Every season, the Drama After Dark team gathers ‘round the conference room table to watch the latest and greatest in British dramas. We're thrilled to be bringing you coverage of perennial PBS favorite, Call The Midwife. This show has everything: hard-working nurses, sassy nuns, and gut-wrenching emotional trauma that somehow keeps you wanting more. I’m here to recap the season as it happens just in case you, dear reader, miss an episode and haven’t yet been able to catch up on WGBH Passport.
Season 9 opens with Sister Julienne and Lucille delivering a baby in the middle of the night while wrecking balls swing outside. Is this a metaphor for what the show is going to do to our hearts this season, foreshadowing of the changing times in Poplar, or both? Only time will tell!
But on to more pressing matters: Trixie’s got a new electric lady shaver, because she's sick of hair poking through her tights. Valerie, with whom I have always felt a kinship, but who I ESPECIALLY love now, complains that hosiery is expensive, and a waste of time and that they should just wear wool like they did in the Christmas special. What can I say ladies, the pink tax is real and a real pain in my buns. Trixie isn't one to back down, so I'm sure she'll figure out some creative solution by the end of the episode.
Sisters Julienne and Hilda are having a nice chat about placentas (and honestly, how often do I get to say THAT in a recap) when important historical news comes over the wireless: Winston Churchill, who had been Prime Minister during World War II, has died. Outside Nonnatus house, Phyllis and Fred bond over their shared respect for the old chap.
In happier news, Timothy calls home very briefly to check in with the rest of the Turner family. He's got to run off to a special assembly about Churchill, because schools have always held special assemblies since time immemorial and they always will. Before he leaves we find out that a) every time he gets a care package his friends eat all his food, b) Tim has gotten even TALLER, and c) for some reason the Turners now own approximately 1 million pet rabbits. All of the children are angelic and adorable as always, which is just what these nice people deserve.
Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and Phyllis has to be annoyed when anything gets in the way of her patient visits, even when that thing is a massive state funeral for a beloved political figure. While Team Nonnatus makes funeral plans, Lucille comes in to let everyone know there’s been a call from the homeless shelter in Rigsby Street, where there's a lady in labor. She's not one of their patients, but since things seem to be moving quickly, Phyllis offers to drive them both over.
I'm going to be honest with you all: we've seen some nasty living conditions on this show, but this might be the worst yet. It's bleak, filthy, and there are BED BUGS IN THE WALLS. Phyllis explains this to Lucille like it's no big deal, but WHAT THE HELL? Our patient, Dena, is lying on her back in an attempt to slow things down. Her adorable son Terry is quietly studying by the bedside, having skipped school to stay with his mom. Lucille sends him back to class, and we find out that he's an ambitious kiddo who wants to get into the grammar school. I decide immediately that if anything happens to him I'll start a riot.
Some Central Casting posh jerks ring the bell at Nonnatus to ask what year the place was built. When Sister Julienne politely asks them what they're doing, the creepiest one responds "slum clearing" which is honestly extremely RUDE, but not as rude as his friend saying they don't even need to go inside to make the call that Nonnatus will be torn down.
Sister Julienne and me:
Back at the horrifying shelter, we find out that Dena's labor is a false alarm, but she's now on the Nonnatus books. Lucille very gingerly asks if Dena has plans to move.
Dena: Yeah, but we've been on the list for a council flat for SEVEN MONTHS.
Phyllis, back at Nonnatus House and still PISSED: SEVEN MONTHS. And we can't even book her into the maternity home because there's no one to watch Terry!
Now reader, you and I both know that Phyllis isn't giving up that easy. She gets Sister Frances to call up the housing office so Phyllis can yell at them.
Me, watching this phone call:
Where are Trixie and her lady shaver in all of this? Glad you asked! She's found a magazine ad for a contest for a year of free tights, and all you have to do is send in a picture of your legs.
Val: Well you're the obvious entrant, Trixie, you’re the weirdo with the lady shaver.
Lucille: I'm DEFINITELY not about to enter.
Trixie: But Lucille, you have great ankles, everyone knows that! Cyril ogles them all the time, we've all seen!
Lucille: Yeah, well it's not an ankle competition, and legs go all the way up.
Val: Bro, we're all nurses, we know where legs go. I'm in, I love free stuff!
Trixie: FINALLY, some FUN!
And speaking of fun, Phyllis has WON. The council has moved Dena and Terry Bowland up the list for a flat! Huzzah! Phyllis and Sister Hilda dance around the equipment room to celebrate.
Because this show can't let us just have nice things, Violet walks in on Fred going through his medals in preparation for Churchill's funeral. Fred was supposed to make tea but he’s been distracted, and Vi, worrying about what to wear for this seven-hour-long funeral, doesn’t realize that in digging out the medals Fred has also found a picture of his first wife and is taking a moment to be sad. They talk about the blitz, the war, and their respective dead spouses. Vi, always optimistic, is eager to remember that their life is pretty good these days, and takes Fred’s medals off to be ironed for the big day. I love these two and their mature sweet relationship, and if you think they weren't already on the "if anything happens to them I'm starting a riot" list, you're very wrong.
Everyone’s going for the funeral, which is as good a time as any for Trixie to continue her campaign to get Lucille's legs on camera. HR hasn't been invented, probably, so I guess we can let Trixie and Valerie's conniving slide.
Val: We're just going to take a picture in our uniforms, making a showing for strong professional women everywhere! Who need free tights!
Trixie: Yeah, it's about team spirit; it's basically patriotic!
Lucille: FINE, but it’s not patriotism, you clowns.
Phyllis watches the funeral at the house with Sister Monica Joan while everyone else is out on the street. Gotta say, I like when period dramas integrate the characters into old news reels, and this scene is no exception.
Later that night, Fred comes over to fix the power, which has gone off again. This turns out to be excellent timing because as he's leaving he happens to hear a baby crying from inside one of the trash bins. He quickly scoops it up and brings it inside for the nuns to deal with. Thankfully, it's good news: the baby is warming up, and Sister Frances think she was fed soon before she was abandoned. Dr. Turner is just as worried about the mom: this was NOT a professional delivery; they can tell because the umbilical cord is tied off with purple thread. Sergeant Woolf is on the case and is actually being nice for once. They're on the lookout for anyone coming to the hospital with postpartum complications, but he's receptive when Dr. Turner tells him not to do anything that would dissuade the mom from seeking medical treatment. Even though the wee bairn is doing better, they're taking her to St. Cuthbert's just in case. Fred and Sister Frances decide to give the baby a name: Primrose.
The next day, Team Nonnatus gathers around the lunch table and chats about Primrose while they eat their Scotch Eggs.
Phyllis: I tried to get Frances to take a break, but she's staying at the hospital with Baby Primrose
Mother Mildred: Ugh, Frances is gonna get attached. I’m used to this BS, it happened all the time when I was in Hong Kong.
Trixie: Well, abandonment's rare in Poplar — it’s only happened twice in 9 seasons!
Sister Monica Joan, about to ruin breakfast: Actually back in the day people used to throw babies in the river a lot.
Everyone: *horrified silence*
Lucille, optimistic: Maybe it's better now; people are better off financially.
Mother M: It’s not a poverty thing, it’s a desperation thing.
Valerie misses out on the rest of this upsetting conversation because her mean cousin Maureen is at the door. She's stopped by to harangue Val about avoiding the family and not visiting Gran in jail (quick recap within the recap: Gran is in jail for performing illegal abortions). Obviously Maureen doesn't have to be so snotty about the whole thing, but she brings good info: Gran doesn't blame Val, she just misses her. This is rough stuff, guys.
If you told me the new BFF duo this season would be Fred and Sister Frances, I would not have believed you, but here we are. They're both big softies and are united in worrying about Baby Primrose, whom Fred will probably adopt by the end of the episode if we can't find her mum.
Across town, Dena and Terry have moved into their new flat, and he is adorably brushing his teeth. Now, dedicated watchers of Call The Midwife will know that the show likes to pepper in clues about the medical mystery of the week, and here's one of them: Dena makes a point to mention that Terry's mouth smells nice. It'll all make sense later, don't worry. While we're waiting, the family has a really sweet conversation about family structure and race, and all the exciting stuff they'll be picking up tomorrow for the flat.
At Nonnatus, a nice lady has brought a matinee jacket for Baby Primrose
because she’s obviously the mom to be charitable. She’s very distraught when she finds out that Primrose has been taken to St. Cuthberts. Unfortunately, Sister Frances has to take a call mid-conversation; it's a journalist sniffing around for details about the baby. Before she can hang up, Mystery Mom snatches back the jacket to take it to St. Cuthberts herself, and as she gets closer, Frances notices that she's lactating, but can't hang up before Mystery Mom runs off. Frances goes to the police to tell this to Sergeant Woolf, who is very confused about lactation, bless him. He might not get pregnancy stuff (which is weird for a cop who spends so much time around midwives, but whatever) but he's a pretty good policeman: he investigates by taking their one clue, the thread wrapped around the umbilical cord, to Violet for identification. Surprisingly, this works, because it's very bougie thread; too fancy for Vi to sell on a regular basis.
While she’s out grabbing the pram and other voucher goodies, Dena starts having labor pains, for realsies this time. While she tries to make it home toting all her stuff in the rain, something even worse is happening: Terry is sick enough to be sleeping in class, and has been sent home. While he lets himself into the flat, Dena goes to Dr. Turner's surgery since it's close, and good thing she did: she's six fingers dilated! Stuffy secretary Miss Higgins is dispatched to check in on Terry, who is not looking good. This poor kiddo is struggling to get water down, and collapses out on the floor. It isn't smooth sailing for Dena either: Lucille has to call in Phyllis to help, because there's a cord prolapse. Yes, our midwife friends have dealt with this complication many times before, but I'm still freaking out! Over at the flat, Miss Higgins is two seconds away from leaving, having knocked and assumed Terry wasn't there, when he calls out for his mom loud enough for her to hear and save the day.
Good news: the new baby is fine, and Dr. Turner takes a look at Terry, who it turns out has a disgusting throat infection: Diphtheria. Diphtheria is both very contagious and very dangerous, so Terry will be treated in isolation at St. Cuthberts. Unfortunately for Val and Sister Frances, they aren't up to date on their shots, so they both get treated to a jab and a lecture on the importance of vaccinations from Phyllis. Across town, Sister Hilda is testing all the schoolchildren and sending Terry's classmates home for quarantine, a plot point which feels rather timely.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Woolf calls up Nonnatus House to tell them that there's a lady wildin’ out at St. Cuthberts baby zone: Mystery Mom is back! She's admitted that she's Baby Primrose's mom, but won't give up her identity, and has been taken into custody. She just wants to see her baby. Trixie and Mother Mildred hightail it over there to take care of her and figure out what's going on.
In worse news, Dena also has Diphtheria, so she has to be separated from both the new baby and Terry. Terry's mostly worried about missing his grammar school exam.
Me, furiously yelling at the writers: LET THE TINY NERD HAVE FUN, YOU MONSTERS!
Phyllis and Miss Higgins are celebrating the good news that they've gotten everything under control, which just tells you things are about to take a turn for the worse. Right on schedule, a lady brings in her very sick niece who proceeds to tumble to the ground. Phyllis is on the case, and immediately recognizes the smell: this gal has Diphtheria too. Fun(?) fact: Diphtheria actually does have a distinctive sweet odor, which explains the thing with Terry's mouth earlier.
Back in jail, Mother Mildred and Trixie have assessed Mystery Mom: she's doing pretty well, considering the circumstances, even after Mother M says she's leaking milk because her body is “weeping for a reunion with her child” which is a turn of phrase I wish I had never heard with my own two ears. Mother M is trying to get Mystery Mom's name.
Mystery Mom: I don't want to tell someone from the church. Also your weird crying boobs comment made me uncomfortable.
Trixie: LOL, I'm not a nun, let's head to the ladies room and you can tell me while I clean you up!
The aunt of the collapsed Diphtheria gal from before (whose name is Carol, btw) is getting tested as well. Dr. Turner uses this opportunity to ask her what Carol has been up to and who she's interacted with. As it happens, Carol was living in the same nasty homeless shelter as Dena and Terry until last week when she came to stay with her aunt. Dr. Turner can work with that, and makes a plan to engage in some old fashioned shoe-leather epidemiology and track down the Diphtheria cases. Unfortunately, this is not to be: when Phyllis and Sister Hilda head to the shelter to test everyone, there's no sign of the source, and most of the folks who were there at the same time as Dena and Terry have moved on. It's a dangerous mystery, which is my least favorite kind.
Back at the prison, Trixie is trying to help poor Mystery Mom with her classic Trixie formula of being aggressively empathetic and kind.
Trixie: So, giving birth solo: yikes. Didn't someone hear you and help?
Mystery Mom: No, I put my cardigan sleeve in my mouth.
Trixie: I just want to help you, but I need your name first.
Mystery Mom: Ok. My name is Brenda Donnelly and I'm a priest's housekeeper.
Me: Ohhhh well that explains some things!
Mother M goes to visit the priest in question and immediately does her favorite thing where someone calls her sister and she drops the "Mother" mic. Good for her; I already am suspicious of this guy. Per the priest, Mrs. Donnelly has been acting normal and he had no idea she was pregnant.
Creepy Priest: I mean, she sleeps behind the kitchen, why would I know anything about her? I gave her a room here to be nice!
Mother M: Yeah, and because it makes your life easier, don't play.
Creepy Priest: Ok, you got me: we need extra help doing laundry because the other priest who lives here is elderly and keeps soiling himself. Anyway, it’s probably best that she’s been separated from the baby because she’s gonna give it up for adoption.
Mother M: Excuse you, she needs support and care right now, you dillhole.
Mother M finds Brenda's sewing basket with the string in the priest's personal study. I'm going to let everyone draw their own conclusions, but I am increasingly glad I picked "Creepy Priest" as the guy's recap name.
Back at St. Cuthbert’s, Brenda is giving the wee Primrose a cuddle and apologizing for abandoning her. Clearly this is going to work out just fine as long as Sergeant Woolf doesn't mess it up, but, since he's been acting nice this episode, I predict smooth sailing. Brenda wants to feed the baby but apparently she's too full of milk to do it? Biology is a nightmare. Mother M and Trixie decide to get Brenda a pump to help fix the problem and to make sure she doesn't get mastitis. Remember when I predicted smooth sailing four sentences ago? I might have been wrong, because the hospital won't release Primrose until social services scopes everything out. Trixie is pissed, and as much as I hate to disagree with her, I'm going to: it seems like a good baseline to do a little assessment when someone throws out their whole baby. Mother M smooths everything over by suggesting that they bring Brenda to Nonnatus where our crew can keep an eye on her in the meantime. And then, because nothing is easy, Creepy Priest comes back to try and visit the baby. Mother M is wary of him, and SO AM I!
At the surgery, Dr. Turner gets an update from Miss Higgins: there are three more cases of Diphtheria, and there are new people getting infected at the Rigsby Street shelter. We still have no idea who the carrier is. Poplar, like all of us right now, clearly needs to get hip to social distancing.
Creepy Priest is using his visit to Brenda to try and get her to give up the baby. He also wants to baptize Primrose as a Catholic, but Brenda is not into it, and already christened the baby, so take that Creepy Priest! He tries to get Mother M to leave, but she won’t, thankfully. Creepy Priest continues his campaign to convince Brenda she can't possibly care for her baby until Mother M shoos him out so Trixie can come in and help Brenda with the breast pump.
Haven't cried yet this week? Get ready, because Fred is cutting out the paper clipping about Primrose so he can keep in it the tin with the things he doesn't want to forget (his wife and his war medals). He might as well just stab me in the heart with those scissors. He's still shook from finding a baby in the trash which, uh, yeah. Violet, meanwhile, is doing her best with Fred’s grief about his first wife. UGH I love them both.
Time to check back in with Dena, who is enjoying the nice hospital bed, and Val's company presumably, but mostly misses Terry and her baby. For Dena, family means no space and no silence. Clearly, this also resonates with Val, who's been stubbornly distancing herself from her family since Gran was locked up.
Back with Brenda, Trixie is making her cold compresses to help with the whole Lactation Situation.
Apparently having a stranger put cold compresses on your breasts breeds familiarity, because it's confession time: Brenda tells people she’s a widow, but she’s actually divorced. Trixie is confused, because divorce isn't illegal, but then she sees Brenda's back. This poor lady is covered in scars from her husband beating her, was married right out of the orphanage, and has literally one happy memory (saying goodbye to her dying mother). Trixie, who also has some heavy childhood trauma, relates.
Creepy Priest is still trying to convince Mother M that he's there to help, but we all know better.
Creepy Priest, thinking he's winning: Social services will assess her and I can make them take the kid; she’s unemployed.
Mother M: Excuse me WHAT?!
Creepy Priest: Well she’s not morally acceptable. I'll only re-hire her if she gets rid of the kid.
Mother M: Um, she has rights too, you jerk.
Creepy Priest: So does the father… if he’s found.
Sister Hilda pops in to deliver a Diphtheria update: she's heading to the school because one of the kids missed the memo about quarantine and showed up, so she needs to be tested. Sister Hilda leaves, and Mother M stares down Creepy Priest. Does he know who the father is? He says no, but I don’t believe it for a second, and neither does Mother M, and neither does Maury Povich.
At the school, Sister Hilda is giving the kiddo (Safiya, who was missing from Terry’s class earlier in the episode) the Diphtheria vaccine. Can she look at the other arm? We already know it’s gonna be gross from the sleeve removal sound effect squelch, and the makeup artists did not disappoint. This poor kiddo has a huge oozing sore which apparently does not hurt? The teacher tells Sister Hilda that the wound started as an insect bite before the family left Pakistan. Fear not: the Turners are on the case. Shelagh finds out that Safiya’s family was also living in the same Rigsby Street shelter but are out now. This is the last piece of the puzzle: the nasty gaping sore is almost definitely cutaneous Diphtheria, which has been shedding bacteria everywhere. Dr. Turner shares the horrifying info that Diphtheria can live in the floor dust for FOURTEEN WEEKS. Shelagh phones up the hospital for tropical diseases and the council to have Rigsby Street shelter fumigated.
Over at Nonnatus, Mother M corners Brenda.
Mother M: Bren, you better think carefully about naming the dad.
Brenda (actual quote): If I don’t, I’ll look like a floozy
Mother M: Yeah but if you do he’ll be able to influence her fate. Makes ya think, huh?
Progress: the council fumigates Rigsby Street. Brenda prays about her decision. Dena and Terry chat on the phone, and confirm that they’re both getting better and will be released soon. Terry will even able to take his exams! Mother M is leaving for the Mother House soon and will take Primrose and Brenda with her. Brenda can do whatever she wants when she gets there. Everyone is relieved. Regarding the Diphtheria, someone is going to have to deal with that ulcer on Safiya's arm, but everyone else is fine, which is a huge relief. And speaking of a huge relief, you can relax, because we DO find out about Trixie's hair-brained plan to enter the leg contest. The verdict? The nurses are runners-up in the Slender Legs Professionals Division.
Val, still a big mood: Ugh, seriously? I just wanted free tights!
Trixie, missed her calling as a YouTube Influnecer: Not so fast: check out this package of free stuff and a discount voucher.
Everyone clusters around to enjoy the unboxing, even Phyllis and the nuns. We really are in 1965: some of the prints are truly psychedelic.
Want a study in contrasts? Here you go: Sister Frances has crafted a a cute blanket for Primrose from the nightgown they find her wrapped in. Meanwhile, Creepy Priest tries to give Mother M some blood money to pay for the trouble Brenda caused. RUDE. Brenda, like a boss, tells him she doesn't need his cash, and tells Mother M she can handle herself. With Mildred out of the room, we finally get the dirt we expected: Creepy Priest is the father. He asks for forgiveness, and Brenda, owning her agency, doesn't give it to him. So long, Creepy Priest, please let the door hit you on the way out.
Over at the Buckle residence, Fred is dirtying up the sink planting a nice flower to send to the Mother House with Primrose. Violet, who's surprisingly chill about a sink being full of potting soil, gives Fred a gift: she's framed the picture of his first wife from the tin, and tells him to put her on display with everyone else, not hide her in the tin.
Sister Hilda drops in on a very distracted Sister Julienne to tell her that Mother M is about to leave for the Mother House.
Sister Julienne: DON'T let her back in here; the council is going to knock down our whole dang block in the next two years.
Sister Hilda: WHAT? Shouldn't we tell Mother M?
Sister Julienne: I mean, what can she even do about it?
Sister Hilda: I guess we'll just have to pray, huh?
Sister Julienne: LOL. Oh, you're serious? Whatever, just don't tell anyone about this!
Sister Julienne is freaking out, but let's not dwell on the possible destruction of Nonnatus House 2.0: there's nice stuff happening in Poplar! Val, finally taking the bus to visit Gran in prison, has a nice interaction with mean Cousin Maureen. Terry crushes his school entrance exam, and the Turners give him Timothy's old jacket (Terry is delighted). Speaking of the Turners, the kids are having a great time with their 1 million pet rabbits. Will we find out they're running an illegal rabbit-breeding ring? We'll have to wait for next week to find out!