Call the Midwife tugs at the heartstrings in new ways

In series 5 episode 2 Barbara faces a difficult case, Nurse Crane finds a new friend, Sister Evangelina makes a mistake and the 'breast is best' debate rages

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Change is afoot in Poplar this week. Work is slowing down at the Docks, there is talk of buying things on credit and homeless men are wandering the streets.

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Stella Beckett, who is pregnant with her first baby, is anxious about bringing a child into this East End and can’t be comforted, despite Nurse Barbara’s attempts to calm her down with deep breathing exercises.

There is even talk of baby formula at the clinic, where a rep from Marlowe’s is telling the pregnant mothers the product could make their children more intelligent and attractive. Unsurprisingly Sister Evangelina isn’t impressed. “Professor Flimflam” is a “charlatan” and breast is best as far as she’s concerned. Even for her first patient of the day Connie Manley, who has inverted nipples and is tempted to try the newfangled milk. 

Barbara, Patsy and Trixie are eating cockles and chips by the dreary docks and pretending to be in Saint-Tropez. Barb can’t stop thinking about Stella Beckett and how she can’t get through to her, but at home it becomes clear why Stella is in such a state. Her husband isn’t getting any work at the docks and Stella’s worried they won’t make the next rent. The expectant mum’s blood pressure is worryingly high over the stress of it all. “You’ve got to try harder,” she cries, while he replies: “You’ve got to want less.” 

At Nonnatus, Nurse Crane is implementing a new system involving colour coded pins and maps “to get the most out of every day and ourselves”. She’s also going to learn a language so she can serve the diverse cultures of Poplar better. Spanish, because she couldn’t find a local course in Urdu…

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Connie has given birth to a bonny baby boy. She and her husband are terribly nervous about their new roles, including breast feeding, which is a struggle. It’s painful and the baby won’t latch. Connie and the other nuns suggest formula but Sister Evangelina insists she keeps trying. These things take time, she says firmly.

Nurse Crane’s first Spanish lesson is a resounding success. She’s a natural, and even meets a gentleman called Tommy Smith who tells her he’s been recently widowed. The second class is cancelled but that doesn’t stop Phyllis from practicing her tenses. She and Tommy head out for tea and cake instead, discussing the Mediterranean coastline, cars and plans for a picnic on Phyllis’s next day off. She’s quite smitten with her new pal.

Things are looking up for the Beckett family. Johnny has found work and he’s even bought the new baby an expensive pram, Stella tells Barbara. But it doesn’t take long for the midwife to stumble across the truth of the matter. Johnny is actually spending his days in the pub and has pawned his docker’s hook to buy the pram on credit.

Barb is conflicted and heads to Tom for advice. “I’ve never been thanked for interfering in a marriage,” he admits, so she decides to keep quiet. But the dreadful lie unravels the following day anyway when Stella heads to the docks to bring Johnny his forgotten lunch. She collapses when the dock boss tells her the truth and she soon kicks her husband out as Barbara looks on in shock. “My blood pressure’s all cos of you. I can only carry this, my baby, I can’t carry you an’ all.”

Barbara heads to the docks to try and get Johnny’s job back but has no luck. He was found sleeping on the job, reveals his boss. “The docks is brutal and I need men what’s fit for them,” he spits, while Barbara insists his workers deserve more care and respect.

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Back at Nonnatus, Nurse Crane is preoccupied by all things latin. She sits in Trixie and Patsy’s room listening to Spanish love songs on the gramophone and the trio talk. “We must always live as we please, as long as no one gets hurt in the process,” trills Phyllis. “These are wonderful days girls. Go out there and take hold of them. You’re not given opportunities, you grab them with both hands.”

Trixie and Patsy “polish” Phyllis for her next rendezvous with Tommy Smith. He thinks she looks magnificent, she puts it down to a new cardigan and the pair plan a picnic trip to Rutland followed by a fancy supper at the Watford Gap service station. Crane can’t help but beam.

Connie’s baby is losing weight when he should be gaining it. Sister Mary Cynthia is concerned and Connie is frantic. She wants to be the best mother she can be, but she still can’t breastfeed. The next day her husband calls for Mary Cynthia. Connie is bleeding. “What kind of mother can’t feed her own baby?” she cries, parroting Sister Evangelina’s statements about “charlatan” formula milk. But the choice is taken out of Connie’s hands. Her baby is badly dehydrated and needs fluids immediately.

Mary Cynthia reports back to Evangelina. The health of Connie’s baby has been put at risk because of her strong words. “You have such influence. Please be careful how you use it,” she says.

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Down at the docks, Johnny has been found unconscious and taken to hospital. He has pneumonia but tests uncover leukemia. He has just days to live. Stella sits by his hospital bed, apologising for their arguments. “You can’t leave us. I love you,” she cries.

At Nonnatus, Sister Monica Joan puts the new system out of kilter when she knocks the map and puts a pin back in the wrong place. Both Nurse Crane and Patsy arrive to visit an elderly woman with dementia. But Phyllis is glad of the reinforcements as the elderly woman turns out to be Tommy’s wife, who is very much alive.

“I shan’t ask you a thing about it but you don’t have to pretend nothing’s happened. We all do that too much of the time and it’s utterly exhausting,” offers Patsy.

Later, as Phyllis is packing away her picnic basket, Tommy turns up at Nonnatus with flowers. He explains that his wife hasn’t recognised him in five years and that meeting her has made him feel happy again. But she feels a fool and sends him away.

Meanwhile Sister Evangelina heads to see Connie. “I wanted to do it right [but] I put his little life in danger,” sniffs the new mum as Evangelina sobs. “I’m so sorry.” At Nonnatus she asks permission to go away, “for six months at least” to live with the silent Sisters of the Blessed Infant Christ. “I’m all mouth,” Evangelina cries. “I’ve got to start listening again…”

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Stella doesn’t think she can have her baby without Johnny. Time is running out and she wants to be induced. The nuns aren’t convinced by the plan, but Barbara argues her case and Trixie agrees to help.

Johnny deteriorates while the induction takes longer than planned. “We need to hurry things along,” Trixie whispers, and, at the hospital Dr Turner urges Stella’s husband to hold on a little longer. After a tense few minutes, a baby boy is born and they arrive at the hospital just in time.

“This is your daddy. Remember him. Please remember him,” says Stella. “I love you both. I want to stay,” rasps Johnny, as he slips away.

A few days later the nurses attend Johnny Beckett’s funeral. The dock boss comes too, remorseful after Barbara’s earlier outburst. “He was a fine man and I should have taken greater care,” he says, giving Stella an envelope of money and returning Johnny’s docker’s hook.

That evening Patsy mans the phones while a reluctant Phyllis goes to Spanish class. And as the episode comes to a close, the nuns gather on the steps of Nonnatus to wave off Sister Evangelina, who walks away from Poplar, suitcase in hand. 

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Call the Midwife continues on Sundays at 8:00pm on BBC1