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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Nurse Jackie: "The Astonishing"

Illustration for article titled Nurse Jackie: "The Astonishing"
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Because Nurse Jackie recognizes its responsibilities to its viewers, tonight's episode begins with a scene establishing that Grace finally selected Christina the Astonishing as the saint she wanted to represent in her school pageant, because in the week since the previous episode, arguments over whom Grace would dress up as have torn families apart, and gunfire has been heard in the streets of Vegas, as the betting odds have swung about like a remote-controlled toy helicopter in the hands of a monkey on Snake Juice. Not really being up on my lesser saints, I had never heard of Christina the Astonishing, a lass from Brustern, Belgium, who is fondly remembered "for her faith and for her violent fits of ecstasy," which were actually epileptic seizures, one of which was so severe that she didn't get up from it until the middle of her funeral service, treating the gathered mourners to a resurrection during a slow news cycle. Consequently, I held my breath throughout the show, waiting for someone to point out, at the most embarrassing possible moment, that she was in fact a character created by Monty Python, but no, it's all here at Wikipedia. I'm guessing that both the name and the origin story play better in whatever language they speak in Brustern.

Actually, when Christina came to during her funeral, she levitated to the rafters of the church. Good thing it wasn't an outdoor service. Anyway, Jackie gets into a tiff with Grace because she's made her a pair of wings to go with her costume, because she's confused saints, levitation division, with angels, which is probably on some good Catholic's list of 10 signs that it's time for those who care about Mom to start pricing rehab facilities. There's more black humor at the end of the episode, when Jackie, straying from a direct path to Grace's pageant because of her desperate need for a fix, sees a minor character check out of the series in a familiar piece of slapstick bait-and-switch. (The scene is gorier than it needs to be, too. The episode's director, Bob Balaban, has picked up a taste for blatancy in his sick jokes in the 22 years since his feature directing debut, Parents, arguably the finest of all the '50s-suburban-sitcom-parents-were-actually-aliens-and/or-cannibals movies.) To her credit, Jackie does make it to the school in time to not totally crush Grace, who gets to utter the episode's closing words, "Pray for me," over a close-up of her mom, looking dejected, strung-out, and a few twitches away from ascending a clock tower with an automatic weapon.

In between, there was… well, not a lot going on, to tell the truth. There's a funny scene that takes too long to set up, involving Zoey asking Jackie and O'Hara to lunch, because, she explains once she has them cornered, she wants to use them as material in her blog. ("Your names will be changed. 'Lady Penelope' and 'Taffy.'") Coop reacting to his mothers' divorce by sinking into a despairing pit of childhood nostalgia inside the toy-strewn womb of his office is a cute idea and soundly within Peter Facinelli's wheelhouse. A shot of him using a toy with a springing-out boxing glove to gently punch himself in the head sums his character up in a nutshell, and Akalitus showed faint traces of her old spark when she denied him a hug and told him to get his shit out of her hospital. ("You have two mothers. You don't need a third.")

Mostly, though, the episode has a scattershot feel to it, with too many of its pleasures coming from how well the actors have mastered the things their characters have done a hundred times before or how masterfully they can see things that the writers might have worked on for another couple of drafts. (For instance, I really like the way Eve Best plays O'Hara's shaky recovery after she's been attacked by a PCP user whose restraints she'd loosened, trying to maintain a stony air of expressionless calm when every nerve in her body is screaming for help. But it's not clear why she's loosening the guy's restraints in the first place, in the face of Kelly's advice that she's asking for trouble. It looks as if she does it just so that we can see Kelly come to her rescue and to give Eddie an excuse to comfort her, which, of course, rubs Jackie the wrong way.) In general, this season so far has marked a drop-off from the previous two seasons, because, even with her addiction exposed and her affair with Eddie either ended or on hiatus, Jackie has settled a little too easily into her same old cozy, lying rut. Here's hoping that something comes along soon to shake things up, violently. And that the creative team knows that shock cuts of bloody bodies won't get the job done, and not just because the hospital setting makes them easy to come by. Nurse Jackie is a show that, at its best, has always known that the worst scars are the ones that aren't visible, even on X-rays.

Stray observations:

  • "You yell at the nuns with that mouth?"
  • "Girls, I'm gonna drop some wisdom on you." "Oh, you don't have to do that, Dr. Cooper."
  • "I used to be jailbait. My bait used to be very jail."