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The last episode of Nurse Jackie before the season finale aimed for a balance of laughs to tide us over and promises of fireworks and Emmy-worthy meltdowns to come next week. Surprisingly, the most smoldering of the promises came by way of Kevin, who hasn't had much to do in a long while but look long-suffering and make you think of the line about how still waters are supposed to run; at times, quietly holding himself together and smiling ambiguously while all manner of bullshit is being shoveled in the direction of his head, he's come as close as any Queens bartender come possibly come to seeing to be auditioning for the role of the Mona Lisa. Recently, the question hanging over the show has been, how much has this poor guy inadvertently learned about his wife's activities over the course of the last few years? When he began his day by arranging for a pre-dawn heart-to-heart with his favorite guy friend, Eddie, whose friendship is one of the side benefits of Eddie's having spent all that time shtupping his wife, it was clear that something's gotta give.


As if to underline the manly nature of their friendship, or maybe just his own need to hit something, Kevin scheduled their therapy session in a batting cage, clutching a baseball bat roughly the size of the Seattle space needle and swinging at balls in between bouts of grunting out his dialogue. "You see my wife every day?" he asked Eddie. "Technically, yeah," replied Eddie. "So do you." The "technically" was a deft touch, and far less obvious than if he'd said, "Yeah, but it's been a while since I've seen her naked." Sweaty and pissed-off, Kevin summed up the state of his marriage: "There's all this unspoken shit hanging there. Every day, I wake up, I want to put it all there, fuck the consequences. It's the hanging there that's making me crazy."

It was a stirring speech, to be sure, but under the circumstances, you can understand why Eddie would just stare at the bat in his hand and try to fight the urge to ask him to define "crazy." Rather than start faxing copies of his resume to pharmacies in the Philippines, he choose to hang tough, going to work and telling Jackie that Kevin knows… something! Jackie took this news in stride, but by then, craziness was breaking out all over the hospital, and some of it was flowing in her favor. After Jackie confessed to having chugged her daughter's meds, O'Hara  took this in, quietly refilled the prescription, and, after delivering a condensed version of one of those speeches the writers love to hand her, spelling out why all the things one might normally do with a friend who has Jackie's problem just wouldn't work in her case, proposed a solution. It seemed to come down to O'Hara personally prescribing and monitoring a drug regimen for Jackie, with an eye towards gradually weaning her off the stuff and giving her a chance to get clean on her own terms, dream on. "Consider me," O'Hara said, "a very fancy methadone clinic."

This setup would seem to have possibilities. If I'm not sure that I love it, it's because I'm not sure I trust the writers to be as ruthless towards the dramatic possibilities as I'd like them to be. If I keep comparing Nurse Jackie to House, that's partly because, as different as the two shows are, they've always faced the same potential danger. Which is that the supporting characters, who have to keep finding reasons to forgive the flawed protagonists or else the stars will end up with no one to talk to, will forgive them so readily so many times in the face or ever worse screw-ups and betrayals that the show begins to seem to be all about coddling the most undeservingly indulged little prince or princess. This is a problem that House has embraced like a hippopotamus wading into quicksand, but Nurse Jackie has is mostly still dancing around it, which is partly a tribute to its cast. Watching Eve Best sell her big scene, I had a thought that she could have probably taken over Bernie Madoff's business and kept it afloat another several years. Adding spice to the mix was the mysterious Kelly Slater, whose long-awaited scene in which he revealed that he and Jackie were siblings under the skin turned out to be worth waiting for.


The funny stuff mostly started out unpromising, beginning with the sight of Akalitus, who was shepherding a group of schoolchildren in anticipation of an official visit from the First Lady that didn't happen, wearing a hideous dress that looked like something Rorshach might cut up to make himself a mask. (The kids were wearing T-shirts that read, "NO THANKS, I'M FULL".) Zoey spent most of the day planning a party in the basement in recognition of National Nurses Appreciation Week; it had the smell of failure to it, so when a cop showed up bearing flowers as part of his show of appreciation, her first instinct was to take the guy's head off for messing with her. With Thor's help, the cop persuaded her that he really did appreciate the everloving bejesus out of her, and it all turned out all right.

Meanwhile, Eddie was trying to reject Coop's request that he serve as best man at his wedding by dumping on the concept of marriage—"You know what happens when you get married? Someone comes along, fucks your wife, and then you crash and burn."—but was finally unable to resist that childlike enthusiasm and those  three frightening rows of teeth. "I'm not trying to be a dick," he said apologetically, "but I had a shitty day. I wanna go home, feel like shit, come back and try again tomorrow." One of the things I like about Nurse Jackie is that the sweet-natured characters never completely give in to cynicism no matter how hard they try, and the cynical characters are always being surprised to discover how much sweetness they still have in them. In a show about someone who's always using everybody else, that kind of grace note counts for a lot.