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‘Tis the season, and what better way to celebrate the holidays than to treat ourselves with the 2020 Call the Midwife Holiday Special? You better believe we needed it, and luckily, Santa has delivered on his promises this year. When we last left the midwives in May (truly, where has the time gone?), Nonnatus House was in full blown chaos. Kevin McNulty, a young doctor shadowing Dr. Turner, overdosed on pethidine and was forced to leave his work in Poplar for rehabilitation, Valerie Dyer’s grandmother Elsie passed away from cancer of the oesophagus, and Nonnatus House faced demolition.
It wasn’t all bad though! The Turners officially adopted May and, all things considered, the midwives’ work training some of England’s junior doctors was quite a success. Most importantly, Trixie made an extremely convincing speech to the Board of Health to allow the midwives to continue their work at Nonnatus House for one more year at their current rent. No bulldozing here, folks! Phew. So now that we’re all caught up, let’s make ourselves cozy and settle in with the ladies of Nonnatus House. Grab your mugs of cocoa and let’s begin!
A Small Christmas Gathering
Christmas time is here (cue off-key singing from the Peanuts), and amongst the midwives, there’s excitement and talk of grand turkey feasts, gift exchanges, and a new circus caravan in town. All in all, life in Poplar has remained largely unchanged -- or so it seems. In a stunning revelation made during the episode’s opening, we learn that one teensy update has altered the midwives’ celebratory plans this year: Valerie has left Nonnatus House. We’re not sure what we did to deserve this news dressed up as a lump of Christmas coal, but it’s a heavy blow to start the holiday season for the whole crew.
Sister Julienne is the one to drop the bomb on her colleagues when they discover that all of Valerie’s belongings are missing from her room. With the initial understanding that she was making her rounds at the maternity home that day, they learn that she quietly slipped out of the house and had asked Sister Julienne to keep her secret from the others until she departed. After the death of her grandmother during Season 9 and the traumatic events that unfolded before her passing, Valerie found that she was emotionally unable to continue her work in Poplar and transferred to Hope Clinic in South Africa for the foreseeable future. It’s a shock to all, but of the lot, Lucille seems to take Valerie’s absence the hardest, confiding in Cyril and questioning how she could have left without any parting words after everything they’d been through together.
Shelagh Bumps Into an Old Friend
As the midwives grapple with this unexpected news, Shelagh makes her own rounds (actually, though) to St. Cuthbert’s Hospital where she runs into Gloria Venables. The reunion is a welcome surprise. While pregnant with her son Teddy during Season 6, Shelagh met Gloria at the hospital where both women had been admitted for early signs of potential miscarriage. Gloria, who had already experienced two miscarriages in the past, was by Shelagh’s side as a source of comfort through it all. Sadly, Gloria lost her third child while she was in the hospital with Shelagh that day, but at 38 weeks now, she remains hopeful following a recent cervical cerclage.
Gloria puts on a tough front during her catch-up with Shelagh, but it’s behind closed doors when we really see her concerns about her pregnancy. When she meets with the doctor who’s scheduled to deliver her baby, she voices her concerns to him about potential complications that might arise during or post-delivery. She’s met by condescension at St. Cuthberts. Rather than empathizing with her and her fears, her doctor claims that she’s as healthy as any other mother and doesn’t need to fret, but should instead go home to calm her mind. Understandably unsatisfied with this sort of care, she later turns to Shelagh and Dr. Turner, asking for a transfer to their practice for delivery and to receive antenatal care from the midwives.
The Percival Circus
From one patient to the next, we make our way to the Percival Circus, which has settled into Poplar for the month. They’ve pitched their tents, bringing dancing dogs, stilt-walkers, musicians and - everyone’s worst nightmare - clowns with them, along with one of their top circus acts, Jacquetta Percival. The founder’s daughter and one of the circus’ aerial trapezists (before she was pregnant, that is), she’s in her third trimester while her family’s business is in town. She makes herself an appointment at Dr. Turner’s clinic in case she requires a delivery in Poplar before the caravan makes its way to France, and Phyllis takes over as her primary midwife.
Trixie’s Love Life… or Lack Thereof?
Speaking of special deliveries… Trixie is anxiously awaiting one of her own. Not the cute, cooing, rosy-cheeked kind, mind you. While Phyllis is busy reveling over the magic of traveling circuses with new patient Jacquetta, back home, Trixie receives a much-anticipated letter in the mail from her godmother who, every Christmas, has been known to send her a dress allowance to feed into her growing wardrobe. Unfortunately, a nice new frock isn’t in the cards as she expected. Instead, she’s gifted Trixie with unwanted advice from one’s relatives over the holidays when she not-so-subtly tells Trixie that out of fear of her being eternally single, she has paid for her to see a matchmaker from the marriage bureau. Naturally, Trixie does not take this lightly.
A Decoration Fiasco
While Trixie sits with her letter, agonizing over what to do (after all, future dress allowances are at stake here), the rest of the midwives are deep into decorating mode. With the holiday season in full swing, the women have put up a fresh tree, handmade paper chain garlands and have strung tinsel about the rooms. Of course, as the unofficial Queen of Christmas, Sister Monica Joan is also there to make sure that everything is precisely as it should be. So much so, that when the others have finished up for the evening and turn to Trixie to offer her advice, Sister Monica Joan takes it upon herself to make some ~~adjustments~~ to Sister Frances’ garland work over the mantle. Despite having been warned that climbing up ladders and handling a hammer is too dangerous for her (honestly, same), she takes the others’ absence to completely ignore this and does so anyway.
While she successfully and sneakily manages to adjust the decorations in their common room when no one is looking, when she makes her way up the stairs to meet the others for tea, she trips on her untied shoelace, and falls, much to the alarm of the rest of the midwives. Apparently Santa did not get our message to PROTECT SISTER MONICA JOAN AT ALL COSTS! Anyway. When they come to her aid, she’s visibly in pain, and is transported to the hospital where she learns that she’s broken both her tibia and fibula. As if that weren’t bad enough, she also learns that due to the extent of her injuries and the ‘round the clock care she requires, she won’t be able to return to the house for Christmas either. Sister Monica Joan is distraught to hear she’ll be stuck in the hospital during her favorite holiday and to be taken out of her routine.
A Wild Night at the Circus
Meanwhile, at the circus, we learn that Phyllis isn’t the only fan of acrobatic acts and contortionists. Our favorite dynamic duo Fred and Reggie are up to their own shenanigans when they make a visit to Percival Circus in hopes that Reggie can see the polar bear that was advertised on the caravan’s posters around town. While Snowy mysteriously isn’t available for meet-and-greets (apparently gone to a “convalescent home” in the North Pole), Jacquetta offers Reggie the chance to feed the show’s horses and meet the other circus animals instead.
While Reggie joins Jacquetta’s two young sons at the stables, Fred takes the opportunity to get a signed photo of Snowy from Jacquetta’s father and circus ringmaster, Mr. Percival. As Mr. Percival confirms that Snowy has in fact passed, it’s not long into their visit that the two men hear an explosion outside and discover that a fire has broken out near the caravans where a gas canister has exploded. As panic ensues, both Fred and Jacquetta frantically search for Reggie and the boys who are nowhere in sight as the caravans become fully engulfed in flames and are beyond saving. Through the smoke, however, Reggie appears with Jacquetta’s sons, having kept them calm through the fire, ultimately saving their lives.
Caring for the Percival Family
Following the fires, the Percivals move their family into a room above a pub until they can find new accommodations. Phyllis arrives to check in on Jacquetta’s health, but while she’s there, she also hear’s Mr. Percival coughing loudly from a neighboring room. Jacquetta admits that while it could be a result of smoke inhalation from the fire, her father has also been a heavy smoker for most of his life. Concerned about his condition, Phyllis sends Dr. Turner to the circus the next day to examine him.
During the appointment, Dr. Turner discovers that Mr. Percival’s health is deteriorating more rapidly than he expected. In addition to only having one functioning lung and a second filling up with fluid, he’s also been coping with the painful side effects of radiation treatment for lung cancer. Dr. Turner reveals that Mr. Percival also has an enlarged lymph node, which means his cancer is spreading. Though Dr. Turner encourages him to go to a hospital for treatment, he refuses to leave his work behind and declares that Jacquetta and her pregnancy are his top priority.
Preparations for Baby
As we make our way to the Iris Knight Institute, Shelagh has another check-in during clinic with Gloria. Her blood pressure is higher than usual, but Shelagh attempts to reassure her by crediting it to anxiety that all new mothers go through. When she tells Gloria that making a list of all the things she needed to get done before Teddy’s arrival helped ease her mind and distract her, Gloria confesses she can’t relate as she hasn’t yet prepared for anything beyond her baby’s birth.
Having purchased all the necessary items for her first and second pregnancies, Gloria explains that she stopped buying the prams, clothes and bottles following her miscarriages to avoid the trauma of having to give everything away should it happen again. Seeing that Gloria is clearly overwhelmed and still suffering from the emotional toll of losing her children, Shelagh takes her under her wing in an attempt to help her friend however she can. She brings Gloria to Violet’s shop to help her order clothes and diapers, but even as Shelagh makes the arrangements for everything, it’s clear that Gloria still has her doubts about what’s to come.
Meeting the Matchmaker
Over at the Poplar marriage bureau, Trixie has finally made peace with her godmother’s letter - sort of. Despite her previous hesitations about going to a matchmaker to be set up with potential suitors, she takes Sister Hilda’s advice to take the plunge and try something new. Though the matchmaker is pleased with Trixie’s background and overall demeanor, she voices her concerns over Trixie’s profession in addition to her living in a convent.
She also notes that Trixie’s objection to drinking alcohol could raise eyebrows and limit her number of interested matches. To this, Trixie argues that any man who expects her to drink on a date isn’t truly a gentleman and needn’t be on her list of matches at all. Hear, hear! Beyond this, Trixie’s requirements are quite simple. No facial hair. No ichthyologists. Must appreciate her keen sense of fashion. Easy enough, right?
The Dating Game
Wrong. To the surprise of absolutely no one who has ever been on a single date in their life, matchmaker or not, dating isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be. Trixie attempts several rounds of dinner with the men the marriage bureau recommends to her, but doesn’t have much luck. Though one match, a parfumier, seems promising on paper, he accidentally ends up at the wrong location and unintentionally stands Trixie up, seemingly cementing her doubts in the marriage bureau’s ability to find her a suitable partner.
Unsure how to continue, she later confides in Sister Julienne who encourages her to continue on her journey and face the challenges life throws at her. In this not-so-subtle way of telling Trixie to embrace change and everything that comes with it, she uses this opportunity to reveal some more uplifting news about Nonnatus House’s future. Though it doesn’t have anything to do with improving Trixie’s chances of meeting her soulmate - that we know of - an expansion of Nonnatus House and their work has been planned for the coming year. As one of the house’s original midwives, keeping a job alongside her friends trumps finding a partner all the way. Sorry, guys!
A New Addition to the Caravan
But speaking of boys... there’s one special guy we just can’t overlook. Newborn baby Percival makes three, and back at her room over the Black Sail Pub Jacquetta has successfully pushed through a complicated forceps delivery to give birth to the newest member of the Percival Circus clan. It’s quite the celebration with Phyllis, Sister Hilda and Dr. Turner all there to accompany her, but her son’s biggest fan, Mr. Percival, has nervously been waiting in the wings for his grandson to arrive.
He’s overjoyed when he finally meets him and, naturally, as circus ringmaster, is quick to suggest that his grandson be christened under the big top. Sister Hilda and Phyllis marvel at this, but Jacquetta rejects the idea, explaining that while she may have been roped into circus life as a kid, she doesn’t want the same for her sons. While she’s quite close with her father and her intentions aren’t meant to be malicious, it’s obvious that Mr. Percival is put off by her comments and wonders if he made the wrong decision to raise Jacquetta as he did all these years. His disappointment does not go unnoticed by an ever-observant Phyllis.
It doesn’t help of course that shortly after her delivery - and, inconveniently, after Dr. Turner leaves - Jacquetta begins to display symptoms of a heart attack. From a heartwarming moment, to fatherly guilt, to a life-threatening emergency, this is probably what you expected from this year’s Holiday Special. It just wouldn’t be “Call the Midwife” without a plot twist. An ambulance promptly arrives to take Jacquetta to the hospital and while Sister Hilda travels with her, Phyllis stays behind to console Mr. Percival, who is both scared for his daughter’s wellbeing, after losing his own wife to childbirth, and is now tending to a bruised ego.
Thankfully, Jacquetta is in stable condition once in the care of the St. Cuthbert staff and while she’s there, she learns from her attending doctor that she was actually experiencing heart failure. Though uncommon, he explains that this can sometimes occur late into a woman’s pregnancy but can be rectified with the right medication. It’s not the news she had hoped to hear, wondering if her mother’s death was a result of heart failure as well, but she moves forward, hoping to be reunited with her baby and the rest of her family soon.
What Dreams Are Made Of
Meanwhile, Phyllis brings Mr. Percival back to the circus while he waits to hear from his daughter. Worrying over the source of Jacquetta’s condition, he admits to Phyllis that he wonders if he worked his daughter too hard during her time at the circus and if he’s really the one to blame for her ailments. As she always does, Phyllis gives it to him straight, and tells him that just because Jacquetta has dreamt of an alternate life where she wasn’t always on the move, that doesn’t mean she didn’t enjoy what she had. Phyllis goes on to admit that while she loves her work as a midwife, she often dreams of what it would have been like to run off to the circus if she’d had the chance. That’s all to say that everyone, Jacquetta included, can have a variety of dreams and aspirations while still being content with the path they’ve taken.
Taking Phyllis’ words to heart after their visit, Mr. Percival invites her back to the circus the next day. When she arrives, she’s under the impression that she’s making another call to check on his health, but is stunned when Mr. Percival meets her at the entrance of the big top fully dressed in his best showman clothing. One of his performers escorts Phyllis backstage where she’s presented with a stunning, embellished aerial costume of her own, and when she returns to Mr. Percival’s side, Jacquetta’s aerial swing is waiting for her under the spotlight. With Mr. Percival’s help, she finally gets a chance to feel what it’s like to fly. We have our doubts that Phyllis will quit her day job to join the circus, but that’s certainly a spinoff we’d love to see. The moral of the story? Never stop dreaming.
Lucille’s Holiday Mission
As Mr. Percival assists Phyllis in carrying out one of her dreams, back at Nonnatus House, Lucille is on a mission to help fulfill the wishes of another. After she and Cyril make a visit to see Sister Monica Joan, they learn that she has not been receiving the care they would have hoped for her following her fall. Lucille is enraged when she learns that her dear friend has been subjected to a catheter, merely out of convenience for the nurses at the hospital who are watching over her, and discouraged by this type of care, she takes her frustrations to Sister Julienne. With a little nudge, she convinces Sister Julienne to let them bring Sister Monica Joan home early under the understanding that all of the midwives will pitch in to care for her once she’s back at Nonnatus House. Since it’s the season of giving, Sister Julienne agrees to this and our Queen of Christmas finally returns home.
Gloria’s Little Miracle
When we return to the maternity home, Gloria’s contractions have just begun, and as the team prepares her for what’s expected to be a long labor, Shelagh suspects that there’s more to her friend’s story than she’s willing to admit.
Following their visit to Violet’s store, where Gloria was reluctant about planning too far ahead, Shelagh notices that she still seems troubled just hours from the birth of her child. Wanting Gloria to go into her delivery without the walls that she has put up to protect herself, Shelagh looks into Gloria’s past pregnancies to see if this will offer some insight into what Gloria has been hesitant to talk about. What she learns is devastating. Gloria hasn’t miscarried three children as she claimed, but actually miscarried seven times. When Shelagh confronts her, she acknowledges how heavy the burden must have been all this time and how lonely Gloria must have felt enduring the loss of so many children without telling any of her friends or family. As Gloria slowly opens up, she tells Shelagh that she knew what every child looked like, the sex of each baby, and all of their names.
When the time finally arrives for Gloria to push, with Shelagh’s encouragement, she continues to talk about her children, explaining what she imagined of their futures and what their personalities would have been like, until she’s spoken all seven of their names aloud: Brian, David, Peter, Ruth, Rebecca, John and Antony. When she’s finished, Shelagh and Sister Frances help deliver her healthy little girl. It’s an emotional release for the mother after everything she’s been through and a moment that will likely always keep the two women bonded. We’re not crying, there’s just a rock in our eye. No, but we’re actually sobbing over here.
Baby’s First Circus
Over at St. Cuthbert’s, Mr. Percival has finally agreed to check himself into the hospital following his rendez-vous with Phyllis, where he hopes they’ll be able to drain some of the fluid off his lung. While he’s there, he pays a visit to Jacquetta to tell her that because of his health issues and the caravan’s fire damage, he plans to close the circus down. Jacquetta refuses to let him give up on what she knows has been his lifelong dream, saying it’s not his time yet, and surprises him further by letting him know that she’s made the decision to christen all three of her sons at the circus. She admits that while her time and interest in that lifestyle has ended, that chapter has only just begun for her children, who have it in their blood.
Home for the Holidays
So as we wrap this episode, every family, including our midwives, come together to celebrate new beginnings and the perfect conclusion to the holiday season. Two beautiful babies were brought into the world, Sister Monica Joan is home where she should be, and there are exciting new things ahead for Nonnatus House. While we’re sad to see Valerie go, we look forward to what awaits in the new year. Until next time!