Tonight's episode obsessed over a subject that used to be central to Nurse Jackie but that has been de-emphasized of late as the split between the show's focus on Jackie's work life and her home life has titled towards the former: how does a drug addict with kids balance the demands of her habit and her desire to be a good mother? Or to put it another way, can someone even be a good mother when they're risking their health, life, personal liberty, and domestic stability by getting messed up all the time? The episode had a beautiful opening sequence, with Grace waking her parents up at two in the morning after experiencing night terrors. "Now," Jackie told her in a looking-on-the-bright-side tone, "we can have midnight cocoa. How's that sound?" Grace, always the stickler for details, pointed out that it wasn't midnight. "Then we'll have two A.M. cocoa," said Jackie. "That's even better."
One reason this put a smile on my face is that it reminded me of one of my all-time favorite televisual essays on the complicated nature of good motherhood, a scene from an episode of My So-Called Life in which Angela's friend Rayanne experienced a humiliation and Angela's mom, Patricia, worried that Rayanne's mom, played by the awesome but not overly cuddly-seeming Patti D'Arbanville, might not have the sensitive feelers necessary to pick up on the torment of her daughter, who was probably out somewhere passed out in a gutter. D'Arbanville listened politely to this blonde fluff ball that had blown into her apartment, then revealed that Rayanne was sleeping contentedly in the next room, and said something like, "We ate chocolate chip cookie dough and made prank phone calls until one in the morning. I am a great mother!"
Those words should be inscribed on the Washington Monument, or at least Erma Bombeck's tombstone, but things have only gotten harder in the past fifteen years, and Grace cannot be consoled by late night snacks and enquiries into the whereabouts of Prince Albert. She has to decide on a saint to represent at her school pageant, and is anxious over the possibility that, what with 10,000 saints to choose from, she might pick the wrong one. Trying to make the right selection, she focuses less on what they did in this world than in how it was arranged that they would leave it: "This one had her throat cut. This one was skinned alive. And this one was rolled on hot coals." Jackie suggests to Grace that having her head stocked with these images from a very holy episode of Criminal Minds might be what's keeping her awake, but Grace takes offense at this idea: "It's not scary, it's our religion!"
For Jackie, the real scares were waiting for her at work. These included a woman whose twelve-year-old son had called an ambulance after she failed to wake up after staggering home to bed at the end of a hard-partying night. Jackie spent some quiet time with the kid, who looked like a twelve-year-old Steven King, and who, to judge from his manner, was well acquainted with the master's works. She tried to assure him that just because his mom loved to get medicated into another solar system didn't mean that she didn't love him too--a speech that in another context might have seemed sweet and thoughtful, even though the kid wasn't buying. Here, you squirmed a bit while wondering, as you were meant to, which of the two of them she really wanted to convince.
Also not having it was O'Hara, who shot down Jackie's every attempt to get someone to sort of agree with her that being a good parent and practically having your head stuck in a pill bottle weren't mutually exclusive. O'Hara's drawing a line in the sand over the matter seemed all the more hurtful to Jackie because she didn't seem to be drawing a connection between the behavior she was condemning and what she knows of her friend's past at all; she just really felt that way about it. O'Hara's regret at not being a mother has supplied some of the show's most poignant emotional colors, all the more so for remaining unstressed, but I'd still love to see a spinoff show in which she adopts Grace and Fiona after Jackie's invitable overdose and Kevin's conviction for murdering whoever was the last person to hook her up.
Having apparently abandoned the Eddie/Aunt Tunie connection that was always fated to go nowhere, the show killed a few minutes by flirting with the idea of an Eddie/O'Hara connection. It's fated to go nowhere, but at least I could understand why the people on both sides of this non-attraction were talking to each other. More intriguing is the developing character of Kelly Slater, "the original nurse without borders", played by Gbenga Akinnagbe as a non-superhero version of the guy in the Old Spice commercials. Akinnagbe, who's unrecognizable here as the same guy who was the nail gun-happy Chris Partlow on The Wire, pulls off the difficult trick of seeming so perfect that you can understand why our hero would find him irritating, even as everyone around her is tumbling under his spell.
The downside of Akinnagbe's character is that, with him in place to work Jackie's last nerve, and with the wisecracks divided up between Zoey and Thor, it's more puzzling than ever what poor Arjun Gupta's Sam is still doing here. One possible explanation was offered by Geoffrey Rush when he was on Craig Ferguson's show last week. Ferguson ran a clip of Rush spouting exposition at his attentive crew in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and then Rush reflected on how the clip represented his place in the Hollywood food chain: as a star character actor, rather than a leading man, he gets to be in big movies so long as he doesn't mind delivering the explanatory dialogue that Johnny Depp would rather not bore his own tongue with.
Rush went on to point to one of the other actors in the scene as someone further down the totem pole than himself, who has to deliver the ten-page speeches wrapping things up for the duller-witted people in the audience, which no one would ask an Oscar winner like Rush to touch with a stick. As for Sam, he got to speak up this week just long enough to run into Jackie on the street and remind us that her current drug connection is a recovery counselor, and to tell a horrifying story he'd heard in rehab, about a junkie picking the drugs off a dying man before calling 911, which happened to mirror Jackie's own meet-cute with her supplier. He hasn't had to deliver any ten-page speeches yet, but then Nurse Jackie is only a half-hour show.
- Loved the moment at the end when Jackie, trying to throw Kevin off the scent after he'd found the pills she'd lost in the car, played him by relaying the story of her own picking her connection's pockets as if it were an addiction horror story she'd heard about someone else. I was expecting her to try to play him by telling him, in aghast tones, about the mother she'd been defending at the hospital earlier, but this was better.
- Zoey, on her blog: "I've changed the names to protect the innocent." Thor: "Fine. Can I be called Joaquin?" Zoey: "Right. Like I know how to spell that..."