Tonight, Nurse Jackie mostly stuck to the hospital and the surrounding area, which was fine, since the glimpses of Jackie's family life this season have mostly been a little snoozy. Kevin's hangdog expression since he discovered his wife's problems with drugs has been unvarying and unreadable; Aunt Tunie has, after just a few appearances, already established herself as a showblocker of considerable powers; and the writers seem at a loss about how to get any more drama out of Grace's psychological disorders. I can understand how they wouldn't want to just cut off their access to a mother lode of story material by having her get all better, but she's still a little young to start dating junkies on motorcycles. So Jackie spent the bulk of the half hour punching the clock and dodging a star-studded-by-Showtime-rates guest cast that included Swoozie Kurtz (returning as Dr. Cooper's mother), Judith Light (stepping in to replace Blythe Danner as Dr. Cooper's other mother—probably a step down, but somehow I can more easily picture her standing next to Swoozie Kurtz at the altar), Michael Cumpsty, and a huge, glossy-looking damn rat.
The rat was there to help take the storyline involving Jackie's ever more intricately concealed drug habit to the next level; the greedy little sucker got into Jackie's well-concealed workplace stash, which she broke out on a calendar labeled "September 1987," indicating that her habit may go back as far at least as Dirty Dancing. Unless he was animatronic, the rat was actually talented, with a witty degree of physical grace and aplomb. (If he was animatronic, Showtime should be trying to arrange for its creators to make them a taller version that the network could use to replace David Duchovny on Californication.) I'm not sure whether he was meant to represent the forces seeking to inconvenience Jackie by helping her get straight or destroy her by helping her stick to her old ways or Jackie herself, but in any case, he came to a bad end.
It may be worth pointing out that by depleting Jackie's stash, the rat ended up pushing her into the arms of the recovery counsellor turned pusher, played by Bill Sage, whose toothy rodent's smile certainly makes you feel like sprinkling something that comes in a box with a lot of "X"s on it over his food and dropping his lifeless body down the nearest toilet. Maybe I'm forcing connections here. But I feel that a certain amount of animal symbolism lends a show some tone, even if it's ambiguous. Having come from The Sopranos, a show where bears and ducks were always showing up in or deserting the back yard and horses were dying and taking people's last remaining emotional connections to their store of childhood innocence, Falco must have felt right at home.
Coop's two mothers were there to inform him they were splitting up, news that he took about as badly as anyone could have. Last week, I floated the idea that it would be nice if Coop could at least reclaim a measure of the respect that ought to be accorded someone who's at least competent at his job and has even won a round or two with the title character. That ship has probably sailed, but at least he was allowed to be childish and petulant in a way that was sort of sweet: Hey, dude loves his moms. (He also had one of his best exit lines ever, marching back into the hospital after a crying jag with the manning-up vow, "You know what I'm gonna do now? I'm gonna go heal some shit!" Probably you had to hear the way he said it.) Michael Cumpsty's sweetly modulated performance, carried over from last week, as a guy whose life and health are falling apart and who's so nice about it that it's not readily apparent that he's in suicidal despair also danced on the thin line between the touching and the pathetic. This is a specialty of Nurse Jackie's that the show can do brilliantly like few other shows these days, the comedy of human vulnerability.
By now, the material devoted to Akalitus is such a dependable dead loss that Anna Deveare Smith's mere appearance onscreen is accompanied by loping, jaunty music of the kind heard in those old episodes of Bonanza that TV Guide used to characterize as "light-hearted." This week, she did the thing where she's trying to get around losing the religious statues in the chapel. The good thing about that is that you didn't have to watch her do that other thing she's been doing this season, where she talks about childhood obesity, but let's face it, the worse of these two shticks is whichever one is going on in front of your eyeballs at a given time. I'm honestly not sure whether she has it better or worse than Arjun Gupta's Sam, who last season seemed to have been brought in as a replacement for Mo-Mo, before somebody decided, after the contracts had been signed, "You know what, screw it; let's just give Thor some dialogue."
For a while, Sam did managed to serve as a fail to both Jackie and Coop, but by now, it's been long enough since he either fell off the wagon or punched somebody that it's hard not to notice that, when he's not acting out, he's hard to, well, notice. While they're thinking of something else for him to do, it'd probably be better if they didn't have people say things about him like, "Is he even alive?" (Zoey, coming to the rescue, parried that one with, "He has his own vibe.") It makes it sound as if the writers were hinting to the actor that they've got nothin' and inviting him to improvise.)