The second season of Nurse Jackie opens with an idyllic image: Queens, New York resident Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) enjoying a day at the beach with her husband and two young daughters. The sun shines, the water sparkles, and Dionne Warwick’s squeaky-clean “I Say a Little Prayer” fills the air. This glossy snapshot of fulfilled womanhood and family bliss reveals Jackie for what she is: a loving spouse, a devoted mother, and a dedicated nurse at a Manhattan hospital. It also hides Jackie’s gritty interior and the other things she is: manipulator, liar, thief, drug addict, and unfaithful wife. This complexity, and Falco’s brilliant performance, create a fascinating, multi-layered character who is simultaneously unsavory and sympathetic.
In the previous season, Jackie carried on an affair with Eddie (Paul Schulze), a co-worker and pharmacist at the ironically-named All Saints Hospital. The affair ended and Jackie is now struggling to tread a straight-and-narrow path with her unsuspecting husband, Kevin (Dominic Fumusa), but Eddie can’t let go. When Jackie ignores Eddie’s calls and scolds him for his ‘suicide attempt’, he befriends Kevin, shows up at Jackie’s house, and stalks her à la Fatal Attraction. This doesn’t sit well with the fiery Jackie, who unsuccessfully warns Eddie to stay away.
Schulze does an excellent job of transforming the formerly harmless Eddie into a creepy and menacing presence that adds tension to the storyline and weighs heavily on Jackie, whose secrets are dark and plentiful. Chronic back pain (which might be exaggerated, as Jackie refuses treatment) and a resulting addiction to painkillers cause her to steal medicine from All Saints, to run up charges at pharmacies throughout the city, to alter a prescription given to her by her best friend Dr. Eleanor O’Hara (Eve Best), to crush and snort pills in bathroom stalls, and to hide her contraband in creative places such as a dental floss container and plastic Easter eggs.
Jackie capably juggles marriage, motherhood, infidelity, deceit, addiction, and her career. Her weaknesses rarely affect her duties at All Saints, and she goes out of her way and circumvents countless rules for her patients’ benefit. When traditional medicine fails to help a lymphoma victim, Jackie advises him to use marijuana, and she even shows him where to buy it and how to smoke it. Later, she delivers pot-laced brownies to his apartment and cleans out his neglected refrigerator. Jackie is much like a cop who bends the rules for the sake of justice. It’s this dichotomy and the skillful blend of toughness and sensitivity that Falco seamlessly brings to the role which make Jackie a flawed, nuanced, and likeable character.
Jackie’s motivations for her indiscretions (which were almost completely unknown in the first season) are now slowly revealed. Previously, Jackie’s reasons for her affair with Eddie were a mystery. She seemed to have an attentive husband and a happy home life, but it has become clear that Jackie is overwhelmed and unsatisfied. She’s frazzled by parenthood and her daughter’s Generalized Anxiety Disorder; she’s filled with inadequacy because her children are more emotionally attached to Kevin than to her; and when Kevin goes to the movies with their kids and the mother of a former girlfriend, Jackie feels betrayed. She runs to Eddie for one more tryst—which is oddly out of character for Jackie due to Eddie’s predatory behavior—but also quite telling. It’s now easier to see what makes Jackie tick, although more is needed to fully understand. Nothing is known about her past, her childhood, or the events that led up to her present condition—and this is a hole in the narrative that will hopefully be sewn up next season.
Another flaw in the script is the presence of both Dr. O’Hara and Dr. Cooper (Peter Facinelli). An excellent effort is put into these characters by Best and Facinelli, but the actors are failed by the writing. Although Nurse Jackie is a comedy-drama and has many humorous moments, they rarely come from O’Hara and Cooper. The eccentric O’Hara adds little to the story other than to cause conflict between Jackie and her husband (who isn’t fond of O’Hara’s desire to finance his children’s education), and Cooper is merely a foil for Jackie. Jackie and Cooper’s interactions typically amount to Bumbling Doctor vs. Competent Nurse—a dynamic which often wears thin and happens so frequently as to seem implausible. The most amusing moments that Cooper is afforded this season are the ones in which he shamelessly displays his Twitter addiction; however, the “inappropriate sexual touch” impulse he suffers due to anxiety is quite juvenile and detracts from an otherwise smart and sophisticated story.
The best source of levity in Nurse Jackie comes from Zoey Barkow (Merritt Wever)—an inexperienced young nurse who gradually gains confidence in herself and her abilities. The writing serves this character well, and Zoey is an innocent goofball who is played to perfection by Wever in a performance that is both natural and hilarious.
The second season of Nurse Jackie is even more gripping than the first, as Jackie’s layers are slowly peeled away and her past and present sins shadow her. Each episode is charged with tension and leads to a cliffhanger that causes a craving for the next installment. Although Jackie describes herself as “no prize”, this series certainly is.
The DVD includes three episodes with audio commentary from the actors and a gag reel in which the cast members are seen flubbing lines and making faces at the camera. While the extras are mildly entertaining, interviews with these talented actors about their roles would have been far more interesting.