Nurse Jackie Finale: It Was Time to Go

Showtime's Nurse Jackie ended its 7 year run last night. (Spoiler Alert: Don't read further unless you've seen it or don't intend to watch.) [More...]

The media is fawning over the finale, including the ambiguous final scene in which it's not clear whether Jackie lives or dies. I thought it was a cop-out. I also don't think the show was ground-breaking. It began with that potential, but unfortunately wasted it. I'm not willing to give credit where none is due.

The series, as originally envisioned, was one that would show addiction is a life-long disease, and that while recovery is fraught with relapse issues, recovering addicts could lead productive lives, perform competently at work, do good deeds and be good citizens. It had the potential to remove some of the stigmas associated with drug addiction.

Instead, it morphed into a stereotypical portrayal of addicts as sociopathic liars who ruin their own lives and the lives of those who care about them. Instead of offering hope or understanding, the show fell prey to furthering the notion that no matter how much effort an addict puts into recovery, he or she is doomed to fail. Instead of offering a distinct and progressive view of addiction, it ended up as same-old, same-old -- down to the heavy focus on the need for addicts to suffer moral consequences when they relapse.

The show's current executive producer, Clyde Phillips, in an interview on the finale, explains the focus on heavy moral consequences for Jackie. That seems like a moral judgment and the antithesis of the show's premise when it began, which was that drug addiction is a disease.

You wouldn't suggest a cancer patient has to suffer negative consequences. Also, many people manage to live non-sociopathic, happy lives with potentially fatal diseases.

Phillips, who took over after the series creators left after season 4 had been filmed, seems to have some very inconsistent views of Jackie and drug addiction. While he claims in the interview linked above that the series "offer[s] the benefit of raising awareness and understanding of drug addiction", he also says "Jackie Peyton is a train wreck. She’s a sociopathic drug addict who has destroyed everything in her life." That sounds more like Reefer Madness than it does a new understanding of drug addiction. And beginning with season 4, the Reefer Madness version is what viewers got.

The last enjoyable season was season 3, before the show changed gears and shifted its focus to the moral necessity for addicts to suffer consequences. At that point, it became a typical anti-drug show.

Show co-creator Liz Brixius who left the show after season 4 was filmed and a few weeks into its airing, says it was Showtime entertainment chief David Nivens who decided Jackie must face consequences. Apparently, Edie Faclco agreed:

"The last thing that I wanted was to do a show where I’m playing an addict and it's all just fun and games," Falco tells THR. "[It] sort of inadvertently gives the message that addiction is fun and that recreational drug use is a cool thing. So, it was very important to me that there be ramifications. It had to go this way. This way or she had to die."

Brixius' original vision was different:

Liz Brixius, who co-created the show, says Falco and the producers had a specific vision for the character. "We wanted a picture of a woman with addiction on TV that wasn't pathetic or slovenly or slurring her words," she says. "Like, somebody who is still incredibly competent at what she does."

From season 4 on, that's not what we got. The show became trapped in a repetitive, predictable and ultimately boring cycle: Jackie gets high, uses people and sleeps around, followed by Jackie's family gets mad and punishes her, followed by Jackie goes to rehab, followed by Jackie falls off the wagon and lies and does bad things to get herself out of trouble. The cycle then begins anew. At the beginning of season six, this reviewer wrote the show felt tired and it seemed like Showtime was just keeping it alive to milk it.

On the ambiguous ending: Since the series has been terminated, it really doesn't matter much whether Jackie lived or died. She's not coming back. But since this was the series finale, not just a season finale, I think the ending should have been clear. Either she died, or she didn't. We don't need a cliff-hanger when the series is over.

Show-runner Phillips says they purposely made the ending ambiguous. He personally views Jackie as surviving, but thinks she has a miserable life ahead. (That new job at Bellevue will be gone, her ex will become more of a thorn, Eddie will go to prison, she'll have to start over at rehab, etc.) Taking the opposite view, this reviewer thinks she died.

I thought it was pretty obvious she died from the overdose. First, she snorted three big lines of heroin, which is a lot for a non-habitual user, even one who regularly takes oxycodone or oxycontin. From the look on Zoe's face when she spoke her last words to Jackie, "You're good, Jackie", it seemed to me Zoe's intent was for Jackie to hear something positive before leaving this life, not something to reassure her she'd survive. Even as Jackie eyes flutter open as if acknowledging she heard Zoe, the look on Zoe's face indicated to me Zoe knew Jackie was gone, or at least that her situation was hopeless, even if for no other reason than they had no equipment and it was unlikely an ambulance from Bellevue would get there in time.

Most telling,I think, was that as Zoe is saying "You're good, Jackie", two other hospital workers are just holding Jackie's hand while Eddie is rubbing her leg. There was no rush to find paddle jumpers, or had the paddle jumpers been removed due to the hospital's closing, thump on her chest or give her mouth to mouth resuscitation to revive her. A paramedic was there to put her on a stretcher, and other on-duty paramedics wearing FDNY Paramedic shirts were in the room. While Zoe called out for "a line" and "O2", there was no call-out for Naloxone. NYFD paramedics, like NY police, began carrying Naloxone for overdose cases in 2014. Even if the Naloxone was on their ambulances outside, why didn't one of them rush outside to grab it?

The atmosphere seemed more one of resignation than panic. My translation: Jackie was beyond help by the time of her final eye flutter, and they knew it.

Series co-creator Brixius said a few years ago, she envisioned only one possible ending for Jackie:

"I would have her die; I think that's the truth," says Brixius, who adds that she had to go to rehab four times before her sobriety held. "I don't think, as a viewer, I would trust her sobriety. Having her walk into another rehab center, it would be, like, 'Yeah. Right.' "

TV networks in the U.S. usually fall short when they address drug use and trafficking. With the exception of Breaking Bad, Weeds (and reportedly, the Wire, which I haven't watched since I don't like cop shows), U.S. produced shows about drugs end up being one dimensional, portraying drug users and traffickers as sociopaths or morally bankrupt with few, if any, redeeming qualities. The networks should take a cue from their Latin counterparts like Caracol, RCN, Telemundo, Unimas, and Mundofox, which consistently turn out shows that humanize drug users and traffickers, without making moral judgments or reducing them to mere sociopaths or, on the flip side, glorifying them.

Edie Falco is a great actress, and that's the major, if not sole reason the show lasted as long as it did. For me, many of the other cast members became simply irritating. Even Zoe's goody-goodiness and hand-wringing got on my nerves after a few seasons. As a result, I have no problem saying the death of the series Nurse Jackie was long overdue. I would have no interest in watching Jackie start at square one yet again if she survived, and no interest in watching the other cast members continue on in her absence if she died.

< ISIS-Inspired Attacks: 3 Hours, 3 Countries, 3 Continents | Islamic State One Year Later: Lasting and Expanding >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Best thing about the finale was the return (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by ruffian on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 08:15:46 PM EST
    of Eve Best. For me the show went downhill when O'Hara left. There was no one else to really both sympathize with Jackie and call her out on her BS as a peer. I never got tired of Zoey though.

    So....Jackie. Sigh. So much of this show resonated with me as the fairly straight sister of an addict that I have had to keep 3000 miles away to keep my sanity. I don't make a moral judgement but I am in the Zoey boat of it just being impossible to live my life while worrying about and/or trying to help someone I can't help, and also in the O'Hara boat of just not being able to stand looking into the big blue eyes of utter BS as someone tries to lie to me yet again. Edie Falco does that big eyed "I'm about to spin a real line of crap here" face so well, it was truly hard to watch some of the episodes.  Plus the constant self serving reminders of how great they are at something, anything. Even if it is true, all you want to say is, "yeah, you're a fricking genius". Maybe there are addicts that can keep their lives together without using everyone and double dealing on everyone they supposedly love, but not in my family.  So I did have my issues with Jackie!

    I don't believe in heaven or hell or that everyone is all saint or all sinner, despite the name of the hospital. I think they writers tried and succeeded in getting the middle ground across, and that even hurtful people can have redeeming qualities. Jackie saved lives, and did not actually kill anyone (that I recall, though perhaps it was only a matter of time), so she is in the plus column so far.

    I am fine with an ambiguous ending. I felt the show had run its course and don't need to spend anymore time with those characters, or need to know how they get on with their lives. I guess my issues with Jackie kept me at an emotional distance from those folks...that's kind of how it works.

    I agree Ruffian (none / 0) (#16)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 08:59:45 PM EST
    In fact, I had that in my original version of the post, but I cut it out (as well as a few other things) so the post wouldn't be too long. She was terrific and interesting.

    eve Best performed in Moon for (none / 0) (#30)
    by oculus on Wed Jul 08, 2015 at 01:00:18 AM EST
    the Misbegotten, w/Kevin Spacey as the. Fellow who captures her affections. She more than held her ground. Quite an amazing actress.

    My brother and sister in law (none / 0) (#1)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 07:13:45 AM EST
    Have been clean and productive for decades. It ain't easy. There isn't much TV drama in attending NA or AA meetings every week come hell or high water.

    Good for your brother and sister-in-law. (none / 0) (#8)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 04:47:29 PM EST
    Overcoming the personal scourge of addiction is definitely not easy, and I hope that you and other family members continue to praise their resolve, even though they've been clean for many years.

    That said, Jeralyn is rightly criticizing "Nurse Jackie" for its propensity to exploit and mine the issue of substance abuse and addiction for its perceived entertainment value, by turning the title character into a caricature of an unapologetic but hopeless drug addict who ruins the lives of everyone around her, in addition to her own.

    Like your own family, I also have family members who've similarly been waging battles against such demons with varying degrees of success. I have two younger cousins -- about whom I've written here in the past -- who've long been battling alcoholism, one successfully and the other not so much.

    But one person I haven't mentioned until now is my own stepsister who, like the fictional Nurse Jackie, is an R.N. who got caught up in the cycle of pain medication addiction that her chosen profession made it incredibly easy to indulge, and which has led her to more than a few stints in both rehab and the family / criminal court systems.

    (That may also be an unconscious reason why I quite watching "Nurse Jackie," because it started hitting way too close to home.)

    Even her own late father at one point all but disowned her 20 years ago, and even proved willing to see his own two then-young grandchildren be thrown into the California foster care system after his daughter was arrested for stealing pills from a hospital pharmacy. That notion of his horrified my mother, who overruled him and took those two pre-schoolers in while their mother went back into rehab.

    Through it all, my mother has been right there for my stepsister, not as an apologist and enabler, but as one who helps her pick up the pieces of her life whenever she's fallen off the wagon. "Because she's otherwise a very good and loving person, and I simply refuse to give up on her," whenever asked by us why she does it. "And neither should you."

    And I think that's the point Jeralyn is making here, and it's one that you should appreciate, given your own admission of your sibling's past problems. In its later seasons, "Nurse Jackie" made it all too easy to give up on such people. And that's not only the wrong impression to give the viewing public, but an irresponsible one as well.



    The real point is one you delivered a glancing (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by Mr Natural on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 06:27:07 PM EST
    notice.  Most of us don't have to watch this play out on a television show.

    We've seen it in real life.  In family.  In friends.


    Exactly. (none / 0) (#19)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Tue Jun 30, 2015 at 03:00:17 AM EST
    And thank you for pointing that out. I think most all of us who are middle-aged or older have known people who've been caught in the grips of addiction. Perhaps we even watched helplessly as they succumbed to their demons and ultimately lost their lives as a result.

    It's heartbreaking.


    Kudos to your mother for (none / 0) (#10)
    by oculus on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 08:00:16 PM EST
    rescuing her grandchildren.  

    They're about my own children's ages. (none / 0) (#18)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Tue Jun 30, 2015 at 02:49:50 AM EST
    And they're all grown up now, and are a wonderful young woman and man. Whatever else her failings are, my stepsister loves her daughter and son without reservation and they know it. Their father abandoned his family and took up with another woman when the kids were toddlers, and we've always felt that was the trigger for her second relapse, which involved the arrest for drug theft.

     My mother merely provided the backstop for those times when she stumbled badly, which really was not all that often, four times in 22 years while her kids were growing up. But whenever she did relapse, it was no long slow slide downward. Rather, it was a quick and messy nosedive to rock bottom.

    My mother and stepfather were appointed by family court to be their grandchildren's legal guardians for almost two years during their adolescence, when Mom fell off the wagon and pulled herself back together.

    That time, she actually caught herself and sought help on her own, including going to family court to facilitate a temporary transfer of child custody while she went into rehab, and for about 16 months she also lived at my mother's house while rehabbing as an outpatient. My stepfather also convinced her to go back to college at that time and reinvent herself, and so she enrolled in Cal State Northridge's radiology program.

    A few years after that when my stepfather died, I really expected her to fall to pieces and relapse. But she surprised us all by holding it together, and I was very proud of her. So we take solace in the old adage that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and hope that she's finally turned the corner in her battle with addiction.

    Because of her past legal problems, she's barred from working in any position that involves contact with pharmaceuticals. But because she returned to school and learned new skills as an extension of her original training as a nurse, she now makes a pretty good living performing ultrasounds, mostly for expectant mothers.



    My mother had the same attitude (none / 0) (#15)
    by ruffian on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 08:52:07 PM EST
    Donald, it was amazing to watch her keep picking up the pieces when the rest of us were ready to let my sister go. It was a good example and we probably would have totally given up on her without it. My mom was never so disappointed in me as she was when I was ready to throw in the towel there.

    God bless her. (none / 0) (#20)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Tue Jun 30, 2015 at 03:25:44 AM EST
    Mothers can become real she-bears when one of their children is in trouble, and they won't easily give up on that child no matter what their age is or the difficulty encountered. Your mother was determined to do whatever it took to get your sister out of harm's way and into a better and safer place.

    Well Donald (none / 0) (#27)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Wed Jul 01, 2015 at 09:27:48 AM EST

    I agree with your assessment of what the show turned into. OTOH, drama requires some human failing or other hook. Those that have gone clean are what you and I would agree appear to be very ordinary successful normal people.  I don't think we will ever see Father Knows Best but with weekly meetings.  

    Boring to an outside observer is a pretty good way to live your life. However, it's not good TV drama.


    I have not seen the finale (none / 0) (#2)
    by CaptHowdy on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 07:24:46 AM EST
    but no problem with spoilers.

    I agree about the show starting off good.  It lost me after a couple of seasons.  Not so much because it was not good but more because there was so much other really good stuff.  When it started it was one of the good ones.  I think that says something about what has happened to the quality of cable programming in the last 7 years.

    Did you read all of J's post? (1.00 / 1) (#7)
    by oculus on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 04:42:19 PM EST
    Just curious.  

    That comment shouldn't have earned (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by oculus on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 08:38:56 PM EST
    me a "1."  I was trying to figure out if anyone who was not currently watching "Nurse Jackie" would read the post.

    I've never seen Nurse Jackie (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by CoralGables on Tue Jun 30, 2015 at 02:28:21 PM EST
    Have never read a Nurse Jackie post. But I did click here to see how there could possibly be 21 (now 22) Nurse Jackie comments. And in doing so, I've given an answer to your sociological case study research question.

    I read the post (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by sj on Wed Jul 01, 2015 at 01:41:22 PM EST
    I didn't watch the show.

    But it was mostly because I was kind of bored as I was waiting for a build(s) and there was no open thread.

    For whatever that was worth.


    I wanted to see Edie Falco (none / 0) (#23)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Jun 30, 2015 at 05:05:37 PM EST
    Pull off a lead.  I really enjoyed her in the Sopranos.  She had it down, how to be so disassociated her character slept soundly next to a mob boss.  She handled the Nurse Jackie role so well I didn't see the cliff coming, and I never do with people battling drug addiction in real life either.  

    For those of us (none / 0) (#24)
    by CaptHowdy on Tue Jun 30, 2015 at 06:11:30 PM EST
    who live on the cliff, it's easier to recognize.

    Please don't think I'm seeking pity or sympathy or even understanding by saying that.  I am not.  It's just a fact.  I find it quite comfortable on the cliff.  I Have been there my whole life but I know who I am.  I like who I am.  Probably why I can live there in bliss with no fear of the edge.
    The (several) people I have known like Jackie, functioning addicts, always strike me as lost to themselves in some profound way.   Only in using they are able to find some part of who they really are.   Which of course is ironic since the act pollutes the bit they find.


    I always come to understand in (none / 0) (#25)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Jun 30, 2015 at 06:22:40 PM EST
    The rear view that they couldn't find a part of themselves.  A boy my daughter went to school with died of a heroin overdose while still in high school.  I had just seen him in my doorway a week before. He fooled me completely.  Both of his parents are attorneys here.  His mom talks about that struggle to find himself.  So young. He had been to treatment once but I detected nothing on the surface differing between him the rest of the pack. He kept two circles of friends, those who were part of his drug life were separated from those who weren't. The last time I spoke to him I had a very normal conversation with him about the soundbar in his jeep.

    Always (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by CaptHowdy on Tue Jun 30, 2015 at 06:25:28 PM EST
    two sets of friends.   The funny thing is I have more than once found myself in both sets.

    ok to put other TV talk in this thread? (none / 0) (#3)
    by CaptHowdy on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 08:25:26 AM EST
    and preserve the open?  Just asking.

    No, please keep this to Nurse Jackie and (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 10:35:33 AM EST
    Jackie related issues. Thanks for asking.

    Agreed, Jeralyn. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 04:09:10 PM EST
    The Spouse and I were enthusiastic about "Nurse Jackie" in the beginning, but began to tire of the show's failure to jump off the merry-go-round of substance abuse and addiction, and take its title character someplace else -- if not some place positive, then somewhere substantive.

    Edie Falco is indeed an actress of tremendous range and talent. But judging by your rather harsh critique about "Nurse Jackie" having phoned it in these last few seasons, she appears to have not been given less and less with which to work by the writers, directors and producers. So, yeah, it was time to pull the plug. I'll look forward to seeing Falco's next project.

    Since we're on the subject of television, tonight is the premiere of HBO's brand-new documentary by Jean Carlomusto, "Larry Kramer: In Love & Anger," which has been receiving critical acclaim in its initial reviews.

    Larry Kramer is a well-renowned playwright ("The Normal Heart") who's perhaps better known to many people for his unflinching socio-political activism on the subject of HIV and AIDS. As retired Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson notes in an op-ed today for The Daily Beast, we all owe a debt of gratitude to Kramer for his willingness to not play by the unacknowledged rules of activism.

    And like the late actress Elizabeth Taylor, whom he singled out for praise in a January 2005 PBS Frontline interview as "a miraculous woman" whose own outspoken activism was "an incredible gift" to the fight against HIV/AIDS, Kramer has truly been an unsung hero during one of the great public health crises of our time.

    One of the great shames in this tragedy is that it took people like Larry Kramer and Elizabeth Taylor to not only sound the alarm, but to blow that horn repeatedly and with ever-increasing shrillness, before the powers-that-were finally relented and began to take this pandemic seriously.


    Sorry, Jeralyn. (none / 0) (#6)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 04:11:30 PM EST
    I didn't see your earlier request that this thread be limited to discussion of "Nurse Jackie." I apologize for going off on my own tangent.

    First of all, it's a TV show, not a (none / 0) (#12)
    by Anne on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 08:38:44 PM EST
    documentary, so whatever "reality" or "truth" people think should infuse it, in the end, it may end up being sacrificed to someone's idea of drama and tension and plot points.

    Second, yeah, there are a lot of people who successfully battle addiction, but getting there often involves exactly the kinds of things Jackie Peyton did in order to keep using.  The consequences of addiction are not just suffered by the addict, but by those around him or her.

    Third, I think the point is that addicts are not casual, social users of drugs (or alcohol).  Whatever control they think they're exerting eventually gets harder and harder to maintain, not least because it's the drugs that become the most important thing.

    What Jackie Peyton was was human.  She was an intelligent, skilled nurse, a wife, a mother, a friend, who did her best to be that person even as her addiction was taking over.  And like a lot of addicts, one by one, she failed at all of them.  Maybe not all at once, but she didn't have the wherewithal to make it work with an active addiction.  And she didn't know how not to be an addict.

    And as with a lot of addicts, you loved her and you hated her, you were hopeful for her, but waiting for her to fail.  That's how it works more often than not.

    Finally, I never saw this as a Jackie-getting-what-she-"deserved" kind of thing;" I just saw this as how tightly addiction can hold people in its grip, and how hard it is the break that stranglehold.

    I was surprised by the ending (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Jun 30, 2015 at 09:34:27 AM EST
    Always watched it in the context of it being fiction.  Gritty ending though, I think it reminds many of us of individuals we have encountered in our lives, I know it did me. Most of us hope for a happy ending for those who suffer, but the reality is not all addiction struggles end happily.

    Right, I don't think I ever looked at it in terms (none / 0) (#14)
    by ruffian on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 08:48:11 PM EST
    of her getting what she deserved, or wanting to see her punished. I just wanted her to stop lying and being so destructive.

    One of the reasons (none / 0) (#17)
    by CaptHowdy on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 09:08:59 PM EST
    i stopped watching the show was because she reminded me so much of a very dear friend who I even lived with fir a while (unromantically) , she even looks like Karen, who tho not a nurse worked in a doctors office.
    It was just a little to close to home.  

    Edie Falco is 52 years old today. (none / 0) (#29)
    by fishcamp on Sun Jul 05, 2015 at 07:18:17 AM EST