Welcome to the final recap of Call the Midwife Season 9. And a lot is packed into this episode. There’s the compulsory patient story, but this week we have a 2 for 1 situation. In addition, several plotlines are resolved, some more hopefully than others but always with compassion and grace.
As the episode opens, November has arrived and the many of Poplar’s residents are making preparations for Bonfire Night. But others have more pressing issues on their minds.
Two Mothers, One Daddy
Petra Bevan (Kitty Archer) has an exciting few months ahead of her with a wedding and a baby to plan for. She and her mum are moving full-steam ahead with a stop at Mrs. Buckle’s shop for dress patterns and fabric and a check up at the ante-natal clinic Meanwhile her fiancé Eddie Tannerman (Thomas Howes) is content to be ordered around and doted on by his fiancée and future mother-in-law.
On the same day, another new expectant mother arrives to register for her first exam at the antenatal clinic. Bonnie Medlar (Ruby Thomas) couldn’t be more different than Petra. A bohemian woman with less traditional ideas about marriage, she and her boyfriend aren’t hung up making their union official. Bonnie’s done plenty of research on birthing options and, like Nurse Crane, is a vegetarian.
At home, Bonnie encourages her boyfriend to listen to an empowering natural childbirth recording she borrowed from the library and - SURPRISE- Eddie is her boyfriend too.
We learn from Bonnie that shy Eddie Tannerman is an orphan who has a hard time letting people in. So Bonnie figures that having him present at the birth will help him make a connection with his child right from the beginning. Nurse Crane suggests the couple start by attending Sister Hilda’s relaxation classes.
Meanwhile, a mix up with a fabric order is about to bring Eddie’s double life crashing down. Incensed about the mistake, Mrs. Bevan marches her daughter down to the community center where Violet Buckle is holding one-on-one meetings with her constituents. And yes, it just so happens the relaxation session Bonnie and Eddie are attending is going on at the same time. The Bevan women burst in as Sister Hilda guides her group through a calming visualization and they spot Eddie with his arms around Bonnie. Mrs. Bevan begins her handbag assault, the two stunned young women come face to face and Eddie runs off wordlessly into the night.
Bonnie’s first concern is for Eddie. She knows he’s scared of hurting other people. On the other hand, Petra’s mom is formulating what Eddie must do to make amends. Petra has more immediate concern. She’s started to bleed.
Which sets things up for a second meeting of Eddie’s girlfriends. Bonnie shows up at the surgery complaining of a severe headache and is admitted to the maternity home for observation. Petra arrives shortly thereafter and Dr. Turner thinks she should stay for some peace and quiet until there is a bed for her at St. Cuthbert’s. By mistake, the women end up in neighboring beds on the ward and the sparks fly. Nurse Crane steps in and sternly advises both of them to concentrate on their health rather than their personal circumstances. In an even worse case of timing, Eddie pops in to visit Bonnie. Petra throws a pitcher at him and again he scurries off - this time to the waiting room.
Nurse Crane is surprisingly kind to the young man afterwards when he explains the security he hoped to find with Petra and the utter surprise that was Bonnie. Now he’s not sure what to do. Phyllis says he’ll have to wait for the women to make up their minds.
In the middle of the night, Petra and Bonnie meet in the hallway. They have calmed down and Petra offers an olive branch saying she loves Eddie but she won’t fight Bonnie for him. Soon after, Bonnie goes into labor. With Nurse Crane’s expertise and Eddie’s calming reassurances of her strength, Bonnie delivers a healthy baby girl.
All the while, Petra has been standing outside the delivery room and looks relieved as Bonnie’s baby is born. Shelagh informs her there is a bed for her now and the ambulance is coming to take her to St. Cuthbert’s. Petra has started bleeding again and Shelagh comforts her. We later learn that Petra has miscarried and the wedding has been called off.
The Fall of Dr. McNulty
Last week, we saw Dr. McNulty struggling with a narcotics addiction that could endanger his patients and had driven him to steal from the drugs cupboard. This week, we see an acceleration of his downward spiral as he returns to his room after an upsetting call. The marks on his arm are proof that his dependency has only gotten worse.
And just in case he thinks no one is missing a vial here or there, Miss Higgins informs Kevin that they will be refreshing the rules relating to the drug cupboard. Discrepancies have been discovered in both Dr. Turner’s surgery and at Nonnatus House.
When the records on pethidine prescriptions don’t match up yet again, Miss Higgins badgers Dr. McNulty who promptly proceeds to pass out on the floor right in front of her. The Turners rush to treat him and find the marks on his arm. (I guess Sister Frances doesn't have to report him after all.)
Once Dr. Turner has informed Nonnatus House, he tells Kevin there is a lot of distress over patients who could have been in danger and concern for him as well. McNulty says he’ll leave Poplar because he has broken their trust, but he still thinks about the people he couldn’t help. Patrick tells him the world is full of fragile people and when we try to mend them, it can break us. But it can make you a better doctor. Kevin says there’s hope for me yet then, but the Turners don’t look too hopeful.
The Dyer Reconciliation
Last week, we saw that Valerie visited her grandmother in prison and was concerned about Elsie’s weight loss and troubling swallowing. This time while registering to visit, Nurse Dyer learns that her gran is in the hospital wing. Her granddaughter tries to point out that she is clearly not well, but Elsie keeps downplaying the seriousness of her condition and making excuses. Unfortunatley, Valerie's fears are confirmed when Mrs. Dyer is transferred to St. Cuthbert’s and her chart confirms in black and white that she has cancer of the esophagus.
Valerie consults with Dr. Turner who tells her the prison is releasing her grandmother into her care. She's surprised that Elsie has named her the next of kin on all her documentation and is overwhelmed by the responsibility. Lucille and Sister Julienne assure Valerie she will be given leave and all she needs to do is care for her gran. They will handle the nursing duties.
Fred goes with Valerie pick up Elsie from the prison and get her into her flat. The stairs are quite an obstacle, and near the top, the elderly woman has to crawl which brings Val to tears. Once settled in Elsie complains of a pain between her shoulder blades. Valerie says she can have liquid morphine anytime for the pain, but Elsie refuses, saying it makes her sick.
The Nonnatus staff take turns tending to Mrs. Dyer and comforting their colleague. One day Sister Monica Joan shows up with Dr. McNulty. Serenely, she takes the fitfully sleeping patient’s hand and recalls Elsie’s presence at Valerie’s birth. It seemed to bring her solace which makes sense knowing what has happened since.
Dr. McNulty asks Nurse Dyer about her grandmother’s pain and pulls out his stash of pethidine. Valerie pleads with him to put it away knowing it will cause her grandmother distress just to see it. Later it comes out that Elsie has been refusing medication because the girls she performed abortions on had no pain relief so she believes she should suffer the same as they did.
Elsie finally comes round to accepting an pain injection and Valerie is visibly relieved. Her last requests are to have a minster present and to see Valerie in her nurse’s uniform again. Both requests are honored - Lucille brings Cyril to sit with Elsie and Valerie drapes her red Nonnatus cardigan around her dying grandmother.
An ice cream truck is ringing its bell nearby and, as is their tradition, Elsie tells Valerie to get herself a 99. With her gran’s pain relieved, Valerie agrees to go. Meanwhile Cyril and Lucille sit with the now unconscious woman singing 'Amazing Grace'. When Valerie returns, Elise is already gone.
The Fate of Nonnatus House
Since the beginning of the season, Sister Julienne has been wrestling with the fact that Nonnatus House is on the council’s list for demolition. Now she has received a letter that the order’s budget has been reduced by 50%. When questioned, the head of the health department tells her that the expansion of the maternity wards at St. Cuthbert’s will lead to a decline in the demand for midwives. She argues that they have experienced an increase in patients and are essential to the area. Alas, Sister Julienne has not yet been informed of the final blow.
Julienne shares the bad news, first with the Turners and then the midwives. Nonnatus House must pay the commercial rent or surrender the premises. An exasperated Patrick says they can’t run the maternity home without the order.
Sister Julienne and Nurse Crane meet with Mrs. Buckle about their budget shortfall. Julienne is deferential, but Phyllis gets to the point. The council is in good financial shape due in part to the efficiency of the order so they should be more fully funded. The councilwoman puts in a word with the Board of Health so the Nonnatuns are invited to address them at their next committee meeting. Violet cautions they will be limited to one speaker for five minutes only and they have three days to prepare.
The midwives kick into high gear. On Sister Hilda’s suggestion, they gather over 600 petition signatures. Nurse Franklin is drafted to be the voice of Nonnatus House at the board meeting. Sister Monica Joan pulls out a stash of thank you letters from patients over the decades as further proof of their value to the community
At the meeting, Trixie scolds the health department for their focus on statistics over names. The midwives and their patients are part of one another's worlds because that's what happens when you enter people's homes. Phyllis somberly passes out the thank you cards to the board members. Trixie ends her speeech with this admonition:
"In almost thirty years of annual reports you have never once mentioned the contribution Nonnatus House has made to people's lives in Poplar! You have never once called us by our name. But don't think we won't be missed if you wipe us out completely!"
The board hurriedly huddles up, followed by an announcement that the Nonnatus House rent will be reduced and their budget will be restored…for 12 months. It puts a bit of a damper on the celebrations, but a year is better than nothing.
The episode ends with a glorious Bonfire night party in Poplar complete with sparklers, Guy Fawkes upon the bonfire, toffee apples and declaration of love between Cyril and Nurse Anderson. The community gathers around while Cyril and Fred light the fireworks. Valerie’s friends stand arm and arm with their grieving friend. The midwives of Nonnatus House celebrate their repreive and will surely fight on.
Thank you so much for joining in on all the Call the Midwife love this season. We began with a diptheria outbreak and an abandoned baby and ended with the death of a beloved grandmother and the vindication of Nonnatus House. It's been an emotional ride, but as always, we're left hopeful and reassured that there are kind, compassionate people in the world. Please share your thoughts on the finale and the season as a whole. Let's revisit the sobfests and the moments of pure joy. The comments section awaits!