It’s 1961 and the world is changing–perhaps a little too fast for the nuns at Nonnatus House, who find themselves scandalized by the leotards Trixie dons for her new fitness class. Meanwhile, Mrs. Turner and Patsy deliver a baby whose appearance shocks them. This is only the beginning of the tragedy that will strike many homes as a result of doctors prescribing thalidomide to their patients.
Call the Midwife is back and it brings all the heart and humor we have come to expect. Things are changing rapidly for our characters–viewers will remember that in the last season Delia lost her memory and Patsy her lover, Trixie broke off her engagement as she struggled with alcoholism, and Chummy departed for a time–but somehow the show manages to make the world seem as familiar and charming as we left it, even as it breathes new life into the plot lines. It is, after all, the 60s!
The last season, I admit, worried me. Delia’s amnesia made Call the Midwife seem like it might be jumping the shark and Trixie’s alcoholism, while hinted at previously, still seemed to come a little out of nowhere, as if the show had to shock viewers to keep them coming back. Meanwhile, the show has to deal with a constant turnover in it is cast. It lost its main protagonist awhile back. The new arrivals since have been charming, but perhaps a little lifeless–Sr. Winifred and Nurse Gilbert, for example, are still difficult for me to describe. They’re nice. Quiet. Sympathetic. I don’t know. They’re around. And Phyllis? I like her, but she appears infrequently, usually for laughs. Despite all this, season five manages to turn everything around and bring the show back to its roots–the drama at the heart of midwifery.
This episode nicely balances its heart and humor. The show is beginning to tackle the thalidomide tragedy, which saw a rise in birth defects in the babies of mothers who were prescribed the medication for nausea. A baby born with shrunken limbs disconcerts the medical staff, who are unsure how to handle the matter, and shocks the parents, who are unsure if they can bear to bring the child into their home. This heartbreaking story is juxtaposed with the story of Trixie’s new fitness class, which sees her and her the other nurses donning leotards, to the dismay of the nuns.
The episode really focuses on its characters, celebrating Trixie as she works to overcome her alcoholism, sympathizing with Patsy as she stands poised to lose Delia once more, even hinting at a romance for Barbara. And, of course, Sr. Monica Joan is there to provide good times and eat all the dessert. If the show continues in this vein, I am will remain a devoted viewer. Watching this episode felt like coming home.