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🎶The hillsss are aliveee with the sound of music... 🎶AaAand also, the cries of newborns and the echo of Poplar construction! Last night, we were gifted with a few of our favorite things when “Call the Midwife” returned for Episode 5. More drama wrapped in beautiful British accents, a little more Sister Monica Joan screen time, and even a shoutout to our hero, Dame Julie Andrews. Honestly, wins all around. So for those of you who missed out on the latest “Midwife” shenanigans, or for the fans sticking around to see how much we can reference “The Sound of Music” in this week’s recap, let’s hop to it.
Mission “Sound of Music”
We’ve made it past the halfway point of Season 9, and a popular musical called “The Sound of Music” (you may have heard of it) has made its way to the big screen. The buzz of its arrival has traveled beyond the hills of Hollywood to Poplar, which, as it so happens, is home to cinema’s biggest champion, Sister Monica Joan. Passionate about the arts, she’s over the moon to hear that this film is opening in her neighborhood and makes the plea to Sister Julienne for a group screening with the ladies of Nonnatus.
The film follows the story of Maria, a young nun-in-the-making turned governess, grappling with the choice of continuing her life at the abbey or spending the rest of her days with the Von Trapp family. Let’s face it - it’s basically about Shelagh, so it only seems fitting that the midwives watch this family friendly classic together. It’s what they deserve.
Sadly, Sister Julienne does not see the value in this proposed gathering, noting that it would be a frivolous activity for her religious Sisters. Womp. As fate would have it however, her own life will soon overlap with Maria von Trapp’s more than she knows. After Sister Monica Joan leaves her office utterly disappointed (we would be too if someone barred us from Christopher Plummer in all his cinematic glory), Sister Julienne receives a house call from Cheryl Hodson.
Following the passing of her grandmother, Winnie, Cheryl has arrived to deliver Winnie’s savings, explaining that her gran wanted the Nonnatans to have it. Sister Julienne is touched by the donation, but Cheryl isn’t there for warm fuzzies. Apparently not on the same page as Winnie, she recalls how difficult her gran’s life was, working every day trying to raise 13 children without receiving any credit for it. She makes it crystal clear that she doesn’t think Nonnatus House is deserving of the community’s praise - or the money for that matter - when so many Poplar women like Winnie work themselves to the bone to make ends meet. When she departs, Sister Julienne is left stunned by Cheryl’s criticism and deflated.
The Calthorpe Family
While Sister Julienne reflects on Cheryl’s comments and Sister Monica Joan tries to find a way over this minor bump in the road, over at the Calthorpe house, Sister Frances is climbing her own problematic hill - or should we say... mountain. Recently assigned to the Calthorpe family, she arrives at their home to provide Albert Calthorpe with an insulin injection for his diabetes and also meets his wife, Grace.
Though their initial introduction goes off without a hitch, something about the appointment and seeing Albert receive his injection triggers Grace. Perhaps saddened to witness her husband in such poor condition, she masks her sudden upset with anger and is irritated when Sister Frances offers to stay to make the couple tea. Grace takes offense to this, saying she can manage on her own, and hurries Sister Frances out the door, leaving little room for chit chat or a chance for everyone to get to know one another.
The Weight of the World on Grace’s Shoulders
Sister Frances is alarmed by Grace’s outburst and feels knocked down from her weekly appointments at the Calthorpe’s when the confrontations continue. She wonders what she’s done to get on Grace’s bad side, but as we later see, Grace is coping with far more in her life than an ailing husband. She’s also struggling to balance her own job to bring in the family income, house visits to care for her elderly mother who suffers from dementia, and childcare for her pregnant daughter and grandchildren. Phew!
Yet she hides the burden from the rest of her family (and the midwives), donning her superhero mother-wife cape by day and finding herself overcome with exhaustion by night. In fact, Grace’s schedule is so hectic that she doesn't even have time to take care of her own health, and fails to keep her checkups with Dr. Turner not once but twice. The pressure is on, and with all the stress weighing down on her, she projects her frustrations onto Sister Frances.
When she finally escapes the chores and caretaking to see Dr. Turner, she receives some unwelcome news about her health. Grace complains of a persistent backache and heavy menstrual bleeding, which Dr. Turner suspects has made her anemic. He also finds that she has fibroids, non-cancerous but painful growths in the uterus. When Grace learns that this will require a hysterectomy and a two to three-week hospital stay, she’s sent into a tizzy realizing how disruptive this will be to her routine.
Mr. Mallen the Future Helicopter Dad
As Grace tries to keep it together for the sake of her loved ones, over at the Iris Knight Institute, Sister Hilda is busy holding night classes for expecting fathers. Unsurprisingly for the time, many of the attending men are uninterested in the mothercraft class, but at least one student, Ronald Mallen, has come prepared to soak up all the knowledge he can about childbirth. He’s especially eager to know how he should plan for potential emergencies, should something go wrong during his wife’s labor.
When the other men taunt him for being so concerned about the birth when he won’t be there to witness it, Ronald corrects them and exclaims that he’s going to be in the room with his wife while she’s delivering. They all find this humorous and bewildering, but Sister Hilda defends him, noting that a father being in the birthing room isn’t unheard of.
Not long after Ronald’s class with Sister Hilda, Aileen Mallen goes into labor and he brings her to the maternity home where Phyllis is on duty. Unaware of his conversation with Sister Hilda, she refuses Ronald’s request to be in the delivery room, but he’s not about to miss his first child’s birth. He suits up in the necessary cap and gown, and bursts into the room demanding to be by Aileen’s side. Husband of the year, truly. When Phyllis sees that Ronald is attached to Aileen’s hip and won’t let up, she lets it slide on the condition that he helps if needed rather than be there as a passive participant.
As expected, the delivery goes smoothly and Aileen delivers their first son. Ronald is absolutely thrilled with the day’s events. Though Phyllis is pleased to see how emotional the young father is over his little family of three, she remains skeptical about allowing fathers into the room for future deliveries. However, when she runs into Sister Hilda at Nonnatus House, her colleague advocates for such progress, noting how the world is changing. Male doctors staying at Nonnatus House? Fathers in the delivery room? What next?!
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
Do-Re-M-eanwhile, Sister Monica Joan is dealing with her own problems, like scoring tickets to “The Sound of Music.” After her movie night proposal is shut down by Sister Julienne who has not yet boarded the Julie Andrews train, Sister Monica Joan stumbles upon a “Sound of Music” contest at Violet Buckle’s shop. Since Fred is not stoked about Julie Andrews either (we don’t get it), Violet has decided to give away the two tickets she received as a councilmember to a lucky member of the public - but they aren’t free.
Instead, she’s accepting donations toward the maternity home’s incubator fund for a chance to win two tickets through a random drawing. This causes yet another dilemma for Sister Monica Joan who has been banned from using Nonnatus House’s petty cash for her personal use. (#throwback to that time she spent their money on a train ticket all the way to the Outer Hebrides.) Back to the drawing board!
A one-woman show, Grace begins to crack after her diagnosis from Dr. Turner. With her neverending list of to-dos and loved ones depending on her, she’s terrified at the prospect of leaving her family for so long. What she doesn’t see through all of this however, is that everyone, including her doting husband Albert, could probably fend for themselves if they were asked to.
When Sister Julienne calls on the house to check in on her daughter Ingrid, who is on pregnancy bedrest at her parents’, she catches Grace in a dark moment. From Sister Frances to Sister Julienne, her irritation with the midwives turns to rage when Sister Julienne tries to empathize with her after observing the state she’s in. Rubbing salt in the wound, Grace exclaims that Sister Julienne couldn’t possibly begin to understand what it’s like to be a “real middle-aged woman” in Poplar trying to survive and provide for her family. After her earlier run-in with Cheryl, this encounter takes an already emotionally vulnerable Sister Julienne to a new low and breaks open that thick skin of hers, so much so that she begins to reflect on her calling and presence at Nonnatus House.
Steven’s Mystery Mark
One meltdown to the next, we return to the maternity home to see the Mallens. Following the birth of Steven Mallen, Aileen recovers from her delivery in the care of the midwives with frequent visits from Ronald. Even after his son’s birth, Ronald’s tendencies to hover remain. When he discovers a large birthmark on Steven’s head, he flips out, causing Aileen to panic in the process. At his urgent request, Dr. Turner swings by to relieve the couple - but mostly Ronald - of their fears, and observes that Steven merely has a haemangioma, also known as a strawberry mark. They learn that it’s a superficial birthmark likely to disappear in a few years. Obviously, because this is Ronald we’re dealing with, this does not ease his mind.
A Stranger in the Crowd
As we move from Grace to Ronald to troubled individual #3, cue Sister Julienne. When we return to Nonnatus, the house mother/leader/rock to the midwives has been deeply affected and her faith in God’s work has been shaken by Cheryl and Grace’s harsh words. Feeling out of touch and wanting to better understand the life of the average Poplar woman, Sister Julienne takes a day to do just that. Revisiting a life before St. Raymond Nonnatus, she slips away without telling her peers, taking some of the house’s petty cash for her impromptu adventure (tsk tsk!), and leaves her habit behind to head to the town center.
We’re not sure what’s more shocking - seeing Sister Julienne’s hair for the first time or witnessing the moment Sister Monica Joan spots her at the local market. Awkward. Uncomfortable. All the things. She even spots Grace walking through the streets, but the hardworking woman doesn’t notice her, too tired and bogged down by everything life has thrown at her.
Sister Monica Joan is too paralyzed with emotion to engage her peer in conversation and so Sister Julienne continues her day as an everyday civilian. So what does the average person do with a free day to themselves? Go see “The Sound of Music,” of course! And so she does. It’s a Maria move if we’ve ever seen one.
Ronald’s Family History
From one lost soul to another, we return to the maternity home where Ronald continues to fret over Steven’s wellbeing, even after the explanation of his birthmark from a highly trained medical professional. Like Grace, he too lashes out, but this time at Sister Hilda (the midwives just can’t get a break this week) when she meets Steven for the first time and openly comments on his strawberry mark. At the mention of this, Ronald storms out of the room and Sister Hilda follows after him to apologize.
She finds him by the docks, and they have a heart-to-heart where Ronald recounts his painful childhood. He reveals that his father, who he revered, died when he was five, during the bombing of London during WWII. His mother later remarried to a man who ended up being an abusive alcoholic, and Ronald vowed that he would be a better, kinder dad like his biological father to all his future children. He explains that he worries so much because he wants to make a positive impact on his family and the world, but Sister Hilda assures him he already has.
At the Calthorpe residence, the anemia paired with long days of grueling work prove to be too much, even for Grace. After collapsing at her home, she’s sent to St. Cuthbert’s for recovery and to prepare for her fibroids procedure. Hearing about her hospitalization from Albert, Sister Frances arrives to check on her and comes bearing good news. In an effort to help Grace after learning about everything she was doing for her family behind-the-scenes, she delivers a letter from the welfare state, which notes that they’ll provide day center care for Grace’s mother as well as help around the Calthorpe’s home.
For additional assistance, Sister Frances also tells Albert that he needs to start giving himself his insulin injections and tells Ingrid that she needs to be a responsible adult and move back in with her husband for the remainder of her pregnancy. Boom. Sister Frances runs a tight ship; don’t underestimate her. After all that she’s been through to help everyone else and taking little time for herself, Grace is grateful to Sister Frances for having her back, and the two make amends.
Auf Wiedersehen, Goodnight!
Back at Nonnatus House, Sister Julienne has returned from her day on the town to resume her work. Don’t worry, she would never actually leave us (fingers crossed). It’s business as usual, and though Trixie questions why she went MIA that day, Sister Monica Joan keeps her secret and chimes in with a white lie that Sister Julienne had been out helping her. She doesn’t ever question what could have temporarily broken her friend’s faith, but the two share a deep understanding with one another and a bond that Sister Monica Joan will never break.
Inspired by her day-in-the-life as a *normal* Poplar woman, and thankful to her dear friend, the experience moves Sister Julienne and she surprises the women with the group outing Sister Monica Joan had hoped for. Using the savings she received from Cheryl, Sister Julienne takes her friends to “The Sound of Music” for song and dance and to live out the night as everyday Poplar women - together. It’s been a long, stressful episode but we’re glad that the gang's back together and in good spirits again. 🎶 So long, farewell, and until next time!
Forgot how we got here? Catch up on “Call the Midwife” with the Season 9, Episode 4 GIF Recap.
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