Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Did Nurse Jackie Die?

For all of you rabid devotees of the TV series Nurse Jackie (initially shown on Showtime and then released to Netlfix), the nagging question remains: did Jackie die in the series finale? The last episode is ambiguous; Jackie is seen barely conscious on the ER floor, attended by a swarm of panicked colleagues. Let’s take a look at some of the clues in the final episode to discern whether Jackie did indeed shuffle off this mortal coil, or whether she survived a heroin overdose.

Dr. O’Hara: Jackie Loses the Loyal, Devoted Friend

As the darling two-year-old boy shuffles down the aisle at church to ask Jackie to join him for lunch, we suspect we’re about to see two friends reunite. Indeed, after a two-year absence, Dr. O’Hara has returned from London to attend Fi’s first communion ceremony. The doctor and Jackie are delighted to see one another, as they had a genuinely heart-felt friendship. O’Hara confesses to Jackie that leaving New York was like “shedding a skin,” perhaps a not-so-subtle reference to her friendship with Jackie. The implication is that maintaining a friendship with a drug addict is fraught with vicissitudes; all the   devotion and camaraderie, combined with the unease of mistrust and worry. It doesn’t take long for O’Hara to realize that Jackie is still abusing drugs. When O’Hara confronts her, it evokes all the desperation of a long-devoted friend calling out a drug addict. Jackie knows she’s been snagged. She is burdened by the knowledge that O’Hara will likely distance herself once again. Losing O’Hara is the first crushing blow that tilts Jackie towards her fate.

Nurse Zoey: Jackie Loses the Loyal, Devoted Protégé

Of all the fraught relationships throughout the series, Zoey’s relationship with Jackie is perhaps the most complex. Zoey arrives as a naïve yet earnest and devoted protégé, eager to sharpen her skills and become an excellent nurse. She idolizes Jackie from day one. By putting her on a pedestal, Zoey’s rose-colored glasses inhibit her from recognizing the true Jackie. Eventually, Zoey is unable to ignore Jackie’s drug addiction. She grapples with the fact that maintaining a relationship with a drug addict is an endeavor in futility and frustration. Zoey realizes that she must distance herself from Jackie. On the eve of All Saints’s closure, Zoey confesses to Jackie that she has decided not to follow her to Bellevue. “You’re like a daughter to me,” Jackie tells her, pushing Zoey further into despair at the thought of distancing herself. “I have to make my own mistakes,” Zoey tentatively tells Jackie. Sensing yet another desertion by a loved one, Jackie suffers another crushing blow, further fostering her fate.

Eddy: Jackie’s Fiancé Remains Loyal

Eddy is the classic “enabler” for Jackie, always there for her, time after time, regardless of her selfish, drug-fueled behavior. Jackie perceives him as her “rock,” though in many ways he is her crutch. When Eddy gets caught selling prescription drugs to a pill mill, he tells Jackie that he may have to serve time in prison, but hey, “what’s one year when we have our whole lives together.” Eddy had the chance to plea bargain a deal, but he refuses to do so because it may have exposed Jackie. This revelation is an ironic blow to Jackie; she realizes that Eddy’s sacrifices are limitless, but that his sacrifices only serve to foster her drug addiction. Jackie makes the crushing realization that she will never be free from drugs as long as Eddy is around.

Dr. Prince: Jackie’s Lesson in Hopelessness

Dr. Prince’s brain tumor is quickly robbing him of his mental capacities. In a scene of tender devotion, Jackie comforts Dr. Prince as he succumbs to his illness. Dr. Prince mistakenly believes Jackie to be one of his ex-wives, discussing child custody arrangements with her. Jackie kindly plays along, not wanting to confuse the doctor. For Jackie, Dr. Prince’s condition is a symbol of the bleakness of life. Here is a wonderful, optimistic, kind human being, a doctor at the prime of his life, suffering from the ultimate catastrophe: a life cut short by merciless disease. Jackie seems to believe that if life can take down a man like Dr. Prince, there’s not much hope for the rest of us.  

So, Did She Die?

Jackie’s fate is sealed by a combination of subtle desertion, boundless devotion and bleak hopelessness. Zoey and O’Hara desert Jackie, fueling her fear of loneliness and abandonment. Eddy remains devoted, but ironically, this sends her to the depths of despair. Dr. Prince symbolizes the random mercilessness of life, pushing Jackie to deep despair. When Jackie discovers the three hits of heroin in an ex-patient’s pocket, she sees it as her opportunity to get off the merry-go-round. At this stage of her drug addiction, she is too far gone to even consider the consequences of abandoning her two daughters. She snorts the heroin like a beleaguered addict, succumbing to the inevitable, almost gladly accepting her fate.

So, yes, I think she did die. (Only Edie Falco, in yet another masterful performance, could convey such powerful subtlety in the heroin overdose scene.) The state of her relationships in the final episode offer illuminating clues that suggest her demise.

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