After all of the emotional ups and downs of Call the Midwife’s second season, viewers might be forgiven for looking to its holiday interlude for a bit of a breather. The Christmas season after all is, as Jenny herself puts it, a time when comfort and familiarity are meant to reign, and the only poignant moments are generally of a happy variety. Of course, like the profession of midwifery, the holidays are nothing if not unpredictable – however we might try to find order in old customs – and this year, Poplar had more than its fair share of unexpected challenges.
Dr. Turner and the former Sister Bernadette were only days away from their wedding, and though the nurses noticed that the groom was in a good mood, Shelagh seemed anxious when she crossed paths with Sister Julienne. However, it was clear that it wasn’t the thought of her upcoming nuptials that made her uneasy – it was the fact that she’d been avoiding her old home at Nonnatus House. Sister Julienne kindly assured her that they’d missed her presence, and that she was welcome to visit, but it was a gesture that failed to put the bride-to-be at ease. At home, her fiancé insisted that there was still time for her to invite the sisters to their wedding, and Shelagh admitted that she had felt awkward and guilty around them ever since she left the order.
Around the way, Jenny paid a visit to a couple expecting a baby nearly a week overdue. Though the mother, Yvonne, was in good shape, her husband, Alan, wasn’t in the best health, suffering from a bout of malaria contracted as a soldier overseas. The young nurse didn’t think too much of it, since her real patient was doing well, but it was hard not to suspect that there was more to his condition than he let on. Untroubled, Jenny continued her rounds, but it wouldn’t be long before she crossed paths with the couple again.
Though Chummy and Peter were having trouble finding a home for their new family, the lack of rental properties was soon the least of their worries, as their current home at Nonnatus House (and those of so many others) came under threat. When Peter was called away to the excavation site the next street over, he returned late at night to tell the sleeping nuns and nurses that they had to evacuate. Outside, they joined crowds of Poplar residents flooding the streets, and staggered to safety in the darkness.
With families filing into a nearby hall designated as emergency housing, Trixie got a chance to demonstrate some of her more commanding qualities, while Jenny came face-to-face with the couple she had visited earlier. Again, her pregnant patient seemed well, but when Jenny suggested that they could find some beds in the hall, Al asked if it was necessary. Instead, Yvonne asked if they could stay in the room where Jenny had spoken to them, away from the crowd downstairs, something that suited her husband better. As the night wore on, the reason for their worry became obvious, as Alan suffered from horrifying memories and nightmares of his time fighting in Korea.
The next day, Chummy did her best to help bring some order to the situation through her position as scout leader, but the noise caused by the boys in the street only triggered Alan’s anxiety. As Jenny unsuccessfully tried to calm him down, Trixie recognized Alan’s symptoms as those of shell shock – something from which her father had suffered during her childhood. Though neither Chummy nor Jenny had much idea what to do to help him, she insisted that he needed to see a doctor, and was surprised when her colleagues said that it would have to wait until after Christmas. Instead, she decided that there was a way that they could help him until then.
Meanwhile, PC Noakes visited the site of the bomb that had thrown everyone’s holiday plans into turmoil, and met the semi-retired military man who could finally defuse it. As expected, it was a tense operation, as the specialist began the careful task of disarming the bomb, and it seemed as though the entire situation might play out without too much drama. One slip, however, set the thing off, leaving all those on the bomb site just enough time to take cover before the explosion. Luckily, the affects weren’t nearly as potent as they’d feared, and aside from shaking some dust from the rafters of the houses, little damage was done. As if by a miracle, the citizens of Poplar were able to return to their homes in time for Christmas after all.
And, Yvonne was able to get her wish to give birth in her own home –with Al present, as she’d requested. As Trixie and Jenny had predicted, the shared experience only helped Alan, proving again that convention wasn’t always the best route to take. While they were helping their patient, the nuns of Nonnatus were discovering that they hadn’t been quite as lucky as their neighbours. When they returned to the house, it was only to find that it had been closed off as a hazard, and for the first time since becoming a midwife, Jenny found herself celebrating the holiday with her fellow nurses, but none of the sisters.
Of course, Jenny wasn’t the only one whose Christmas was marked by upheaval. Unfortunately, Timothy’s ominously secretive concern with his health turned out to be well founded. As it turned out, Dr. Turner’s early mention of polio cases around the neighbourhood foreshadowed more than one case close to home, as one of Chummy’s cub scouts, and Timothy, were eventually diagnosed with the disease. In the panic surrounding the unexpected turn, Shelagh and Dr. Turner postponed their wedding until the spring. The decision turned out to be for the best, as it gave Shelagh time to reconcile with the sisters of Nonnatus, and when Timothy was well again, the spring wedding went on with a much longer guest list than the original.
In short, the extended episode proved that, even during times marked by tradition, there’s never a dull moment for the residents of East End London. After a tumultuous holiday, it offered both closure with the demolition of Nonnatus House, just as the spring wedding served as a fitting foundation for an equally exciting future. And, if there’s one thing that’s certain, Jenny and all those around her, will be facing that future together.
– Kate Shepherd