Nurse Jackie: Moving On ...

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Photo: Courtesy of HBO
Episode Title
Tiny Bubbles
Season
1
Episode
6

Up till now, Nurse Jackie has been chock-full of sex and drugs — and this week it completes the unholy trinity. No, not with rock and roll — with sadness. Maybe this medical drama has more in common with Grey’s Anatomy than we thought. But in a good way! Oh, and it also seems to have more celebrity pull, too: A-list stars make surprise cameos in episode six.

The show opens with Jackie showing more of her June Cleaver side: She and her sewing machine are perched at husband Kevin’s bar, where she’s breezily cooking up a costume for her ironically named daughter Grace. Jackie jokes that she’s thinking “immaculate virgin” for the girl; Grace says Catholic schoolgirls are subjected to corporal punishment. Her happier sister sits beside her, resplendent in her costume: a bright-yellow sunflower.

As Jackie begins her shift at All Saints, she is greeted by a former co-worker, Paula, the grumpy — and now lung-cancer-afflicted — retired nurse. Resigned to dying (she’s got a few weeks at most), Paula puffs away at a cigarette. Not only is she in flagrant disregard of doctors’ orders, but she wants her death to come “with a little help from my friends.” Jackie struggles with the idea of euthanizing her old pal, but, being someone who regularly euthanizes her own pain, she’s eventually amenable to the idea.

The star patient is wheeled in by the EMTs, who recite their script: The woman (played by Blythe Danner) is suffering from severe intestinal pain. Oh, and she’s Dr. Cooper’s mom — one of them, at least. How ’bout that: The frat-boy oaf is the progeny of lesbians.

Dr. O’Hara swoops in with a diagnosis: The gallbladder’s gotta go. Cooper recoils, then begs to be involved in his mother’s treatment. Of course, this is against hospital policy; of course, O’Hara, never by the book, allows it anyway.

The requisite slo-mo close-up drug sequence features a hypodermic needle being prepped for a morphine injection. But this time the contraband isn’t for our protagonist — it’s for her hospice-hating cancer-patient friend.

The unexpectedly intuitive intern, Zoey, picks up strange vibes from Jackie. Something’s up and she’s gonna get to the bottom of it. Approaching Dr. O’Hara in her familiar obsequious manner, Zoey shares her observation of Jackie with Jackie’s BFF, but says that, as a fellow nurse, she is best suited to find out what’s going on. O’Hara, in a rare warm-and-fuzzy moment, prescribes rounds of hugs, hugs, and more hugs. Unbeknownst to Zoey, Jackie has snuck up behind her; she’s in on O’Hara’s joke. Turning around, Zoey sees she’s been put on.

As Coop’s Blythe Danner mom sleeps off the anesthesia of her gallbladder surgery, the doctor has a heart-to-heart with his other mother, played by Swoosie Kurtz. He tells her she’s his favorite mom — even though, we soon learn, she is not his “vagina mother.” It’s a genuinely moving moment, Coop’s confession, especially because he displays psychological scar tissue from the Tourette’s and OCD outbursts of his childhood. These afflictions are authentic, after all.

Back over at the assisted-suicide story line, Jackie is choking back some tears of her own. Or so it appears to Dr. O’Hara, who waits outside the clandestine bathroom-stall drug-prep room. Jackie isn’t mourning (yet): She’s snorting some Adderall to prepare herself for Paula’s morphine cocktail — which is a real cocktail of sorts. She’ll be administering the poison via a plastic cup of Champagne.

And so we go to the second weepy moment of the episode: The nurses on duty gather around Paula’s bed for a bubbly toast before she shuffles off this mortal coil. Paula delivers the toast: “Here’s to you, here’s to me, and if we ever disagree, fuck you, here’s to me.” Moments later, she is gone. The medical attendants break the sadness with a laugh at the cranky nurse, cantankerous to the end.

The episode closes with Jackie entering Paula’s vacant apartment, where Paula has evidently put her own affairs in order: The art is off the walls, the possessions are in boxes. Jackie stares in awe, seemingly aware that if she isn’t careful, she, too, could end things before her time — and without loved ones to see her off.