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Call the Midwife ended its third season with a fond farewell for one of its major characters.
Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), who arrived at Nonnatus House in London’s impoverished East End as a young, inexperienced nurse-midwife in the show’s very first episode, is taking her leave. Intent on following a new calling, she departs Nonnatus House and the show, a wiser, more mature woman, one who has experienced both joy and heartbreak during her time tending to the neighborhood’s poor.
Her leave-taking brought tears all around, from both Jenny and her colleagues at Nonnatus house and from, yes, viewers. She will be missed.
The consolation? Carrying her suitcase as she heads off is a new beau, Phillip Worth (Stephen Ashfield), a lawyer from Scotland who was introduced earlier in the episode as the cousin of one of Jenny’s pregnant patients. Dear reader, she marrys him. (Jennifer Worth, the real life author of the three memoirs upon which the TV series is based, was wed to Worth from 1963 until her death in 2011 and had two daughters with him.)
Jenny’s isn’t the only departure. Chummy Noakes (Miranda Hart) and husband Peter (Ben Caplan) bring Chummy’s fatally ill but still snooty mother, Lady Browne (Cheryl Campbell), back to their humble East End flat to spend her final days. Always a cold and judgmental woman, she at first only grudgingly accepts their charity as she lies dying of cancer.
The episode also features an arrival, a happy capper to a story that has been unfolding all season. Former nun Shelagh Turner (Laura Main) and her husband, Dr. Patrick Turner (Stephen McGann), joyously welcome a new infant daughter into their lives.
Here’s how it all played out:
Sister Monica Joan, who says she wishes that she had mended earlier her own frayed relationship with her mother, helps Chummy to care for the dying Lady Browne. After Chummy confesses to the elderly nun that she and her mum have never been physically affectionate, Sister Monica Joan fetches Chummy the supplies needed for a manicure. In a particularly moving scene, Chummy tenderly tends to her mother’s nails as Sister Monica Joan watches approvingly. Mid-manicure, Lady Browne reaches up with her free hand to stroke her daughter’s hair and Chummy leans her cheek into her mother’s palm.
Lady Browne’s cancer serves to inspire Jenny to consider a career change from midwifery to hospice care, then in its earliest days. “We should aim to give everyone the chance of a good death,” Jenny tells Sister Julienne.
The nun tries to discourage Jenny, telling her, “You are trained to bring life into the world, not to help it depart.”
Lady Browne, indeed, gets a good death. In her final days, she spends time with her grandson, Fred, and even plays cards with son-in-law Peter, taking the huge leap of telling him to call her by her first name: Artemis. “Ghastly, isn’t it?” she says, displaying more of a sense of humor in her final days than she ever has before.
As her mother’s breaths grow strained and the end nears, Chummy climbs into bed with Lady Browne and embraces the dying woman. “I love you,” she tells her, crying softly.
In a voiceover, the older Jenny (Vanessa Redgrave) tells us, “When a death is good, a room is filled with peace and all the pain that went before it is forgotten. Where there was mystery, there is knowledge. Where there was fear, there is love.”
There is love aplenty at the Turner household. After learning that they have been approved as prospective adoptive parents, Shelagh and Patrick overcome their differences over his having failed earlier to tell her that he’d had a breakdown during World War II. “I should have told you,” he says, begging her forgiveness. Shelagh is happy to make up.
She’s also busy rehearsing her choir for a big competition. On the day of the event, however, Shelagh gets a call from the adoption agency saying that there’s a baby girl awaiting the couple. She and Patrick drive over there hurriedly and enter the nursery, where Shelagh tells her hubby, “This is as close as I’m ever going to get to giving birth and I want, I need you, to be by my side.” As they take turns holding their new daughter, the couple beams at each other and the squalling infant.
And what of the choir? Midwife Trixie Franklin (Helen George) takes over as substitute director in Shelagh’s stead and the choir wins the competition. “I don’t think she’ll even notice,” Trixie says of the choir’s shiny prize cup. “She’s been given the prize of a lifetime.”
Trixie says this while walking alongside Tom Hereward (Jack Ashton), the curate cutie with whom she has been conducting an awkward courtship in recent episodes. She tells him that she’s a deep girl. He tells Trixie that he knows that about her. They pucker up for their first real kiss.
The show ends with Jenny’s farewell party at Nonnatus House. Jenny is heading off to the cancer unit at the Marie Curie Hospital in Hampstead, where she’ll tend to the dying. “That’s what I feel called to do,” she says.
Her friends and colleagues present her, fittingly, with a gleaming bicycle festooned with balloons. With new beau Phillip trotting at her side, she rides off into her future as everyone shouts their farewells and waves goodbye.
(Note: While the younger Jenny character is disappearing from Call the Midwife–actress Raines is pursuing new opportunities like the Wolf Hall TV mini-series–fans will be pleased to know that Redgrave will continue to provide voiceover narration for the BBC series.)
What did you like best about Season Three of Call the Midwife?