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From supporting the use of birth control — something so scandalous that women would sneak into the contraceptive clinic to get access to it — to the formation of an advisory center for unwed mothers, “Call the Midwife” has drastically transformed over the past few years. Both social and medical progress remain constant across Poplar and with these changing times, the midwives are doing their best to make sure they change with it.
One Step Forward
When we first reunited with the midwives during the Season 9 premiere, the episode concluded with a cliffhanger leaving us all to wonder what would become of Nonnatus House’s future. After learning of Poplar’s Urban Renewal Program, created to clear the city of some of its older buildings, Sister Julienne was mortified to receive notice that Nonnatus House was included on a list of buildings that could be demolished if deemed nonessential by the city council.
Hoping to avoid panic amongst the rest of the midwives however, she and Sister Hilda initially promised each other that they’d keep the fate of the house to themselves. But as demolition on their street draws near and their status remains unknown, Sister Julienne decides she’s not going to wait around to find out what will become of their beloved home, religious refuge and place of work. With an eye on her competitors, she observes that more women are turning to hospitals for their deliveries. Making moves to prove Nonnatus House’s value to the community, she turns to Dr. Turner for guidance and proposes that they start a new program at the house to act as a source of OB/GYN training for the city’s junior doctors.
A Girls Club No More
Always on board to support his peers, Dr. Turner is quick to agree with Sister Julienne’s plan, and acknowledges how detrimental the absence of Nonnatus House could be to the maternity home. After finding four young doctors to participate in their midwifery program (oh, and did we mention they’re ~~men~~?), Sister Julienne and Dr. Turner present their fun experiment to the rest of the group. The idea is met with a bit of skepticism, especially when they learn that Nonnatus House (a convent, remember) will also be providing lodging for the doctors, but the women try to make the most of it, putting their trust in the house’s leader - even if that means sharing a room and abiding by a newly formed bathroom roster.
Meeting Poplar’s Pigeon Man
While the women prepare for their guests’ arrival, Fred makes a new acquaintance of his own. During a stroll through the neighborhood, Fred is taken by surprise when he hears a commotion in a supposedly empty row of flats set to be demolished. Following some investigation, he’s stunned to find resident George Benson chasing after his pet pigeon, Dot, and learns that the longtime bird breeder has been living alone in the crumbling building long after the rest of its tenants have moved out.
Though George is initially dismissive and not one to mingle with strangers, he opens up when Fred starts bringing Reggie along for their weekly visits. Using these moments to gain George’s trust in an effort to convince him to move out, their casual hangouts soon transition into welfare checks when Fred notices George might be displaying signs of tuberculosis.
The New Guys In Town
Meanwhile at Nonnatus House, the midwives welcome their new housemates when Benedict Walters, Kevin McNulty, Nigel Fielding and William Pontin arrive for their stay. Trixie and Sister Monica Joan are the first to meet the junior doctors, who have made it just in time for family dinner. As introductions commence, the midwives discover that Benedict’s father is Sir Howard Walters, a well known figure in the medical community lauded for his book and research in obstetrics and gynecology. Though the women are all impressed with the celebrity connection, Trixie is the first to notice Benedict’s discomfort by this, perhaps feeling overshadowed by his father’s name.
A Helping Hand from the Buckles
While the midwives adjust to new faces around the house, over on Christopher Row, Dr. Turner accompanies Fred to George’s home. After his examination, he too is concerned with George’s symptoms and requests a followup appointment for an X-Ray and a mantoux test to check for tuberculosis.
Upon hearing this, George shuts it down, letting it be known that he refuses to move into a sanitorium for TB recovery, let alone move at all. Fred tries to ease his mind and reminds George that they have yet to receive his official results but secretly worries about his new pal’s wellbeing and the future of his feathered friends.
The Training Program Commences
At the clinic, training is finally underway, and it’s immediately evident that the men have a lot to learn from the midwives not only about childbirth but about doctor-patient relationships as well. You know, like directly addressing their patients during exams. It’s the little things. Overall, Sister Julienne’s experiment is off to a smooth start, but as clinic appointments continue, expecting mother Elsie Jessop goes into labor and the doctors’ first day of work suddenly turns into an emergency delivery.
When the hospital ambulance is delayed, Phyllis (who still hasn’t warmed to this workshop) is forced to pair with Benedict. The delivery is a first for the young doctor and Elsie’s baby is born in healthy condition thanks to the duo’s teamwork. It seems like a win for the training program and a step forward for positive collaboration, but the friendship doesn’t last long. After a hard day’s work and even more deliveries following the groups’ clinic hours, Phyllis returns to Nonnatus House to see Benedict sitting at the head of the dinner table with Sister Julienne basking in the spotlight. Understandably, she is not pleased, and makes a dig at Benedict’s need to be in the spotlight and his privilege.
A Family Tradition
Across town, Fred and Reggie carry on with their visits to George to keep him company and distract him from the suspenseful wait for his test results. As the three get to know each other during these house calls, Fred learns that George’s way of life was molded by a family tradition passed on by George’s father, who also cared for and trained pigeons. When George recalls the first pigeon he ever saved, leading to his current coop, Fred sees how much his birds mean to him (and that he’s not just the town’s quirky bird man), mentally noting how the Urban Renewal Program is going to turn his life upside down.
The Dog House
Shots have been fired and the atmosphere of Nonnatus House is awkward to say the least. While apologizing to Phyllis would have been the mature thing to do, Benedict takes the opposite approach, leaning into his attitude that he’s above everyone else. Upset by Phyllis throwing shade, he corrals Nigel and William into a night of drinking, inappropriately using the house’s medical beakers for his alcoholic concoction.
Seemingly not a fan of Benedict either, Kevin refuses the invite to join them. He’s the first on call for deliveries that night and, obviously, wants to be a good house guest, but follows the men outside as they take to the streets for a game of cricket. As drunken cricket probably would go, Benedict accidentally hits the ball through the house’s front window, alerting everyone inside. Sister Julienne is first on the scene and even as the person who brought them there, she gives the doctors quite the scolding for defacing their home and also disturbing “The Great Silence,” the time of night that the Sisters spend in silent contemplation.
Shape Up or Ship Out
After getting caught up in beakergate, no thanks to Benedict, Kevin tries to make amends with the midwives. He looks to Valerie, who he’s worked closely with since his arrival and reveals his frustration with Benedict, noting that he’s always been at the top of their class even though he seems to put little effort into his studies. Lacking Benedict’s confidence, it takes Valerie to give him the push he needs to shine during an interaction with Dr. Turner. After overhearing that George’s test results were negative for TB but that his symptoms persist, Kevin tells a perplexed Dr. Turner that his uncle displayed similar symptoms during his childhood.
While his uncle also thought he had TB, his doctor found that he had actually contracted Histoplasmosis, a dimorphic fungi found in bird droppings. This is a huge moment of redemption for Kevin after he receives Dr. Turner’s praise and gratitude for helping him diagnose his patient.
Later, Dr. Turner delivers the news to George and Fred, and it’s bittersweet. George is relieved to hear that there’s a solution, but is disheartened to learn that his pigeons are the cause. Ultimately, with Fred and Reggie there for emotional support, George decides to close that chapter of his life so he can make a full recovery. He leaves his birds with a local pigeon association and gifts Dot to Reggie.
Dr. Walters’ Future
Meanwhile, a grumpy and embarrassed Benedict reflects on his future as a doctor following his public shaming from Sister Julienne. Catching Trixie on a break, he admits to her that he lacks the same compassion and enthusiasm in the medical field as his friends. Though Trixie recommends that he look to a different line of work, Benedict expresses the obligation he feels to uphold his duties to his family - and father. In order to avoid pushing him too much on the subject, she instead advises that if he plans to continue his journey as a doctor that he stops using alcohol as a crutch and an excuse for his behavior, knowing all too well the path that leads to.
Baby’s First Delivery
As Benedict is left to absorb this conversation, Valerie and Kevin set off to see Lesley Pike. While helping to save George’s life is already a huge victory for Kevin, it isn’t the doctor’s only win. Putting his newly gained skills from his time at Nonnatus House into practice, he’s able to offer Valerie assistance as Lesley goes into labor. His first time delivering a child, he helps with what turns out to be a complicated birth where the duo is forced to use a mucous extractor to help the newborn take her first breath. It’s traumatic but proves successful, and ends up being a valuable learning experience for Kevin.
A Successful Experiment
Perhaps the most impressive feat of all? Kevin receives the stamp of approval from Phyllis. Though she was Nonnatus House’s most adamant opponent of the midwifery training program (late night cricket didn’t help), after seeing how well Kevin and Valerie worked together, and observing the positive impact the midwives made on the junior doctors, she sees how valuable the training has been. Even Benedict, initially too proud to admit to his shortcomings as a less than personable doctor, seems to have taken Trixie’s words to heart, already altering how he interacts with his patients.
So on their final day at the house, the four men leave their hosts as friends and with a parting gift. Not only do they receive a replacement beaker from Benedict, but the midwives end this first training program with more experience working alongside, and many times leading, doctors of all levels. In what could be the new normal for them to remain relevant alongside growing hospitals, we hope for the sake of Nonnatus House that they’re on the right path forward!
Forgot how we got here? Catch up on “Call the Midwife” with the Season 9, Episode 3 GIF Recap.
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