It’s quite pleasing that the opening scene switches focus from Jo walking down to the corridor one way to Pat heading in the opposite direction. The pair don’t have any direct contact in this episode, but both – in their different ways – are later shown to be chafing against authority.
Pat’s only been in the hospital a few weeks, but already has fallen foul of Miss Windrup. Miss Windrup has tagged her as someone who is more than capable, but is also inclined to be lazy and unfocused. Pat later admits as much – she’d much sooner spend her free time enjoying herself than studying in the library with Maureen.
Incidentally, it’s notable how cosy and comfortable Pat’s room now is (compare it to the bleak chamber from the opening episode). Pictures on the wall, a record player, plants and a portable television are just some of the trinkets she’s surrounded herself with. This is a reminder that she’s more than comfortably well off, whilst Maureen’s comment that she can’t join her friend (since she has to make her meagre money last the week) reinforces the point that in contrast Maureen has to live under more straightened circumstances.
Pat’s main bugbear is that she considers the majority of the training they receive to be pointless. But if Pat is keen to get stuck in on the wards straight away, the more diligent and cautious Maureen is happy to soak up every last minute of the exercises. The fact that Pat later does well in a training exercise (gaining praise from Miss Windrup) suggests that the natural order has been restored – Pat briefly struggled against the system, but is now compliant. At least for the moment.
But this plot-thread is very much secondary to the continuing travails of Jo. The previous episodes have already established her main strength – she’s excellent with the patients – but Appraisal lays bare the faults in her professional character. Today she has more patient interaction – Jo becomes friendly with Nigel (Keith Jayne), a teenager who’s desperate to go home – but as we’ll see, Nigel’s presence in the episode is mainly to generate the latest crisis point for her.
The boy reacts badly to the news that he has to stay in hospital for a few more days and Jo does her best to cheer him up. A piece of cake, left in his locker by his mother, might do the trick – but Jo is well aware that he’s not allowed any food containing wheat products. That she elects to turn a blind eye to this is simply asking for trouble ….
But that’s only one of the negative comments which Sister Easby (June Watson) directs Jo’s way during her appraisal. The lengthy scene between the pair is this episode’s undoubted highlight. Given that visually there’s not a lot to work with – one small office, two actors – director Derek Martinus nevertheless manages to make this long scene flow nicely by employing a variety of camera angles. Close-ups are always effective – especially after Jo has been reduced to tears – but side-on shots (moving from Sister Easby to Jo) also work well.
Of course, most of the heavy lifting has to be done by the actors and neither disappoints. Last episode we’d had evidence that Jo wasn’t really a team player and today Sister Easby spells it out to her (Jo’s the sort of nurse who loves to chat to patients, but this means her colleagues are forced to do most of the mundane, routine chores). Jo doesn’t react well to this criticism (she considers the hospital to be a dehumanising place and that she’s one of the few who puts the patients first). Unsurprisingly, Sister Easby pours cold water on these idealistic comments.
But just like Pat, Jo is eventually brought back into the fold (although her teary impassioned diatribe is much more dramatic than Pat’s low-key griping). That Sister Easby sends Jo off to do what she does best – holding the hand of a newly arrived and deeply confused patient – suggests that the senior nurse knows where Jo’s strengths lie. The question is whether, over time, she can learn to become a team player ….