Call the Midwife Christmas special spoilers below
Call the Midwife’s Christmas special is hands-down the perfect time to bring back one of the show’s most-loved families, the Mullucks clan. After all, aren’t the holidays all about welcoming old and new friends?
However in classic Call the Midwife fashion it is a tear-jerker of an episode. Despite the tinsel-decked street and the merriment in sight, Poplar isn’t all a bucket of festive cheer. Especially not for the Mulluckses.
The bright and ballsy Rhoda Mullucks (Liz White) returns to the care of Dr Turner (Stephen McGann) and nurse Shelagh (Laura Main) as an expectant mother carrying her first child since having Susan.
Fans of the show will remember that Susan was born without fully developed limbs, becoming Call the Midwife’s first Thalidomide victim.
This isn’t the first time Mulluckses have re-appeared on the show. The family cropped up again 18 months after Susan’s birth. In the episode viewers saw how they were able to navigate life and Susan’s disabilities in the time following their initial shock.
Still, in the past, whenever the Mulluckses were featured, the show heavily focused on Susan as the way of exploring the impact of Thalidomide on a family.
Be it Rhoda’s determination to fight for Susan’s rights and well-being or dad Bernie’s road to acceptance. On his bumpy journey Bernie (Chris Reilly) went from despising the child he once called a “monster,” to being terrified into over-protectiveness, afraid she would be the object of ridicule.
The show has touched on how the situation took a toll on the couple’s eldest children Belinda and Perry, however the central focus has always been on Susans and what life will look like for her. Quite rightly so.
It was important to initially centralize Susan in her own story in order to raise understanding of the hardships that real-life victims went through.
However as the Mulluckses’ story has progressed, the Christmas special offers a different perspective on the family’s experience by broadening it to explore the impact on the family members as individuals, not just their interactions with Susan’s disabilities.
In doing so the mental health of both parents is opened up to expose their struggles which are made more acute by the impending new arrival.
Rhoda’s fierceness has been somewhat eroded a little. In the space of those cracks anxiety fills. She frets over the well-being of her unborn child, worries that the baby will have a similar fate to Susan.
Her jittery temperament has her seeking out constant reassurance but that doesn’t stop her from continuing to fight for Susan’s right to have the same opportunities as everyone else.
This becomes apparent when she takes on Mrs. Avis, who is in charge of the church’s nativity and refuses to let Susan participate under the pretense of not wanting her to get hurt.
Yes, because singing and running lines is a dicey business. We get you Mrs Avis *heavy eye roll*.
Mrs Avis reminds Rhoda that “Susan isn’t like everybody,” to which Rhoda bites back saying:
“You have no idea how much she wants to be.”
Alongside her family’s story, this is the first time we get the sense that Susan is aware of her differences and get an inkling that she wishes she wasn’t.
This is hinted at again later but this time from Susan’s perspective as she watches other children playing in the snow. In her eagerness to join in, she takes her new prosthetic legs for a spin outside and gets hurt.
The significance of this moment should not be glossed over. Up until now so much of how Susan experiences her disability has always been glimpsed through other’s eyes. How they presume she will feel, how they expect it to affect her.
This is the first time we are seeing her own personal, lived experience. It’s her hopes, her vulnerabilities, her insecurities and it’s special.
Her fall lands her a trip to the hospital where she receives stitches to the head. There, with Bernie by her side, Susan receives a backhanded compliment from another patient’s father. A ‘beautiful eyes, shame about her arms and legs’ insult – which leaves a gash no stitch can mend.
His comment infuriates and pains Bernie, whose fears come to life at this very moment. Bernie sees the way some of the world views Susan, with pity and rejection. As though she is lesser, ‘not normal,’ and the stranger’s words highlight the nagging worry that contributes to his angst, causing him to drink.
Although it is about Susan, his feelings are not about how he relates to her but are how they have affected him personally and his ability to navigate the hardships of life because of his pain.
The guilt over the choice they made for Rhoda to take the pills when she was pregnant eats at him and he spirals, drinking more and more until it all comes bubbling to the surface culminating in him needing help.
It is recovering alcoholic Trixie (Helen George) who is able to reach him and convince him to attend an AA meeting. The trauma he has experienced over the years comes to light and he reveals that his love for Susan is a double-edged knife that has affected his ability to love.
It’s a wholesome scene done only in the way Call the Midwife can. He shares how he drinks to hide from the pain of the future other people tell him Susan will have. A bleak future with no career or family and how it deeply saddens him.
“I just want to love without it hurting,” he admits. In the end he vows to do better, to get his life back together so that he can love in a more wholesome way.
The parents are not the only ones who have had to cope with the ripple effect of Susan’s post-Thalidomide condition. Although not explored in massive depth, a family row exposes how overlooked Perry and Belinda feel and how desperate they are for their mother’s attention.
This isn’t the first time it has been raised on the show but it is done with much more clarity, fleeting but stark. Rhoda is left to wrestle with Belinda’s words:
“You never ask anybody anything unless it’s to do with Susan,” and although there is no conclusion on this matter the heartfelt moment between the family in the episode’s conclusion implies they are all working towards healing.
As Bernie takes a photo of his family, new baby included, Susan is encouraged to hold him while Bernie proudly makes note of her new role as a big sister in the family. This prompts Rhoda to say:
“We’re all changing. You’ve got to change too.”
An emotional rollercoaster of an episode but it’s not all heavy stuff. New squidgy babies are born, Trixie gets engaged, even the Mulluckses get into the festive swing of things.
Susan may have been shunned from the nativity but she gets a spot in Poplar’s talent show Poplartunity Knocks.
Alongside Shelagh’s children she is dressed up as a rosy-cheeked snowman as they belt out Frosty the Snowman to a chuffed audience. Guided by Shelagh the children sing gleefully and the famous words: “And the children say he could laugh and play, just the same as you and me,” feel most beautifully apt.
The Call the Midwife Christmas Special is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer. Season 12 of Call the Midwife will air on BBC One on New Year’s Day.