Well this season opener was filled with shocking moments.
The purpose of a season premiere is similar to the purpose of a season finale. The season finale’s job is to conclude the season’s story arcs and set up potential new arcs for the next season. The season premiere’s job is to commence new story arcs for the new season and to follow up on the potential plots set up in the previous finale. By that logic, this season premiere only managed to do half of the job.
The Season 3 finale ended with Jim going on the run and Joan discovering she was pregnant at the same time, Joan discovering that Patty slept with Jim, Martha and Simon getting married, Annie and Chris eloping, and Maggie giving birth with Shirley by her side and taking custody of her, and by my count it was December 1970, at least January 1971 at the latest. Now it is apparently June 1972 (huge continuity error), Jim’s fate hasn’t been completely disclosed, Joan is nearly full-term, and Annie, Shirley, Chris, Maggie and McNaughton are all MIA without an explanation.
The opening scenes of Elena (Danielle Catanzariti) running away from a mysterious man to end up begging for help from Patty gave me flashbacks to the season 2 premiere of Gail begging for Viv’s help. The reveal of Elena being pregnant was an obvious one, however the reveal of her being forced to marry by her family (especially her brother) wasn’t obvious or at least not completely. As always Matron was a badarse revealing her fluency in Italian (clearly a language she learnt when she served in WWII) and coming up with the genius solution of keeping Elena’s brother away from her until she gives birth. The identity of Elena’s baby’s father is yet to be revealed and I have no doubt it will be, and I’m looking forward to seeing Elena progress as a character, especially with Debbie teaching her how to speak English, which was hilarious.
The subplot of Joan giving birth and meeting the new Head of Obstetrics, Dr Andrew Patterson, was fantastic. The subtle references of the lack of choice women had in regards to returning to work after pregnancy were a nice touch, especially as it is a debate which is sadly still happening (there should be no debate, women should have the choice without judgement) 45 years later. Marais’ acting during the labour and birth scenes, alternating between a scared new mother and an experienced doctor, was spectacular and I questioned how much of it was acting and how much of it was drawn from her real life experience. While I did see Joan’s baby being switched coming and I think it will be a great story arc for the season, I personally don’t buy that someone as meticulous as Matron would just let the mistake go.
I did enjoy the tension between Patty and Joan at the baby shower, especially with Viv and Martha basically being forced to sit through it in an uncomfortable silence. As a viewer I was unsure whether Viv knew about Patty’s tryst with Jim, clearly she didn’t and it was clear last season that Martha knew Patty slept with someone but didn’t know it was Jim. The most interesting aspect of this subplot was Viv’s and Martha’s contrasting reactions. Viv, as a single hard working nurse, is more forgiving and Martha, as a married woman, empathises with Joan.
The biggest shock of all was Patty’s death. While the promo that the network aired stated that someone would die and the writers’ had put Patty in danger twice, I simultaneously saw it coming but was still shocked. As I mentioned earlier, four of the show’s leads are MIA without any explanation, therefore I believe killing off another lead is a bad choice.
While I personally don’t like the writers’ choice to kill off Patty, I did question whether this is in part the writers’ attempt to evolve the show. Every show has to evolve throughout its tenure, especially a show that focuses on pregnancy and crucial parts of history. The girls’ stay at Stanton House was always temporary and when their time at Stanton House was over, they had to grow and move on with their lives, which they successfully have. Viv and Martha ending up working at the hospital, Shirley worked at the Blue Moon and reconnected with her daughter, and Annie went on to have a family. Not only did the leads have to move on, the world of the Hospital and Stanton House had to move on too and a new group of girls need to show up (with the leads clearly handing over the torch). As regular characters leave, new characters are introduced. While these aspects of the show moving on has for the most part been done with subtlety, there also needs to be drama and shocking moments, no matter how much it disappoints the viewers so ironically they will keep watching. Taking the opportunity to evolve the show through new story arcs and characters is also the purpose of a season premiere.
Other highlights of the premiere included the introduction of Dr Andrew Patterson (Dan Hamill) who provides a nice contrast to Dr McNaughton’s character, and the subtle hints of Viv’s evolution as a nurse with her assisting in a C-Section and treating Joan when she was in labour and giving birth.
Overall I have mixed feelings about this season premiere. While the acting was superb, the writing was off-kilter. While the story arcs that have been set up are gripping and have massive amounts of potential, it is undermined by the alarming amount of continuity issues. That being said I am looking forward to watching and reviewing the rest of the season.