‘Nurse Jackie: Season Three’ is More of the Same — But That’s a Good Thing

Nurse Jackie‘s third season begins with Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) being forced by her husband, Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) and her best friend, Dr. Eleanor O’Hara (Eve Best) to face her prescription drug abuse and her countless lies. But Jackie, as usual, wriggles out of the tight spot to the tune of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” with more of her cool deception. She convinces her loved ones that she has kicked the habit but continues to crush and snort pills that she stores in clever hiding places—her children’s mittens, file folders kept in her basement, the inside of a Sharpie. Jackie does it all with ease, because—as her former partner in adultery, Eddie (Paul Schulze) disdainfully notes—she is “a world class, genius liar.”

She’s also a first-rate nurse at All Saints Hospital in Manhattan, where she constantly skirts the rules to help her patients, struggles to outwit a male nurse who sees through her, and frequently visits a nearby diner to hug her dealer so he can slip pills into her pocket. “People gotta stop tryin’ to save people who don’t want to be saved,” Jackie says.

She makes an effort to save herself by quitting drugs without professional help, which results in physical withdrawal that she attempts to endure while on the job. But it becomes too much, and when her dealer is no longer available, she steals drugs from All Saints, tricks co-workers into supplying her with over-the-counter meds, and drinks mouthwash in the hospital bathroom.

Jackie is hooked on pills and dishonesty, and although the talented Edie Falco portrays this complex and morally ambiguous character with charisma and skill, the reasons behind Jackie’s behavior remain a frustrating mystery. The end of Season Two provided a glimmer of hope for learning more about her psyche and motivations, but the latest season fails to expose the root of Jackie’s problems. Other than her alleged back pain, why does she need to numb herself with drugs? Why does she still have feelings for Eddie, and why did she have an affair with him when she has a caring, loving partner in Kevin? What happened in her past to cause her flagrant disregard for those who care about her?

Jackie’s behavior, and the lack of explanation for it, makes her character less sympathetic in Season Three. She often comes off as cold and callous—especially toward the long-suffering Kevin—and her hypocritical reaction toward his surprising news at the end of the season makes her even more unappealing. She is often placed in situations that attempt to portray her as virtuous—such as when she stands up for a waitress who is being verbally abused by a customer—but these scenes frequently feel forced, and would be unnecessary if the script provided a deeper understanding of who Jackie really is. The series meanders along without ever showing much of a change in Jackie’s actions and direction.

Another character who falters in the latest season is Dr. Cooper (Peter Facinelli). Facinelli does his best with the role, but he is limited by its writing. Dr. Cooper has always been drawn as an inept fool, and he is now further degraded by a storyline about the divorce of his female parents. The breakup causes Dr. Cooper to regress into childlike behavior that is absurd, unbelievable, and out of place in the series. This flaw in the script is, however, tempered by Nurse Zoey Barkow (portrayed beautifully by Merritt Wever), who continues to be a delightful confection of innocence and goofiness.

Although Nurse Jackie’s third season isn’t quite as strong as it has been in the past and would benefit from a deeper analysis of Jackie’s personality, its many good performances and its shrewd blend of comedy and drama make it worth watching.

The DVD contains extras that include interviews with some of the cast (Anna Deavere Smith, Paul Schulze, and Dominic Fumusa), audio commentary of a few episodes by several cast members, and a gag reel.

RATING 7 / 10