Get your tissues ready. Call the Midwife returns to PBS on Sunday, April 2 at 8 p.m. ET, and you know you're going to shed some tears — of both the happy and sad variety — when this heartwarming and heartbreaking series kicks off its sixth season. But since a lot goes down on this British series besides just birthing babies, you might be in desperate need of a Call the Midwife Season 5 recap before Season 6 premieres.
Well, you've come to the right place. I think Call the Midwife is one of the best shows on TV right now — and possibly one of the greatest British dramas ever — so I'm more than happy to fill you in on all of the triumphs and tragedies that the midwives and nuns of Nonnatus House, as well as the many inhabitants of the Poplar neighborhood in London's East End that they care for, experienced.
And it's a good thing you're going to refresh yourself on the old because Season 6 of Call the Midwife is going to be all about the new. The official trailer for Season 6 promises "new beginnings," "new faces," and "new rules." It looks like Nonnatus House will welcome a new midwife to the ranks, as well as a new HNIC (that's Head Nun in Charge) in Sister Ursula, who will be played by renowned British actress Dame Harriet Walter. And with this new season set in the year 1962, changes are always afoot.
So how did Call the Midwife get to such a revolutionary place? Here are the moments from last season that set the stage for all of the changes to come.
The Thalidomide Crisis Rocked Poplar
One of the best things about watching a period piece is seeing how it depicts historical events on screen. Call the Midwife has done just that throughout the series, especially last season when it portrayed the thalidomide drug crisis of the early 1960s. Like many physicians at the time, Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann) had been prescribing Distaval, a brand name for thalidomide, to pregnant women to help with the side effects of pregnancy, such as morning sickness. But a string of births where the babies were born with deformed limbs left him and the rest of the Poplar community bewildered. After the initial shock of a disability upon one baby's birth, one family grew to love their baby all the same. But we also saw less inspiring cases as one baby was left to die cold and alone in the hospital.
It wasn't until the Season 5 finale when Dr. Turner and the rest of Nonnatus House found out that there could be a possible connection between Distaval and the birth defects when the drug was withdrawn. Of course, Dr. Turner was distraught, feeling entirely responsible for advising his patients to take the drug in the first place. The mother of one baby also felt like it was her fault for taking the medication instead of toughing out the discomfort during her pregnancy. By the end of the season, it was still unclear if there was a confirmed correlation between the drug and the birth defects the community had been witnessing. But since the effects of the thalidomide scandal were still felt for many years after 1961, it seems likely that we'll still see the community continue to deal with this tragedy in Season 6.
Barbara & Tom Found Love In A Hopeless Place
Trixie (Helen George) and Tom (Jack Ashton) amicably called off their engagement in Season 4. But it didn't take long for another nurse to catch Tom's eye: Barbara (Charlotte Ritchie). At first, Barbara kind of broke Girl Code and didn't check with Trixie if it would be cool for her to go out to dinner with Tom. So after Trixie saw them come back from their first date as she was returning home herself, well, let's just say that caused a little bit of awkwardness and tension between the two friends and co-workers. Barbara felt so bad about it that she broke things off with Tom, but Trixie made peace with the end of her relationship with her former fiancé and gave the two her blessing.
Things progressed pretty quickly for Barbara and Tom from there. Um, can we just talk about that hot makeout sesh in the parlor when the grease in Tom's hair stained the wallpaper? Tom put a ring on it and proposed to Barbara during Nonnatus House's mission trip to South Africa in the 2016 holiday special. I imagine that their relationship will only get even more serious in Season 6.
The Nurses Got A New Lease On Life
As you can see, Trixie made great strides in dealing with her own demons in Season 5. In addition to letting go of her relationship with Tom, she also dealt with her alcoholism head on by attending AA meetings and finding relief through fitness. She also learned to be more open about her issues and show her vulnerable side every once in a while with her support system at Nonnatus House.
Trixie's fellow nurses also started to live their lives how they wanted. We learned more about Phyllis' past, how her mother struggled to raise her on her own when she was a kid. Phyllis also tried to live more in the now, signing up for a Spanish class where she met a man she started to fancy, only to find out later that he is married to a woman with severe dementia.
Patsy's (Emerald Fennell) love Delia (Kate Lamb) recovered from her accident in Season 4, but her mother insisted that she move back home to Wales. Luckily, Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) suggested that she stay at Nonnatus House, and the two were overjoyed that they could finally be together. Of course, they still had to deal with the difficult reality that their romance was not socially or legally accepted at the time, which is sure to unfortunately continue this season.
Women's Sexuality Was A Major Topic
Women's issues are at the heart of Call the Midwife, and Season 5 documented the general attitudes of the time regarding women's roles, their bodies, and their sexuality. The nuns of Nonnatus House viewed the introduction of the birth control pill and abortion with a great deal of judgment and saw them as immoral. However, it seemed as though they became a little more enlightened on the topics as well.
Still, the shame of women's sexuality in 1961 was pervasive throughout the season as one woman found it difficult to feel worthy of her loving husband and newborn baby after her past as a sex worker. Another sex worker failed to report a violent attack by a stranger for fear of social judgment. That man would go on to attack Sister Mary Cynthia (Bryony Hannah) in one of the darkest and most heart-wrenching moments of the series.
Of course, the stigma of having a baby out of wedlock was still alive and well at this time with one mother pretending to be pregnant in an effort to pass as the mom of her teenage daughter's baby and another young expectant mother rushing to the altar to marry her baby daddy, going into labor nearly right after they said, "I do." With the women's liberation movement and the sexual revolution on the horizon later on in the 1960s, you better believe that Call the Midwife's exploration of these issues is only going to get more complex.
Society Was Changing — But Not That Quickly
Along those lines, Call the Midwife also always explores the social issues of the time. After learning about the latest advances in medicine, Timothy (Max Macmillan) successfully urged his parents, Dr. Turner and Shelagh (Laura Main) to quit smoking, whose negative health effects weren't as widely known back then. Increasing immigration to the U.K. brought out people's fears of foreigners during a typhoid outbreak in the neighborhood. The matriarch of a transient Bargee family initially rejected the modern comforts of the maternity home, even though it was putting herself and her baby at risk. There are sure to be no shortage of stories about the rapidly changing society of the 1960s on future seasons of Call the Midwife.
We Said Goodbye To A Beloved Character
Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) strongly advised one mother that breastfeeding was the only way, even when she told her she was having difficulty doing so. The mother's failure to breastfeed left her feeling stressed out and ashamed, and the baby ended up dehydrated. This was a wakeup call for Sister Evangelina, and she decided to leave Nonnatus House for six months to join a more austere order in an effort to reconnect to God and her calling.
So of course, when Sister Evangelina returned to Nonnatus House in the penultimate episode of the season, everyone was thrilled. But all was not well with Sister Evangelina. She suffered a stroke while she was away, which left her hand paralyzed. And then in the season finale, Fred (Cliff Parisi) discovered that Sister Evangelina had died in her sleep. Not only did Nonnatus House mourn the loss of Sister Evangelina but the entire Poplar community also came out to pay their respects to the nun who was responsible for making many families in the area. I'm sure all fans were devastated by Sister Evangelina's death, too. I know this one was.
Hopefully, Season 6 of Call the Midwife finds a way to cheer us all up again because Season 5 was, all in all, kind of a downer.