Season finale review: ‘Nurse Jackie’ – ‘Soul’

A quick review of last night’s “Nurse Jackie” season finale – and season 5 as a whole – coming up just as soon as I kidnap you in a Zipcar…

As I noted when I interviewed Edie Falco before this season began, there was a major behind the scenes change for “Jackie” season 5, with Clyde Phillips replacing co-creators Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem as showrunner. Given Phillips’ penchant for hitting the reset button while he was in charge of “Dexter,” I was wondering how quickly he would move to undo the big shakeup Brixius and Wallem had done to the series in season 4. Instead, he mostly stuck with what had come before. Jackie’s life is still an open book to her colleagues now – if anything, this season she gave up any pretense of hiding anything from anyone, even the likes of Coop – Zoey is still able to stand up to her (and with Eve Best mostly away from this season, at her own request, Zoey and Eddie took turns as Jackie’s confidantes), and Jackie wasn’t constantly getting away with things because of convenient lies.

On the one hand, I appreciated that Phillips didn’t try to retreat to what the show had once been. On the other, with a few exceptions – notably Bobby Cannavale’s brief returns as Dr. Cruz – this season felt notably less vital than the one before it. I don’t want to call this a safe version of “Nurse Jackie,” but it was certainly a comfortable one: a fairly straightforward hospital show that sometimes tilted towards comedy (particularly involving Coop and Dr. Roman), sometimes towards drama (the shot cop episode was very effective, as was the death of John Cullum in the finale), but pretty meat-and-potatoes overall, albeit with the usual strong performances from Falco, Merritt Wever and company.(*)

(*) Ruby Jerrins doesn’t get as much attention as Kiernan Shipka, Maisie Williams or some of the other great kid actresses of the moment, but she was and is sensational, here effectively turning Grace into a rebellious teen who still feels connected to the anxious little girl we first met. I also enjoyed the charm offensive Adam Ferrarra put on as Frank.

And because Jackie’s life, and the show, felt more stable, I can understand why Phillips might have felt the need to do what he did in the finale and have Jackie go off the wagon – on the way to her sobriety anniversary ceremony, no less – without telling anyone. If Jackie’s not using, not lying, not blowing up her life and other’s, then it can be very easy for this show to fall into a comfortable-bordering-on-disposable pattern. But if season 6 turns out to just be a rehash of seasons 1-3, then that’s no better. What was so special about the fourth season was the way it pushed the story and the characters forward and did something different with them. Maybe Phillips can do that with a pill-popping Jackie, and it’s definitely not improbable for an addict to abandon sobriety. But how I feel about this finale is going to depend on what happens next.

Under Phillips, “Dexter” never changed because it was a big hit that Showtime wanted to keep on the air as long as possible. “Jackie” isn’t a network flagship kind of show, and I would hope that Phillips, David Nevins, or someone else will be able to look at the sixth season and decide whether this is a series that needs to continue, or whether the interesting part of the story has been told. I wouldn’t mind watching a series in the mold of this fifth season; I’m just not sure that I need to.

What did everybody else think?