Call the Midwife Season 3 Episode 1 & 2 Review

Season three of Call the Midwife is off to a powerful start. It has been said in many outlets before that Call the Midwife is among the most underrated shows on television, and the fact remains true. No other show combines the gentle approach of family television with an unflinching look at issues affecting women and the impoverished. How the writers continue to pull off such a masterful hat trick still baffles me.

With 1959 upon the nurses and nuns, change comes swiftly to the Poplar district. This is compounded by the absence of Nonnatus House, which had to be torn down in the Christmas Special. Since then the midwives have been bounced around from shelter to shelter leaving many of the women of the community confused as to where they can get care. The atmosphere of chaos spills over into both the primary and secondary plots in episode one, which is a brilliant showpiece for Chummy (Miranda Hart) and Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt).

Sister Monica Joan, always a pleasure to watch, finds purpose in organizing her vast book collection. The series always makes excellent use of its eldest Sister, both as someone who never fails to speak her mind and as a reminder of the ravages of slowly progressing Alzheimer’s Disease. Sister Monica Joan’s words are often dismissed by her colleagues. When she is speaking of negative vibes and wrong energies it is understandable, but in episode one she finds a solution to a problematic case in which two children keep getting sicker and sicker without any recognizable cause. Dr. Turner only listens when the Sister pushes one of her beloved books in his hands. After a night of reading he realizes that the children are suffering from cystic fibrosis, a disease that has not always had a name, but has always existed and was once poetically described as the taste of salt on a child’s brow. It is not often we get to see Sister Monica Joan allowed to make a tangible contribution to the midwives’ work, but she proved that even taking her age into account, she still has knowledge to share.

Chummy was stuck with her own feelings of boredom and a lack of purpose. As much as she loves being a mother and a wife, her boundless energy needs an outlet beyond the home. Hart breathes such a restless, joyful spirit into Chummy that watching her piddling around her home with too much time on her hands was painful for the viewers, as well as Chummy. Which made her grand quest to spread the word about the midwives new permanent home at the recreational center both hilarious and joyful to watch. Chummy goes so far as to invite Princess Margaret to the opening in order to bring in the public, but event organization isn’t where her heart lies either. It is a stubborn mother of four who reminds Chummy that her true calling is still midwifery. Chummy is left alone to assist in a difficult birth, and her success brings her back to the nuns to ask to return to work on a part-time basis, at least. Her return is welcome on every level– Hart is too important to the ensemble to stay sidelined for long.

Episode two was not quite up to the standards of episode one. It dealt with the story of a white woman having an affair with a black man– a scenario that played out in a previous touching episode that was not altogether realistic for the time period, but a well-told story non the less. This time the situation was made more complicated by the mother of three being married to a bully of a man, who threatens the baby’s life when he realizes she isn’t his. The mother has no choice but to give her daughter away and tell everyone the child died. Our wise, elder Jenny explains in the voiceover that we must all deal with our transgressions, but the message feels out of place. With hints that her husband was abusive, it feels less like a transgression than a need for solace. Watching Jenny have to tear the mother and child apart was brutal, as was the knowledge that the carefully composed letter the mother prepared for her daughter could not be sent along with her.

Meanwhile, our young midwives grappled with leadership issues. Jenny is named an acting Sister during clinic hours, which annoys Trixie, who has seniority. Jenny lets the power go to her head a bit, while Trixie passive aggressively spews her irritation at her friend. The resolution to the story is simplistic enough: after Jenny’s ordeal with the mother, the friends realize they are all in this together. If that seems too easy of an ending, at least we had a terrific side story involving Cynthia trying new techniques to help mother’s relax (namely Lamaze). She stands up to the imposing Sister Evangelina in order to help a young mother deliver her baby naturally, the way she wanted to. Cynthia often gets lost in the shuffle, but her strength and sense of duty are inspiring. While Trixie and Jenny outwardly showed jealousy and let leadership issues come between them, Cynthia took charge with her quiet inner strength and made a huge difference in the community in the meantime.

Other odds and ends include the introduction of a new Sister, who has yet to make much of an impact, and Shelagh’s yearning for a baby. Look for both of those plot points to be explored more as the season progresses. There may be a few bumps as the midwives adapt to the coming sixties with their new haircts and peace marches, but everything that makes Call the Midwife one of television’s best series has remained firmly in tact.

Call the Midwife season three airs Sundays at 8PM on PBS. Expect new reviews to be posted here on TV Equals Sunday nights/Monday mornings for the duration of the season.

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