Pain and Pleasure
Showtime’s seriously dark comedy Nurse Jackie picks up a few months after Jackie (Edie Falco) was confronted concerning her “real life.” Last season, her boyfriend Eddie (Paul Schulze) discovered she had a husband and kids and demanded an explanation. Now, Jackie tries to be a better wife and mother while Eddie forces himself into her family life, her daughter Grace (Ruby Jerins) suffers mounting anxiety, and her own access to the hospital’s pain killers is limited.
Falco is again perfect as Jackie, and again, surrounded by an equally fabulous cast. Zoey (Merritt Wever) is coming into her own as a nurse, and Sam (Arjun Gupta), whom Jackie once fired for being high on duty early last season, returns to work six months sober and suspicious of her using, soon competing with Coop (Peter Facinelli) as Jackie’s “Most Hated.”
Always fierce, Jackie is nonetheless a committed and caring advocate for her patients. Granted, she can be unruly (she teaches a cancer patient how to treat his chemo-induced nausea with pot by making a bong out of an apple, and sneaks an undocumented patient out of the ER before he can be arrested), but she’s someone you want on your side. She wants what’s best for patients at any cost. But don’t think her willingness to risk herself for her patients is a measure of her “goodness,” a balance to calculating, self-interested, and downright duplicitous side. Nurse Jackie, like its heroine, is never that straightforward. Jackie’s rule-breaking is about patient care, but it’s just as much about sticking it to the doctors and administrators while boosting her own seemingly invincible ego. What Jackie never allows herself to consider is how much she’s forcing others to take part in these risks: the patients, the other nurses under her charge, or even best friend and unwitting pill source, Dr. O’Hara (Eve Best).
As the pressure builds on Jackie through Season Two, she is occasionally sloppy: her 10-year-old daughter’s friend catches her snorting Adderal and she gives preliminary and incorrect lab results to a patient’s family. Still, the new season lacks the level of desperation we saw last year, perhaps best illustrated when Jackie smashed her own ring finger with a hammer to explain her missing wedding ring, the emblem of her double life. Likewise, when the fractures in her marriage start to show, although we’ve known they would eventually, they come on almost too quickly and in a manner that is overblown, too apparently a plot device.
What has been ramped up in this season are Jackie’s unexpected kindnesses and cruelties. And this is what makes the show so great. She constantly sidesteps all expectations and usually for the worse. Her addiction is escalating, her behavior increasingly troubling. It’s startling to realize that her issues go deeper than mere denial: she really believes everyone is capable of what she is. Indeed, in a brilliant moment in a late episode this season, Jackie is dumbstruck at the realization that everyone doesn’t think like she does.
For most, this would lead to some self-understanding, a revelation even. But as Eddie tells Jackie, “Anyone who knows you, knows they don’t know you.” That goes for us, too. And more frighteningly, it seems to go for Jackie.