This week on Call the Midwife, the Mother House sends back-up for an ailing Nurse Crane, a Poplar family faces serious illness due to dangerous work conditions and a teenage mother fights to keep her baby. But before we charge ahead, if you need a refresher of episode five's events you can find that here.
There's a lot to cover so let’s begin with the follow-up to last week’s date between Nurse Anderson and her handsome young mechanic. Apparently, Lucille was less than impressed when Cyril took her to an unsuitable West Indian social club where some people were partaking in a bit of weed. Then she learned that not only wasn’t her date a pastor, but he hadn’t been to church much at all since moving to England. She makes it clear to her co-workers she won’t be seeing that deceitful rake again.
Valerie figures out that young Mr. Robinson’s most enthusiastic supporter, Sister Monica Joan, probably fabricated the church portion of his dating CV. The elderly nun admits that she saw he had “the soul of a pastor”, but he never claimed to be one.
This admission is enough to open the door for Lucille to apologize to Cyril and clarify their misunderstanding. He explains he doesn’t approve of smoking marijuana either, but the familiar music and people help comfort his homesickness. Lucille says that’s what church does for her. At the end of the episode, we see Cyril joining Lucille at her worship service. Only time will tell if there’s a future for this couple, but they seem to be on solid ground for the time being.
In other news, the Turners are attempting to prepare for the departure of their foster daughter, May. Her adoptive father is set to be released from the TB sanitarium soon and then she will be rehomed with the Tunnocks family. It’s apparent that Angela is not the only Turner who has become attached to the sweet little girl. Patrick and Shelagh’s meeting with the childcare officer was less than instructive. It was Miss Taylor’s opinion that May will soon forget them anyway, so they needn’t fret about her transition. (What is it with condescending social workers this season? Sure, the profession often leads to burn out, but they’ve been portrayed as unsympathetic brutes both here and with the Miss Millgrove hoarding situation.)
Moving on - Nurse Crane’s trapped sciatic nerve has put her in traction and out of commission for some time. Staff reinforcement comes from the Mother House in the form of Mother Mildred (Miriam Margoyles). She chooses to accompany Trixie on her district nursing rounds where she intends to witness firsthand how the Nonnatus mission in the East End has evolved. Alas her bull-in-a-china-shop demeanor gets in the way of her good intentions.
As her first matter of business, Mildred appropriates Fred Buckle as her on-call personal chauffeur. Problem is, it doesn’t occur to her to compensate him for his time or petrol and Fred’s too much of a pushover when it comes to the sisters to ask. It then falls to Mrs. Buckle to make Mother Superior aware of her excessive demands on her husband. The money issue is rectified by Sister Julienne and Fred is pleasantly surprised by the amount in his next pay packet.
The other big misstep the elder nun makes is in her early dealings with Gilda Brittall (Claire Keelan), the harried matriarch of a family of dock workers that includes her husband, two sons and her father-in-law who is dying from a work-related lung disease.
As Trixie and Mildred finish their first home visit, Mrs. Brittall urges her husband to show them a concerning abscess on his neck. Nurse Franklin recommends he see Dr. Turner for some antibiotics while Mildred chimes in that she’s seen a lot of that sort of thing in some Asian slum. Not surprisingly, Gilda takes offense at the implied comparison of her home to a disease-ridden hovel. So much so, in fact, that she makes it clear to Trixie that Mother Mildred is no longer welcome in her home. Though initially taken aback by this reaction, Mildred eventually realizes the insult she has caused and apologizes to Gilda who reluctantly forgives her.
In the meantime, we learn that Gilda’s husband Barney (Tim Trelor) has contracted anthrax from a contaminated shipment at work. Operations at the docks are shut down until the source can be traced and management is sure that no traces of the bacteria remain. By talking to the union shop steward (who is about to retire), Mother Mildred finds out that the workers are not provided any protective equipment or clothing and often don’t know what they are handling. Gilda’s son Ed (Frankie Wilson) expresses in interest in standing for the position but doubts his fellow workers would take a 21-year-old seriously. Mildred encourages him saying his family experiences give him moral authority when it comes to arguing for improved working conditions.
Overall, the story ends optimistically for the Brittall clan. The elder Mr. Britall dies with his loving family surrounding him. Fortunately, Barney will recover from his anthrax infection. And young Ed asks for and receives his mother’s blessing to stand for shop steward in his quest to make the docks a safer workplace for everyone’s sons.
The final story involves a teenage girl desperate to be a mother. Nurse Anderson encounters Elaine Pilkington (Hannah Rae) when she arrives at the maternity home claiming to be in labor. Lucille is doubtful that Elaine is even pregnant, but soon determines it’s the real deal. The young woman gives birth to a baby girl and is over the moon about it.
During the delivery, Lucille noticed stitch scars from a previous birth and asks Elaine about it. She admits that she had a baby boy at 15, but her parents had him adopted out against her wishes. Though the first pregnancy involved a boyfriend who didn’t want to take responsibility for his child, this time Elaine apparently hooked up with a guy with the express intention of getting pregnant.
Elaine doesn’t want her parents involved for fear it will be a repeat of the last time but concedes to notifying them as long as they understand she is keeping this baby. Dr. Turner breaks the news to Mr. and Mrs. Pilkington who are shocked and, quite honestly, humiliated by their daughter’s behavior, insisting they’ve "brought her up right".
When her parents come to see Elaine at the maternity home, they make it clear to their 17-year-old daughter that she is not keeping this baby without a husband. Their biggest concern seems to be that it would look bad to their decent customers and they “can’t go waving this in their faces!” Obviously what Elaine has done, trying to soothe her grief at having her first child taken away by replacing it with another, is not smart or healthy. However, one can see what she has been up against with the Pilkingtons as parents. No discussion, no acknowledgment of her feelings, only shame and their own mandates. In the end, her father drops off Elaine’s belongings at the maternity home, essentially washing his hands of her.
The midwives repeatedly advise Elaine that raising a child on her own will likely be a life-long struggle of deprivation and disapproval. But eventually Lucillle, despite her doubts about enouraging Elaine to strike out on her own, concedes the need to make a plan and consults with Miss Higgins about resources for the new mother. Miss Higgins is proving to be quite wise and more than a rule- following automaton when she says,
“I don't think our encouragement is here nor there, Nurse Anderson. Young Elaine only has two possible roads to go down. She's choosing the one she can bear.”
Lucille helps Elaine sign up for National Assistance and locates accomodations with an accepting landlady through the National Council for the Unmarried Mother. With her typewriter and some clothes piled atop a pram, Elaine heads out to make a new life for herself and baby Sarah. By the look on her face, it’s obvious the reality of the situation has started to take hold.
Now it’s time to hear from you. How did you feel about the return of Mother Mildred? Was she self-absorbed or just rusty about how the outside world works? What was your opinion of the Elaine plotline? As someone who worked with teenage mothers for a few years, I’m interested to hear your take on how the issue was handled. And what about that little side story with Valerie and her grandmother? I suspect there’s got to be more to it than a few boils on her arse and some ice cream money, right? Let’s get chatting!