Warning: This episode of Call The Midwife contains scenes and mentions of sexual violence that you may find distressing.
It’s a bright summer day in Poplar, and Nurse Nancy Corrigan is spending the day with her daughter Colette (Francesca Fullilove), dressed up to the nines. Nancy seems to have taken on the title of Nonnatus Fashionista, as the former holder of that title, Nurse Trixie, now sports refined classics, suitable for her marriage to wealthy upper-class Matthew Aylward. Nancy is all Mod: exuberant, youthful, bright colors and patterns. However, both have unrealistic expectations for their futures, and we’ll see them struggle to become more realistic in their goals.
There are things that happen in a marriage, things that people are meant to want. That people, men, believe is theirs to have. And if they can’t have it ...
As Nancy and Colette return to Nonnatus, Sister Veronica holds their ice cream cones and can’t resist a quick lick. She then criticizes Nurse Phyllis’s jigsaw puzzle technique, so yes, it’s Sister Veronica as usual before she heads to visit a family whose son is behind on his vaccinations. His mother, Sandy (Rose Riley), is celebrating her wedding to Joe Talbot (Mark Strepan), who teases the nun for her presence in a subtly disrespectful way which Sister Veronica easily deflects. She returns to Nonnatus House with a generous cake serving (the sight of which inspires Trixie to bore everyone with a detailed description of her planned wedding cake).
But when Sister Veronica returns, the atmosphere is grim. Sandy isn’t dressed, hungover, and sullen; when Joe comes home from work, he examines his recent handiwork, a large bruise on her neck. When she brings her son Peter (Fred Jones), to the clinic, she haltingly tells Sister Veronica she’s grateful to Joe for rescuing them from hardship. Still, the price is living with sexual violence. The nun can’t condone rape and goes to Sister Monica Joan, who advises her to wait, showing by example that Sandy has worth: “Trust is not easy for women who have suffered.” When Joe’s violence escalates, Sandy realizes it’s affecting her kids; she finds the courage to leave with them as he sleeps.
Call the Midwife
Like Sandy, Nurse Nancy experienced poverty. But now her life’s looking up, she is reunited with her daughter and one day hopes they’ll live together. Meanwhile, she’s compensating with retail therapy; Violet mentions her tab is running too high, but Fred lets her shop anyway. Only the arrival of a final demand letter curbs her spending. She tries to pawn her clothes to sell but is shocked at being offered a quid for the lot. Her next solution, to work additional hours, is initially rejected by Nurse Phyllis until she learns how dire Nancy’s situation is, as she’s never been taught how to manage finances. Phyllis, also once a child from a poor home, understands and offers to help.
On the other side of the economic divide, Trixie is doing her best to prepare for her role as Mrs. Matthew Aylward. She has signed up for a cordon bleu cooking class to impress guests at the posh dinner parties she and Matthew will host. Sister Veronica, way ahead of her time, suggests that Matthew learns to cook. Matthew himself, a bit alarmed at Trixie’s zeal, tactfully suggests she start with a small, informal event for friends. Meanwhile, she tackles millefeuilles, the patisserie that strikes terror into contestants of The Great British Baking Show. Nancy and Phyllis try to be polite when they are invited to taste it.
Nonnatus’s most recent patients include Lorna Pryce (Alice Sykes), whose husband is away at sea, and her mother, Joyce Fothergill (Sarah Ball), who accompanies her to appointments, where she does most of the talking. They are both convinced that the baby is a girl. Lorna is admitted to the maternity home, but as her labor continues, Nurse Shelagh and Nurse Nancy become concerned. The baby’s head is tilted, slowing things down, so Dr. Turner and his trusty forceps get to work. Lorna is shocked to find the baby is a boy with a swollen head from the delivery. Her mum insisted the baby was to be a girl!
When Lorna tells her mother she wants to name the baby Ian after her late father, Joyce becomes distraught. Lorna is still upset about Ian’s head, and Shelagh suggests she take the baby to the nursery so Lorna can rest. But there, Shelagh and Dr. Turner discover Ian has unexplained small bruises. Dr. Turner suspects a clotting disorder and decides to send Ian to the hospital for tests, but Lorna can’t go with him. Meanwhile, Miss Higgins checks the family medical records and finds the late Ian Fothergill, Lorna’s father, died in his late twenties of hemophilia, hence Joyce's wishful thinking that her grandchildren should all be girls.
Joyce had told Lorna (who carries the hemophilia recessive gene) her father died of cancer; enraged, Lorna now refuses to see her. When Lorna goes home, Nurse Shelagh helps her find the baby supplies and beautifully made clothes that Joyce had gathered for the new baby and gently points out that they represent a lot of love.
The next time Nancy visits the Buckles’ shop, it’s not as a customer but in response to Fred having found Sandy and her children asleep in a nearby alley. (He, too, grew up on the streets with his mother to escape his violent father.) At Nonnatus House, Sister Veronica treats Sandy’s injuries, while Sister Julienne finds them a place in a hostel, and Sister Veronica promises to visit. The next day, Joe Talbot turns up at Nonnatus House, angry and aggressive, looking for Sandy, and Sister Monica Jones sternly warns him off. At the shelter, Nancy and her children share a narrow bed, and little Peter’s loud complaints he lost his favorite toy, Mr. Wiggles, annoy the other residents.
Sandy returns to Joe's flat for Peter’s medication, only to discover she's locked out; She goes to the police, who claim they can’t do anything, and Sister Veronica, who accompanied her, asks them if they’ll do something about violence and cruelty. Yes, the clearly inexperienced officer at the front desk says, those are crimes, depending on the circumstances. Sister Veronica writes the word rape on a piece of paper. But they meet with D.S. Balfour (Matt Emery), not the police doctor Sandy expected, who tells them they can’t do anything. Rape in marriage is not recognized under English law (and won’t be until the Sexual Offenses Act of 2003, and even now is disputed).
At first, Sandy blames Sister Veronica and returns to the shelter, but inspired by the nun's anger, she finds a lawyer to divorce Joe. He makes another visit to Nonnatus House and faces off with Sister Veronica at the front door, but with less of his usual swagger. He has brought Sandy’s clothes, which he throws down onto the doorstep, and tosses Mr. Wiggles toward the doorway. His parting words to Sister Veronica are, “I’m not an animal.”
Matthew meets with Sandy and Sister Veronica to discuss the possibility of a divorce. He is cautiously optimistic that she has a case, although only if severe brutality was involved. He warns her that personal details may be revealed in court, and if Joe contests the divorce and chooses to represent himself, he could question her. Meanwhile, she is eligible for Legal Aid, and he’ll find her a solicitor. Sister Veronica has produced two copies of a medical report, one for Sandy and the other for her solicitor, detailing her injuries.
Trixie’s dinner party arrives, and Sister Monica Joan invites herself along with Nancy, Phyllis, and Cyril. Trixie is nervous (so are the guests who have previously sampled her cooking); the starter has lots of garlic, which Cyril loves, and which the others pick at. Phyllis comments, surely meaning it as a compliment, that the mousse de legumes would make an excellent weaning puree. (Trixie is only slightly offended.) But disaster strikes when Trixie finds she should have added the paper frills to the lamb roast after it was cooked, and it’s now severely charred. The nut loaf is ruined too. The tarte tatin should be fine, she assures them, but one taste reveals she used salt instead of sugar.
They all burst out laughing, Trixie included, and Cyril asks what other food she has and disappears into the kitchen. He returns with eggs Benedict for everyone, and the evening is saved. Meanwhile, in the brief tableau of scenes that ends the episode, we see Nancy proudly show her new Post Office savings book to Colette, where she budgets for saving and paying off her debts. Lorna and her mother reconcile, and Joyce cuddles her grandson for the first time. Matthew and Trixie enjoy a (much simpler) dinner together while Cyril eats yet another meal donated by a congregation member. He may be eating well, but he misses Lucille.