TV, especially cable TV, has a knack for creating incredibly despicable characters that one can’t help but love. Tony Soprano. Don Draper. Dexter Morgan. Walter White, to name a few. To know them is to love them, despite how conflicted you might feel about it. It’s the latest Hollywood trend – creating protagonists that in reality we would detest, yet on our TV screens, we cautiously admire. We are somehow able to overlook their character flaws (to put it mildly) because we are shown their vulnerable sides and find ourselves connecting and even empathizing with them. No one would ever want to live in the same cul-de-sac as Tony Soprano but we happily invite him into our living rooms from the safe distance of our flat screens time and time again.
This past Sunday, one of the most dysfunctional (yet somehow highly functional) females returned to TV. Nurse Jackie is back, and just when you thought she had hit rock bottom, she went and outdid herself. When I first started watching the show (from the very beginning, of course), I was amazed at how well she was able to keep things together – her demanding nursing career, her family, her affair with the hospital pharmacist, and last but certainly not least, her major drug addiction. I found it interesting how they had her not only juggling all that (quite successfully, I might add) but also having her come to her patients’ rescue time and time again, bending – if not breaking – every rule to get them the best care possible. They almost made her into a sort of Mother Teresa, helping those in need, which allowed us to see past all her misgivings and even see them as positive attributes. Perhaps she had unlocked some sort of code and the rules just didn’t apply to her – she was above it all, and perhaps WE all had it wrong. It just made sense, I didn’t argue with it. And they cleverly wove religious themes throughout the show to give it more of a spiritual undertone – Catholic hospital, lots of time spent in the chapel, etc. Nurse Jackie was some sort of super human, and that, plus all the near misses when her addiction or infidelity came close to being discovered, made the show highly entertaining.
Now the show could have kept that going and it would have made for pretty interesting TV, but instead they chose to have things start to unravel. Probably the wise choice – maintaining her character that way for much longer would have been difficult, not to mention the controversial message it would be sending about drug addiction. So naturally, things started falling apart. By the end of the last season, her marriage, her career, her friendships were all on the brink of destruction. If you haven’t seen the premier episode, you may want to stop reading here. In the season opener, rather than seeing her try to get her act together, we find her picking up a stranger (in a church, I might add) and freebasing coke with him at her home. He ends up OD-ing in her living room, right before she was about to sleep with him, leaving her with a corpse to reckon with. Now we’ve seen Jackie in tricky situations before, but nothing like this. Yet she somehow manages to get herself out of it by calling her colleagues to her rescue, creating a story about how she saw him wandering around on her block and thought he needed medical attention. Bravo, Jackie, bravo. Even I was a little disgusted by her – though probably not quite as much as Doctor O’Hara – and thankfully, by the end of the episode, she had checked into rehab.
What will happen to the once almighty Nurse Jackie? Will she emerge from rehab a changed woman or will she fall back into her usual ways? Only time will tell, and I’ll be watching every Sunday to see how the story will unravel. If you aren’t watching, I’d suggest catching up on the DVDs and tuning in. You will not be disappointed.
Toni Collette (The United States of Tara)
Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)
Laura Linney (The Big C)
Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)