I don’t know whether Call the Midwife is getting more heartbreaking or if I’m extra emotional due to the state of the world today, but I bawled my eyes out watching this episode.
There was the lovely, but let’s face it, increasingly habitual community event organized by one or more members of the Buckle family and Dr. McNulty returned to give Dr. Turner some much needed help in his busy surgery. On the more upsetting side, the Turners’ adoption of little May hit an unexpected snag. And then Valerie’s cousin Maureen and her family weathered an unimaginable and heart wrenching ordeal. Okay here we go…
Saving the Horticulture Show
It's August in Poplar and the sunflowers and marrow are thriving. Enthusiastic gardener Fred Buckle has been preparing for the annual Bank Holiday horticulture show only to discover it was canceled due to... lack of interest perhaps. The reason is never really provided. When he brings the problem to his wife, Violet hands it back to him to organize. Fred and Reggie go door to door to drum up entrants, but the reception is lukewarm at best.
Later at a brainstorming session, Reggie brings up the idea exhibition gardens (again) and the midwives jump on board. Several groups are recruited to participate including the Cub Scouts, the local dance school and Nonnatus House itself. The problem is Sister Monica Joan intends on creating a St. Raymond Nonnatus garden. Solo. (Insert crickets here.)
In the weeks leading up to the horticulture show, here are plenty offers of help from the others - Trixie, Sister Hilda and Fred for starters. Alas the elderly sister is confident and insistent in her plans to go it alone. She has also pilfered health authority midwifery supplies, namely eight baby blankets, that she insists are essential to her celebration of St Raymond. Nurse Crane realizes when she’s beat and tells Sister MJ to just not get any holes in them. More on the touching conclusion later.
A Doctor in the House, Again
As predicted Kevin McNulty has returned to Poplar. Dr. Turner is happy to put the young physician to work immediately, but Miss Higgins is less than enthusiastic. We’ll have to see if the meticulous receptionist warms to him over time. The midwives are pleased to have him back as well, though Sister Julienne finally feels in necessary to break her silence about the fate of Nonnatus House.
There’s also the matter of Sister Frances and her women’s troubles. Dr. McNulty is an observant lad, apparently more so than a houseful of midwives. When he finds the young nun on the floor with a hot water bottle, he offers her some relief from her debilitating period pain - a small dose of a narcotic called pethidine (mostly used in childbirth) to get her through the worst of it. The medication apparently does the trick for Frances, but I suspect there will be more to come regarding this little side story.
May Tang’s Adoption
May’s adoption date is drawing near, and the Turners are excited to make their daughter’s place in their family official. Shelagh receives a call from Miss Williams (Charlotte Lucas) of the Hong Kong Adoption Project with information on more than a little snag in the proceedings. May’s drug addicted mother is not dead after all. In fact she has gotten clean and is working for a British military family who are currently in London on furlough. She wants to meet with Patrick and Shelagh and see May in person.
At Miss Williams’ office, the Turners bring Esther Tang (Yennis Cheung) a packet of pictures of May for her to keep. She says it’s very kind, but she begs them to see May in person. She only has a few weeks left in England so it may be her last chance to see her daughter. They agree to her request but worry whether this meeting is what’s best for May.
On the day, the meeting in the park couldn’t have gone worse. May obviously doesn’t remember Esther nor does she seem to understand Chinese. The child clings to Shelagh’s legs and Esther’s crying and grabbing do nothing to reassure May or the Turners. Patrick finally puts an end to the meeting saying it’s too much for the little girl today. As the Turners hurry off, Esther is convinced they have turned May against her. Though they feel sorry for Esther, Patrick and Shelagh agree they can’t put May through this again.
The situation escalates with Esther refusing to give her consent for May to be adopted. Even worse, she wants to take her daughter back to Hong Kong. The Turners consult with Sister Julienne and ask if she is willing to talk to Esther who has trusted the nuns once before.
Julienne agrees to help and she and Esther meet in the park. Esther says right up front she won’t change her mind. Julienne tries to explain that May is confused by all the upheaval in her life. She stresses the realities of this imperfect situation and says the worst thing would be for May to end up back in an orphanage.
Esther has concerns – that May will forget her language, her culture and will be treated as less than in a foreign land. But mostly she fears her daughter won’t know that she loved her if she consents to the adoption. This guilt is so strong that it prevents Esther from putting May’s best interests first.
In the end, Esther drops her demand to take May back to Hong Kong. She will allow the Turners to continue being May’s foster parents, or even her guardians in England, but she won’t sign the consent that would allow the adoption to go through.
This leaves May and the Turners in limbo. While they could fight for the adoption in the courts, it looks as though, for now, they won’t pursue that option. The couple try to look on the bright side and make the best of the situation they are in.
The Bryant Family
Nurse Dyer’s cousin, Maureen Bryant (Juliet Oldfield), is eager to give birth to her third child on August 12, the same day her father and grandfather were born. Against Nurse Franklin’s advice, she takes a dose of caster oil the night before to bring on her labor.
The next morning Maureen’s waters have broken but she’s discovered the consequences – urgent visits to the privy. Valerie visits her throughout the day and finally, only minutes for midnight, Mrs. Bryant gives birth to an apparently healthy son. Everyone is happy that Warren has arrived and the connection to generations past has been made.
A few days later, Nurse Anderson makes a routine follow-up visit and finds a concerned Maureen on the couch. She says Warren isn’t feeding and he’s floppy. After a preliminary examination, Dr. Turner is called. He has some serious concerns about baby Warren’s condition and asks Nurse Anderson to call for an ambulance. He then very calmly reassures Maureen that her son will be in good hands at St. Cuthbert’s.
Back at Nonnatus House, Trixie and Lucille scan over Maureen’s records looking for clues as to what could be wrong with Warren. Valerie remembers seeing her cousin in the surgery earlier in the year during the diphtheria scare. It turned out her kids had German measles (rubella) which means, before she even knew she was pregnant, Maureen probably suffered a very mild case. This likely caused Warren’s congenital birth defects – heart deformities, blindness and possible brain damage. The infant won’t survive more than a few weeks.
Nurse Anderson accompanies Dr. Turner to break the news to the Bryants. The couple are devastated and want Warren back home if nothing can be done for him at the hospital. They cling to the hope that being with his loving family can cure their baby somehow. Dr. Turner gently explains that he and Lucille will support them in Warren’s care and agrees the child’s quality of life will be better with his family. Sadly, he must leave them with no doubt that it won’t change the prognosis. He tells them he’ll call the hospital to get Warren home as soon as possible.
Once Warren has returned, at first his parents understandably grieve for all the things he’s going to miss. But Maureen makes up her mind to face facts and make the best of the time they have with their precious baby. She wants her older children to see Warren as a normal part of their happy family. They even decide to have a celebration for him just as they did when the others were born.
At the party, extended family and friends are gathered around and Lucille takes photographs to help them remember the day. Mr. Bryant (Jack Gordon) tries to give her money for the film, but she refuses and hands him the roll from her camera.
That night, the entire Bryant family cuddles up in bed going over the memories of the lovely day. Sadly in the morning, Maureen reaches over to the bassinet to take Warren’s hand only to find her baby has died in his sleep. Dr. Turner comes to flat to issue the death certificate as the Bryants say their goodbyes. Back in the car, Patrick sits behind the wheel and breaks down in tears.
The Day of the Horticulture Show (or The Sob Fest Finale)
Charlie Bryant brings Lucille a photo of Warren as a touching and unspoken thank you.
Lucille and Cyril reconcile after a rough patch that’s lasted much of this season and culminated in an argument over Nurse Crane’s car. He brings her a pot of primroses as a peace offering and proudly accompanies her to the horticulture show.
Once there we find a celebration of Poplar with country dancing, a cub scout sing-a-long, a tombola and other fair games, hanging flower baskets and a vegetable competition among other delights.
As feared, Sister Monica Joan’s garden is underwhelming. That is until a parade of mothers arrive, laying their babies down on the borrowed blankets around a tiny saint's statue. The crowd is enchanted by what Sister Monica Joan calls "the flowers of St. Raymond Nonnatus".
And if the waterworks weren’t already in full flow, Nurse Anderson steps forward with the picture of Warren Bryant situated lovingly in the pot of flowers and places it in the “baby garden”.
So, what have we learned? Behind that eccentric and sometimes childlike façade, Sister Monica Joan knows what she’s doing. Despite the legal formalities, May Tang is one lucky little girl. Dr. Turner and Nurse Anderson are a super-team of professionalism and compassion and the Bryant family is an extraordinary example of strength and love. Please share your thoughts on what might actually be the most poignant Call the Midwife episodes in years.