Nonnatus House meets Hell’s Angels. That was what happened in the latest episode of Call the Midwife, with leather-wearing nuns and helmeted midwives zooming about on powerful, low rider hogs through London’s East End in 1958.
Okay, okay, I exaggerate. But a single motorcycle did play a key role in the episode’s main comic subplot. Said scooter was purchased by Fred (Cliff Parisi), the handyman at Nonnatus House, the residence where the nurse-midwives and medically-trained nuns reside in the British TV series.
“Ladies, your carriage awaits,” he says, showing off the scooter to Jenny (Jessica Raine), Trixie (Helen George), Cynthia (Bryony Hannah) and Jane (Dorothy Atkinson). Watching all this, Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) harrumphs in seeming disapproval.
Before clustering around the new motorbike, which will be used to transport heavy supplies, the women were busily hanging out flags and banners to welcome home the soon-to-return Chummy (Miranda Hart) and Peter (Ben Caplan), her policeman husband, from Sierra Leone. Jane, the recently arrived health aide, worries that she no longer will be needed at Nonnatus House now that Chummy is returning. “Jane, you’re part of Nonnatus, not filling in a gap,” Jenny assures her.
Sister Evangelina and Cynthia visit John Lacey, an irascible fellow who is a non-compliant diabetes patient. Not only is Lacey a lousy patient, but he’s also a lousy husband to Annie, his wife. He orders her about as if she was a servant. Sister Evangelina assigns Cynthia to visit him twice a day to administer insulin injections.
Monique Hyde, a black woman who has moved to England from the West Indies, shows up at the maternity clinic at Nonnatus House to be examined by Jenny. She is given the cold shoulder by white patients there, including her neighbor, Rita Bailey.
Sister Bernadette (Laura Main), who received a tuberculosis diagnosis in last week’s episode, is undergoing treatment at a sanitarium. Widowed Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann), who kissed her palm two episodes ago, is regularly writing her letters. A conflicted Sister Bernadette refuses to open his epistles.
Jenny visits Monique in the small apartment she shares with her husband and four other fellow West Indian immigrants. After hinting to Jenny about the daily discrimination that she faces in London, Monique offers her tea. “I used to think everyone in England drank tea and planted flowers in their garden,” Monique says.
When Cynthia arrives at the Lacey residence, John is about to smack Annie because he doesn’t like the food she has served him. Cynthia upbraids him and tells Annie, “He shouldn’t treat you the way he does.” Annie tells the Cynthia that, long ago, John rescued her and her young son from the streets and she has always been grateful.
Back at Nonnatus House, Cynthia tells Sister Evangelina about John’s mistreatment of Annie. The experienced older nun lectures the younger nurse, “Ain’t you been here long enough? We don’t have Hollywood endings here. We just do our jobs.”
When Cynthia visits Annie again, Annie excitedly announces that her son Bob, now an adult, is going visit from America. He has sent her a new-fangled transistor radio, which Annie tunes in to Dean Martin singing “Volare.”
Fred begins teaching the midwives how to drive the new motorcycle by having them sit on dining room chairs and practice their hand signals. “When do we actually get to go on the scooter?” asks Jane. Sister Evangelina skeptically watches.
Jenny brings a bouquet of flowers when she next visits Monique. “It’s not just myth; some of us do grow flowers and drink tea,” she tells Monique. Later, when Monique says she’s reluctant to ask for too much medical help because her neighbors already disapprove of her receiving assistance, Jenny firmly tells her, “Mrs. Hyde, my job is looking after you.”
Sister Evangelina has discovered Fred’s big secret: “You can’t ride one, can you?” she says, pointing to the motorcycle. Although clad in full habit, onto the bike she climbs. Fred gets on behind her, hanging on for dear life as they vroom through the narrow streets of the East End.
“If anybody was to see us in this position, might we phrase it that I was teaching you?” requests Fred.
“I rode a machine ten times this size day in and day out during the war. And to tell you the truth, I was missing it,” the nun tells him. (I do hope someday we’ll learn much more about Sister Evangelina’s past; clearly, there’s plenty to tell.)
Rita, the bigoted woman who lives next door to Monique, makes nasty remarks about her to Jenny. Our nurse heroine scolds Rita for being “narrow minded.”
Dr. Turner is sitting glumly behind the wheel in his parked car in the pouring rain. Crosscut to Sister Bernadette looking equally forlorn while lying in her bed at the sanitarium. Clearly, something has to change for both of them. Dr. Turner’s young son, who’s also in the car, pipes up, “Are you sad, Dad?” and then reminds his father that he sat in the car “the same way after Mum died.”
Bob, Annie’s son, returns home from America with his snooty American fiancé, who obviously wants to beat it back to their fancy hotel as fast as she can. Bob suggests that Annie and John come over to America for his wedding. John immediately puts the kibosh on that idea, claiming his health prevents him from traveling.
A nurse at the sanitarium delivers yet another letter from Dr. Turner to Sister Bernadette. “He’s either the most exciting man on earth or the dumbest one,” she cheekily tells the nun. Somehow, this remark seems to get through to Sister Bernadette, who tells the nurse she needs to request a visitor. She then longingly-some might even say suggestively–strokes the envelope containing Dr. Turner’s latest missive. But will she open it?
Near Monique’s apartment, bigoted Rita nearly trips down a set of steps but is saved by Monique, who catches her. A fledgling friendship is born.
Back at John and Annie’s place, John has appropriated for himself his wife’s transistor radio. Cynthia, upon hearing of his refusal to visit America, tells him he’s fit to travel. John takes umbrage.
He’s done his bit, he says, explaining, “She and that boy would have been in the work house without me. ”
This sends Annie over the top. “And I’d be better off for it,” she tells him. “I’ve given far more than I’ve taken.”
Sister Bernadette has summoned Sister Julienne to visit her at the sanitarium for the big reveal. She’s not long for the convent. ”I haven’t lost my faith but I want other things,” she tells Sister Julienne. “Things I can’t have in a religious life. I think God wants another path for me, beyond Nonnatus.”
Sister Julienne doesn’t seem all that surprised but warns the younger woman that “the journey that will not be an easy one.”
Annie gets dressed up to visit her son at his hotel. She tells her husband, “I’m going out now and I can’t say when I’ll come back. I had a life before you, John, and it’s about time I found it again.”
John looks gob smacked. Cynthia, who is visiting, says approvingly as Annie departs, “Well done!”
Chummy and Peter finally return to Nonnatus House. Spotting the motorcycle, Chummy asks, “What’s next, nuns on skis?” (Yes, please, we’d love to see that!) She then opens her coat to reveal that she’s pregnant.
Annie and her son have a lovely lunch at his hotel. “I don’t want to lose you, Bob,” she tells him. He assures her that she never will. Miss Priss, the fiancé, is nowhere in sight.
Monique goes into labor and can’t reach Jenny. (Dotty elderly Sister Monica Joan, played by Judy Parfitt, answers the phone and hangs up on Monique.) While her other neighbors turn their backs on her, Rita escorts Monique, holding her hand the whole way, to Nonnatus House. The pregnant woman collapses on the steps. As Jenny and the other midwives and nuns emerge, Rita huffily demands on behalf of her new BFF, “Where were you lot, leaving a woman in this state?”
In the hallway of Nonnatus House, Monique gives birth to a healthy baby boy. “Welcome to England,” Jenny greets the infant.
“In the whole mother country, you picked the nicest ladies to introduce you,” Monique tells her new son, as she gazes fondly at Jenny and the other midwives and nuns.
As the episode closes, Annie returns from visiting her son. A chastened John has set the table for dinner, prepared a meal for her, and returned her radio. “Thank you,” she tells him, switching on her music and joining him for supper.
Monique holds her infant son in her arms at her apartment as her husband and flat mates admire the child. Rita and her little girl are there, too, having brought tea.
And Sister Bernadette? She is opening and reading Dr. Turner’s letters, one after the other, her face aglow with love.
“Where the heart is lies hope,” intones the older Jenny (voiced by Vanessa Redgrave) on the soundtrack. “And everything is possible.”
What was your favorite part of this episode?