'Call the Midwife' Recap: Season 6, Episode 1


The Midwives are back circa 1962. (Photo: Courtesy of Neal Street Productions 2016)
The Midwives are back circa 1962. (Photo: Courtesy of Neal Street Productions 2016)

Welcome back to Call the Midwife Season 6!  I’m looking forward to recapping another series and chatting with my fellow Midwife fans about it. We already know that the show has been renewed for three more seasons beyond this one so we’re nowhere near the end. Nonetheless, if you’ve been watching this drama for any period of time, you know some measure of heartbreak or hardship is certainly in store for us over the next eight weeks. So grab a cocktail of your choice (Grasshopper or Brandy Alexander with condensed milk for a velvety, luxurious taste, anyone?) and join in as we review the highs and lows of tonight’s Call the Midwife episode.

It’s spring 1962 and a large contingent of Nonnatus House residents, along with the Turners, Fred and Vicar Tom, have just returned from their New Year’s mission trip in South Africa. Only Trixie has stayed behind with the explanation being that she’s on loan for two months to the Hope Clinic.

Apparently the foray into Africa was quite life changing in more ways than one. We already witnessed Tom and Barbara becoming engaged in a field during the Christmas special. Now we, along with Dr. Turner, discover that his wife Shelagh is quite miraculously pregnant.

But aside from this lovely personal relationship news, not much else is shiny and bright in Poplar. Let’s examine each of these situations in turn.

How do you solve a problem like Sister Ursula?

Shelagh Turner (Laura Main) and Sister Ursual (Harriet Walter) discuss procedures (Photo: Courtesy of Neal Street Productions 2016)
Shelagh Turner (Laura Main) and Sister Ursual (Harriet Walter) discuss procedures (Photo: Courtesy of Neal Street Productions 2016)

I never went to Catholic school but I imagine Sister Ursula (Harriet Walter) is the sort of nun who fills the kids with dread. From all the shocked and pleading glances, it sure looks like the midwives are desperate to show her the door.

From the moment she scolds Sister Monica Joan for her “gyrations” in front of the television, we know this stand-in for Sister Julienne is not the right fit for our beloved community of nuns and midwives. She wants to upend their routines with woefully insufficient spartan lunches and then, knowing full well what the message from the Mother House will be, sends a blissfully unaware Sister Julienne to take the call that will break her heart.

And what’s up with that? Wise, patient, tolerant, trusting Sister Julienne! What reason could the powers-that-be have to demote her? She’s too dedicated to her vows to complain, but she should. Only when it comes to the welfare of a patient does Julienne dare defy her superior.

Putting Sister Ursula in charge is a completely inappropriate and unneeded change. She intimidates Sister Mary Cynthia who is preparing to take her vows while still suffering from the effects of that brutal attack. Unwavering in her understanding of God’s will, Ursula rejects Julienne’s advice on how to best help the struggling postulant. When presented with Cynthia’s breakdown she ships her off to the Mother House rather than follow Dr. Turner’s recommendation of a gentle, therapeutic community near the young nun’s family.  

The only evidence that Sister Ursula has a capacity for kindness was when she stepped in to comfort a scared little boy whose mother was in labor and in trouble. That being said, giving a child a biscuit is a no-brainer in terms of compassionate deeds.

A Woman with Nowhere to Turn

Trudy Wells (Pearl Appleby) with her newborn daughter. (Photo: Courtesy of Neal Street Productions 2016)
Trudy Wells (Pearl Appleby) with her newborn daughter. (Photo: Courtesy of Neal Street Productions 2016)

As expectant mother Trudy Watts (Pearl Appleby) awaits the release of her husband Lester (James Farrar) from prison, she seems happy enough, if not a bit on edge. We soon learn that it would have been much better for this young woman if her thug of a spouse had been serving a life sentence.

We get the first hint of Lester’s cruelty at his release party. He gets drunk and forces himself on Trudy then throws her to the floor when she refuses him. The next day he takes their shy young son Mickey out of school for a boxing lesson and puts him in the ring with an older and much bigger boy to teach how to “be a man”. When Trudy complains to the police, Lester takes his revenge by burning her with his cigarette, banging her around quite a lot and locking her in the bedroom. Of course, Trudy goes into labor but with Mickyey's help, hacks her way out the room with a big kitchen knife.

After a harrowing escape to Nonnatus House, Trudy gives birth to a daughter and resolves to get a lawyer and divorce her abusive husband. Here’s where things get very twisted indeed. If you are in trouble who is the one person in the world who you can always count on to stand by you? Your mum, right? Well, not Trudy’s dear mother Zelda (Lucy Speed)! Not only does she not advocate for her daughter, she takes her son-in-law’s side citing that he has "connections" and "prospects". She also insinuates that Tracy might be lying since she has tried to hurt herself before. In my opinion, Zelda’s lack of support and concern for her daughter’s family is almost as unconscionable as Lester’s terrorizing behavior. Nurse Crane tries to step in to offer medical evidence for the distressed young mother, but it would appear Lester holds all the cards as far as custody despite his criminal record.

Evicted from her home, Trudy takes desperate measures. She drops her children off at the police station and disappears to parts unknown. Sgt. Noakes (yeah, he’s still around despite the fact we never see or hear anything about his wife Chummy) calls the midwives to report this turn of events. Nurse Crane decides against contacting children’s services as she has an idea where Trudy may have gone. Good listening skills should never be underestimated in the course of a midwife’s daily duties.

Accompanied by Sgt. Noakes, Nurse Crane makes her way to the rectory gardens where Trudy mentioned she used to do her dreaming as a girl. They find her sitting there contemplating her next step. She couldn't make herself go through with her intention to commit suicide to get away from her husband and keep her kids safe. Nurse Crane tells her "There is always another way if you’ve someone to help you look for it.” That way, it turns out, is some time spent in a women’s hostel where they helped her gain custody of her children and move to a new council flat far from London…and Lester and Zelda.

In other news: 

Patsy receives a letter from her father’s nurse in Hong Kong. He has a degenerative condition of the nervous system which renders him paralyzed. He wishes her to come there to care for him, but that would mean leaving Poplar and Delia.

Tom has been fretting over his inability to afford an engagement ring for Barbara. Thus far she has a blade of grass to mark the occasion. The expectations of others weigh heavily on him so Barbara goes out and buys the ring from her savings – for both of them. It’s not the way it’s meant to be perhaps but as Barbara explains. “It’s a new way, our way.” And Tom, being a smart, modern man realizes it is the perfect way for them.

So to recap the recap – Austere, rigid nun steals Sister Julienne’s job; Nurse Crane steps in as substitute mother for a young woman in an unthinkable domestic situation; Sister Mary Cynthia’s off to the Mother House and assumed inadequate care for her post traumatic stress induced condition; the Turners are unexpectedly expecting and Sister Monica Joan is bereft without her beloved television set and biscuits.

What range of emotions did you experience while watching this episode? Heartbreak, disappointment, disbelief, indignation? Personally speaking there were a number of things that happened in this episode that were unsettling and difficult to comprehend.  I felt more anger than sadness. Please share your thoughts on your emotional state and anything else you’d like to discuss in the comments section below. And don’t despair. We’ll get through this unpleasantness together.