Call the Midwife continued with another stellar episode on PBS last night (at this point I'm starting to get really upset about the fact that there are only two episodes left this season!). This show, this SHOW...it is capable of making me cheer one moment and weep the next. And the characters -- not only are the regular cast members extraordinarily and compassionately well-drawn on-screen, but each week's guests -- the "everyday" men and women of the East End that the midwives and nuns interact with, are just as richly-drawn and unforgettably realized. I LOVE this. Here's this week's episode summary from the BBC website:
The episode commences with Jenny delivering a little girl, Gillian, to Shirley Redmond. As Shirley's previous baby was stillborn, Sister Evangelina is also in attendance. Jenny has now been working in the East End for some time, and feels privileged to share such a precious part of these women's lives. Soon after Shirley gives birth, a bombshell drops; the newborn baby has been snatched from her pram, outside the Redmond household. A full-scale search is launched, and the entire community becomes involved in the quest to reunite the desperate parents with their child.
Cynthia, meanwhile, finds herself involved in an equally traumatic situation as she witnesses true love and heartbreak when she meets David and Margaret during their time of need. A middle-aged headmaster, David and his young musician wife Margaret are expecting their firstborn when she suffers from eclampsia. It is a heart wrenching case, and Cynthia observes the strength of soul mates and tragedy of loss.
Just as the trail appears to have gone cold with Shirley's baby, she is found. She was taken by Mary, the Irish girl whom Jenny had befriended previously. Mary has been unable to resolve the grief she felt after losing her own child. The police want to prosecute Mary but, urged by Jenny, Sister Julienne and Sister Evangelina intervene and ask for leniency on Mary's behalf.The episode opens with Jenny (Jessica Raine) being awakened early one morning by Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) -- Shirley Redmond (Emma Noakes) is in labor, and Evangelina will accompany Jenny just in case there are complications, as Shirley's last pregnancy resulted in a stillborn child. I absolutely LOVED Shirley and her husband Ron (Tom Colley). For her part, Shirley is rather tense (understandable, given the circumstances), almost stoic, perhaps too afraid to hope that this time her labors will result in a healthy child. And Ron -- his nervous tension was just too cute! I loved their on-screen chemistry, and the palpable relief both exhibit when they are presented with a healthy daughter -- oh I could've cried tears of joy with them for the relief and the precious nature of the gift that is their young daughter's life. On a related, but slightly tangential note, I thought it was interesting that this episode introduced us to East End residents like the Redmonds, whose lodgings -- while not luxurious -- are definitely several steps above some of the more squalid apartment buildings we've seen midwives visit in previous weeks.
Meanwhile, as far as the other midwives are concerned, this week the attention shifts to the quiet, studious Cynthia (Bryony Hannah). She has a brief, terse encounter with Margaret Jones (Thomasin Rand), a new mother expecting her first child who arrives at the regular free National Health Services clinic and is appalled by the behavior of some of the other mothers in attendance. Some quick backstory on Mr. and Mrs. Jones...David Jones (Tom Goodman-Hill) is a middle-aged schoolmaster, who has recently relocated to the East End with his bride of less than a year, an accomplished violinist. Theirs was a whirlwind romance -- and while it is never specified, one gets the impression that Margaret hails from a background more well-to-do than her husband's current position allows. Feeling a bit under the weather, but a week away from her regular doctor's appointment, Margaret visits the clinic and insists on meeting with the doctor in charge. Her rather abrupt manner irritates Cynthia, particularly when Margaret leaves after witnessing a rather coarse mother get into a verbal spat with Shirley Redmond.
While Margaret's behavior at the clinic annoyed me a bit, I loved the all-too brief scenes giving us an intimate glimpse of her marriage. David is particularly sweet as he is SO in love with his beautiful, talented wife, and Goodman-Hill shades his performance with a certain poignancy -- this is a man who perhaps never expected to marry, so when love came it was all the sweeter. (He was a slightly familiar face thanks to brief appearances in the likes of Foyle's War and Inspector Lewis.) En route to Margaret's doctor's appointment, she has a violent siezure in the car and then passes out, just as Cynthia and Trixie are passing on their bicycles. Cynthia is horrified to realize Margaret was nearly a patient at the clinic earlier in the week, and feeling responsible takes a particular interest in her case. The news couldn't be worse -- Margaret has suffered developed eclampsia and lost the baby, and tragically the toxemia is so advanced the doctors can do nothing but provide palliative care. With Sister Julienne's (Jenny Agutter) permission, Cynthia determines to follow Margaret's case through to the end. But as Julienne sadly knows, nothing in Cynthia's past experiences has prepared her for the emotional toll of providing end-of-life care.
With the two "cases" of the week thus established, this episode grants us a further glimpse into the personal lives and friendships that have developed between the four young midwives, Jenny, Cynthia, Trixie (Helen George) and Chummy (Miranda Hart). Their work may be life-or-death, not to mention extraordinarily stressful, but here we're given a rare and refreshing glimpse into the humor and friendship that binds these young women together. Jenny is still entertaining calls from Jimmy (George Rainsford), which leads to a humorous scene where everyone wants to listen in on their conversation (though as yet there are no real romantic developments). Chummy's ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC relationship with Constable Noakes (Ben Caplan) is progressing nicely, to the delight of everyone at Nonnatus House. I am SO CRAZY INVESTED in the Chummy/Noakes romance it is ridiculous. Noakes is so into every little thing Chummy does or says, people it positively makes my heart sing! When Noakes invites Chummy to a weekly dance, she is terribly stressed -- but with the encouragement of the girls, she accepts and they resolve to make a large party of the affair, including Jimmy as an escort for Jenny. Trixie is an incorrigible flirt, but she has a heart of gold. And shy Jenny -- I would love to see her find a romantic interest, but here she is so burdened by the plight of the Jones' that it is all she can do to attend the dance and observe the happiness of her friends.
After the midwives leave for the dance, Sister Bernadette (Laura Main) has a brief scene but very moving scene. Out of all of the nuns, as the youngest she is in a unique position to relate most to the midwives -- but their closeness can only go so far, as her vows and the lifestyle that accompany them stand as a stark line of demarcation in their friendships. Once the girls depart for the dance, Bernadette slowly removes her head covering, loosens her hair, and one can imagine the thoughts crossing her mind -- the what ifs, the wondering how her life would be different if she hadn't taken vows. Not regret -- but a natural curiosity, and perhaps a stinging prick at the reminder of how her vows, her uniform, set her apart.
The Nonnatus House community is shocked when they receive news that Shirley Redmond's child is missing, snatched from her pram which had been sitting just outside the front door of her home. Watching Shirley's happiness disintegrate is extraordinarily painful -- Noakes' performance is ass raw and honest as it gets. It is particularly intense when she briefly falls under suspicion that she wanted to get rid of her child, due to an off-hand comment overheard at the clinic about being frustrated by her daughter's midnight wake-up calls. The suspicion is as salt in an open wound, and coupled with the resulting media circus Shirley and her husband sink ever-deeper into depression and fear, as the days pass and no clue is found to their daughter's whereabouts.
The kidnapper turns out to be Mary (Amy McAllister), the young prostitute introduced in episode two who was forced to give up her baby for adoption since she herself is still underage. Since losing her child Mary has suffered a complete psychotic break, and in an unguarded moment grabbed the Redmond baby as her own, living with the child in an abandoned warehouse. When she's nearly caught stealing a bottle of milk, the police follow the trail to the warehouse, bringing Jenny along should they find the child. Jenny is absolutely horrified when she realizes that she knows the perpetrator that has destroyed the Redmonds' lives, and the scene where she slowly works to convince Mary to give up the child is tense and heart-breaking. As horrifying as Mary's crime is, Jenny realizes the girl is in desperate need of serious medical and psychological help -- and in a bold move convinces Sisters Evangelina and Julienne to ask the Redmonds to extend mercy towards Mary, after their daughter is restored to them. People, I don't know if I could do it...but therein lies the power of this show -- it is a raw, honest look at life, and a beautiful illustration of how the power of love and mercy, tendered in the midst of impossible circumstances, can transform a life.
Sadly David and Margaret don't get their happy ending -- but while tragic, as Cynthia witnesses first-hand there is beauty in the goodbye. Love and pain go hand-in-hand, as in opening yourself to the former you run the risk of the latter. I was incredibly moved by Cynthia's devotion to the couple, and her vigil is a powerful, intense, life-changing experience. To walk with someone who had been, until the worst day of their life, a stranger, through the most painful moments, to be privy to that final goodbye and to stand by them as they accept that the future they never imagined, never wanted, cannot be avoided -- that is an incredible gift and trust. And it is one Cynthia bears with an strength and poise that belies her slight frame and her years. I loved the final scene, where Cynthia opens David's farewell gift of a record featuring the music that made him fall in love with his wife. With Jenny at her side, Cynthia can finally give herself permission to grieve for all she has seen -- and in the end, as Vanessa Redgrave's voiceover reminds viewers -- in the end what matters, the bedrock of what gets us through, is love.
This fourth episode was another gorgeous, moving installment of the Nonnatus House midwives' story. I was particularly struck by the excellence of the set and costume designs, probably thanks to the detailed glimpses we get of the Redmonds' home and the midwives' rooms. The little details join with the stellar performances that result in a wholly absorbing experience, truly a show that transports you to the faraway time and place of the 1950s East End. Very well done.