“Nurse Jackie” finished off a wildly uneven Season 5 with an inevitable ending: Jackie fell off the wagon and started using again, at the exact time her friends and family were celebrating her year of sobriety.
We knew this was coming ever since last season, when Jackie (Edie Falco) bolted out of rehab before finishing the program. There’s also the fact that this show is designed to track the trials and tribulations of an addict — something that’s a lot harder to do with a sober lead. What’s disappointing is that Season 5 never did much to raise the stakes for that moment.
Maybe Jackie’s perfunctory relapse will help straighten out the show, which struggled to find its way after the unprecedented highs of Season 4. A big shift behind-the-scenes — creators and former showrunners Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem departed their roles and “Dexter” producer Clyde Phillips stepped in — led to a bit of a reboot on screen, and the results were decidedly mixed.
New characters were added and the tone of the show brightened as Jackie attempted to adjust to sober living. Ten episodes later and Dr. Ike Prentiss (Morris Chestnut) and Dr. Carrie Roman (Betty Gilpin) still haven’t added much, although the twist of pairing Merritt Wever’s Zoey with Prentiss romantically at least opens up some potential for the future. Setting up the borderline incompetent Roman as a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen is a lot less promising, especially since the irritating newcomer mostly serves to take screen time away from other characters.
“Jackie” didn’t make very good use of Eddie (Paul Schulze) or Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith) this season, while O’Hara (Eve Best) bolted for the UK in the premiere and only popped up twice after that. (It has since been confirmed that Best is officially leaving the show — an unfortunate loss.) Even Coop (Peter Facinelli), who had plenty of screen time opposite Roman, felt less essential than last year when he was helping O’Hara during her pregnancy and trying to buddy up to Mike Cruz (Bobby Cannavale).
Fortunately, Falco and Wever remained as reliable as ever and worked their tails off to keep the show from falling apart. And the one storyline that really clicked this season — Jackie realizing the bad example she’s set for her daughter Grace (Ruby Jerins), who began to dabble in dating and drugs — felt like a logical progression of everything the series has established up to this point.
Jackie falling into a relationship with good-natured NYPD officer Frank Verelli (Adam Ferrara) was less logical but not entirely unwelcome. However, if Frank continues into next season, the show would be wise to give him more shading. Ferrara is likeable, but right now the character feels like little more than a device to test if Jackie can accept happiness.
As a single episode, the finale was one of the season’s better installments — maybe because it felt like it was actually building toward something. But also because guest star John Cullum, as a dying man still clinging to sobriety even through great pain, provided a graceful counterpoint to Jackie’s struggles. When Thor (Stephen Wallem) decides to give the patient morphine to ease his pain, Jackie explodes with rage. And then she sees the peace it brings him.
Jackie still has a long way to go on her journey. Maybe next season can find a more consistent way to illuminate the steps she has to take.