Good series need proper goodbyes, and now, mine: To "Nurse Jackie," a good series, starring a great American actress, Edie Falco.
"Jackie" ended Sunday night after seven seasons. There wasn't much fanfare -- surprising given that Falco did win a best-actress Emmy for the role of Jackie Peyton. But end it did and so did Jackie. She died in the final seconds, or perhaps she did not -- there was the slightest degree of ambiguity, as her eyes fluttered, while she lay prostrate on the attending room floor, after an overdose. She took a massive hit of something in the bathroom -- Vicodin, maybe -- then wandered into the farewell party, with the theme from the 1967 movie, "Valley of the Dolls," playing softly, sadly...
The ambiguity may have been purposeful -- a sly nod to that gloriously ambiguous end of that other Falco series, "The Sopranos." Did Tony live? Did Tony die? Did Jackie Peyton live? Did Jackie Peyton die? We are almost offered choices here. Take your pick! Maybe she did pull through, to seek salvation, possibly even found it.
But I tend to think not: Jackie Peyton almost certainly died. Tragically, she had to. That was the message of the series: The soul divided against itself, with drugs used as the wedge, always meets a tragic end.
What was the ending all about? Best not to avoid the obvious, of course:. "Nurse Jackie" was about addiction and the terrible, grinding, vicious battle that consumes lives, sometimes ends them. "Happy" endings aren't necessarily real or viable in the addict's life -- as "Jackie" intended to convey -- because the battle never ends; it's not about "happy" or "sad" but the process of fighting, which continues forever. Either that, or the addict reverts, and circles back on himself; just as "Nurse Jackie," the series, circled back on itself too.
Consequences of reversion can be fatal: Jackie Peyton lost her fight, and in the loss was the message and impact of an entire series.
"Nurse Jackie" began seven seasons ago almost exactly as it ended: Jackie Peyton had slipped and landed flat on her back, Dionne Warwick's classic version of the Burt Bacharach classic from the 1967 movie, the soothing bromide to her pain, a narcotizing lullaby, was also playing...
The addition began soon after -- Eddie (Paul Schulze) offered a few grains of Oxy, only 18 were needed; he gave her the Vicodin a little later. It was just for the pain. No one would notice anything missing. Jackie's addiction did not begin there: She had been an alcoholic, but by the time the series started, she hadn't had a drink in a long time. Then came the pills...
Jackie Peyton was a "saint" -- we know because devoted protege Zoey Barkow (Merritt Wever) told her so -- but the saint Jackie really wanted to be was Augustine, who had conceived of the doctrine of "original sin," or the collective guilt of humanity, forged from his own licentious youth. Augustine understood the nature of humanity -- rooted in darkness and light, evil and goodness -- because he understood the nature of HIMSELF.
"Make me good, God," she prayed in the opener. "But not yet." (That of course was the genesis of Zoey's final line -- "You're good, Jackie, you're good...")
Jackie understood this about herself -- the lightness and darkness business that wracks human souls, hers especially. She cheated on her husband, failed her kids. Understood that she was an addict. Understood that she didn't know how to stop. Understood that her heart was basically good. Understood that she was an excellent nurse. Understood that her first impulse was to love. Her second impulse was to scorn. Understood also that she was tormented, divided against herself.
But for all her understanding, she really understood nothing: That was the tragedy of Nurse Jackie...Great nurse. Flawed human being, and an irreparable one. That's also what made her real, and relatable, and what Falco brought so fully to the role -- that gnawing sense of self-doubt, and self-reproof, which spilled over into acts of self-destruction.
But what made her so unique, so completely a TV original, was that aforementioned self-awareness: The idea that she could step outside herself to see herself, and yet do nothing about it...
I liked the idea of invoking "Valley of the Dolls" -- "dolls" a '60s-era term for the little pills that ruined lives, three in particular. Who was Jackie? Anne? The Barbara Parkins character who came to New York from a small New England town, and who was so full of wonder and innocence, before she was not? (The wonderful Barbara Parkins, of course, also starred in "Peyton Place." A coincidence? I think so...)
Or maybe Jennifer -- one of Sharon Tate's last roles -- who goes to Hollywood, falls hard, ultimately commits suicide?
Or maybe Neely? The Patty Duke character who was a Broadway star and became addicted to Nembutal to sleep, Dexedrine to maintain her trim figure... She too has a tragic end -- suicide attempts...madness.
I tend to think that Jackie was all three: The idealist and realist, the romantic and anti-romantic. Pills were a common denominator, the weapon of choice.
I also liked the way "Nurse Jackie" began all those years ago: Flat on her back, staring up at the tiled roof, a piece of red gum stuck to the bottom of her foot... What's a nurse with a bad back good for? Nothing at all, she said to herself...
And then, the opening lines of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock" occurred to her for some reason as well:
"Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table..."
Nice lines, and the final line of the poem could well serve as the final line for this good series about love, human failure and futility:
"...Til human voices wake us, and we drown."