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Nurse Jackie: Groping Through

Near the halfway point of the season, the formulaic show structure and anti-hero are not, miraculously, hackneyed. But the protagonist has started crumbling under the pressure of her dual life. How long can she sustain the charade of masquerading as a single, childless hard-ass at work and a dutiful, caring mother at home?

Early in the episode, Jackie is catching up with her hubby when her lover, Eddie, approaches her in the hospital corridor to deliver a personalized fortune cookie. As Kevin says his good-bye and “I love you,” Jackie, with Eddie in earshot only says, “Me too.” Eddie’s handwritten fortune: “You’re pretty when you’re tired.”

Jackie is working the night shift this time, which sits well with no one, least of all her mentally troubled 10-year-old daughter, Grace, who storms off from the dinner table shortly after a struggle with a kiddie-vitamin bottle.

One of the first patients Jackie attends to is a mother, reeling from a painful bout with lupus, who is wheeled in by her 10-year-old daughter, Stephanie. The girl, preternaturally mature, is the primary caretaker for her single mother. She even carries a bright-yellow folder, decorated with rainbows and sparkly stars, that holds mom’s emergency documents. This is a stark contrast with Jackie’s daughter’s art, which features dour shades and depictions of weather disturbances.

Coop is convinced that Stephanie’s too young to be in the ER with her mom (indeed, Jackie has once again violated code by allowing the girl in), but the nurse scolds the doctor. “Get your head out of your ass,” she says, explaining that while Stephanie may be young, she’s the only one looking out for the patient. “What do you know about kids?” he fires back. The outburst triggers one of Dr. Cooper’s “Tourette’s-like” outbursts — his arm shoots out robotically to latch onto Jackie’s breast. Again.

Meanwhile, in another ER bed, a quarreling family swarms around their stroke-victim patriarch, who lies there, helpless to quiet the clamor around him. Jackie shoos them from the room and attends to the patient, who is incapacitated to the point where his only movements come from his blinking eyes and his feeble right arm. She later provides him with vulgar flash cards he can use to silently communicate with his brood. He chooses “shut the fuck up.”

Elsewhere at All Saints, Dr. Cooper is descending upon Eddie, insisting the two grab some grub at Quiznos. Over sandwiches, Cooper boasts of his recent physical infringement upon Eddie’s lady. The pharmacist is not pleased, and accuses the doctor of being full of shit. Cooper does not protest.

After her steady work-meal date blows her off, Dr. O’Hara reluctantly takes intern Zoey to her usual haunt. Zoey, in pink scrubs that look more like pajamas than daytime garb, stands out like a sore thumb in the white-tablecloth restaurant. When a fellow patron eyes the intern suspiciously, O’Hara offers an explanation involving the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Uncharacteristically ballsy Zoey accuses her superior of using humor to mask her true emotions, “which is a shame because you’re one of the most generous people I know.” O’Hara tells her to shut it and move on to something more interesting, at which point Zoey shares that her father is in prison on manslaughter charges. “Fabulous!” Dr. O’Hara declares.

Jackie shows her softer side by ransacking the pill dispensary to spare the 10-year-old Stephanie a trip to the pharmacy, and sharing her cell-phone number, which includes an invitation to for the girl to call anytime, day or night. She takes Jackie up on it, ringing her in the dawn hours, just as she’s returned to her husband’s loving arms. As Jackie walks Stephanie through what she needs to do, she follows the action, chopping a Percocet in half and downing it with her prescribed glass of orange juice.

Jackie embodies a quandary familiar to many working mothers. She has so much love to give — to her patients, to Eddie, to her own family — that it’s almost forgivable that she uses a pharmaceutical crutch to get through the day.

Photo: Courtesy of HBO