Season 3 of the BBC drama Call the Midwife begins this Sunday, March 30, on PBS for us U.S. viewers. (It premiered in the UK back in January and just wrapped up its season at the start of March.) If you haven’t been tuning for to the past two seasons, fear not! This might be the season you give a go, or at the very least, you’ll have a hankering to go back and watch it once Season 4 begins next year—and here’s why: There’s a major cliffhanger, at least in my book.
It’s of those “will they or won’t they expand on the fact that a character is clearly le lesbian” forks in the road. Many of us know how this goes, and it’s one of two ways: Either, yes, the lez-plot thickens and we fall deeply in love with the series, its character and her tribulations, or all of it goes to hell and we never receive answers, closure, or overcome the three-episode arc heap where the character has made it out of the closet long enough to get into a relationship, on some level, but death, changes of heart, or a terrible breakup ensues.
Here’s your brief catch-up on Call the Midwife. The series is set in 1950s London and follows a group of midwives and nuns who carry and assist in childbirth, plus all the many nursing duties that go along with it. Now, I hail from the Pacific Midwest where midwives are associated with holistic moms and natural approaches to conventional medicine. Midwifery is a very old practice, and its history really lends itself to the power of women. In Call the Midwife, these women aid the impoverished East End neighborhood and assist families who can’t always afford or accommodate the standard of living for their new children—so just imagine the general stresses these characters must face.
Before I go on, I must admit there’s a major spoiler. So if you’re planning on tuning in and you don’t want to know anything, this is your warning. However, I also must express that the scene I’m spoiling comes out in Episode 7, and it’s maybe 15 seconds long. Take that how you will.
When Nurse Jenny leaves Nonnatus House, someone comes in to take her place—Patsy. And heaven’s to Betsy (forgive me—I’ve been watching too much of this) she really adds something fresh to the mix. I may have a British mother, but I found myself getting a bit lost at times as the series progressed. These ladies are often super anxious over everything. I get it, though. Their jobs are under-appreciated and totally undermined at times by men who think they can “do it better” causing them to work hard for their well-earned respect, faced with moral issues, their integrity, and the shadows of their own womanhood. But the richness of their stories would somehow not be complete or authentic if they didn’t include something that was very real and very possible, in a place full of women.
Patsy (played by Emerald Fennel) is a milky-skinned, strawberry-blonde no-nonsense type of gal. She and Nurse Trixie become roommates, which is perfect because Trixie is a troublemaking name and she lives up to it well. In this season, Trixie begins dating a vicar, Tom. At the request of Tom, Patsy helps Tom learn how to dance to truly impress his new lady love, but Trixie spots them and gets the wrong idea. For a girl who bats her eye lashes so easily, she really shows her insecurity, and Patsy’s like, wow, slow your roll, Trix. She tells her roommate and friend, “Tom is not my type.” Trixie, in a flash, goes from “How dare you dance with my man?” to “How dare you not think my man is a total bloke?” (My version of events, not her literal response.)
But then, something really telling happens. Patsy mumbles: “He has not enough of some things and too much of others.” Sorry, I didn’t quite hear you over the screeching teakettle boiling over. Did she just sort of admit she’s into the ladies? The not-so-shocking reaction is a non-responsive Trixie, who looks down at her lap and dismisses the conversation. End scene.
The incredibly short but dramatically packed seasons (about eight episodes each) means that a new season is brewing and with any hope, Patsy’s closeted feelings will steep to the surface and evolve. After all, now Season Three has brought us up to 1959. The explosive ‘60s in the UK is just upon the midwives, which is cause for a lot of celebration if you ask me. Why should Patsy’s character be developed deeper? The exploration of lesbian characters in modern culture means not just normalizing the current images of lesbian partners, mothers, friends, teen lovers, and so on, but also upholding a certain duty to remind us of where we’ve come from. Period dramas do just that, if they’re doing it right—they show us something in our history that we perhaps aren’t conditioned to anymore, large or small—like the way a gay person had to cover up their feelings and wasn’t able to just be themselves, love who they want to love, and be free.
With all that said, it’s my hope that Call the Midwife maintains a similar respect, taking this as opportunity to add a dimension to the series in the next season, with Patsy, by not giving us a show that replicates a medical text of the 1950s, but everything that played out behind the white uniforms and the relationships they had, or couldn’t have. Will you be watching? What do you think about expanding on a closeted gay character in this series? What would you want to see become of Patsy in the next season?
Call the Midwife Season 3 premieres March 30, 2014 on PBS in the US. An annual Christmas special will air in December 2014, along with Season 4 in 2015.