I ONCE AGAIN SPOKE TOO SOON. Because after some hard pushes, Linda's lovely baby boy is born. Linda is thrilled, Selwyn is thrilled, Val is thrilled. For a minute. Because the baby is not crying or, apparently, breathing. Val tries everything, even breathing into his mouth, but he is still. The nightmare is so real, I can say no more. Val's face is ashen. She wraps the baby in a blanket and, when Linda is unable to look at him, places him gingerly in her medical bag. "Don't cover his face," Selwyn says, in agony. "I'll take care of everything," Val says. "That's what midwives do." Into this saddest of scenes, rides...well, stumbles Trixie, with her frozen bike. "I decided you were gone too long for this to be a visit of reassurance," she whispers to Val, assessing what's happened with no need of explanation. They deliver the placenta and Trixie, outside, with straightforward kindness, tells Valerie that this is the worst thing that could happen to a midwife. "It hasn't happened to me," Val says. "It's happened to them." As Trixie explains to Linda and Selwyn that they'll discuss the details of "the arrangements" later, Val prepares to leave with the baby. "Put this in with him," Selwyn asks, handing over his hot water bottle. "It doesn't seem right, sending a babby out in the cold like that." Poor Val does as he asks, snaps her bag closed, and begins her sad walk home. As the sun goes down, Selwyn burns the bloody sheets and newspaper-wrapped placenta in a trash-barrel fire. Trixie offers what solace she can to Linda. "You knew your baby when he was inside of you, Linda," she assures her. "And he knew every beat of your heart." Linda nods. "We both loved him, Selwyn and me," she says, and Trixie says yes, they did. I watched this in a coffee shop wearing headphones and was crying so hard at this point a barista asked if I was okay. FRIENDS, I WAS DECIDEDLY NOT OKAY. I just really was not and I'm still not.

Through the darkened streets of Poplar in the falling snow, to the shining door of Nonnatus House, goes Val, clutching the medical bag of sadness to her chest. Suddenly, she hears the sound of a baby crying. Looking around herself in confusion, she realizes that the noise is coming from her bag. Whipping it open, she sees that the DAMN BABY is ALIVE. At a run, she throws herself through the door of Nonnatus, screaming for help. Everyone rushes to the baby's aid, and Sister Winifred races to bring Tom and Barbara. Well, we mustn't forget the baby's immortal soul, but YES, FORGET THAT because this fighter is a badass! He's fine! Barbara holds Val while she falls apart, and Nurse Crane and Sister J realize that the baby's shallow breathing and slow heartbeat must have been hard to detect at his birth. He was saved by Valerie expanding his lungs and the hot water bottle gifted to him by Selwyn. All those present cover their chests in thankful prayer and I, in my coffee shop, OPENLY SOB and probably very loudly from beneath my headphones thank God for the life of this seasonally-appropriate fictional miracle caravan baby, born of an unwed mother and cherished nonetheless by the father who chose to love him. If my fellow patrons were non-believers, they were filled with enough holiday spirit to let it go.

In what is probably the scariest ambulance ride of her life -- and she was a nurse in the war -- Val watches over the baby in an incubator. They arrive at the caravan and are met by Trixie, who relays the bewildering good news to Linda and ol' Selwyn. I can forgive them for trying to package it calmly with a feel-good message, but I can't forgive giving Trixie this clunky "sometimes, when something bad happens, something good can also happen" speech, which 1) doesn't come close to describing the situation; and 2) is far too hokey to be something our girl would ever say. But, really, who WOULD know what to say in this situation? Val basically comes in with the baby, and unceremoniously passes him over, saying, "He's your baby, Linda." I mean, if I were Linda, I'd probably be dead from a heart attack at this point, and Val still looks pretty green, but everyone is happy and so am I.

At Nonnatus, Barb is worried about Tom's inability to make a decision about the Birmingham job. Nurse Crane suggests just asking him over and over. "Persistent drops of water can pit solid rock in the end," she says, and I love her for it. Reggie, there to help Nurse C with the Cub Pack meeting -- oh, you thought the Cubs weren't going to meet during a blizzard? Do you know Phyllis Crane? -- has been picking up empty milk bottles he's dug out of the snow. Phyllis and Barbara smile dismissively at this little collection, considering the current state of milk deliveries, and the Cub roundup begins. "I want everyone to take a spade or a shovel," Phyllis tells the boys, holding up the tools she's found in the shed, "or a...World War I entrenching tool..." She's got a project for them that will help them earn their second star. She introduces Reggie as a gardener there to help them, and assures them that anyone who doesn't make Reggie welcome will not be getting a go with the entrenchment tool. This is encouragement enough.

This cuteness is almost enough to make me forget the Tillerson nightmare, but we must now return to it, with Sister Julienne. She needs us. She has found Anthea, a pretty, pregnant, housewife in a modest flat, happily peeling about a thousand pounds of potatoes for the many children in her home. When she hears that Sister Julienne is there to relay news of her parents, her sweet face goes hard. Still, she welcomes Sister J in, and as they peel potatoes together, she tells the story of the more than thirty foster children she's helped while raising her own family. She's proud to say that she's never had to raise a hand to a single child in her care, adding that everything she ever did, for years, was because she hated her father. Sister Julienne tries too gingerly to talk around the awful things that happened to Anthea in her childhood, saying she understands that Percy's "attachment" to her "was unnatural." She asks Anthea's forgiveness for discussing it at all. To this, Anthea speaks plainly: "Forgive you? I didn't ask you to come here, and I don't like what you stand for. But as far as I'm aware, you never raped me once a week while my mother went to Evensong." Sister Julienne can only close her eyes against this -- I'll use the word again -- nightmare. Anthea explains that she, in fact, did not run away. Her father threw her out when they came home from the doctor's. "He threw me out, and she didn't stop him," she says. "I ran back and banged on the door and nobody came to open it." Sister Julienne is dying inside, as are we all.

We return to the Cub pack, who are working on building an igloo, learning how to pack bricks like Eskimos. Everything is going splendidly and I am relieved to have had this Tillerson break, but now we must go back AGAIN.

Sister Julienne, since she is called by God, must now do the difficult job of suggesting that Anthea forgive her mom, Mabel having been victimized by Percy as well and thus unable to protect her daughter in any meaningful way. Which...this woman is strong, but must we ask human beings to be this strong? It's a lot to ask, even from a nun. In any case, Anthea wipes her eyes and shows Sister J an old ten-shilling note she keeps in an envelope behind the clock. When her father kicked her out, she found it in her pocket. She knows her mother must have put it there, but she's never spent it: "Not even when I got rid of that baby. I'm not proud of that, but I am proud that I kept the one thing that she gave me. Because, somewhere inside, somewhere where I never go, I might not be as angry as I think." Seeing a crack, Sister Julienne begins to suggest that it would really mean an enormous amount to Mabel if.... Anthea: "If I went to the funeral?" Yeeeaaah, it's a no-go. Cold now, she tells Sister Julienne to put the envelope with the money back behind the clock: "Those notes aren't even legal tender anymore."

After that heart-shattering scene, only a baby can make me feel better, and I am happy to say it's Linda and Selwyn's baby, happy and healthy. Linda tells this man, who she has realized is one of the FEW good ones, that she wants to name the baby after him. "What, 'Selwyn'?" he asks. Linda laughs, saying she knows it's not ideal. Girl, it could be worse. In any case, they use Selwyn's middle name, John, and wrap their hands around baby John's tiny fingers. Tom looks in from the doorway and -- as much as Tom is capable, which is NOT MUCH -- has an epiphany (just in time, if I'm adding things up correctly, for actual Epiphany). Linda and Selwyn tell Tom that they would like the baby blessed. "Because if you bless him," Linda says, "you bless the three of us." MORE TEARS.

Rather the opposite of a blessing is taking place back with the Cub pack who, having finished their igloo, are now shouted out of it by Sgt. Walrus. He's a dick, and -- suggesting that Nurse Crane doesn't know her business as Akela -- rudely says that she should be teaching them to do something useful. In her book, she retorts, "namely Tracks and Tracking by H. Mortimer Batton," that is what she's doing. The Walrus says there's no need to try to blind him with Scout science, since he himself was "BALOO to the nineteenth step." I'll admit, as a Scout, that this is impressive, but I still wish he would fall through a frozen sewer. Later, when she contemplates Reggie's collection of seemingly useless milk bottles, Phyllis Crane has an idea. Oh, it's ON now.

Inspired by the vision of love he saw among Linda, Selwyn, and John, Tom has been overcome by late-onset Christmas spirit and is resurrecting the holiday pantomime to be performed for an old-folks community dinner. Better late than never, Tom. He realizes, he tells Barbara, that wherever they are or wherever they go, all that matters is that they hold on to each other. They go and tell Sister Julienne that they're leaving for six months. She says there will always be a need for midwives like Barbara at Nonnatus House. "We need each other," she adds. "Little more matters in such a fractured world. That is why I like your idea of the dinner and the pantomime so much." Tom is pleased to have had this one good idea, ever.

It's early morning, and Val has had yet another sleepless night following the ordeal with young John. Sister Monica Joan, fellow early riser, surmises her anguish and kindly acknowledges that Val has "witnessed much, and much of it beyond your understanding." Val eagerly says that she has continually gone over it in her mind and cannot figure out what she did wrong or missed. Sister MJ, Moses-style, drops some Deuteronomy 31:8: "And the Lord, it was he that did go before thee. He was with thee, He did not fail thee, neither forsook thee." Val, exasperated, apologizes for seeming impolite and says that she doesn't believe in God. Which, honestly, IS impolite to say to a nun that you LIVE with, but Val was nice about it, I guess. Anyway, Sister Monica Joan says that it doesn't even matter: "You carried out your work, and one much wiser brought your labors to fruition." Valerie, whatever she believes, is comforted by this, and even more comforted by the bottle of milk Sister Monica Joan produces from her robes. "I should like to say it descended from the heavens, like manna in the wilderness," Sister Monica Joan says, staying on theme. "But...I've had it secreted in the woodshed." Passing over the mild squick associated with the word "se-cree-ted" and its proximity to the topic of milk, I'm moved by Sister MJ's always timely generosity when she goes on to say that, often, God's hands are found at the end of our own arms.

At Fred's house, Violet has had enough of the current conditions. Reggie has to eat his corn flakes with water -- if you've never done it, I don't recommend trying -- and she's taking it out on Fred. "They ate better than this in Stalingrad!" Violet complains, at which he reminds her that the Civil Defense Corps is responsible for maintaining order, not groceries. Violet snits that she hopes he's there to maintain order when they can't even offer the geezers a proper cup of tea at the rescue center. And furthermore, Violet's heard enough about "exhausted milkmen" and will hear nothing about cows in the countryside or whatever excuses he has about that, and declares Poplar to be the worst-run borough in London. Damn, Violet! If Fred's running it, though, she's probably right.

The day has come for Percy Tillerson's funeral. I hope he's being buried in a burlap sack under a burning pile of garbage. It's more than he deserves. Sister Julienne has loaned Mabel a tasteful black hat. "Percy was always so 'careful' with money," the new widow says. "I almost felt like splashing out on a great big, black 'titfer,' just to show him who's boss, now." Still, she says, old habits die hard. Sister Julienne assures her that she can make changes to her life in time. Mabel remembers the days she used to carry a ten-bob note in her corset. "Just ten bob, but it was my escape route. My bus fare or my train ticket -- it could have got me out," she says. "When Anthea left, I put it in her pocket. It was everything I was never brave enough to do." Unable to share that she already knows this story, Sister Julienne escorts Mabel through her building to the waiting cortege. Mabel's neighbors line the hall and each one speaks kindly to her, inviting her to stop by for tea and expressing condolences. Mabel is amazed.

There's a mob scene outside Bentley's dairy. Sgt. Walrus is trying to explain that Mr. Bentley couldn't send out the milk delivery because he didn't have any bottles or trucks. People wave their buckets and pails, demanding the churns, calling bullshit on the Walrus's threats of looting charges. Arriving at the back, Nurse Crane reminds him that mothers can become quite agitated when their children are deprived, but agrees that no one should decant milk into unsterilized garage buckets. Fred and his CDC gang roll up. "Always nice to have the support of the Civil Defense Corps," Phyllis says. "Next stop, the Gurkhas," the Walrus pops off, and I swear to God if that man doesn't shut up.... Anyway, Phyllis C is not bothered, for she has the power of righteousness on her side. "What plan are you hatching now?" asks the Walrus. Nurse Crane is smug. "Since you asked," she says, imperious, "I'm off to do something useful."

Sister Julienne has come back to Anthea's house, bearing a gift for Anthea's new baby girl, to take one last shot at reuniting her with Mabel. Anthea is clearly grateful, but can't consider it. "He dragged up too much stuff by dying," she says of her father. "I want everything buried, not just him." She says she's just given birth to her last baby, and it's made her think about that first one. She intends, therefore, to keep doing what she's always done: looking forward and trying to make the best life she can. Sister Julienne says she can understand that, since it's what she and her sisters do as well. "I'm going to leave you with your family," she says, rising, "to enjoy the happiness you made with them, and make for them, and which you so richly deserve." Truer words never spoken. Anthea looks at her baby and smiles.

Nothing can stop a Cub pack when they mean to be useful, and Poplar's is here to save the day. Following Reggie's fine example, Phyllis, Fred, and the boys round up every snow-clogged milk bottle they can find and parade them like heroes to the dairy. The milk, therefore, can finally go out, to the cheers of a grateful community. The Walrus is forced to publicly salute Phyllis, who remarks to Trixie that she likes a man who can give credit where it's due. Hello, it's due to Reggie, and also, screw that jerk who, as far as I can tell, has done jag-all to help anybody. Come on, Phyllis! Third verse, same as the first BYE.

At the senior dinner (which Mabel and others are attending) and pantomime production, everyone wrestles various beans and stalks into order. Fred dons his wig and brassiere and asks Trixie for the makeup works. "Fred!" she admonishes him. "You're supposed to be a poor, widowed subsistence farmer! Not Sophia Loren." Christopher, also, requests cupid bow lips and periwinkle eyeshadow. Fred laughs that this might be a bit of a waste on the rear end of a pantomime cow, but naturally, Trixie is all for upholding standards. "I, meanwhile will be playing the front end," she says. "And if anyone has noticed, I've had a full manicure and a professional shampoo and set." She and Christopher, she says, are aware that their combined role is a lowly one, but they shall bear it nobly.

As the chairs are put in place in the hall, Mabel moves to the front, full of joy. "I haven't pulled a cracker in thirty years," she laughs with Sister Julienne. "And, I'm telling you, the jokes in 'em haven't got any better." Suddenly, the crowd parts, and Mabel sees Anthea and her family. "Hello, Anthea, love," Mabel says, finding her voice. Anthea introduces Mabel's newest grandchild, Helen. "The rest of them," Anthea says, "well, some of them are mine and some of them are only mine for a while." Sister J says she's sure Mabel will want to meet all Anthea's children, as Anthea gives her mum a small bunch of white snowdrop flowers. "I can't believe they've survived this cold," she says. "They must be tough little things." Mabel takes the flowers and finds they're wrapped in the ten-shilling note. "I wanted to buy you these flowers with it," Anthea says, "but they don't accept those notes anymore. They belong in the past." Mabel, unable to speak, accepts this forgiveness and puts her hand on her daughter's shoulder.


The nurses are having a hard time believing Barbara and Tom are leaving, especially since they have to go before the evening is even over. They won't be able to get a train, otherwise, the weather being what it is, so they must say some hasty goodbyes. Barbara assures them that she'll be back before they know it and SHE'D BETTER BE, or I will never forgive Tom. "Take care of her," Phyllis tells Tom, and as the young magic beans, Jack, and the cow close out the show with "Sealed With A Kiss," we say goodbye to Tom and Barbara and the rest of Poplar crew, singing happily together having realized the promise of Christmas once again.

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