Edie Falco Shines as a Tainted Nurturer in 'Nurse Jackie: Season Two'

Nurse Jackie returns for a compelling second season in which its morally ambiguous protagonist tries to dodge her transgressions.

Nurse Jackie: Season Two

Director: Paul Feig; Alan Taylor; Adam Bernstein
Cast: Edie Falco, Paul Schulze, Dominic Fumusa, Peter Facinelli, Merritt Wever, Eve Best
Release Date: 2011-02-22

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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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