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Worldly Distractions: Call the Midwife 3.1 - Episode One






We are back with our favourite ragtag gang of nurses and Anglican nuns, hanging out in Poplar as we jump into the '60s. Will Nonnatus house ever regain its footing after the upheaval of the Christmas episode? Let's find out.

It's dawn in an industrial neighborhood, a woman is giving birth, and Old Jenny narrates about new beginnings. The nuns are now getting bused into Poplar thanks to Fred (since Nonnatus got smushed in the Christmas special). Jenny continues at the birth, being fed iced buns by the prospective grandmother while wrist-deep in someone's vagina. Just another work day.

The new Nonnatus House is established, in a slightly more modern building. But it has a plaque and everything! The nuns and nurses happily move in. Sister Monica Joan still runs around being crazy, but her ravings have an element of foreboding which worries me. Jenny's young mother, also named Joan, delivers a little boy and all seems well. Old Jenny narrates about strength.

The mother seems pleased with her new kid, so Jenny goes outside for a breather, where she meets one of her old patients. The woman's overwhelmed with her new baby, and she's worried that there's something "not right", since his older brother was less crabby. Jenny checks and thinks he looks fine, but suggests she take him to the clinic. The mother points out that it's impossible to find them, since they keep moving all around the neighborhood. How can anyone provide medical care when no one can find them? Though I guess you can really blame this one on the Nazis.

Chummy tries to bake, and guides baby Fred through her efforts. He's pretty enthusiastic, even though his mother is a less than adept baker. She calls the giggly Fred a "naughty monkey". Most adorable family ever.

Jenny arrives at Nonnatus 2.0 to find that Trixie's her new roommate. She steels herself for lots of good times - and lots of noise. Trixie offers her some chocolate, which gets them into a discussion of lunch, and the impending disaster therein. You see, Chummy's bringing it.

We see Chummy hysterical over some blackened pies, though her husband charitably says that "something smells nice". She tearfully tells him to look after the baby while she makes up some harebrained scheme to save lunch. Noakes is left somewhat lost at sea.

Cynthia and Trixie unpack, marveling over the space, while Sister Evangelina harrumphs. None of the appliances are connected, the nuns are in chaos, and Sister Monica Joan is still in la la land, terrified of a urinal left from the building's days as a parish training center. Chummy arrives with the scary lunch. It turns out not to be her burnt pies, but a quick pasta, thank goodness.

A new nun arrives, Sister Winifred, who looks terrifyingly like Kate Winslet in the fake Holocaust movie from Ricky Gervais' Extras. 





Introductions are made, Chummy looks pissy when it's mentioned that she quit nursing for marriage. Winifred seems combo nerdy and insincere. I like her so far, but feel she'll be a handful.

We get our first glimpse of Married!Sheila, the ex-Sister Bernadette who fell for Dr Turner. She appears to be working as her husband's receptionist, though it's temporary (riiiight). They seem really into each other, and devoted to Timmy, who came down with polio during the last Christmas special.

Jenny goes for her first rounds with Sister Winifred. Sister Monica Joan continues to be senile and a klepto. Sister Julienne's brow continues to furrow.

Sister Winifred and Jenny arrive at a tenement, where the nun is as overwhelmed by Poplar as Jenny was in the beginning. While heading to Joan's place, they find a little boy sitting outside his pram, abandoned.  It's the older son of the overwhelmed mom from this morning. Jenny goes to check and finds the mother is starting to fall apart. She's also concerned because the baby seems "dainty". I foresee a disaster coming.

Indeed, checking the records concerns her more, because the baby has gained little weight since birth. Sister Evangelina continues to be grouchy, at least until Dr. Turner arrives with some good news - they've found a permanent spot for the clinic, and will be increasing the hours to twice a week. They can even offer health education classes for the young mothers, giving them a head start in their kids' lives. Everyone's delighted. Sr. Evangelina remains skeptical, saying that she's there to be a nurse, not an entertainer.

Chummy sends Noakes off on his night shift, and by the way he tells her to take care, I have to wonder if he's going to get killed on the job. While walking away from the house, Noakes makes sure to take the radishes out of his lunch, because Chummy's cut them into novelty shapes again and the guys tease him. Chummy, meanwhile, sews enough pillows to cover the living room, then spends ages rearranging them. Sounds like a woman who needs a job, if you ask me.

The phone's still not working, which is kind of a big deal for a bunch of midwives. Jenny's boyfriend Alec, who I can barely remember from the Christmas special (and I'm not sure he was in the second series), shows up at the phone booth and reminds her it's their six-month anniversary. They coo over each other a bit, but Nurse is on duty and must go.

Even Sister Evangelina can't help but be happy at the huge space, and they get busy setting up. It also looks like Sheila will work with them as a nurse, even if she's no longer part of the order.

Jenny goes to the overwhelmed mom's house (Merle), where it looks like the older boy is getting sick, too. I say bring in Dr. House, but I don't think he's been born yet. Merle gets highly offended when Jenny wants to check the bottles for proper sterilization, but Jenny insists, and also suggests that the boys see Dr. Turner. Merle complains that in addition to the weight problem, they both have lung issues and "nightmare" nappies.

...that honestly sounds like cystic fibrosis to me, but I guess we'll find out one way or the other. Have a hunch I'm right, though. It's not far-fetched for a kid to live a year and a half, untreated, without ever knowing. We'll see.

As Jenny leaves, she is cornered by the kids' dad (Billy), who tells her that he would like the doctor to come by very soon, as he had a brother pass away as a child (of a "chest complaint") and it really makes him worry about his sons. Ding ding ding, we have something genetic. I'm willing to bet my hunch is right, and that guy's family has really shitty hereditary luck.

Sister Winifred mutters about Nonnatus issues, and is flummoxed when Sister Monica Joan replies with something nonsensical. Get used to it, lady.

The midwives are disappointed when no one shows up to the clinic. Chummy brings Fred by for an exam, but other than that, very few mothers seem to know where it is. Chummy suggests they do an awareness campaign so that the community can keep the new location in mind. The nurses say they have no time. Well, guess who does? Super Chummy to the rescue!

Sister Winifred fearfully confronts the other nuns with a secret - Sister Monica Joan has been ripping up bibles. Sister Evangelina goes on a rampage, declaring that she "would drive a Methodist to drink". Oh, Pam Ferris, you are a treasure. It turns out it's all part of Sr MJ's crazy book classification system, which involves chapters of the Bible deemed "heretical" (by Sr. MJ and no one else). Sr. Evangelina demands a urine sample, right away, so she can check for infection. Too bad it's 1960 and they're nuns, otherwise the stoner jokes would be flying. Sr Monica Joan disparages Plato and Freud in response.

Sr. Evangelina admits that she's never been much of a reader. Sr. Monica Joan assures her that books are our friends! They have a little heart-to-heart moment of comfort. It's sweet.

Dr. Turner, deeply concerned by Merle and Billy's sons, prescribes a strict treatment regimen of diet, medication and supervision from Jenny. Merle immediately gets defensive, as she believes this is an indication of her lousy parenting skills. She asks Jenny if she thinks the boys are actually sick. Not wanting to upstage the Almighty English Hierarchy and usurp Dr. Turner, Jenny mutters something non-committal. I still say there's something more to this...

Chummy has created a Grand Opening Day for the clinic, with every society in Poplar taking part (including a few Chummy basically made up on the spot). And so she wanders the neighbourhood, handing out leaflets and happy to have a purpose. Even if she has to lure them in with bingo, she'll get the job done.

At night, she complains to Noakes that no one's interested. Noakes, meanwhile, is consumed with something new - Princess Margaret will be visiting the an event Noakes is patrolling. "I haven't seen her since Papa was knighted," Chummy loftily comments. Just then, the lightbulb clicks. Oh boy.

Jenny returns to Merle's. The boys are no better despite their treatment, and their parents want them taken to hospital. Merle is wracked with guilt. Jenny reassures them she'll get right on them. Dr. Turner's tests all come back clear, so he refers them to a pediatric specialist at the London. However, he's stumped - and wonders if Merle's PPD might be the problem. Jenny takes this opportunity to mention Billy's dead brother. Yeah, this seems pretty obvious. Okay, we know CF has been diagnosable since the 1930's at least - has literally NO ONE thought that this might be the cause? Or seen a similar set of symptoms? These folks have dealt with thousands of children before. Get it together!

Chummy gets a note from Clarence House! The princess is coming. Everyone exclaims over both the visit and the letter itself. Oh, and Alec's hanging about, even though he's not supposed to be there. They invite the exhausted and frenzied Chummy to stay for a cup of tea. She details all the things she's gotten herself involved in, which sounds tiring just hearing about it. The girls suggest that maybe she's over-extended herself. Alec offers his help, perhaps against his better judgment.

So the entire neighborhood pitches in, from sullen teenage neighbours to charming old Fred. Chummy's terrified of something going wrong. Fortunately, she has Noakes to reassure her. She departs the hall on the eve of the royal visit, nervous as hell.

Jenny reports on Merle and Billy's boys to the nuns. Sister Julienne diagnoses "failure to thrive", which of course means absolutely nothing, but covers many conditions in a time before super-advanced diagnostics. Sister Monica Joan blames their humors. However, she does recount a note from one of her old books, stating that children with this disease die young and taste of salt. Well, that's as good as a CF diagnosis. Sister Julienne ignores this and suggests they go for tea. Sister Monica Joan rightly sees this as an attempt to shut her up (during, like, the ONE time she's right) and deliberately boycotts the meal.

Billy comes home to find Merle desolate on the couch. She confesses that she's scared she's losing her mind. They cling to each other. It's an awful scene, as they suffer together with no hope of an answer.

Sister Winifred goes to find Sister Monica Joan, but is instead confronted with an empty room. We see the good Sister wandering the streets. Sheila and Dr. Turner sit at home. She's knitting a baby's nightdress on a vague hope, with no signs yet. Just then, they're interrupted by a knock on the door. It's Sister MJ, who's brought the book to Dr. Turner in hopes that he'll solve the mystery of the two boys. She doesn't tell him, you know, why or anything. Dr. Turner promises to do so, but you know he won't.

Sister Monica Joan is unceremoniously dumped back at Nonnatus 2.0, where she says cryptic things about arrogance. No one pays the slightest attention. The Idiot Ball, it's rolling strong this episode.

The alarm clock buzzes, and Chummy wakes up for the big day. Dr. Turner studies the book Sister MJ left him while Timmy (still in braces) whines that they're going to be late.

Merle and Billy are about to take the boys to see the princess, but just then the baby starts to have a crisis, so they rush to the hospital. Maybe finally someone will figure this out who isn't a senile old nun relying on centuries-old medical books?

The nuns and nurses get ready to head out, but Sister MJ hides in her room and refuses to leave. Merle bangs on the door, screaming for help. Everyone works to extract the mucus while Sister Winifred comforts Merle. Dr Turner thinks there might be an answer, and looks gratefully to Sister Monica Joan. She asks to see the baby. Leaning over, she gives the baby a gentle kiss - and tastes salt. I can't believe that several nurses and a doctor literally never figured out that this set of symptoms might be familiar, even if they didn't have the name. Dr. Turner tells them that the boys likely have cystic fibrosis. Sister Julienne asks if it could be cured, to which Dr. Turner replies that it can be treated. Jenny and Sister Monica Joan smile like this isn't 1960 and the kid isn't going to die before he hits grammar school. What the hell?

Everyone gets ready for the princess's arrival. Chummy bitches that no one from Nonnatus is there, though it could occur to her that maybe something important could be keeping a bunch of nurses occupied. No matter. The nurses arrive in the nick of time, the princess comes and everything is great. She even gets to hang out with her old buddy, Chummy. However, we never see her face, so I can't report on whether she's a convincing lookalike. My guess would be no, as they're very careful to hide her.

At the London, the boys are being treated. Billy apologizes to Merle for giving the children cystic fibrosis, as he assumes it must come from his side. She reminds him that it has to come from both sides (which makes one wonder about the spectacularly bad luck Billy and his dad both had, each marrying a carrier). Grabbing his hand, she tells them that they will stick together no matter what, and that is "what runs in families". The boys will have some treatment, and they will take what comes.

It really bugs me that this episode totally ignores what a grim prognosis these kids are facing. Okay, I get that the parents are clinging to whatever hope they have, but surely someone's going to mention that it's terminal? They've never shied away from "bad outcomes" before, like with the baby who had spina bifida.

Chummy walks Fred home, exhausted. She notices that Sullen Teenage Girl from down the street is freaking out, and - guess what! - her mom's gone into labor. Princess Margaret and her entourage have blocked the road, so the ambulance can't get through. Super Chummy, tired as she is, goes for one last home run and takes the woman back to her nice quiet house. She delicately suggests they both "remove our hats".

The baby comes faster than expected, and even the runners from Nonnatus House don't get there in time. Unfortunately, there's some shoulder dystocia involved and for a moment things look scary, but the ex-midwife handles it calmly, and everything's just jolly. Overcome, Chummy starts to cry.

The next day, Sister Julienne praises Chummy's efforts. Chummy admits that she's tired of just being home with the baby. Luckily, Sister Julienne is not short on brains, and suggests she come back two days a week.

Old Jenny narrates about how cystic fibrosis is "serious and lifelong", and talks about the power of knowledge while we see Sr. MJ with her books. Chummy puts her midwife's cap on, ready to go, and things go as usual at Nonnatus House. The phone rings. "Nonnatus House," Chummy says. "Midwife speaking."

Next time: A new mother has marital trouble, Nonnatus house appoints a "figurehead" (I think Jenny), the nurses listen to a pompous lecturer who has no idea what they face, forceps appear at one point, Jenny's relationship keeps on.

Well, the Princess Margaret stuff was a fun diversion, and it's good to see Chummy back, though come on - we all knew it was going to happen. I was rather disturbed by the cystic fibrosis plotline, as the disease had a name from the late 1930's onward and really - it was just unrealistic that no one could pick it up, AND that no one seemed to treat it with any gravity beyond Sister Monica Joan and the parents. So we start Series 3 on a mediocre note. However, it's still good to be back with Nonnatus House and the characters we love.


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    • PopRox


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