Last week, I wrote that Nurse Jackie sometimes reminds me of one of those hard-edged New York shows from the '70s, like Taxi and Barney Miller and the Norman Lear productions. Episodes of those shows often featured some pressing societal issue on which the characters could take a stand. In the middle of everything else that was going on tonight, Nurse Jackie found time to address what is apparently one of the Catch-22's of our health care service: EMTs are required to revive people they've been dispatched to collect, even if that violates the Do Not Resuscitate order that a dying man has hastily scribbled down and pinned to his jacket. A dumbass like me might not have even given a thought to the possibility that a DNR situation could exist outside the terminal ward and might be surprised to learn that the nurses would treat such a note with the same gravity and weight they would a legal document, but when I opened the subject up for discussion, I received loud assurances from the other end of the couch that this is indeed the case.
I still don't know how often this sort of thing comes up in the real world. If it happens fairly often, you'd think there might be a pressing need for reform, to relax the rules so that EMTs aren't obligated to prolong the suffering of people like the old man on tonight's episode who "just wanted to die outside." On the other hand, if it only happens once in a great while, that seems like a good enough excuse to quietly make some changes without having Congressional hearings and giving some jackass an excuse to make speeches about eugenics and Nazi death panels. Whatever's the case, Jackie was so livid, you'd think that she could scarcely remember the last workday when she didn't have to put up with an ambulance driver callously dragging someone kicking and screaming back from the white light at the other end of the tunnel.
You might have thought that you unconsciously made a connection between the dying man and her own situation, with all those well-meaning people barging into her home to stage interventions. Unfortunately, the writers didn't trust us to think that, so they hammered home the connection by having her speak a line—"People got to stop trying to save people who don't want to be saved. End of story!"—that stood out like the end of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, when James Coburn added insult to injury by informing the deputy he'd just gotten through pistol-whipping, "What you WANT! And what you GET! Are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS!!" I mean, Edie Falco soft-pedaled her delivery more than that, because she's a pro, and because she's not giving a tequila-fueled performance while being directed with a cattle prod by a wild man director trying to get his masterpiece finished before the devil shows up at midnight to collect on that soul he was promised. But I digress.
The EMTs did a good thing that, under the circumstances, was the wrong thing to do. In most of the rest of the episode, people were doing wrong things for the right reasons. Informed by Zoey that "Maternity keeps stealing all the good gloves from the E.R.," Akalitus instructed her to "steal 'em back", in a dialogue scene that suggested Glengarry Glen Ross rewritten for nice people. ("Two wrongs don't make a right." "Wanna bet?") On a more personal level, Eddie, lamenting his inability to lie extravagantly, turned to Jackie, who doesn't have that problem, for help with her husband, Kevin. Once upon a time, Jackie and Eddie were lovers, back when he didn't know that she was lying about not being married. Then, when she broke it off and Eddie found out about Kevin, he went a little crazy and started stalking Jackie surreptitiously by befriending and hanging out with her husband. Now he seems to be pretty much over her, but his bromance with Kevin is going so hot and heavy—"I'm the guy he calls when his wife leaves him on the side of the road"—that it's become unfeasible for him to continue to conceal that he and Jackie work at the same hospital. Jackie came to the rescue by telling Kevin that Eddie had lost his imaginary job at a different, imaginary pharmacy, knowing that Kevin would urge her to see if she could pull some strings and get Eddie hired on All Saints. The question of how Jackie's efforts to deal with her drug addiction by herself will turn out was mostly left on the fence, but the fact that, for her, not having an affair could entail so many complications and so much deceit is not a good sign.
All in all, there was so much lying going on tonight that it's as the show was trying to help House addicts get through that show's mini-hiatus. It opened with a nun welcoming Jackie's daughter to her new school with the words, "You, young lady, get to be the new girl. That's quite an honor," a well-intended reassurance that was recognized as a premonition of horrors and traumas to come by everyone in the audience who wasn't home-schooled. Even Akalitus told Zoey, "Your head's not made of glass. No one can see what you're thinking," which is like telling a cast member of Breaking In that they can relax and go ahead and buy a house now, because how could a TV series starring Christian Slater not be a hit?
As with the overly conscientious EMTs, there was a unhealthy counterexample to all this soft-hearted, constructive lying, in the form of an ugly, urine-soaked tirade delivered by a stressed-out mother with a bloodied thumb. ("I just can't be around anyone who pees standing up. I really can't. Would it kill them to aim?") As she railed at her four small sons, you could practically see the kids acquiring Dr. Phil's fourteen signs of a future serial killer. (The mother was played by Jessica Hecht, recently seen as the doctor on Bored To Death who fell in love with Ted Danson while misdiagnosing him with prostate cancer, and she managed to knock a few shingles off the roof; it was one of those small but stellar guest turns, especially endemic to shows filmed in New York, that amount to a little slice of Off-Broadway included with your TV diet.) I wish I could think of a way to thematically rope Akalitus' sudden obsession with drawing Michelle Obama to All Saints for a fat-kid photo op in with all this, but to be honest, it just felt like clutter. Although Anna Deveare Smith is as fine-tuned as ever, Akalitus' character, as written, seems a little off this season: She's way too rational and reasonable. It couldn't hurt to get her out of the office. Maybe she and Jessica Hecht could go on a road trip together and Thelma and Louise it up a little.