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Nurse Jackie Returns to Showtime

The third season of the popular dark comedy, Nurse Jackie, premiered this past Sunday on Showtime. The second season left us in limbo as Jackie Peyton’s world seemed to be closing in on her. In the final scene, her husband, Kevin, and her best friend, Dr. O’Hara, confronted Jackie with their suspicions about her drug addiction.

For anyone not familiar with the SHO series, a brief synopsis of the two prior seasons might be in order. I do recommend, however, watching those seasons to appreciate the true brilliance of Nurse Jackie. Season One introduced us to this married nurse (portrayed by Edie Falco) and mother of two young daughters. The funny thing is that no one (other than her female friend and professional peer, Dr. O’Hara) has the slightest inkling about the responsibilities Jackie has at home. They all assume she is single - particularly the hospital pharmacist, Eddie, with whom she is having an affair in exchange for prescription drugs to feed her growing pill habit.

Despite the mess that is her personal life, we never doubt Jackie’s sincere dedication to her patients. She advocates for them (often unbeknownst to the patients themselves or the administration) while also battling somewhat rigid hospital policies, an egotistical young Dr. Cooper, and an obviously faltering healthcare system. Despite her increasing inability to keep hold of the reigns of her own life, we never doubt her ability to perform her duties as a nurse.

Despite the crustiness of her outside, as when she mentors the naïve nursing student Zoey, we know Jackie actually does have a big heart. In a money-saving move, the hospital eventually replaces Eddie with a Pill-O-Matix dispensing machine, and Jackie further risks her job to swipe drugs from it. It is not long before Eddie discovers that the woman he loves is actually married.

In Season Two, Jackie decides to end her relationship with Eddie altogether. The unfortunate result for her is that her easy access to pills ends as well. Jackie’s means of getting the drugs she craves become riskier, and suspicions about what is really going on arise among her loved ones. Meanwhile, a new nurse named Sam joins the staff, and Jackie grudgingly recognizes a kindred soul in this fellow addict. The first episode of Season Three promised more great writing and storylines in this fantastic comedy-drama series.

When Nurse Jackie first premiered, many nurses expressed outrage about the portrayal of a nurse as an addict trading sex for drugs, citing Jackie’s numerous violation of the nursing Code of Ethics. While I understand those concerns, and there are obvious breaches of ethics here, Nurse Jackie is more complex than that. Nurse Jackie challenges our strongly-held perceptions about who drug addicts are. Do we simply lump them all together, or do we form our opinions on a case-by-case basis? Jackie Peyton is obviously a very competent and compassionate nurse. Her greatest challenge is not in meeting her professional responsibilities, but rather in managing her personal life.

It is true, however, that this new season promises the line between her two worlds will become blurrier with every passing day. As with any other well-written series, every episode leaves us wondering how thirty minutes could go by so fast and just how Jackie will get herself out of her latest mess. Edie Falco won an Emmy for her portrayal of Jackie for a very good reason. Love her or hate her, Jackie Peyton is real.

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