“Nurse Jackie” has always been something of an odd duck in scrubs – a half-hour series classified as a comedy due to length, not content. When Edie Falco won an Emmy for the show in 2010, she protested from the stage that the award was “ridiculous,” adding, “I’m not funny.”
Beyond being a sensational actress, Falco has a future if she ever wants it as a TV critic, which is not to say that her Showtime series lacked merit over its seven-year run, culminating in Sunday night’s somewhat rushed and mostly unsatisfying finale. Yet oddly, even the episode’s shortcomings somehow felt right for the show, or at least appropriate in light of its tormented central character.
Once again, those seeking definitive closure from a series sendoff (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) will likely have to deal with a bit of a letdown. That said, the title character has always been defined by her contradictions – a caring and principled presence at All Saints Hospital, but a self-destructive train wreck in her complicated personal life. So with the opportunity to make a fresh start, Jackie fell victim to old excesses, overdosing at the party commemorating the hospital’s closure, as she prepared to move on to a new job and to formalize her relationship with her one-time lover turned fiancé Eddie (Paul Schulze).
The strange merry-go-round that has been Jackie’s life was perfectly summed up via the song that played over the climactic sequence, the theme from “Valley of the Dolls,” which asks the musical questions, “Is this a dream? Am I here?”
The finale indulged in one moment of nostalgia, bringing back Eve Best’s Dr. O’Hara to scold Jackie for her screwed up life and continuing addiction. There was also a lovely exchange between Jackie and Zoey (Merritt Wever), with the young nurse calmly pleading with her former mentor to be allowed “to move on.”
Despite the final season’s extended arc about All Saints being shut down and the uncertainty that hovered over Jackie’s career and Eddie’s future, the series appeared to be running on fumes, having exhausted most of the available angles involving its main character. And while viewers will doubtless take away different perceptions of the finishing sequence, the prevailing one is that Jackie’s life will go on in much the same messed up fashion it always has; only from here on, the TV audience just won’t be there to witness her lapses.
“Being a nurse is who I am,” Jackie tells O’Hara, sounding oblivious to the mix of ingredients – many of them toxic – that have actually gone into defining her.
“Nurse Jackie,” the series, is equally hard to pin down, and has at times felt just as confounding and frustrating. It’s easy to admire aspects of the show — the most obvious being Falco — and the unsentimental (and yes, unsettled) nature of the conclusion dovetailed with the program’s melancholy tone. Happily ever after would have been as wrong, given all that’s transpired, as having Jackie, or anyone else, go down in a hail of bullets.
Ultimately, the finale merely reinforced a sense that it was time, in TV terms, to pull the plug, signing out a program that has been – virtually throughout its run, and certainly these last few years – more of a diversion than a genuine pay-TV addiction.