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Worldly Distractions: Call The Midwife 3.9 - Christmas Special





Has this show really only been on on for three seasons? Already, it feels like an old friend. Last season was very eventful, but the Christmas special has always been rather slow and introspective - a time of reflection, and of good old-fashioned holiday warmth. Let's all settle in for a nice evening with our favourite nuns and nurses.


I've been wondering for a while how they would get around the abrupt departure of their protagonist, and the answer is a delicious one, you guys - we go to 2005 and get Old Jenny, in person at last, and played by the marvellous Vanessa Redgrave as usual. We also get a cameo from Old Philip Worth. Together they look at pictures from her nurse days. She flashes back to a previous Christmas she wasn't actually present for, narrating about joy and love and Christmas cards. A+ for an elegant solution, guys. And Jessica Raine? Still dead to me.

In 1959, a Christmas card arrives at Nonnatus, as well as at the Noakes and Turner households. (As always, the Noakeses are the cutest family ever - Chummy has a great new hairstle and Freddy is a little ball of joy.) Chummy directs the Christmas pageant once more. The Vicar is still on the scene, and Trixie is all aflutter. Big Fred, cast as Father Christmas, takes his role a little too seriously. Sr. MJ is still looney-tunes in the cleverest of ways. She still thinks the war is on, and that Hitler personally damaged their creche, because one sheep has been shattered by the old bomb. Sr. Evangelina complains that everyone names their kids Noel and Carol at this time of year. She's also suffering greatly from the vast amount of Christmas sweets pressed upon her by grateful families.

Noakes is nervous about retaking his sergeant exams. Chummy does her best to cheer him up. Cynthia has been summoned to Sister Julienne on a mysterious matter. Turns out she wants to become a nun. Well, she still has doubts. Sister Julienne encourages her to be patient, but tells her that there will be an opportunity in the New Year if she wants to take it. Cynthia asks the nun to pray for her.

Shelagh brings her new baby daughter to the clinic, where they remark on how well the baby is doing, which means something catastrophic will happen by the end of the episode. Especially since she's getting vaccinated soon. Chummy meets a family with a pregnant teenager, Denise, who will shortly be sent off to the nuns to have her baby, as was the style at the time. Oh, geez, we've had this story like six times, let's move on. There's also another young mother who can't wait to hand the kid over. Patsy shows up to put the kids on the bus. Denise's mother confesses to Chummy how disappointed she is in her daughter's shameful fate.

Fred goes to get a Christmas tree, accompanied by Sr. MJ, who is presumably there to indulge in her klepto habits. Turns out she delivered the tree-seller's daughter years ago, so she gets the tree half-price.  It pays to have connections.

Patsy escorts Denise and her fashionable companion of unwed motherhood, Avril, onto the bus. Though Denise is frightened, Avril is quite confident about the matter. A bemused salesperson helps Fred and Sr. MJ bring home a tree that would rival Clark Griswold's. Something seems a bit off about the man, which I'm sure will be explored in a touching B-plot.

We follow him home, where it turns out that he lives in extreme poverty. His wife, of course, is pregnant. They're desperately trying to save a bit of money, but aren't getting too far.

Patsy drops her young charges off at the House of Shame. They're dismayed by the house's austere appearance. The place is dirty, the matron uncaring, and Patsy clearly hesitates to leave the girls there. Avril reacts with her usual snark, and I'm liking her more and more. Denise is clearly terrified.

Trixie, Cynthia, Tom the vicar and Patsy head off to sing Christmas carols at a local hospital. On the way, they gossip about the nuns and Cynthia fesses up that she's considering joining them. She tells them of how happy she feels about it, and how it will enrich her. Trixie is outraged and blames it on Cynthia's lack of boyfriends, but Patsy just wants to hear it out.

Timothy goes out with his "mum" and baby Angela to get a Christmas tree, though he wants a silver one (ALUMINUM CHRISTMAS TREES, I love spotting tropes), which Shelagh won't hear of.  Unfortunately, she mollifies him by giving him free run with the ornaments. While they are shopping, the assistant from the previous scenes suddenly has a seizure. Shelagh immediately takes charge.

At the House of Shame, Denise and Avril go for a walk with another young mother, Yvonne, and her baby. They all recount their sad stories. Denise mentions a headache (eclampsia, duh), and Yvonne is summoned back to the building, where she is informed that her son is about to be adopted. The matron uses the word "pronto", which doesn't seem historically accurate. Avril brings up Denise's illness, but the matron dismisses it.

Back in Poplar, Sister Winnifred (hi!) informs Sheila that the assistant, Victor, has been released and will need subsequent care after his seizure. Denise continues to get sicker and sicker. Yvonne sees that they're taking the baby away and freaks out. She gets precisely no sympathy. One of the mothers picks up the baby's pacifier, dropped carelessly on the ground, and hands it to her.

Shelagh has become interested in Victor's case and looks up his medical records, with the help of her husband. Avril goes to confront the matron for her general shittiness, calling her out on her heartlessness and surreptitious sips of gin. She grabs the phone right off the desk and summons Nonnatus House and its team of legendary crusaders. Good old Chummy answers. Soon enough, she and Dr. Turner are on their way. Also Timothy, who is excited about the potential for "moral contagion".

Cynthia goes to see Victor McKenty, who is recovering but still in a troublesome situation. His partner, Nancy, is clearly falling apart. When Cynthia learns that Nancy's pregnant, she takes the problem to Nonnatus House. Sister Evangelina is outraged and insists that they keep a close eye on the situation.

Dr. Turner is instantly shocked at the conditions of the House of Shame (they don't even have power!), where Avril is gleefully in charge and Matron nowhere to be found. Denise is found to have chicken pox, which is no joke for a pregnant woman. Yvonne has been crying so much that she burst a blood vessel in her eye. Later, Timothy wonders if his new sister came from this kind of situation - something his father can't answer.

Also, Sister Monica Joan keeps messing with the nativity scene. Of course she does.

Nonnatus House is put in charge of the House of Shame, sending a rotating cast of nurses out to the home each day. Sister Evangelina is increasingly unwell, though she keeps claiming it's indigestion. Meanwhile, Cynthia and Sr. Winnifred visit Nancy and Victor. Nancy is terrified of seeing a medical professional, as she has had a bad history with mental hospitals. Cynthia, perhaps the nurse best suited for this task, gently talks her into it.

Chummy, Master of All Tasks Given, fixes the costumes for the Christmas pageant while coaching her husband on his upcoming exam. He reluctantly serves as mannequin for the donkey ears. Freddy has gotten increasingly fussy, which Chummy attributes to bad lungs from the city air, and like every city couple who ever lived, the Noakeses discuss moving to the suburbs.

Sister Julienne finds Cynthia at prayer. They discuss her increasing inclination to the religious life. It appears that Cynthia has already made the decision, but still has lingering doubts and considerations.

Chummy goes out to the house, where she finds a clean premises and a smiling Patsy cheerfully steering the residents through various household tasks. Cynthia and Dr. Turner examine Nancy, who has likely had a lobotomy in the past, along with what appears to be sterilization. Furthermore, she is not pregnant, but simply beginning menopause. At first Nancy believes that her imagined pregnancy was part of a hallucination, but the doctor assures her that it was her desire for a child that caused it. Nancy is devastated. Victor assures her that he loves her, no matter what. Watching the scene before her, Cynthia's doubts appear to flicker once more. But in fact, when she joins the nuns later on in the chapel, she gives Sr. Julienne a tiny nod. And that is that.

At rehearsal for the Christmas pageant, one of the little girls loses a tooth and goes to the kitchen to rinse her mouth out. On the way, she catches Fred trying on his Father Christmas costume. Trixie covers by claiming that Fred is merely rehearsing a song-and-dance number. Cue major side-eye from Fred.

Chummy is interrupted at work by her husband, who needs more testing. She rightly tells him that she needs to work (and is far nicer about it than I would have been). She promises to help him when she gets home. By the way, Freddy is still pretty sick.

It's extremely snowy, Chummy trips and misses the bus, and it looks like there will be no test review tonight. Meanwhile, Cynthia is going home to tell her parents the big news. She notices the broken sheep and decides to give it to Nancy, as metaphors always make the best presents.

Patsy bandages up Chummy and assures her that Peter will be all right without her tutoring. At home, Peter looks out the window longingly. He tells Freddy that they'll have a "boys' night in". The nurses decide to hold a Christmas party for the residents of the home, which the girls are all over, of course. Chummy even takes off her nurse cardigan. Avril chooses this moment to go into labour. Chummy tries to comfort her through it, but she's not having any of it. The ambulance can't get there, but fortunately, she's in very good hands.

Back in London, Freddy is becoming very sick. During labour, Avril admits that she had a very repressive and abusive childhood, and so that is why she's having trouble acknowledging her pain. She was also a Barnardo child. Chummy takes gentle charge of her, which allows her to open up a bit.

Peter goes door to door, desperately searching for help for his son. Even an ambulance can't reach him in time. It turns out that the baby is presenting hand-on-head, which is complicated but not dire. Peter winds up carrying Freddy all the way to Nonnatus, where he is swiftly diagnosed with croup and placed in steam. In the final moments, Avril, who has been claiming indifference the entire episode, suddenly expresses great concern for the fate of the baby. She delivers a girl and immediately shuts down, ignoring the child completely.

Freddy's fever breaks. His father is relieved but exhausted, which is too bad, because the exam is coming up. Sr. Evangelina tells him that he's got far more than what a new rank is worth. Avril continues to claim she doesn't want to see the baby, which Chummy sees as bullshit. She wanted a better life, and doesn't see one with the baby in the picture. Chummy tries one of her patented pep talks. It's unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Peter begins his exam.

Patsy and Chummy discuss the Avril situation, and how unfairly unwed mothers are treated in general. Denise, with exquisite timing, also goes into labour. At home, Shelagh and Patrick reflect on how happy they are in their new home with their children. They talk about Angela's first mother, and how she is probably thinking of the baby even now.

Avril finds Chummy in the office and asks if she can hold the baby. Despite herself, she is quite taken with the child. She begins to waffle on her decision. Chummy encourages her to keep the baby if she feels it is best. Meanwhile, the Turners write a letter to the first mother, with all three of the older family members contributing. (By the way, the baby is Angela Julienne. Say it with me now: awwww.)

Everyone shows up for the pageant. Trixie and Cynthia even reconcile, tentatively. Tom the curate is a vivacious host. The pageant is chaotic and adorable as always, especially when an off-key Fred takes a tumble in full costume.

Yvonne goes home with her parents, still subdued but greatly improved. Denise's mother visits her daughter (still pockmarked) and the new baby, who is a perfectly healthy boy. The mother expresses regret that she didn't let Denise catch it as a child. It's the first step towards a new reconciliation, especially when the mother tells her that the baby will always be her first grandchild - and Denise can change her mind if she wants. However, Denise still believes adoption to be the best choice. At least, in this case, it is a choice.

Shelagh posts the letter to Angela's first mother. Timothy finally gets his aluminium Christmas tree. Cynthia goes to visit Victor and Nancy, who are looking much better, and makes mince pies with them. They are also invited for Christmas dinner at Nonnatus, which is a joyous event as usual, especially since little Fred is on the mend. Shortly after, Noakes learns that he passed the exam.

On New Year's Eve, Patsy and Trixie sit around looking bored and lamenting all the parties they could have had. (On looks alone, incidentally, we have definitely entered the Sixties.) They're all ready to send Cynthia off to begin her vocation. She will, of course, return to Nonnatus once she becomes a nun, so don't get too weepy.

Back in 2005, Phillip and Jenny watch the snow. Phillip brings out the last Christmas ornament - the broken sheep from Cynthia. Um, yeah, I guessed the wrong recipient. Jenny treasures it deeply. They place it on the mantel, in front of a picture of the nuns - and that's when Jenny decides to write her memoirs that started it all.

Well, that was a fine episode. Sure, it's nothing we haven't seen before, but it played out well and delivered everything a holiday special should - genuine pathos and a sense of redemption, without being cheesy. What this proved most of all is that the show can, indeed, survive without Jenny Lee. The framing with Vanessa Redgrave was a nice touch, though, and provides a nice way to begin the next season. This crazy cast of midwives has worked its way into our hearts over the past three years. Clearly, it's here to stay.

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  • Posts

    • noseybutt

      Posted (edited)

      On 5/22/2024 at 2:24 AM, Corntree said:

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      Edited by noseybutt
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    • Coconut Flan


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