Recap and review of Call the Midwife – Series 1 Episode 6 – Season Finale – The Adventures of Noakes and Browne
Call the Midwife has routinely been among the season’s best offerings when it’s been concerned with the medical procedural aspect, more than when focusing on the personal lives of the characters. By that rubric, “The Adventures of Noakes and Browne” shouldn’t work anywhere near as well as it does, yet it stands among the series’ best episodes, owing to the strong attachment the series has nurtured between the audience and its characters – well, one of them, at least. Chummy (Miranda Hart) is the series’ most endearing character, which makes her relationship with PC Peter Noakes (Ben Caplan) something we inherently root for, far more than we might root for Jenny (Jessica Raine) to get together with Jimmy (George Rainsford), since the frumpy, shy personage of Chummy means that the audience is given to expect that love is going to be much harder to come by for her. And so her crisis of faith (in love) is a troubling development that drives much of the episode, even while we have the larger arc of Sister Monica Joan’s (Judy Parfitt) looming imprisonment, and the smaller issue of Jenny’s ex-lover attempting to reintroduce himself into her life. There’s also a case this week involving the pregnant girlfriend of a sailor that could well have accounted for more of the episode than it does, since it was certainly interesting enough. The themes of life and love are well-encapsulated in a finale that does its season justice.
Sister Monica Joan is discovered wandering around the docks in her nightgown, in a state of delirium. With this development, the series makes overt what has only been vaguely addressed throughout the season, Sister Monica Joan’s dementia. It’s been hard to pin down whether her quixotic nature was a willful bit of quirkiness, or if it was indicative of a more pressing medical issue. She certainly wouldn’t be the only elderly person to speak in verse, or hold fast to a set of guiding principles dictated by the orbit of planets, but her patchy memory and attention span give pause to simply chalking her quirks up to her personality. Sister Monica Joan comes down with pneumonia as a result of her little adventure, but quickly recovers after a shot of penicillin, administered by Jenny after Monica Joan refuses to receive the “rotting matter” from Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris), who is shown to care a lot more for her elderly companion than she’s ever led on before. Sister Monica Joan recovers, but the larger issue remains that she’s only sane half of the time. By her own admission, her lucidity drifts in and out to where she only ever feels like half herself, if at all. This creates problems for Nonnatus House when Sister Monica Joan sets off wandering again, this time in the local market, and is caught stealing property from the local vendors.
It’s clear from the onset that Sister Monica Joan doesn’t understand the gravity of what she’s done, and much of Sister Julienne’s (Jenny Agutter) faith in Monica Joan being acquitted is in the relative uselessness of the things she’d stolen, which amounted to spoons and ribbons. Of course, Jenny, while searching for a handkerchief, discovers a pearl necklace and a sapphire ring, among other valuables. This means Sister Monica Joan is facing serious charges, unless she has some kind of explanation for why she has these precious things. The case is entertaining after a fashion, with Sister Monica Joan arguing that her barrister isn’t very good, and Sister Julienne trying to keep her in her place. It’s intriguing if only for how it never allows us to believe that Sister Monica Joan’s guilt is ever in doubt, which feeds into the climax, in which Jimmy comes to the rescue by providing Jenny a ride to meet with the head of Sister Monica Joan’s order, who has evidence that could exonerate her.
Jenny is taking great pains to sort out her love life, apologizing to Jimmy for breaking his heart, with Jimmy taking it about as well as any man could. However, this is only part of the larger arc of Jenny fighting against her desire to give in to Gerald, the married man from her past with whom she had an affair, who has been regularly writing and calling Nonnatus House. The mystery of Jenny’s romantic past isn’t nearly as compelling as the creative forces behind the series likely think it is, due in large part to the fact that Gerlad is an unknown quantity, his face completely obscured in every scene, and while the vagueness of his personality is gripping in its own right, I’m not sure its enough to prop this storyline up. Perhaps the forthcoming Christmas Special will elaborate upon this issue, unless Jenny’s decision to move on is the final word on it. I wouldn’t have any problem with that, actually, as Jenny is compelling in her own right, as a midwife and as a young woman acclimating to the harsh realities of her world. She doesn’t really need a fully-involved love life to be interesting.
Nor does Chummy, for that matter, but it’s hard not to be glad that she has one. Her scenes with Noakes are endearing, from Chummy’s reluctance to kiss in public for fear of who might be watching, to her glee at giving in. However, happiness can never be allowed to sit for very long before it curdles, and so Chummy’s mother arrives to brow beat her into giving up the relationship and taking holy vows. Chummy’s crisis is improved somewhat by Jenny insisting that Chummy taking vows would only be a way of hiding, in much the same way Jenny came to Nonnatus House to hide away from her past with Gerald. It speaks to a theme in this episode, the extent to which we run to escape from not only our pasts, but from what we really want in life. Chummy decides that her relationship with Peter is worth fighting for, but not after the value of life and love reasserts itself through the troubles of a young, unwed mother.
Cathy Powell (Tina O’Brien), the girlfriend of a sailor who’s never home, lives in a slum. Out of fear that her boyfriend will come home while she’s at the doctor, Cathy skips out on her appointment, which could have caught her unique condition before she went into labor. That condition, of course, is the fact that she’s carrying triplets, which plays out in a spectacular birthing sequence where the candles in the darkly lit chamber go out one-by-one, with Cathy assuming her continued labor pains after her son is born is merely the afterbirth coming. By the time she’s on the third baby, Cathy is at her wit’s end. That Chummy shows such authority and calm really illustrates how much she’s grown. The moment itself seems to clue Chummy into what’s really important in life – that our time on this Earth is too short to run from happiness. The wedding between Chummy and Noakes is a subdued affair, but it’s shot beautifully, scored by Frankie Lyman & The Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?”
Call the Midwife was one of this year’s biggest surprises, and its conclusion was every bit as sound as the season preceding it. While we might not feel the sense of kinship with many of the characters that we feel in other series, it’s hard to argue that the stories being told each week weren’t compelling. I’d argue the cases each week were among TV’s most gripping, particularly among medical drama. This is a show of a rarer vintage, and there’s still a lot to accomplish within this world, whether it wishes to hew close to the memoirs upon which it’s based, or if it wishes to expand into alien territory. This a real series, with real heart, and one of the gems of the TV season.