Call the Midwife Season 3 Episode 3 Review

Last week, Trixie told the incoming doctor with his new ideas about breathing techniques that the “uniqueness” he saw in the Poplar community was poverty. It was a scathing comment, one she told to an outsider with a sense of knowledge that can only come from having served and lived in the community for some time. The midwives and sisters have seen their share of heartbreak, deplorable living conditions and pain all stemming from the impoverished background of the people of Poplar. They have seen joy too, and they understand fortitude and the richness the support of neighbors can bring. They haven’t seen everything though, as this week’s trip to a female penitentiary taught Trixie.

There is poverty and then there is prison. One often leads to the other for women as well as men when desperation drives them to theft or prostitution (or worse). Trixie is visibly rattled by the conditions her new patients face. She cannot prescribe bed rest or even relate to the women she is caring for. The scenario revealed a new level of pain to Trixie, one she couldn’t comprehend before she went in: a complete and utter loss of freedom. The somberness of the place threatened to consume her, but a reminder from Chummy brought Trixie back to reality. The truth is, the midwives cannot take on every ounce of pain they see or they would drown in it. They can only be thankful they have their own community of friends to lean on– even when that results in Trixie spreading nits to Jenny and Cynthia.

The prison story went deeper for Sister Julienne though. Usually a quiet presence guiding the women of Nonnatus House, we were allowed to see Sister Julienne’s passion shine through as she connected with Stella, an unwed girl in the prison system with no one to help her keep her baby. Just as recently as last week, we saw the sisters and midwives forced to separate a child and mother. It isn’t a task they relish, but they cannot intervene in most cases. When Sister Julienne saw Stella’s drive to keep her child and better herself, the Sister could not turn her back on her. Not every story on Call the Midwife has a happy ending and this is especially true when there is no father in the picture, but in this one instance Sister Julienne found a way to help Stella start her life over with her son, Peter, named after Peter Pan, the book Sister Julienne gives Stella to further her reading lessons. It was a storyline brimming with hope and sorrow, a nod to the fact that some people can escape the system while others drown in it. The outcome largely depends on inner strength and the compassion of others.

While prison can be left behind, diseases leave permanent scars. Shelagh and Dr. Turner have been longing for a baby, the final piece to their happy life, but they received news that tissue scarring as a result of her TB has left Shelagh infertile. Shelagh has been through a rocky journey as she struggled with her faith, illness and love for Dr. Turner. Adding another roadblock to her happiness makes my heart break as a viewer, but as a critic, the story choice is an interesting one. We now get to watch Shelagh reconcile herself to the idea that she cannot have a child of her own. This one dream cannot come true, at least not in the traditional way. As one of the show’s best characters, I am excited to see Shelagh continue to have a compelling storyline this season. Joy is wonderful, but there is more narrative potential in heartbreak.

This week’s final storyline utilized Chummy’s birthday as a backdrop while focusing in on Jenny struggling with the speed at which her relationship with Alec is. He tells her he loves her, and Jenny goes with the awkward standby of “thank you.” Jenny values her independence and work above all else, and she knows that in the world she lives in, choosing a family and a career is not yet an option (Chummy is a rare exception– unless it is absolutely necessary, mothers would be discouraged from working). When she is thriving so beautifully, love actually feels like a threat. It could destabilize her life. Once again, I was completely drawn in by the way Call the Midwife subtly explored an issue women face that is not entirely unique to the time period. The balance between love, work and societal expectations for women still exist, and Jenny would still be considered an outlier today for prizing her job and female friendships over her boyfriend.

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