Before we face the unbearable sadness of this week’s Call the Midwife, let’s recall how we got to this heartbreaking state of affairs in the first place. You may remember there was the mother on a crusade against Valerie’s health and relationship (aka sex education) class and Sister Monica Joan’s delightful cataract surgery adventure where she made a surprising new friend. But it was Barbara Hereward’s unceasing dedication to the Davidson family through a whirlwind of unexpected death, fire and the birth of twins that contributed to the health crisis the midwife found herself in at the end of the episode. You can get caught up with the rest of the details here.
This week we were left numb and wretchedly sad by the loss of a beloved character. But as it always is with the midwives, life must go on. Let’s go over the less tragic happenings first.
Lucille Finds a Piece of Home
Nurse Anderson is assigned to check in on Alecia Palmer (Alisha Bailey) and her new baby. Turns out Mr. Palmer is a pastor and the couple have assembled a small congregation of fellow Jamaicans who meet at the flat for prayer meetings. Mrs. Palmer asks Lucille if she goes to church and invites Lucille to join them. Nurse Anderson declines, saying she will be busy with work until Nurse Hereward returns. Additional invitations are proffered by Mrs, Palmer but Lucille continues to turn them down.
Valerie senses something is bothering Lucille and tells her she’d hate it if she still doesn’t feel welcome there. Lucille says it’s not at Nonnatus, but at church where she has the problem. The choirmaster gave her a solo, but some of the congregation didn't feel it was proper. Valerie says she shouldn’t go back, but Lucille doesn’t want to give in to their ignorant behavior She feels it’s important to assimilate to her new home, not fall back on what is familiar. Besides Mrs. Palmer reminds her of her own family which makes her ache with longing for home
In the end, Lucille finally decides to go to the Palmers’ for the prayer meeting. She arrives a bit late, but is welcomed warmly. The group begins to sing “Amazing Grace” and you can tell by her smile that Lucille feels at home immediately.
Dr. Turner Takes on a Special Cause
Patrick seems to be knee-deep in teenage angst this week. First his son Tim informs him he wants to go to see those “undesirable” Rolling Stones with his mates. Then while filling in for a colleague at Wadelock House, a young offenders’ remand home, he’s surrounded by wayward boys just about Tim’s age.
Dr. Turner is informed by the superintendent that a scabies outbreak has occurred. When inmate Michael Sumpter (Aaron Thomas Ward) appears before Patrick, the doctor notices an infected cut on his hand and even more concerning scars around his wrists. When the bell rings for visiting time, Michael says he has no family to visit him. On his way out, Dr. Turner overhears the other boys taunt Michael, calling his pregnant wife a tart. Predictably, a fight ensues. When Patrick shares this sad tale with Shelagh, she agrees to see if Michael’s wife is a patient with Nonnatus House.
That evening, Tim is hours late coming home from orchestra practice. Patrick, with thoughts of Michael fresh in his mind, grounds his tardy son from attending the concert and the wedge between father and son grows.
On his next trip to Wadelock House, Dr. Turner gets Michael to open up about his wife Allison. She’s living with her mother who doesn’t approve of him. The young man feels he’s not good enough for her and assumes he will be in and out of jail for the rest of his life.
Meanwhile Shelagh has returned to midwifery to help ease the workload at Nonnatus House and the Weatherleys are her first stop. There she encounters a controlling mother who insists her young, apparently unmarried daughter will have her baby at home to reduce the chance of gossip in the neighborhood.
The Wadelock boys continue to bully Michael incessantly, and Patrick offers to have a word with the superintendent. Michael rejects this offer and says he’s going before the magistrate soon for stealing a car. He knows it was wrong and only did it to get money for the baby but doesn’t think he can explain this in court. Despite Dr. Turner’s support, the young man seems defeated, wondering what kind of dad a fatherless man like himself would be anyway.
Back at the Weatherleys’ Alison (Lauren Coe) explains to Shelagh that she is married, but goes by her maiden name rather than Sumpter. Shelagh reveals her husband has seen Michael at the remand home. Alison asks her not to say anything as her mother can’t stand the young man.
Fed up with Michael’s treatment by some of the other inmates, Patrick suggests to Superintendent Thomas that he speak for Michael at his hearing to show the boy that someone believes in him. Mr. Thomas basically tells Dr. Turner that he’s learned you can’t save them all and you’d have nothing left if you tried. Unswayed, Patrick takes Tim’s suit (without asking him) for Michael to wear at his court appearance. Shelagh is doubtful about his level of involvement.
In the courtroom, Patrick is sitting with Michael when Alison unexpectedly shows up. (Her mother had been keeping tabs on the boy’s case and assumes he’ll be sent to jail.) The guard won’t let her attend the proceedings, so Michael asks Dr. Turner to check on his distraught wife rather than staying with him. But just as Patrick introduces himself, Alison goes into labor.
Back at the hearing, Michael expresses his regret for stealing the car and promises to do right from now on for his wife and baby. Despite believing his remorse is genuine, the magistrate sentences young Sumpter to three years anyway saying she doesn't think he's capable of living up to his responsibilites.
At the maternity home, Alison doesn’t want her mother there and Nurse Turner promises her that Patrick will let Michael know as soon as the baby is born. Alison has a boy and remarks how much he looks like Michael. Dr. Turner does inform Michael of the birth of his son and encourages him that, although three years is a long time, now he has a son who will want to look up to him.
Upon the doctor’s return home, Tim gets snarky with his dad for “borrowing” his suit. Patrick admits it’s difficult to accept Tim isn’t his little boy anymore and is sorry he missed the concert. His son informs him that it’s okay because the Stones are coming back for another show next month.
Nurse Hereward’s Brave Fight
I don’t wish to re-traumatize everyone with a breakdown of Barbara’s tragic demise. Whether real of fictional, it’s difficult to witness a young person’s life cut short, especially one with as much to give as Barbara certainly had. I think special kudos for performances by Jack Ashton (Tom), Linda Bassett (Phyllis) and Charlotte Ritchie (Barbara) are in order this week!
Last time we saw Barbara she'd been transferred to the hospital in very serious condition. In time, we learn she has contracted meningitis and septicemia. Doctors have started her on antibiotics and she is in isolation to stop the spread of infection. Though Tom isn’t allowed to be at his wife’s side, he rarely leaves the hospital. Nurse Crane regularly stops by to bring the young vicar food, fresh clothes and reassurance that no improvement at least means Barbara hasn’t gotten any worse. She tries to be strong for Tom, but she’s visibly shaken about the severity of Barbara’s illness.
At Nonnatus House, all the residents are more than a little anxious about Nurse Hereward, jumping every time the phone rings. Sister Julienne has asked to be added to the work roster and Shelagh has also returned to pitch in on midwifery duties. Sister Monica Joan too is out of sorts at the unfairness of what has befallen their young friend. The elderly nun says she would gladly let God take her if He would spare Barbara. People in the neighborhood have also been dropping by Nonnatus House with flowers and gifts showing how much Barbara means to them as a nurse and curate’s wife.
Eventually Tom is allowed to sit with his wife, at first in a mask and gown until her fever comes down and the risk of infection is reduced. Though Barbara is still unconscious, Tom tells her he thinks it’s time for them to move to the country, to a place that’s safe to bring up a family. At this Barbara wakes up, touches his face and she says he needs a shave.
When they get news at Nonnatus House that Barbara’s come round, everyone is relieved. Phyllis makes up one of her famous rotas for the hospital visits which she supervises closely. All the midwives bring cards and gifts to cheer their sick friend.
Later as Phyllis prepares to leave the hospital, Barbara shows her that her fingertips are turning black and says she can’t feel anything with them. As a nurse, she knows this is a very bad sign. Sister Julienne breaks the news to Valerie and Lucille who know this could end Barbara’s work as a midwife.
When Tom visits, he notices her fingers too. Barbara says he must hold her hand anyway, even if she can’t feel it, because she’ll remember his touch. She recognizes it’s the end of her midwife career and talks of her ambition to be the best curate’s wife and of having their own babies. She reminisces about how safe she felt wrapped in her cloak on their wedding day. Lastly, she asks him to bring her engagement ring made of grass from their time in South Africa. You know even as she’s talking about the future, Barbara knows she’s not going to make it, but is trying to be strong for Tom.
Up to this point, we’ve all shed tears to be sure. But when the former roommates say their goodbyes, the real waterworks start. Phyllis tells Barbara she learned a lot from her though Barbara doubts there’s anything Phyllis doesn’t know about caring for people. Selfless to the end, Barbara worries about those she loves being upset.
Finally, the dreaded moment comes. Barbara’s breathing is labored. The disease has caused irreversible damage and the nurse says there’s no more they can do. Tom sits at her bedside telling Barbara that he loves her and can’t bear to let her go. Phyllis arrives and urges Tom to keep talking to his wife. He starts reciting the 23rd Psalm and when he gets too choked up to continue, Phyllis finishes it. Despite the fact she’s not a spiritual person herself, she knows what it means to Barbara and Tom. Phyllis tells Tom that Barbara is gone. He puts the grass ring on Barbara’s finger and kisses her.
Back at Nonnatus House everyone, including the Turners and the Buckles, are waiting for Tom and Phyllis to return. As they surround them in a group hug of sorts, Phyllis slips away to sit alone on the steps and cry. She and Barbara had a close friendship to be sure, but also since Barbara lost her mother long ago and Phyllis never had children, I suspect that kind of tie existed as well.
So as the shock subsides, what are your feelings about this episode? Did you feel tricked by the hope that Barbara might recover, only to have her succumb to her disease in the end? How will Tom cope and will it shake his faith? It appears we’ll find out in next week’s season finale. Get your tissues ready for the funeral! As Barbara herself put it, “this next bit is going to be hard.”