June 16, 2013



It’s impossible to discuss the season finale of NURSE JACKIE–or, as it turns out, its entire fifth season–without talking about its final minute, so I’ll skip to the next paragraph to ward off anyone who unwisely wandered into the SPOILER territory of a season finale review.

Here we are.  The question is whether its last minute has made Nurse Jackie‘s season 5 a cheap trick, or a beautifully played, very long con on the audience.  Up until this point, it seemed as though this season was very deliberately a Nurse Jackie lite, a reversal from the show’s previously very dark territory that featured a Jackie (Edie Falco) who wasn’t just in recovery for her drug addiction, but rarely seemed to be seriously tempted to relapse, even when surrounded by stress, and who was altogether less manipulative and unsympathetic than she’s been drawn in the past.  The series’s new showrunner Clyde Phillips even gave interviews to the effect that this was what Showtime had asked for after the very disturbing events of Season 4.  (We probably should have looked more closely at his last assignment:  showrunner for Dexter.)  But then, just when everything was seemingly going Jackie’s way, on the first anniversary of her sobriety, in a fresh and promising new relationship, she glibly took the pill that she’d been saving as a trophy since the season premiere, and then, just like old times, flat-out lied to her NA associates, her family and friends–even BFF O’Hara (Eve Best) who had returned from England for a smiling cameo.  This almost certainly will make for a return to darkness in the already-ordered Season 6, which we have to assume is what Showtime and Phillips had planned all along.

Relapses, of course, are a very real part of the addict’s life, and certainly a part of dramatic stories about addicts.  This one, though, was structured in a way that seemed more concerned with making viewers gasp than with delving into the psychology of this particular addict.  To be fair, there were hints that can be appreciated in retrospect.  Much of the finale, written by Phillips and fellow Executive Producer Tom Straw from a story by staff writer Abe Sylvia, and directed by Randall Einhorn, told the unusually sentimental story of a gay patient (veteran John Cullum)–himself an addict–dying of cancer, and how it was a mercy when nurse Thor (Stephen Wallem) gave him morphine despite his repeated requests not to be medicated.  When the insecure, manipulative Dr. Roman (Betty Gilpin) hung onto her job by blackmailing Akalitus (Ann Deavere Smith) and throwing Coop (Peter Facinelli), her only supporter, under the bus, Jackie didn’t seem morally outraged at all (except at what a bad doctor she is).  Even Jackie’s decision to give custody of her daughters, especially new drug-experimenter Grace (Ruby Jerins), to ex-husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa), may have been more about wanting them out of her way than worrying about what her influence would be on them.  There was also something ambiguous about the seemingly loving scene late in the episode between Jackie and her (mostly) sweetheart new boyfriend, cop Frank (Adam Ferrara).  It was all clever–but then again, Nurse Jackie isn’t Scandal, and it’s not a show that usually fosters cleverness.  Accomplished, here, may not be the same as satisfying.

In any case, we should appreciate the things about this season that were unquestionably fine.  First, as always, is Falco, who brings reality to every moment of the show whether it’s on the page or not.  It was also a good season for Meritt Wever’s Zoey, especially her relationship with Grace and her new, currently secret romance with Dr. Prentiss (Morris Chestnut).  Coop had the chance to show more backbone and less silliness than previous seasons have allowed, and Roman has turned into an interesting character, desperate as well as paycable sex-bait.  The rest of the ensemble has been customarily excellent as well.

In a way, we won’t really know what to make of this season until we see next year’s episodes.  If this really was the beginning of a well-thought-out 2-season arc, that deserves some respect.  On the other hand, if the show is merely going to retrace its steps from Seasons 1-4 all over again, it’ll feel like we’ve been put through the wringer for no real purpose.  The pressure will be on Phillips and his team to redeem Nurse Jackie, if not Jackie herself, when the series returns.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."