Jun 30, 2014

The One With Nurse Jackie's evolution into Walter White

Last night was the finale of Showtime's dramedy series "Nurse Jackie" and I have some thoughts.

Just wrapping up it's sixth season, there are some who think that the show has gone on too long, however I have to beg to differ.  This show is not spinning it's wheels here or treading water here, folks, it is kind of spectacular to look at the show now and back when it started, and look at how Jackie has grown and evolved into something quite remarkable.

And as evidenced by last night's episode, Jackie is not the only one who has changed.

Before I continue, be aware there will be spoilers for the Season 6 finale of Nurse Jackie as well as references to the Orange is the New Black second season as well.  You are warned.

When Nurse Jackie first came out, Jackie was your average hard working nurse who had come to depend on pain killers to deal with a bad back that had been a natural result of constantly working on her feet, lifting patients, and all the other physical requirements of the job.  However, as would become clear, she is a fairly high functioning addict.

When she is taking the Oxys or whatever she has, she's not spacing out, she's not incoherent or whatever, she's still focused on her job, creating this impenetrable facade of someone who has all her shit together.  She's got a seemingly great marriage to a great guy, Kevin, who owns a bar, and two daughters.  It's all working out, it appears.

However she is clearly not alright inside. Her drug use is increasing, and she's having an affair with the pharmacist, Eddie, as a way of getting the drugs.  Eddie would probably give them to her anyway, but she is manipulating him by having sex in order to maintain this connection for drugs.  It's simply the 1st in a long line of manipulations that we see her pull off in order to get what she wants/needs.

As the show progressed, little by little, everything fell apart for her.  Her marriage, her relationship with her children -- her one daughter Grace seems determined to follow in her footsteps.  Particularly in a scarily similar manner Grace has seemed to adopt Jackie's ability to do wrong while having the image of a fine upstanding member of society.  Grace, while clearly doing drugs, shoplifting, etc, gives this wonderful speech about accepting responsibility for your actions in the finale at a school presentation as she is given an award for community service.

She is clearly her mother's daughter.

Also it is interesting how amazing she is at rationalizing her actions.  She cheated on Kevin with Eddie the Pharmacist, over a long period of time (in one of the final episodes of this season, Kevin reveals to Jackie's sponsor Antoinette that they were having an affair for about year or so), and yet when it was revealed that due to her withdrawal from Kevin and the family, that he had a brief affair, she blew up and kicked him out of the house in the Season 1 Finale, right as she thought she was being exposed for her affair.

She flipped the script and played martyr to perfection, all the while being a raging hypocrite.  And that has continued, as she attacks her current season boyfriend Frank when he reveals that he doesn't talk to his kids much because they're still angry that he cheated on their mother which led to the divorce.  She lashes out at him for cheating by pointing out "Kevin cheated on me" to justify her anger, never mentioning that she cheated on Kevin way before he ever thought of it.

There was some of that hypocrisy trickling down to Grace as well, as she non-stop attacks her mother for doing drugs and lying, when she herself is doing the same thing now with her friend Mandy.

Over the years we have seen Jackie evolve from this average ho-hum nurse who, while doing extraordinary things that cross the ethical and legal lines, was simply a human being trying to get by day to day.  Then somewhere along the way she turned into something more, and it only really sunk in for me as I watched this season.  It caused me to have a revelation as I watched the second to last episode:

Jackie Payton has turned into Walter White.

She may not be murdering people (although she almost killed someone in the next to last episode) but she definitely is engaging in this Machiavellian strategy of destroying anyone who gets in her way, and any and everyone that crosses her path in some way is worse off for it.  I mean just look at the results:

Kevin was a really nice and good guy who has turned into a bitter and angry man who is struggling to get on with his life with a woman he loves, Mia, and his two daughters after all that Jackie has done in their marriage.

Grace, who while having some problems, went completely sideways after her mother's actions were revealed, and is now doing drugs, shoplifting, and just having zero respect for her mother at all, even mouthing the words "Fuck you" after humiliating her mother by revealing, in a malicious fashion, that her father was getting remarried, as Jackie walked out of the room to avoid crying in front of her.  Mind you this was in a POLICE STATION as Grace was arrested for shoplifting.

Zoey Barkow, the All Saints Hospital Resident cheerful Nurse has had her naivete wiped away by the realization that Jackie has been manipulating everyone around her in such a stunning way.  I completely spaced on the fact that the fake ID she made for the dying nun, so the Nun would take the fall for using Dr. Roman's DEA card, was made using the picture Zoey took on her iphone.  When Zoey revealed that to Jackie in the finale I let out an "ohhhhhh Shit!".  I'm not sure how I missed that, but man, that was a super low point on Jackie's part.

The fact that Zoey was able to stand up to Jackie, someone she has always respected and looked up to, and who in the past she would simply lower her eyes and run away when Jackie would lash out at her, was a remarkable leap in her evolution as a character.  You could see she is no longer the bright eyed girl who first started in Season 1, especially how she reacted to the Zoey-Like bubbly intern who came in, basically taking the Jackie role of telling her to sit down and listen and watch what she does.

The list of casualties of Jackie land go on and on.  Dr. Roman, having her DEA card used and, and then Jackie lying about her to save her own ass in the finale, Antoinette, Jackie's former sponsor, who Jackie manipulated into relapsing, so Jackie could get her admitted into a facility to keep her from exposing Jackie's addictions to Akalitus, to Frank who seemed to be yet another really great guy that was too good for Jackie.

I made the comparison to Walter White, and I think it stands.  Walter was someone who put on this mask of a mild mannered individual, someone who you would never really give a second glance at, and yet he was pulling the strings in the background.  He was a drug kingpin, Heisenberg, sitting right in front of his DEA brother in law's face, hiding in plain sight.

In Nurse Jackie, she is hiding in plain sight in a hospital setting, tons of access to drugs.  They know she's a recovering addict, and yet she is given the benefit of the doubt due to how well she has played everyone around her.  Akilitus started to see through that in the end, when she seemed to catch on that maybe Jackie played her by having her "accidentally" run over Jackie's foot in order to secure a drug prescription that she made Akilitus think was her idea, thus giving her a reason she would fail the drug test that Jackie knew was coming.

Speaking of which, this is the second time that Jackie has harmed herself in order to get out of a potentially hairy situation.  In Season 1, she realized she had her wedding ring on at the hospital.  During that season she did not want people at her work to know she was married, especially since she was having an affair with Eddie, who did not know she was married.  She could not get her ring off of her finger, and so she smashed her finger with a hammer in order to remove the ring. 

In this season she allows her toes to be broken in order to be prescribed pain killers so she could avoid a drug test.  She lies about her sponsor giving permission, as long as Akilitus administers it, and the lies keep coming.

Some may dismiss the Walter White comparison, just on the fact that their body counts are significantly different, however, I would wager that the supreme level that Jackie manipulates everyone around her, the way everyone who comes in contact with her is worse off than they were before they met her (Kevin, Frank, Eddie, Zoey, Akilitus, even the drug dealer that she stole his girlfriend's credit card to buy Grace and Fiona's dresses), I think definitely mirrors the destruction that Walter left in his wake.


And much like Walter White, Jackie has become so adept at wiggling out of any and every dangerous circumstance that comes her way, whether it's being found out for cheating, or pilfering the DEA code of a doctor in order to write her own prescriptions and having the DEA investigate, that she is not really someone you would consider to be "in danger", rather she has become the danger, just in a slightly less homicidal way than White.

She's not quite the murderous sociopath that White was, and while I would not say she's quite the level of sociopath that Lorraine Toussaint's character Vee was from this current season of Orange is the New Black (who manipulates everyone around her into doing her bidding, while thinking it was their idea), there are definitely similarities between Jackie and Vee.

Much like White and Vee, Jackie is fully able to rationalize and justify what she does.  They don't view themselves as doing wrong, they are simply doing what they need to survive in this screwed up world they have found themselves in.   Jackie simply, at this point anyway, has not stepped over the line in which she is fully okay with someone dying in order to remain undetected.

Season 6 ends with Jackie seemingly in a situation that will present itself as a gamechanger of sorts.  I'm not sure how she can wiggle out of this.  Unless they come up with some way where Akilitus pulls some strings and says she was going to go into the Diversion program, and thus she's able to keep her job.  Maybe the person she saved at that wreck at the end will be what keeps her from prison.  The fact that she saved a life rather than racing to get on that plane.

I guess we'll find out next year.  But it is a fascinating experience watching just how far someone can plummet before they actually hit rock bottom, and what they will do to avoid acknowledging having hit said bottom.

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