I've been thinking about doing a post about Nurse Jackie (Showtime) for quite some time. I delayed writing one, because I wanted to see where this season would go. Monday was the season finale, and it was an interesting season.
If you don't know anything about the show, I'll give you a real breakdown. I'll list cast members, along with actor names. Hardly anyone watches this show, the season finale had 611k viewers with a 0.2 in the 18-49 demo. So, it's likely I might be introducing you to a show you haven't watched, that you might like. If you don't have Showtime, it hurts your chances of seeing it, but if you do have Showtime, I think the show is well worth your time, especially if you like the messed up characters of shows like House.
I'll start this by giving you the main character breakdowns, and then I'll talk a bit about what I think is one of the most messed up shows/characters on TV, today. I think I mean that in a good way, but this show always leaves you conflicted about how you feel about the various characters.
The Characters (from IMDB):
Nurse Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco)
Dr. Eleanor O'Hara (Eve Best)
Zoey Barkow (Merritt Wever)
Eddie Walzer (Paul Schulze)
Dr. Fitch Cooper (Peter Facinelli)
Gloria Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith)
Thor Lundgren (Stephen Wallem)
Sam (Arjun Gupta)
Kelly Slater (Gbenga Akinnagbe)
Lenny (Lenny Jacobson)
Kevin Peyton (Dominic Fumusa)
Grace Peyton (Ruby Jerins)
Fiona Peyton (Mackenzie Aladjem)
These are the "important" characters, and as you can see, there are many of them. In writing this, I'm not going to go into all the intimate details of the history of the show, I will just focus on season 3. I'll also try not to give too many spoilers for the season finale, but if it happens, and you're a regular viewer of the show, I can't imagine why you wouldn't have watched the season finale, already.
Since the beginning of the series, we have been introduced to the many weird character affects of the main characters. There isn't a single person on this show who isn't abnormal (outside societal norms), in some way. While Shameless tries as hard as it can to be as dysfunctional as possible, this show is filled with completely dysfunctional characters, who are all somehow functional.
Nurse Jackie mostly takes place in an Emergency Room, in New York City, at All Saints Hospital. As you can expect, there are always big things happening, in the Emergency Room, and weird things happening in the ER waiting room. The hospital is kind of a MacGuffin, it's just what brings all of the characters together for their collective insanity. Normally, this type of show would just be a "day in the life" type show, but because of the complex nature of most of the characters, it becomes a character study. Due to that, it's kind of important that you watch the show from the beginning, or at the very least, from the beginning of the third season. You can still enjoy the show from any starting point, but you will feel much more involved if you begin at some kind of major series break (like the beginning of a season). All of the episodes for Season 3 are available on Showtime On Demand.
Nurse Jackie, for lack of a better word, is a junkie. She is a completely functioning junkie, but she is still a junkie. She will do anything to get her fix. Fortunately for her, she is apparently blessed by the Man upstairs, to have every possible good break go her way, which always seems to allow her to avoid any true penalties for her actions. Her family enables her, her friends enable her, and even her boss enables her. Every time she is nearly caught doing something wrong, there is a miraculous thing that happens, or some way for her to explain her way out of it. Her family loves her, while she doesn't do anything to make it seem like she really loves them. Her friends like and respect her, though I'm fairly sure she would likely throw them under the bus, if they stood between her and her next fix. Her boss thinks she's a good worker, and doesn't want to lose her, even though she is coming apart at the seams. The problem I think Jackie has is that she's likely a sociopath. She has real expressions, and sometimes will show proper emotion, but for the most part, the only thing she cares about is herself. She knows (maybe she doesn't) that everything she does in her life is wrong, yet she absolutely does not appear to care one bit about it. Four low moments for her in the series are:
1. She stole the drug stash of a man who had an epileptic seizure (he turns out to be a drug dealer).
2. She stole heavy duty pain killer patches, while assuming a run upstairs from another character, who was on his first day on the job.
3. She had the drug dealer, from point number one, become her "sponsor", who then supplied all of her fixes, while she "acted" like she was getting clean. When she was going to meet him one night, for her fix, he was hit and killed by a truck. She did not call anyone (remember, she's a Nurse), she just walked away, like nothing happened.
4. She took her daughter's "child dose" medication to use as her drug of choice, when she could no longer get high on over the counter medicines, following her drug dealer's death.
As you can see, Jackie doesn't have much of a moral compass. I would argue that she has no moral compass, at all. She doesn't seem to care that her actions affect others, in any way. When she does notice that her actions affect others, negatively, she gets mad that they talk about it. She's clearly a serial killer, without the killing.
Surely that's the only messed up character in the show, right? That's too much for one show, right? Nope, we're just getting started. The next character on the list is Dr. O'Hara. She is Jackie's best friend, whatever that means to Jackie. O'Hara is Wilson, like Jackie is House. At some point, O'Hara decides that she won't, or can't, enable Jackie anymore. We get the idea that someone in her family also dealt with substance abuse. So, for the vast majority of the third season, we see O'Hara trying to avoid Jackie in all personal situations. She eventually becomes friends with Jackie, again, and it should come as absolutely no surprise that she begins enabling her again (with A LOT of guilt).
Then, we have the curious Zoey Barkow. If you have not seen Merritt Wever act, you would just think this is a weird and quirky character. She was in many episodes of the L&O franchise, but is particularly memorable as a very messed up girl, who killed a family for very bizarre reasons. I believe the Zoey character shows the "normal" affect of that same person she played in Criminal Intent. Zoey is a Nurse who is very strange. She is sunny, on a cloudy day, but the way she acts is just not quite right. Her affect is wrong for the situations she's in, and how people react to the way she acts. When people get mad at her, it doesn't put her off her game. She is a people pleaser, or at least thinks she is. Everything she does is a complete counter point to how everyone else goes about their jobs. They all hate the people in the ER, and apparently their jobs, but Zoey, she loves her job.
Eddie Walzer is the Pharmacist. Eddie is as close to a male version of Jackie as there is on the show. Eddie, to me, seems like a sociopath, but later in the series has appeared to develop a conscience. As part of his character arc, he had an affair with Jackie. However, he doesn't know that Jackie is married. Once he discovers this fact, he decides to befriend Jackie's husband, and basically throws their affair into her face, at every opportunity. That is really messed up. For lack of a better word, he is an a-hole.
Dr. Fitch Cooper (Coop) is up next. Outside of Jackie, I am pretty sure this is the most messed up and confused character, on the show. He's like a drug addict, without the drugs. He's just addicted to himself. He is completely delusional about everything he does, and is basically an idiot. He's probably what the most popular guy in high school would have become, if he never stopped having a high school mentality. In the first season, he had an issue that would make him spontaneously grab women's breasts. In this season, his character is having to deal with the break up of his two moms, and he has decided to marry a woman that he knew from high school. He decided this before even sending a friend request to her on facebook. If that's not enough to show you how messed up this guy is, then I suggest you watch the show.
I'm pretty sure Gloria Akalitus is the hospital administrator. She's fairly normal, and was portrayed as a major hard ass in the first season of the show. Her touch has softened dramatically over the years, and her arc this season was to try to get Michelle Obama to come visit the hospital via a making kids eat healthy program. She loves Michelle Obama. Her other storyline, appealing to the harder side of herself, is that the Catholic Diocese has decided they want the statues back from the hospital chapel. This makes her very angry, and she spends much of the season trying to figure out how to get them back. Of course, Coop will save the day, due to his "wedding" plans. Her fatal character flaw is that she seems to believe everybody, about everything. This also makes her an enabler, and she is also one of the biggest enablers of Jackie, in the show, as she actually has the power to fire her for her actions.
Thor Lundgren is a male Nurse, who is gay. He is, by far, the most normal character in the show.
Sam is a male Nurse, who was once a drug addict or alcoholic. He hates Coop, because Coop slept with his girlfriend, if I remember correctly. He is frequently on probation, and at one time broke Coop's nose.
Kelly Slater is a surfer. Just kidding, Kelly Slater is a male Nurse, who we are completely unsure of what he's about, who was introduced in third season. He talks about a ton of things he's done in his life, including going to Haiti to help after the earthquake, but is mainly known as a freelance Nurse. He is a job hopper. Upon his initial introduction, I remember telling my wife that this guy is a drug dealer or addict, or something, because he was carrying himself very strangely. His stories are too over the top, and he is constantly muscling in on people to try to get glory. He has an interesting story arc, in the season, and we get a slight payoff, in the next to last episode of the season, about who he really is.
Lenny is a Paramedic. He has a crush on Zoey. They start a relationship. Lenny is dumb, and obtuse. His feelings are stronger for Zoey than hers are for him, usually because of his insensitivity to who she is, or just his dumb actions. He's an interesting diversion that is only used when people are brought into the ER.
Kevin Peyton is Jackie's husband. Kevin is an idiot, and a complete enabler. He wants to believe the best in Jackie, even though she lets him down, constantly. He owns a bar, and there are hints that either him or someone in his family was an addict of some kind. Owning a bar is a really good decision for that, I think. Kevin is duped daily by Jackie, duped by Eddie, and just doesn't realize what a fool he is, on all counts. Throughout this season, it appears he is starting to see what Jackie is up to, as he also did toward the end of last season. By the next to last episode, he brings Eddie to a batting cage, and appears to know what was really up with Eddie and Jackie, and Jackie, in general. All of this will be resolved in the season finale.
Grace is Jackie's older daughter. Grace is very messed up, likely from witnessing this completely dysfunctional family, on a daily basis. Towards the end of the season, she says that she hears voices in her head, and she just wants them to stop. So, she goes to a Doctor, who prescribes a child version of an anti-depressant. I can't remember which one, but it's one that's used a lot.
Fiona is Jackie's younger daughter. Fiona is very messed up, likely from having the sociopathy gene passed from Jackie. It's clear that this child is going to end up in jail, one day. She will also probably kill one or multiple people.
As for the overall show, it's basically just like watching a train wreck. In the case of House, the train wreck was watching a great show become pretty bad. In the case of Nurse Jackie, we are witnessing the downward spiral of a junkie. The show is actually very good. I believe this show would fail if it were the typical hour given to shows of this type, but it works exceptionally well as a half hour show. At the end, we the viewer, are left to say, "that's it??", every week. I imagine that's exactly how a downward spiraling junkie would feel, as each high gets shorter and shorter.
We're watching and waiting for Jackie to hit rock bottom, but that will probably only come when this show is ready to be canceled. She keeps getting saved, and we don't know why. She's never overdosed, but she absolutely cannot get clean. Every time she could be caught, someone does something to help her avoid it. When she's at her apparently darkest hour, something happens to lighten things up again. Her character arc is surely going to lead to death, but it could be a long time until she gets there. The season finale set things up for next season in a very interesting way, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. Nothing has been resolved, but everything has been set up for resolution.
If you noticed, this blog post ended up talking about the characters more than anything else. Like I said above, the show is a "day in the life" show, that is essentially a character study. The characters are what make me watch this show. I have tried Shameless and The United States of Tara, but something about them struck me as not real enough. Even though Nurse Jackie seems thoroughly unbelievable on the surface, through time, we are led to believe that the characters, and the characters' actions are totally believable. That's why you should be watching this show. The stories aren't great, but the characters are worth the ride, on the vicious downward spiral they're taking us. Thanks for reading.