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'Nurse Jackie': a rough night

July 14, 2009 |  6:51 am

Nurse_jackie_106_0209 It never really occurred to me until tonight how female "Nurse Jackie" is. The show, not the character. I picked up right away that the character Nurse Jackie was female. I’m usually pretty good at that.

A vast majority of the television I watch is weighted heavily toward heterosexual males. Tonight on "Nurse Jackie," the heterosexual males we had were a guy in an abusive relationship with his cat, Dr. Cooper tending to his lesbian mothers, and Eddie, who – let’s face it – is basically eye candy. Why else would they keep him in a glass booth?

Mr. Nurse Jackie also made a brief appearance at the beginning of the episode, but in the background as Jackie sewed together an incredible sunflower costume for her youngest, Fiona. Seriously, Jackie could have a side gig on Broadway. Plus it’s durable enough to be worn as pajamas. Tailoring, healthcare, juggling lovers. All while on prescription narcotics. Is there nothing this woman can’t do?

The activity tonight centered on two patients. Jackie and the other nurses crowded around Maureen (Judith Ivey), a fellow RN who left the hospital a year ago to battle lung cancer. Ivey delivers a tour de force performance with a stress on the "force" part. Maureen has an ornery, snide comment for anyone or anything that crosses her path. It’s like she’s constantly trying to say her last words and make them as quotable as possible. Though her brash demeanor kept me at arm’s length, so I never fully invested in her or her story.

I say she was constantly trying to say her last words because Maureen came into the hospital to die. Instead of slowly fading away in hospice care, Maureen wants to control how she leaves this world, and asks Jackie to help. Euthanasia is a moral quandary for a nurse, but it didn’t really seem to be much of a quandary for Jackie. Right from the beginning, Jackie seemed ready to participate. The reasoning she gave Dr. O’Hara: “She’d do the same for me.”

There was never any doubt that Jackie was going to assist her friend, but I could tell it wasn’t an easy request to fulfill because of the amount of time she spent in the bathroom, thinking, prepping and snorting. Even her conversations on the topic weren’t really conversation. Jackie discussed the situation mostly through vague comments or plain silence, keeping her feelings bottled up until she placed the spiked glass of champagne in front of Maureen and let her do the rest. An understandable reaction, but again, as a viewer, I felt shut out.

Maureen was supposed to come off as a dark, funny character, but I was far more amused by Zoey. Her whole conversation with Dr. O’Hara about Jackie’s feelings and needs while Jackie was standing behind her the entire time, her moment with Eddie as she discussed not participating in this “rite of passage,” and even walking into the bathroom, seeing O’Hara and walking right out. I found that all more amusing than any of the witty dialogue Maureen cranked out. Just the way Zoey has been developed by the show’s writers and acted by Merritt Wever has made her my favorite character on the show. My least favorite character on the show? Akalitis. She spent tonight hounding the nurses about Maureen, not out of any ethical/professional reaction to what they might have been doing, but more just to be grinchy.

While the nurses were busy with Maureen, the doctors tended to Dr. Cooper’s “vagina mom.” Yep. Cooper was raised by lesbians. And you can’t get much better lesbian moms than Blythe Danner and Swoosie Kurtz. We got a little taste of Coop’s past and how he was teased as a child for his “funny” behavior or how he preferred his non-vagina mom. Plus it gave an opportunity for his inappropriate-touching Tourette’s syndrome to reappear, the one aspect of "Nurse Jackie" that always seems to break my suspension of disbelief.

Through all my disconnect with "Nurse Jackie" tonight, there was one moment that rang very true. After Maureen drank her final cocktail, she fearfully asked Jackie for a priest. That second of fear and weakness might not have carried as much weight if not for Maureen’s brash demeanor leading up to it.

Which brings us to the halfway point of "Nurse Jackie’s" first season. Only six more episodes to see how the stories of All Saints Hospital play out.

--Andrew Hanson

Photo: Edie Falco, left, and Judith Ivey in "Nurse Jackie." Credit: Showtime Television