Having shared equal screentime in the previous episode, it’s a slight shame that Pat and Maureen have now reverted to type – Pat driving the main storyline with Maureen relegated to the role of observer and confidant.
Coming To Terms wastes no time in establishing the fact that Pat has bonded with a patient called Mrs Shepherd (Kathleen Byron). For example, the way that Pat refers to her as “Shep”. Their early scenes have a vague sense of foreboding – despite Pat’s bright and bubbly attitude, the seeds are already being sown about Mrs Shepherd’s terminal condition.
Mrs Shepherd is concerned how her son (referred to, but never seen) will react when he discovers that his mother and father never married. Pat’s decision to try and arrange a civil ceremony in the hospital then becomes the focal point of the episode. There are various logistical hurdles to overcome as well as the thorny question of gaining the consent of Mr Shepherd (John Dearth).
Dearth only appears in a couple of scenes, but his imposing presence – both physically and vocally – creates an instant impression. In his later career Dearth was cast on several occasions by Michael E. Briant (who directed this episode).
Rumours about Dearth’s issues with alcohol have made the rounds for decades and it’s hard not to think of that when watching his turn here. He does slur his words a little, but that sort of fits with Mr Shepherd’s character – who, after all, has just received the devastating news that his common-law wife is dying.
Kathleen Byron also doesn’t have that many lines, but she makes the most of every moment. A heavyweight actress (first in films, most notably Black Narcissus, and then later in a slew of television programmes) she gives Mrs Shepherd a sense of dignity and weary resignation. Although there are also moments of black despair and hopelessness.
By speaking to a social worker, Pat kickstarts a chain of events which leads to an angry Mr Shepherd venting his frustration at the medical team. This is a theme familiar from several previous episodes, just how involved should the nurses become with the patients? Other times it’s been more cloudy, but here there’s a definite feeling that Pat meddled for the good of all.
So this part of the story has a happy ending of sorts, with Mr Shepherd reconciled and happy to take part in the ceremony. The wedding manages to close the episode on a positive note despite Mrs Shepherd’s terminal condition (which is an interesting trick).
Elsewhere, the other main plotline of Coming To Terms feels like it’s recycling a large chunk of the series one episode Case History. Both featured two male patients – one unfriendly (both to his fellow patients and the nurses) and the other voluble and somewhat irritating.
Today, the studious Keith Aldiss (Edward Wilson) is driven to distraction by a cheery and down-to-earth Northerner called Mr Kilshaw (Paul Luty). Both were familiar faces (Wilson primarily from Rockcliffe’s Babies and Luty from All Creatures Great and Small and a host of other guest roles). Mr Kilshaw’s good natured banter (telling Aldiss with grim enjoyment that he’s probably going to be sliced up!) helps to lighten the tone of an otherwise fairly sombre instalment.
The way they interact with Jo and Sita is the other reason why they’re present. Both nurses clash with Aldiss, but whilst Jo is able to shrug it off, Sita reacts with anger. As Sita’s been rather neglected recently, this episode goes some way to redressing the balance. She’s fretting about her upcoming exams and so hasn’t been eating or sleeping properly, which is beginning to impact her work on the wards.
It might have been nice to sow the seeds of this across a few episodes, as it all feels a little sudden (although it’s possible this might explain why she was so snippy at the start of series two). Jo being temporarily put in charge of the ward causes a little friction between them, compounded after Sita makes an elementary blunder when treating Mr Kilshaw.
This is all good dramatic stuff for both Sita and Jo, although with Mrs Shepherd’s story dominating it feels a little rushed.
Apart from a brief film insert, Coming To Terms is studio-bound. But Michael E. Briant keeps the interest up with a series of unusual shots. He clearly liked shooting from behind the beds – this creates a bar-like, prison feel.
Easily the most notable sequence occurs when a stressed Pat staggers over to the rest room, only to find no succour there. Thanks to an ever-increasing series of quick cuts (from one chattering nurse to another, over to the blaring television and then back to Pat) a nightmarish vision is deftly created.
Another very solid episode, Coming To Terms maintains the high standard of the second series.