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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Nurse Jackie can "Handle Your Scandal"

Showtime's Nurse Jackie has had a rough year. Jackie (Edie Falco ) is going through a divorce which might cost her custody of her kids, all while struggling to stay sober after a too-brief stint in rehab. But things go from bad to worse in "Handle Your Scandal," the fourth season finale, as Jackie finally has the showdown with Dr. Cruz (Bobby Cannavale) that has been brewing.

Dr. Cruz is cruel. Wonderfully balanced between total jerk and compassionate person by Cannavale, Cruz spends most of the year teetering a very fine line. But as the season wraps up, he shows just how vindictive he can be by firing Eddie (Paul Schulze), Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith), and ultimately, Jackie. It's one thing to run the hospital like a business. It's another to take out one's personal disappointments in the office. What Cruz does has just as much to do with his son's screw ups as his own power trips. Because of this, let us hope that Cruz does not return next season, at least not the version of him shown in "Handle Your Scandal."

That being said, it's been great to have a villain like Cruz around. It's tested Jackie in ways that she never has been before, made all the more difficult by her new-found lack of substance abuse to cope with it. Jackie learns to play things cool and hold her tongue, until she cannot take it anymore. And by that point, everyone, both characters and viewers, are one Jackie's side. Her cursing match is earned because of her restraint, and means all the more when it finally does occur.

In fact, Jackie has been pretty heroic all season. She has always been likable, but it's not until she begins cleaning up her messes, acting responsible, and letting people in that she becomes someone to be admired. Allowing Zoey (Merritt Wever) to become a friend and roommate, standing by Akalitus and Eddie, fighting for her kids and sobriety, Jackie is a whole different person. This growth may be too quick, pointing towards a possible backslide, but it is thrilling in the moment.

Everyone always follows Jackie's lead. Now that she participates in the social environment, instead of hiding from it, this is even more true than before. By the time that she leaves the hospital, taking it with more grace than many in her position would, the entire staff roots for her. They clap, and refuse to stop when Cruz yells his head off. They stage a candlelight vigil. Jackie has found her place, and somehow, she must get it back.

Will Jackie, Akalitus, and Eddie return next season? Well, the first two simply have to. Eddie is fun, but expendable. However the series would not be the same without Jackie or Akalitus. Obviously, the former isn't going anywhere, but the latter is vital, too. Will they come back because Cruz eats crow and gets himself in order, chalking up his really bad behavior to a reaction against the now departed Charlie (Jake Cannavale)? Even this might not be enough to redeem the administrator.

Finally, Jackie gets to play the good mom. Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) may mostly be in the right in leaving Jackie, but he's handling the divorce extremely poorly. While he should be sympathetic, he comes across as a bully, instead. It's an interesting choice to demonize him at this point, even though he sort of has to be to best serve the titular character. Still, it would be nice to see if he has the kind of moments that Jackie and Grace (Ruby Jerins) share in "Handle Your Scandal," rather than only being portrayed as taking he low road.

In other stories of romance, Zoey seems destined to get back together with Lenny (Lenny Jacobson). One can see why she decides that she must strike out on her own before settling down. But now that she's had just a taste of life without Lenny, it is clear how deep the affection between the pair is. Zoey might get to show another side of herself if she has to grovel to get him back, but that's totally appropriate in this situation.

Speaking of other sides, Cooper (Peter Facinelli) really steps up to the plate when O'Hara (Eve Best) needs someone. He is still the familiar Cooper, and will probably screw up again, revealing O'Hara's baby daddy. But for now, he is being a caring individual, nurturing what could be a real friendship with his fellow doctor.

It's these supporting characters that really raise Nurse Jackie up to the very high level it is at. Falco is absolutely fantastic, but surrounding her with the rest, which also includes Stephen Wallem as Thor, is why Nurse Jackie is the best half hour show on Showtime. Everyone is just so good at the parts they are playing, and their chemistry is spot on in every single relationship. Enough good things cannot be said about Nurse Jackie, and "Handle Your Scandal" really plays this all out to the Nth degree, banking on the show's many strengths. I can't wait to see what season five has in store!

Nurse Jackie will return to Showtime next year.

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