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Nurse Jackie Watch: Intervention

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Spoilers for the season finale of Nurse Jackie after the jump:

Considering the way things were building, and the unsustainable accumulation of Jackie’s lies, it’s not surprising that season 2 of this show* should end with Kevin discovering Jackie’s secret. The question was which secret that would be.

*(This drama? This comedy? I don’t like to use the word “dramedy” in connection with this show, because to me that implies a kind of network-TV sentimental quirkiness that Nurse Jackie, while definitely offbeat, doesn’t have. I guess I think of it as both a drama and a comedy, depending on the moment.)

I’m glad it didn’t turn out to be Jackie’s relationship with Eddie, not for the characters’ sake but for the show’s. In general I’ve been very happy with season 2, which kept the premiere season’s essential conflicts and its dark humor, and allowed Edie Falco to continue to shine while building up some supporting characters (especially Merritt Wever’s Zoey and Peter Facinelli’s Coop) and correcting some others (especially Anna Deveare Smith’s Gloria). The show has become more of a true ensemble, and it’s better for it. But I was concerned at the beginning of the season about the show taking some kind of Fatal Attraction turn with Eddie befriending Kevin and threatening Jackie that he would spill the beans on their affair.

Instead, the season turned in another direction, coming around in the end to the lengths to which Jackie has gone to rationalize and cover up her drug use. The affair with Eddie, it turns out, is not the disease; it’s a symptom.

At the outset, the series presented Jackie a dedicated, righteously driven but flawed nurse whose drug use was a reaction to the physical and emotional pressures of her career and home life. Season 2, however, has been dedicated to taking that setup apart, demonstrating how easily that explanation turns into excuse-making and even—as shown by Jackie’s final, sarcastic “Blow me” at the idea of confessing that she’s a drug addict—a kind of monomania. Lix Brixius and Linda Wallem, along with Falco, have done a thorough job of presenting how Jackie uses her pressures as the ultimate answer to any demand that she change, and how—true to form for an addict—she’s mastered the art of combining her lies with enough truth, and even genuine confession, to get by.

We see this in the season finale in Jackie’s exchanges with both Kevin and O’Hara, in which she seems to own up to her faults and apologize for her dishonesty. And very likely she means it and is actually contrite. It finally doesn’t matter, partly because she has so well integrated her apologies into her defense mechanism, and partly because, when pushed, she falls back on the same stubbornness and righteousness she employs in her job at the hospital: how dare you question me?

What complicates matters is that we’ve seen that, when she takes this attitude at work, she’s often right, even if she’s not always pleasant about it. But translated to her personal life and her addiction, this high-handedness is the ultimate form of self-medication. The question for season 3: is Jackie willing to let anyone else try to heal her?