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.
It's Lent in Poplar (and according to Google, in real life as well!) so everybody is going without. Once again I am forced to say TOO REAL, Call The Midwife! In typical fashion, many of our favorites are struggling with their Lenten resolutions, including Fred, who nearly gets away with sneaking an eclair before Violet catches him. Lucille, who has an impressively iron will, gets Trixie and Val to throw out their cigarettes. Hopefully this will encourage them to quit; I don't want any of my television children indulging bad habits.
Someone's been thieving the Buckle's milk, and Violet is... less than thrillsed. If I hadn't spent the last week rationing my milk I'd probably say it was just the lack of sugar, but frankly I now fully sympathize with her rage. Also, before you come at me about non-dairy alternatives, I invite you to remember that a) they're totally not a thing in Poplar yet and b) while coffee pairs well with and/or masks a lot of those flavors, tea is another beast entirely. It just doesn't work! Sorry! Whew, if you told me I'd get heated about milk in a recap two months ago, I would have called you crazy, but pandemics really bring out the weird in all of us, including your humble, opinionated recapper.
Anywhoodles, on to the actual plot of this episode: A very nice lady named Florrie is here to babysit for her very pregnant daughter Laverne, but something is wrong. Medical mystery of the week detected! Florrie is clearly in a fair amount of pain, but so far that's all we know.
Meanwhile, over at Nonnatus house, the plot thickens: our favorite midwives are also the victims of milk theft, and while Monica Joan doesn’t take caffeine and is thus not bothered, the kids (i.e. everyone else) are not alright. Thankfully, the show gives us a classic Monica Joan/Fred Buckle team-up. The plan? They’re going to stake out the milk delivery and try to catch the culprit red-handed. My money’s on someone in a bad situation who they'll immediately try to help.
It doesn't take time for my prediction come true. A very 60s-era ragamuffin with a thick accent lets us know that she’s only stealing the milk (which she doesn’t even like) for the baby. Wait, the random milk thief also happens to be pregnant on this show about midwives? Color me shocked! Sister Julienne brings her into the house to get looked over and we get a name: Tina Atkins.
Tina is pretty hilarious; she whips off the blonde wig she’s wearing, and tells Sister Julienne that she’s not sure how far along she is, because keeping track of dates is hard. She hasn’t been to a doctor but can just tell. Sisters Julienne and Monica Joan feed her a bunch of porridge and convince her to come to the antenatal clinic. She’s adorable and, quoth Fred “a cheeky little madam,” so now I’m sure something horrible will happen to her. Thanks, I hate it!
Speaking of Fred, back at Vi’s shop a package has arrived from Auntie Margaret, who is apparently nearly 80 and still sends Vi a care package twice a year, bless her. It’s a cake, which Violet immediately whisks away; it’s Lent after all. Honestly this just seems mean. I hate when Fred is sad!
Granny Florrie, from earlier, is still not doing well. On the plus side, things seem ok with her daughter Laverne, despite the fact that she’s still working at the factory. She’s making good money, and she and her husband have saved up enough for a down payment. Even though she can work sitting down, Val is still a little worried about her high blood pressure, and tells her to cool it. Exposition time: it turns out Florrie basically delivered her first grand-baby, and is all around amazing. They both talk about how great Florrie is, and how it would be cool if the baby came on mother’s day, which seems like the kind of conversation that leads to something horrible happening to Florrie and/or Laverne. I hope I am wrong!
Speaking of Florrie, she's back at the flat watching her granddaughter Jillian. Well, watching is a bit of a misnomer because she's actually fallen asleep in an armchair (again, extremely relatable). Florrie wakes up from her party nap, disoriented, and panic-bustles out of the house to go grab the groceries, leaving a confused Jillian behind.
At the antenatal clinic, Tina asks Dr. Turner if she can just get her pregnancy test result now. He tells her she’ll have to make an appointment at the surgery, which is for her, glass half full: after all, he’s got eyes like Paul McCartney (finally, someone other than Shelagh who agrees with me about Dr. Turner’s whole vibe!). Tina even knows how to play the game: the McCartney thing isn't a full on compliment because Paul is only her third favorite Beatle, after John and George.
Out in the community center, Miss Higgins is showing off a potted bulb. Phyllis is annoyed. Why? Because this bulb comes courtesy of a certain Sergeant AUBREY Woolf, who is “the most thoughtful gentleman friend” and will now forever be equated with the musician Drake in my brain. He’s invited her to Kent to visit his sister and go on a walk over Easter, which seems to be the older people equivalent of a steamy weekend in Vegas. Not bad, sir, not bad!
And speaking of Sergeant Hotline Bling, across town, Val happens to bike past Laverne's house just in time to find the man in question preparing to break the door down to help little Jillian, who is all alone and scared. Val immediately recognizes that something has gone very wrong, because Florrie should be there. Sergeant Woolf, with some help from Val, convinces Jillian to move down the hall so they can break the door in, which they, unfortunately, do just before Laverne gets back. She’s obviously freaking out, and in the shuffle it’s easy to miss Sergeant Woolf clutch his arm, a classic sign of a TV heart attack if ever I saw one. Val starts to explain what’s happened to Laverne when Sergeant Woolf slides down the wall like a cartoon character, prompting Val to send for an ambulance. And you thought your day was busy!
Back at the clinic, Phyllis and Miss Higgins bicker over some paperwork issues, and only about paperwork issues, nothing else! Is it even a drama if people don't fight about something pointless just so they can regret it later? No, no it's not.
Meanwhile, Florrie finally gets back from shopping just in time to see an ambulance leave the flat, so she’s obviously terrified. Laverne yells at her for leaving Jillian alone, and Florrie has a fit of nerves. Big mood! Val has finally cooled everyone down with the promise of tea when husband Ken arrives, freaks out about the door, and sets everyone off again. There's definitely something seriously wrong with Florrie, and I hope no one says anything they'll regret if this all goes south.
At the hospital, the desk staff explains what’s up with Sergeant Woolf to Phyllis, who escorts Miss Higgins back to visit him, jealousy set aside. Phyllis is obviously kind of bummed, but happy for them, which is sweet. I never really boarded the Phyllis/Sergeant Woolf ship, so I'm fully on Team Woolf-ggins, but let's be real, I just want Phyllis to be happy. She deserves it! Back at Nonnatus, everyone is glad that Val caught the heart attack quickly and that Sergeant Woolf is doing pretty well, except for Val who feels bad that she didn’t notice sooner. Cut yourself a break, Val! Sister Julienne asks if Dr. Turner will look in on Florrie, and the good news is, yes! Everyone agrees that she might have dementia, which would suck because she’s a) only 58 and b) the whole family relies on her.
Phyllis: Well, it’s gonna be tough, it’s hard for a child to care for parents.
Monica Joan, defensive: But it’s so important!
Phyllis: Oh, don't worry MJ, I agree — I was glad to care for my own mom, but it didn’t make it easy!
Trixie joins the party, having been held up at clinic where she's been dealing with the hordes of young ladies asking for contraceptives. Sister julienne is as always uncomfortable with this whole birth control thing, and reminds Trixie that she’s only supposed to do this volunteering as long as it doesn’t impinge on her normal duties.
Finally, we might figure out what's wrong with Florrie: she gets examined by Dr. Turner and reveals that she’s been healthy her whole life, but recently has been struggling with extreme exhaustion, joint pain, and aches. She's been suffering in silence because she thought it'd pass. Laverne points out that her mum has also been forgetting stuff, but that it’s understandable with everything she’s going through. It’s nice to see her being so supportive! Dr. Turner thinks it might be late onset diabetes, which they’re going to manage with diet, but he also wants her to get some blood tests. In the meantime, Florrie will have to take it easy: no cleaning, and we may need to find a neighbor to watch Jillian.
Across town, Sister Julienne is on a mission. What? I don’t know, but she knocks into someone so she’s definitely super focused on the task at hand. She heads into a building called Daventry House just as a sailor leaves. Gotta say, I love that the show always sends nuns when the plot takes us to a brothel. Sister Julienne is there to see our young friend Tina, who missed her appointment at the surgery. She got “held up” and didn’t think she had to go because it was just confirming what she knew already.
Sister Julienne: It’s really important that you go to appointments and Tuesday clinics.
Tina: Don’t worry I will, I'm super committed! But lol I can’t go today, I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire.
Sister Julienne: You’d probably miss today anyway, but come back next week and hit me up with any questions.
Tina: Aaaactually… I’ve got some weird discharge happening? Also it burns when I pee.
Sister Julienne: Cool cool cool cool — I need to make you an appointment with Dr. Turner ASAP.
Tina: Ok! But I have a job interview with a music producer so it’ll have to be speedy.
I'm super confident Tina's "interview" with a "music producer" will go great, and so is Sister Julienne.
Sister Hilda pops over to the school for my least favorite plot ever: lice check! I, like a giant baby, have a lice phobia, so I watched this part like so:
At the next clinic, Laverne is struggling. Florrie has been fine so far, but since she can’t watch Jillian anymore, Laverne has had to leave work. Val, relieved, thinks this is probably a good thing, but Laverne is worried about money; her husband can’t bring in enough on his own, and they won't be able to put a deposit on a house any more. If Florrie doesn’t get better she doesn’t know what they’ll do.
Miss Higgins visits Sergeant Woolf in the hospital. Y’all, they’re pretty cute. She’s brought a card from Nonnatus, which hilariously features a picture of a dog at Sister Monica Joan’s insistence. Everyone is praying for him, which chokes up Miss Higgins. Sergeant Woolf remains stalwart, and calmly tells Miss Higgins that he'll have an update from the doctor just as soon as he gets back from playing golf.
No golfing for Dr. Turner: Tina pops into the surgery only to find out that Dr Turner’s out on a house call. Shelagh nicely offers to examine her herself, and Tina is NOT FEELING IT, especially when she finds out who Shelagh's husband is. Tina tries to make Shelagh jealous with a snotty comment about how she once turned down an offer to live in a country mansion with a doctor, but it goes right over Shelagh's head because she's doing just fine with her nice-eyed husband, adorable children, and secret underground rabbit-breeding ring.
As you can probably guess, that house Dr. Turner is calling on is Laverne's, because the whites of Florrie's eyes have turned YELLOW. This tells Dr. Turner that he was on the wrong track with diabetes, because jaundice is definitely not a symptom. The yellow pigment is because Florrie's liver is in bad shape, and must have been for a while. Turner is going to run some tests and is sure they’ll get to the bottom of things soon. Laverne is less optimistic, but that's just because she doesn't know she's on a TV show where they always figure out what's happening during the episode.
Back at the surgery, Shelagh wraps up with Tina, and asks her about her previous pregnancy.
"But Shelagh," I hear you wonder, "Tina said she'd never had a kid before!" Obviously it's a sore subject. Tina tells us that her parents made her give up her first child, who then went to live with his rich dad in America. Shelagh tells Tina that sounds nice, but her eyes agree with me: that sounds unlikely, and we’re definitely going to have some upsetting revelations from this one. Because Shelagh is the best, she sympathizes with Tina about how hard that must have been, and tells her she’s sending a sample for testing, because Tina almost definitely has some kind of sexually transmitted infection.
Back at Laverne’s house, she’s freaking out: she can read between the lines of what Dr. Turner said earlier, and is trying to process the fact that her mum might die. Her husband tries to sooth her, to little effect. Even worse, Florrie overhears this super bummer of a conversation, including the next part which goes a little something like this:
Laverne: Well, at least we know the liver problems aren’t coming from booze.
Husband Ken: She’s confused, she’s tired, and she could easily be hiding drink from us.
Laverne, not messing around, puts him in his place HARD: her gran was an alcoholic, but Florrie certainly isn’t, and if he ever even suggests it again she’s throwing him out. Damn girl! I want to believe her, but also:
At Nonnatus, Sister Julienne has asked Sister Hilda to look for the list of employers who will hire young unwed moms, because obviously that music producer thing is not going to lead to a paying gig for Tina. While Trixie and Val clear the dinner dishes, Trixie asks how Laverne and Florrie are doing. Val sums up: Florrie’s definitely got cirrhosis symptoms, but everyone’s convinced she’s not a drinker. Trixie, unfortunately well equated with the finer points of alcoholism, points out that many addicts are very good at hiding their vices. And speaking of addiction, she’s going to have a cigarette after dinner. Can we get Tim Turner to come over here and emotionally blackmail the nurses into quitting like he did with his parents please?
Meanwhile, at the Buckle residence, the inevitable has happened. Vi, hearing rustling from the shop in the middle of the night, ferociously busts in with a rolling pin only to find Fred with his hand in the proverbial honeypot, modeling a look that’s all too familiar for many of us right now during social isolation: pajamas and guilty junk food. He apologizes, and Vi lightly tells him off before grabbing a tiny chunk of cake herself.
At the turner house, Dr. T is working away at researching what’s up with Florrie. Shelagh admonishes him for working during family dinner but I get it; nothing more annoying than an unsolved mystery!
At the hospital, Phyllis drops by to visit Sergeant Woolf. She’s brought apples to break up the monotony of hospital food, though she also says she’s sure Miss Higgins has already brought over better options. Sergeant Woolf makes a weird face at that, and Phyllis apologizes for bringing up their relationship. The social mores of the 60s are bonkers. She practically set them up, why would it be weird for her to mention that she knows they’re dating? But it’s not that: he talked to the doctor today and the prognosis was... not good. Given that, he’s “reconsidering his situation with Miss Higgins,” which I assume means he's planning on dumping Miss Higgins to spare her, like a noble idiot.
If you believed for a second that Dr. Turner was going to wrap up his research in a timely manner and go to bed, I'm sorry to tell you you're quite wrong, and for good reason: he seems to have found a promising journal article and cracked the case. I didn't see this one coming: Florrie’s menopausal, and now that she doesn’t have her monthly periods, she’s collecting toxic levels of iron in her body. The condition is called hemochromatosis, and it can be managed by bloodletting. It’ll take a few months to get everything under control, and even longer for her to recover, but good news: it’s manageable and not fatal!
At school, Sister Hilda is checking up on the kiddos we saw earlier in the episode who had head lice, one of whom is called Lenny Atkins.
I’m quickly proven right: both of these kids are Tina’s children. They are in foster care, and haven’t been able to stay with Tina due to neglect. Thankfully Sister Hilda also puts two and two together once our teacher friend shares more of Tina's backstory.
Speaking of Tina, the rest of the gang is still trying to figure out how to manage her care. There are no empty beds at St. Cuthberts, and they really shouldn’t take her at the maternity home, where it’ll be hard to prevent cross-infection of her gonorrhea. But if she isn’t admitted, Sister Julienne is pretty sure Tina won’t actually take the antibiotics. Shelagh suggests an allocated bathroom, which seems like a reasonably workable solution. Shelagh also shares her concerns about Tina’s son with Sister Julienne, who's basically like:
Meanwhile, Florrie gets her first treatment, accompanied by Laverne, who reminisces about her fear of needles. Florrie starts crying: she was so worried about being a burden that she was becoming suicidal. Laverne assures her that she could never be a burden, and I melt into a puddle of goo at how nice their relationship is.
At Nonnatus House, Sister Hilda is back to tell Sister Julienne what she’s discovered about Tina. Julienne is predictably upset. They conclude that Tina made up the story of her son being in America out of shame and to increase the odds that she'll be able to keep this baby. The nuns agree that social services will definitely take this baby away unless they can help. It's a pretty bleak situation all around.
Speaking of Tina, she’s up to her old tricks at the maternity home, this time “borrowing” a magazine from one of the other ladies. Sister Frances brings in her medication and gets the third degree from Tina.
Tina: Why are you so young, are you a new nun?
Sister Frances: I joined at 17.
Tina: WHAAAT? What about boys and fun?
Sister Frances: Meh, not for me!
Tina: Wait, so you’re a virgin??? Damn girl!
OH NO. Miss Higgins has stopped in to visit Sergeant Woolf. She’s brought a wireless, and has already figured out an alternative plan for their Easter vacation, assuming he’s out of hospital. This is like a car wreck; I can’t look away. She’s trying so hard to be supportive and nice.
Sergeant Woolf: Hey, so... I talked to my sister and I’m going to stay with her when I’m out of the hospital.
Higgins, misunderstanding what’s happening: Oh, great! So vacation’s back on, yay!
Woolf: Uh, no… it’s not vacation. I need to be off work for the foreseeable future; the doctor couldn’t tell me when or if I can go back. And it isn’t fair for me to continue with this relationship. I’m sick and if we get closer… it’ll only be harder for you in the end.
Higgins, heartbroken: Ok. You must do whatever you think is best. I guess I’ll leave.
Me: UGH STOP BEING SO DAMN ENGLISH AND TAKE WHAT YOU WANT YOU CLOWNS!
At Laverne’s flat, she tells her husband that her mom is going to get better, but it’s going to be tough; they’ll have to put off buying the house, and tighten their belts. She can’t work because she’ll have to watch the kids. He's extremely chill about the whole "we're on a budget" thing, because all that matters is that Florrie is going to get better. A supportive son in law? You simply love to see it!
At the maternity home, Sister Julienne tries to get Tina excited about a job as a machinist, but Tina is not into it. A of all, the work seems lame, and B of all, she wants to be at home taking care of her kid. Sister Julienne tells her that she knows about the other kids, and wants to do everything she can to help, which includes finding Tina a job. Tina takes this very hard, and doesn’t want to talk about it. She insists that her kids are better off without her and sends Sister Julienne away. Unfortunately, something beyond mental anguish is up with Tina. Lucille tries to help, but Tina's not being super cooperative. When Lucille's back is turned, Tina packs up her stuff and sneaks out of there.
At the Turner's surgery, Miss Higgins is packing up for the day when she sees the pretty flower Sergeant Woolf gave her and gets sad. Just in time, Phyllis drops in to invite her for tea. Phyllis, you're an absolute legend and I love you: never change. She takes Miss Higgins to a nice park bench for their tea, because fresh air, I think we can all agree, is the best.
Phyllis loves fresh air; she used to walk for hours with her mother, and she thinks it’s good to be outside.
Miss Higgins: I think I made myself look stupid.
Phyllis: Uh, no way.
Miss Higgins: You just get lonely, you know? I let myself think things were more serious than they were.
Phyllis: Just because you’ve been dumped doesn’t mean it wasn’t love.
Speaking of amazing, did you forget about Laverne? She's doing great, now that she knows Florrie is ok! Also, big surprise, Laverne is in labor. Val heads over to help out, and gets there in time. Florrie supports her daughter through it all, and Laverne has another daughter. Everyone is delighted!
In significantly worse news, back at Nonnatus, Sister Hilda drops some sad knowledge on Sister Julienne: there’s a family poised to adopt Tina’s kids. It’s unclear if she never got the notice or if she decided it would be best to let it happen, but either way she’s going to lose the children in a few days.
Armed with this news, Sister Julienne goes to check on Tina who has of course escaped out the back door. Thankfully, Sister Julienne figures this out and goes looking for her, because Tina is in very bad shape. They rush her to the hospital in Dr. Turner's car: there's no time to wait for an ambulance because they think she's had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. If they don’t operate soon she’ll die of shock. Sister Julienne holds Tina tight in the back seat of the car, and then stays by her bedside when she's out of surgery. This surprises Tina, who has lost a lot of blood, and the pregnancy, which was indeed ectopic. The surgeon was able to save her other fallopian tube, so she still could conceive, but she says she thinks he shouldn’t have: she’s not a good mother, and the only good thing she’s done for the kids is give them up. Sister Julienne tries to push back and convince Tina that with support she can parent them well, but Tina is adamant: she wants them to have a good life with parents who want them and can give them support.
Back at Nonnatus House, Sister Julienne is struggling. Monica Joan to the rescue.
Sister Julienne: I failed a girl and I don’t think I can help her. She’s convinced she’s a bad mom, and has in fact been a bad mom, but she’s definitely going to have more kids.
Sister Monica Joan: What about the kids?
Sister Julienne: That’s what I’m worried about.
Sister Monica Joan: You know, when I first became a nun I found Lent the worst, because we didn’t have nature inside. But then I realized that the penance isn’t what God likes, it’s submission.
Sister Julienne: So I have to accept the world as it is?
Sister Monica Joan: I mean, yeah — you have to meet people where they are.
Good advice for us all, and advice that Sister Julienne immediately puts into practice, knocking on Trixie's door to ask if she can arrange an appointment for Tina to get the pill.
Trixie: Hold up — you HATE contraceptives.
Sister Julienne: Well, it's Season 9 and I can't hold out forever.
Trixie: Ok, whatever you say! I'll make sure Tina gets set up with the pill.
And with that sorted, we head into the final monologue of the episode. Fred brings Vi a nice cuppa (with milk!) and flowers to apologize for eating the cake. It's adorable. And speaking of adorable, May and Angela have prepared a Mother’s Day breakfast and cards for Shelagh, because Call The Midwife is trying to murder me with cuteness. Will the writers succeed next week? Only time will tell!