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It feels like just yesterday that we turned on the telly to tune in to this beloved British drama, saying farewell to some of our favorite midwives while also welcoming a few new additions to the team. Yet as the weeks have come and gone, we’ve already reached the conclusion of Season 8, and “Call the Midwife” has taken us on quite the adventure. Scratch that. Dragged us. We’ve witnessed the emotional and physical impact of one patient’s history with hoarding, saw a mother navigate her infant’s birth deformity, and watched a family come to terms with a diagnosis of sickle cell disease. The cases have been tough, but thankfully the midwives have been tougher.
Even with all of the madness that has unfolded, however, nothing prepared us for last week’s major reveal, which was perhaps one of the most shocking to date. A continuation of multiple interweaving stories that have played out this season, the show finally unveiled the individual behind the failed underground abortion procedures that had been plaguing Poplar — and the Nonnatans. Two different patient cases landed on the midwives’ doorstep, with one ending in death, and when a third abortion emergency transpired during Episode 7, it led the women to the very person who was performing the abortions: Elsie Dyer.
While uncovering the back-alley business sent a shock through all of Nonnatus House, it impacted midwife Valerie the most as she came face-to-face with her own grandmother in the makeshift “surgery room” that sat above a local bar. Though she was confronted with a tough decision, knowing how damaging the fallout would be for Elsie if someone reported her, she ultimately decided to take the family’s secret to Sgt. Woolf with the support of her peers.
Sister Hilda’s Patient
As Trixie and Valerie anxiously await the outcome of their statements to the police, the rest of the midwives proceed with their work in an effort to create a sense of normalcy in the house. During this time, Sister Hilda drops in on teenager Julie Schroeder, who has recently undergone painful radiation treatment for cancer.
While she’s there, Sister Hilda also catches wind that Julie’s mother, Ena, is well on her way toward a delivery for baby number five, but hasn’t been seen by a nurse in six months. Since Sister Hilda already has her hands full, Lucille joins forces with her colleague to care for the mother-daughter patients. As the duo begin to make frequent visits to the home, they learn a great deal about the blended family. While Ena remains in denial and refuses to accept that Julie’s hospital treatments have done little to improve her health, Julie’s step-father Alf, remains somewhat distant throughout her treatment. Meanwhile, Julie simply wants to live out the rest of her days experiencing the things she might miss out on under the assumption that her time is limited.
Following a detailed account from both Trixie and Valerie, Sgt. Woolf and his team pay a visit to Elsie’s apartment, where they arrest her and bring her into the station for questioning. Though Elsie claims the young woman found at the bar, Teresa Banley, came to her already badly lacerated from an outside source, the police were able to find the instruments Elsie had used during the procedure.
She continues to argue that she bought the tools to treat her carbuncle, upon the advice of supposed medical professionals, but with statements from both Trixie and Valerie as witnesses of the incident, her case goes to trial where she pleads not guilty. Things further escalate when the midwives learn that Teresa, out of fear, has decided not to testify and that they’ll both have to take the stand to go over the details of that night. Feeling conflicted having already betrayed her family once, Valerie visits Elsie to let her know, somewhat apologizing but also begging Elsie to stop the abortions.
A Permanent Home
As we move from one family’s troubles to the next, we visit the Turners where a black cloud hangs over their heads in anticipation of May’s final days with them. Last week, Shelagh and Patrick shared the news that their foster daughter would be heading to her forever home with her adoptive family. Despite trying their best to ease the pain, word of her departure didn’t sit well with the rest of the children who had clearly taken to their new sister.
Even as the couple attempts to put on a brave face for the rest of their family, pointing out what a great opportunity it’ll be for May, it’s obvious that they don’t want her to leave either. When May’s parents finally arrive to pick her up from Nonnatus House, she’s says goodbye to the Turner family with the support of the midwives around them.
“Blood is thicker than water”
When the women return to work, Valerie does her best to hide the trauma of Teresa’s abortion and Elsie’s upcoming trial by distracting herself with clinic appointments. But as news about Elsie’s crime surfaces in the local paper and gossip of the incident spreads like wildfire through Poplar, she finds that she’s made a few enemies throughout town when a distant relative verbally attacks her for taking the “wrong” side as someone who was raised in a similar environment and was exposed to the hardships her friends and family have gone through. Normally one of Nonnatus House’s bluntest midwives, a defeated Valerie stands down but is quickly defended by onlooker Lucille, who has no time for anyone who bad mouths one of her friends.
Going to the Ball
While Trixie and Valerie prepare to testify in court, the other midwives begin prepping for a more pleasant affair taking place at the institute, where Shelagh has planned a charity event to raise money for a new incubator for the maternity home. Later, when Sister Hilda and Lucille check in on the Schroeder’s, they accidentally bring some of the party decorations with them as Julie notes that sequins lay scattered across the floor following their arrival. She admires the beauty of them, sharing how she’s always dreamed of dressing up and dancing at a mirrorball since she was young, but acknowledges that she doesn’t have as much time left to make those memories.
Knowing how badly Julie wants to experience these little joys of life, Sister Hilda encourages her to join the ladies for the Ballroom of Hope knowing it’ll lift her spirits and allow her to check an item off her list. Alf is initially hesitant about letting his daughter spend so much energy on a dance in her state, and privately reveals to Sister Hilda that this is not the first time he has had to watch a loved one succumb to illness. Sister Hilda points out that even under the circumstances, this is the best time of all for Alf and Ena to show Julie their love and support and to let her feel like a normal kid again.
Alf eventually agrees with Sister Hilda as he begins to see how important the dance is to Julie, but as the big day arrives, Julie starts to show signs of anemia as her cancer progresses. Though she attempts to veto a hospital visit, realizing that a long stay could prevent her from attending the ball, Dr. Turner and Sister Hilda insist that she’s in no condition to dance the night away and take her in for a blood transfusion.
Back at the institute, as Violet, Shelagh and the others make final preparations for the ball, Fred stays at home with Reggie, a surprise visitor this episode. With a case of whooping cough spreading through Reggie’s group home, he was sent back to Poplar, where his parents have noticed that he’s been acting differently ever since he arrived. As the two men have a heart-to-heart over a pint of beer at the pub, here we learn that Reggie has a girlfriend who he dearly misses.
Help is Everywhere
Though everyone else is wrapped up in the thought of dance, Elsie’s trial fast approaches and a mirrorball is the last thing on Trixie and Valerie’s minds. As it turns out, Sister Frances, who also witnessed the aftermath of Elsie’s work during her time at the house, has had the trial on her mind as well, and she becomes a surprising source of help for her comrades. With no amount of prayer seeming to help her through this conflict, she confides in Sister Monica Joan and explains how the trial has stirred up old emotions in her following Cath Hindman’s abortion in Episode 1, when she first joined Nonnatus House. She admits the event has troubled her for so long and that she felt helpless throughout the ordeal, feeling that her religious duties prevented her from being able to feel angry over what happened or demanding justice.
Acknowledging that what happened to Cath happens to women all over, she seeks guidance from her fellow Sister to see what they can do to help. They later meet with Cath’s sister, Lesley, who reveals to them that Cath never returned home after her operation because of the shame and sadness she felt over the whole affair. This conversation eventually leads them to Cath’s new job where they disclose everything that has transpired since that awful day.
In more lighthearted news, the Turner family receives a welcome surprise just in time for the Ballroom of Hope when they learn that May’s adoption didn’t quite pan out as expected. After her adoptive father relapses from tuberculosis (I mean, that’s not the good news), her adoptive family feels they don’t have the ability to properly care for her. All that leads May back to the Motherhouse, where she first met many of the midwives. Naturally, Shelagh and Dr. Turner are not about to let her stay in the adoption center overnight and bring her home. After all, she’s family.
Valerie's Support System
During this time, another familiar face returns to join her midwife family. Fully recovered from her hospital stay, Phyllis arrives at the house just in time to greet Valerie and lend a helping hand to her friends before she and Trixie head to court. And as one person’s good deeds spread to the next, Valerie discovers that Sister Julienne has also decided to accompany the women to Elsie’s trial — because friends always stick together.
A New Witness
Following the public outburst Valerie experienced at the clinic and feeling utter despair over turning in her grandmother, things have only become more stressful for the midwife when the day of Elsie’s trial finally arrives. Trixie testifies first and is subject to a long line of questioning, but she’s immediately criticized during her testimony when it becomes clear that her friendship with Jeannie Tennant, who died at Elsie’s hands, may be affecting her ability to be impartial. As the trial continues it almost appears as if things might be turning in Elsie’s favor, but after successful persuasion on the part of Sister Monica Joan and Sister Frances, a surprise witness, Cath, takes the stand to share her story.
Cath takes the jury through the gory details of her abortion, and after both Trixie and Cath have said their part, Valerie awaits her turn to testify against Elsie. Yet in a surprise twist, she discovers last minute that she’ll no longer be questioned about her experience after Cath’s harrowing account of her time with Elsie, as well as the impact of her botched abortion, move Elsie so much so that she changes her plea. Instead, she pleads guilty for the acts she committed, leaving Valerie both relieved that she doesn’t have to speak out against her grandmother again but also horrified to know what comes next.
Following her trial, Elsie is sentenced to six years in prison for her crime, which is almost the maximum number of years that abortionists serve in England. Caught up in her guilt and the emotional journey of it all, Valerie meets with her grandmother to ask for her forgiveness. Elsie admits that while what happened to the women who came to her was indeed her fault, she warns Valerie that she and her colleagues need to work on a change in the system to provide both a legal and safer alternative for women seeking abortions. Otherwise, women all over will continue to pay for underground procedures as they did with Elsie. Though their goodbye is somber, they leave one another with their relationship mostly intact, understanding why they both had to do what they did.
Julie’s Cinderella Moment
Once the trial has completed and the midwives are slowly able to put everything behind them, it’s already time for them to put on their dancing shoes for the Ballroom of Hope. Despite Julie’s health scare, she’s able to recover from her trip to the hospital and is cleared to go to the dance, where everyone in the community is glammed up for the event. There, Reggie reunites with his girlfriend, May joins Angela and Patrick for a father-daughter dance, and Julie has the chance to participate in the magical night she’s always wanted, twirling under the mirrorball with her dad by her side. While the moment is still a solemn one for Valerie, the Ballroom of Hope offers the possibility of a brighter future for the midwives as they move forward from the events that befell them this season.
And with that small bit of hope to close what’s been a real rollercoaster of drama, we’ll call it a season. In case you didn’t already know, our midwives will be back for Season 9 just next Spring. Thanks for reading, everyone, and we’ll see you next time!
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