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Life of Riley: Honesty Is (Not) The Best Policy on "Nurse Jackie"

It was inevitable that the double-life that Jackie Peyton strove so hard to create for herself would come crashing down around her eventually.

And so it would appear to have done so on the gripping and profound season finale of Showtime's exquisite dark comedy Nurse Jackie ("Health Care and Cinema") as Jackie (Edie Falco) was startlingly slammed out of her reverie and into reality.

Written by Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem, the season finale saw Jackie's lover Eddie (Paul Schulze) find out about her husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) and cause a scene at the hospital, forcing Jackie to sink lower than we've ever seen her before. Throughout the complex and lyrical first season of this unique and beautiful series, Edie Falco has brought a rich humanity to the role of the deeply flawed Jackie Peyton, a woman who tries so hard to do right by her patients but often does more harm than good to herself and those around her.

It was only a matter of time before one of the men in Jackie's life found out about the other. I had thought that her husband Kevin would be the one to learn the truth about his wife's infidelities (the broken wedding ring should have been a clue) but I'm glad to see that Brixius and Wallem inverted that paradigm by having Jackie's secret lover Eddie learn that Jackie was married with two kids.

And it made the scenes in which Eddie furtively grilled Kevin about his marriage and life with Jackie all the more tense and twisted. I understand Eddie's frustration and hurt at learning the truth about Jackie (wouldn't you be furious?) but the ease with which he slithered into Kevin's bar and learned information about Jackie was staggering. I thought that the season would end with Eddie telling Kevin the truth but I'm pleased that we'll have to wait for this scenario until next season; it will make the anticipation for the return of Nurse Jackie all the more painfully sweet.

As for Jackie herself, it was stunning to see her hit rock bottom. Distraught over the knowledge that Eddie had been to see Kevin at the bar and is aware of her double life, Jackie rigs the Pill-o-Matix to give her multiple doses of morphine sulfate, which she then downs on the floor of the bathroom.

Jackie's used prescription drugs in the past to keep her going, to remove the pain of her busted back, to give her energy for a double-shift. She's never used drugs to escape life or seek oblivion as she did here, a game-changing move that speaks volumes about the fact that, despite her good deeds at the hospital, Jackie has truly crossed over into being a junkie.

In this altered state, we're given a glimpse into Jackie's true inner life, a fantasy world where her concept of perfection is painfully just out of reach. Floating on the waves of morphine, Jackie experiences an idealized 1950s vision of the perfect family, the perfect house, the perfect life. But she's somehow separate, removed, distant. And as she hums along to Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" the perfect kicker is that in this pristine, drug-altered state, there's yet another fly in the ointment as a rat scuttles overhead in the florescent light.

Zoey (Merritt Wever) has her own cross to bear this week as she deals with her guilt over giving Nutterman (guest star Victor Garber) the wrong dose of medication and sending him into a coma. Her penance is to cast off her colorful scrubs and mope around the hospital in grey scrubs. Loved the reveal that Nutterman has woken up from his coma no worse for the wear... except for the fact that his vaunted critical judgment of films is severely altered. (Garber's line about Showgirls had me in hysterics.)

I'm hoping that Garber could return in some fashion next season as the chemistry between Nutterman and Anna Deavere Smith's Akalitus was just so great. (Hell, give Garber and Wever their own buddy comedy sitcom and I'll watch.) And I loved that absolutely no one cared that Gloria Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith) was trapped in that elevator, so long as it delayed her investigation of Zoey's involvement in Nutterman's case.

Jackie's mindgame handling of Dr. Cooper (Peter Gacinelli) was absolutely fantastic in its savagery, though I was surprised to see Cooper so willing to help Mo-Mo (Haaz Sleiman) get back at his boyfriend by kissing him on camera. Could it be that Cooper has more depth or compassion than we've believed so far?

Speaking of compassion, Jackie completely left Dr. O'Hara (Eve Best) blowing in the wind. Despite knowing that her comatose mother was set to arrive from London and that she had to admit her as a Jane Doe found in Grammercy Park, Jackie flew the coop and was nowhere to be found when Eleanor's mother turned up. I'm very worried that Jackie and Ellie's friendship might not be able to be salvaged after this twist.

But far more pressing is just what Eddie intends to do to Jackie to make her pay for cheating on him with her husband. I'm more than concerned by just how desperate Eddie might be to get back at Jackie and just how much he can destroy the life she's built for herself at the hospital and at home.

In the meantime, I'm really going to miss the darkly humorous Nurse Jackie. It's going to be a long slog until we can catch up with them again next season and I thought that the writers did a brilliant job at creating some cliffhangers to sustain our interest while also pushing the characters into some very dark places that will resonate long after the ending credits roll. While Weeds gets the hype and media coverage, it's truly Nurse Jackie that's a brand-defining and boundary-pushing series for Showtime, one that catapults the cabler into the level of prestige drama purveyor.

Nurse Jackie will return with a second season in 2010 on Showtime.


Henley said…
Thanks for the great write up on this wonderful show. I agree that Nurse Jackie is far more complex and interesting than Weeds. Edie Falco (and all of the cast) are truly incredible and I love that in Jackie's world nothing is black and white--only varying shades of gray. The season finale was intense and heartbreaking and I can't wait for season two!
john said…
Great recap! This show has been fantastic all season, Falco is wonderful and the actress who plays Zoey is hilarious. When Coop kissed Momo it didn't strike me as out of character - Coop was raised by lesbian mothers and is very comfortable with homosexuality. He has also evolved this season, in a good way and has become another fave character of mine. My only season-long complaint is Nurse Akalitus' mishap of the week which takes away from the better developed storylines
Unknown said…
Falco has been brilliant but tonally, I thought the season was quite uneven. You obviously enjoyed it more than I. I want to like it and everything else being equal, I will return next year. But I really had higher expectations.

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