Call the Midwife Season 3 Episode 5 Review

After Jenny’s departure from Nonnatus House last week, I was unsure how Call the Midwife could continue on without her. For better and for worse at times, Jenny has dominated the series. An elder Jenny is our narrator, so every episode is framed by her perspective. To remove her from the immediate narrative and to not allow us to follow her journey through her grief did not seem possible. It is not that the show couldn’t go on without Jenny, it is that it felt unlikely to.

A curious thing happened in episode five though, with Jenny removed the other characters who populate Nonnatus House shared the spotlight. This episode was a reset in many ways. There was only one birth and it was highly unconventional, having nothing to do with the prospect of preparing a new mother and everything to do with how people with Down Syndrome were cared for and misunderstood during the time period. Elsewhere, we were introduced to a new midwife, Patsy Mount. If Patsy looked familiar, it is because she appeared last season when Jenny was sent to work at the hospital where Jimmy’s appendix burst. Patsy is nothing like Jenny, a fact established quickly. Like Jenny, the first person she meets at Nonnatus House is Sister Monica Joan, but there is no sharing of cake between the two. Patsy may be new to midwifery, but she is not new to the field of medicine. Her nursing background has instilled her with maturity, a dedication to order and cleanliness and a sense of worldliness that Jenny did not possess when her journey began. If anything, her manner is more akin to Sister Evangelina’s. She runs a tight ship and brings whiskey to the party after dark.

This hour set several smaller stories in motion when Sister Julienne becomes ill. Shelagh is forced to realize she has been holding Timmy back due to her fear that his Polio has left him unable to keep up with the other boys. When Timmy proves he can still run and play just as he always has, Shelagh becomes free to help out at Nonnatus House with her first task being organizing Sister Evangelina’s Jubilee. Meanwhile, Chummy’s dedication to midwifery is beginning to cause a strain in her marriage. She thrives on work, but Peter is clearly feeling overtaxed and under-appreciated. Two sentiments that lead to a bit of snapping between the couple as they discuss Baby Fred’s needs and Peter’s work as an officer.

The only case this week involved characters we met last season in the residential home for patient’s with mental and neurological disorders. We met Jacob again and found he had fallen in love with Sally, a resident with Down’s Syndrome. At a time when people with Down’s Syndrome often lived out their lives in homes and were treated like children, the idea that they could experience adult love was out of the question. In fact, it was illegal. For that reason, sex education would never have come into play, which led to Jacob and Sally having a sexual relationship and Sally becoming pregnant with no understanding of what was happening to her body.

This was another instance of Call the Midwife exploring territory I have never seen explored on television before. Because Jacob is perceived as mentally sharper than Sally, Sally’s parents consider him a predator, but Sally and Jacob’s love was mutual. The baby is born early and is stillborn, but Sally didn’t want a child or fully understand what it would mean to be a mother in the first place– not because she wasn’t capable of understanding these things but because society treated her as a child herself, and so she was never taught them. The tragedy of seeing Jacob and Sally separated at the hour’s end was difficult to watch. As Jacob told Sally’s mother, they saw something in each other no one else could and to take that connection away from anyone is brutal.

However, the primary focus was on Sister Evangeline’s reluctance to have her Jubilee. Her drunken brother, the first baby she ever saw being born, shows up leaving Sister Evangeline to take food from the House to feed him. Sister Evangeline has always been focused entirely on her calling and displayed very little tolerance for shenanigans. During what should be her proudest moment, she is confronted with who she was before she took her oath. She is and always will be her brother’s sister no matter her oaths, and she cannot reconcile her inability to stop taking him in even when she knows he will continue to hurt himself with her selfless duties as a Nun.

I enjoyed seeing such a human side of Sister Evangeline. In many instances, she is a superhero among nuns, but we saw a vulnerability here that we have never seen before. Despite her protests about her Jubilee, which she felt she didn’t deserve, the Sisters and midwives pulled off Sister Evangeline’s big day all the same and it was immensely moving. Everyone in Poplar, including her brother, showed up to bring her flowers and gifts. The Sister got to watch as so many adults and children alike came to give her flowers, smiling as they told her they were “one of hers.”

As much as I love Jenny, I wonder now if Call the Midwife has been held back by her dominance. The episode was scattered, yes, but it allowed new and old characters to shine. We touched based with everyone, and the results were fascinating. The women on Call the Midwife have so many varied backgrounds, ages and personalities the series could do great things by splitting the attention between them equally. I do want to see Jenny process her grief and continue to grow, but I am relieved to find Nonnatus House has plenty of stories to tell even when she is not present.

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