Nurse Jackie: “Are Those Feathers?”
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Nurse Jackie: “Are Those Feathers?”

 Nurse Jackie—despite what you may have read in this very space—isn’t a workplace comedy. It’s a war comedy, about people who, by choice, are working in a sector of the modern, super-orderly New York City—the one devoted to emergency health care—that’s in constant danger of spinning into total, bloody chaos. It’s about what their way of life does to them, and about what they find themselves doing to control it. And, like M*A*S*H (at least in its touchy-feely period), it’s about the unlikely respect and affection they come to feel for people with whom they have nothing in common, except that they’re good at saving other people’s lives.

For much of the show’s run, it’s invited viewers to feel more gently toward Coop than Jackie or O’Hara did. It’s shown the fear and loneliness driving his ego fits and shows of arrogance, and it’s established that the things about him that smack of privilege—his good looks and high tax bracket—don’t really get him much of what he wants. If you had to work alongside him, you too might be reluctant to admit that, while Coop is a jerk, he’s not such a bad guy, and he’s a pretty good doctor who could be doing something else. Part of the fun of this season has been seeing O’Hara warming up to Coop without wanting to, and accepting that there’s nothing wrong with his trying to be a friend to her and her unborn child. It’s something that Peter Facinelli has paved the way for with his performance, over the course of four seasons, by making the character an abrasive ass but at the same time allowing him to come across as touchingly obtuse about how he’s being received and essentially benign in his motives.

In his big scene tonight, he accidentally cracks the code of the identity of O’Hara’s baby’s father: She used a donor who happened to go to the same summer camp Coop once attended. O’Hara’s first reaction is mortification, partly because someone knows her secret, but also because this faintest of connections between Coop and her baby daddy somehow mucks up her dream of having a child with no link to her past life and anyone in it. (Wailing to Jackie that Coop has “connected the dots,” she says, “I need to be in charge of my own dots. And I feel fat!”) Coop, not yet grasping what’s happening, first thinks she’s dissing the whole camp experience and feels the need to stick up for it. “Camp,” he says, “is where you can be the person you can’t be at school.” A line like that, and the way Facinelli says it, has a whole unexplored back story in it.

Jackie herself is already feeling warmer and warmer toward Coop, who’s getting to shine by doing his part to give Cruz a hard time. Last week, Cruz fired Akalitus and Eddie for their roles in abetting Jackie’s drug problem. (“It’s only a matter of time before you fuck up again,” he tells Jackie, in regard to her own employment situation. “I’m in no rush.”) In the opening scene, which really nails down the “brothers in arms” theme running through the episode, she and Zoey have their two fallen comrades over for brunch the morning of their exit interviews at the hospital. (Zoey promises to send Akalitus—who, taking the glass-half-full approach, says that she’s looking forward to being unemployed because she’ll now finally have time to go to the dentist—updates “from the trenches” on her phone. Pictures, too, if she can. Akalitus, brightening up: “Does my phone get pictures?”) At the hospital, people are wearing armbands and taking up collections in Akalitus’ and Eddie’s names, which naturally pisses off Cruz, who by the episode’s midway point is practically clanking two steel balls in his hand and demanding to know who stole his strawberries.

What makes his descent into frenzied hatefulness interesting is that, the more vicious he gets, the closer he and Jackie seem to become: They’re the only two people who really know what’s going on between them, which lends an intimate, conspiratorial cast to his desire to see her ground into dust, and her attitude toward him, which is pretty much, back at’cha. The last scene, with Jackie declaring herself in charge of the ER, has a “Go for it!” feel, but also an ominous undercurrent, as if the mutiny against a cruel, dangerous despot had been led by Al Haig. I'm on her side, but I hope somebody else has the key to the medicine cabinet.

Stray observations:

  • Eddie, fresh from his exit interview, takes a look at his severance check and yells to anyone in earshot: “You guys gotta get fired!”
  • Eddie again, on the corporate psychology at work: “I’ve never seen a cute girl in H.R. Then, all of a sudden, I’m at my exit interview, talking to Jessica fucking Rabbit.” This was actually Eddie's best episode in many a moon. Being fired looks good on him.
  • Great Zoey Moment, #487: When caught by Cruz doing something unaccountable and asked to explain herself, Zoey stands her ground and says, “That wasn’t the plan.” Then she adds, very proudly: “I didn’t have a plan!”

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