[This is a review of Nurse Jackie season 7, episode 12. There will be SPOILERS.]
Think for a minute about what you want in a series finale. Anything beyond "Well, I want it to be good" can sometimes be difficult to pin down. Ask someone else and chances are you'll find they have a completely different set of criteria for what makes a finale satisfying. Let's face it: endings are hard, and anticipations can make them harder for the audience. And when that ending has seven seasons of drug-addled history, infidelity, and many, many epic lies to tackle in the span of one half hour, like Nurse Jackie in its series finale, the idea of even having expectations seems absurd.
'I Say a Little Prayer' has the unenviable task of wrapping up the story of pill-popping nurse Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco), as well as the story of her fellow nurses and doctors as All Saints Hospital in New York City. I say it's unenviable because, as much as season 7 tried to make things easier on the final episode by creating a sense of an ending via the closing of All Saints, the run of episodes leading up to the finale felt more like discordant snippets of a larger story, all of which increasingly leaned on heavy handed, sometimes incongruent religious symbolism put in place to ensure the audience there was something significant at the bottom of all those prescription pain killers.
The penultimate episode, 'Vigilante Jones,' is possibly the most egregious example of this, as it focuses a portion of the story on guest star Chris Elliott's would-be New York superhero Vigilante Jones. The mentally ill patient's story implies a parallel between Jones and Jackie, in that they are both deluded in thinking their efforts to help others outweigh the damage they are doing to themselves and the people who care about them. Jones and Jackie are self-destructive in the truest sense of the word and when Jones finally tosses himself off the roof of All Saints – resulting in Jackie peering over the edge and exclaiming with a big smile on her face, "He flew! He just f***in' flew!" – the pieces of the finale aren't just laid out; they're meticulously assembled for the audience well in advance.
The mileage you get out of what transpires in the episode depends on how heavy you like your symbolism, and how concrete you like your endings to be. For the most part, the majority of the character threads were resolved throughout the season, with Peter Facinelli's Dr. Fitch Cooper getting the most deliberate send-off when he took a job in Boston several episodes prior. That certainly reduced the finale's load, as Cooper had become a prominent yet still ancillary figure in Jackie's life, so wrapping up his storyline early (and mercifully not bringing him back for the finale) was the right choice, even if – or perhaps especially because – his absence was felt throughout the entirety of the episode.
And although there is a definite goodbye between the two, it could be argued that Jackie's mentee and Falco's fellow Emmy-winner Zoey (the great Merritt Wever) also had her moment earlier in season, when she and Jackie took a brief road trip with Grace to explore a potential college. Thanks in large part to Wever's performance throughout the season, it's been clear that Zoey's moved on and is no longer in need (or want) of Jackie's guidance. Zoey's rejection of Jackie's offer to join her at Bellevue is more concrete than what occurred during the road trip, so there's something (a sense of abandonment, perhaps) to be taken from that. That definitely serves the many other threads, like Eddie confessing to selling drugs and likely serving time in jail, Dr. Prince (Tony Shalhoub) succumbing even more to his brain tumor, or the cold (and totally earned) shoulder Jackie was given by Akalitus, which, rather than settle on concrete closure, choose instead to use each character's pending distance from Jackie to validate her final decision.
And to be honest, that's okay. Instead of attempting the impossible and delivering a distinct resolution or closure to each character's storyline, the finale makes the wise choice of focusing the story on that which connects them all – which, as it turns out is All Saints, and not Jackie. In a way, that lends itself to the rather transparent scene wherein Jackie washes a drug addict's feet, while they discuss saintliness. It also opens up the door for Jackie to find the addict's drugs, enabling her to snort enough heroin to kill a donkey, an act that leads directly to the ambiguous ending and Zoey saying rather pointedly: "You're good, Jackie. You're good."
As a series finale, 'I Say a Little Prayer' chooses its nostalgia wisely, settling on a brief reunion and confrontation with Eve Best's Dr. O'Hara, and a short scene in the episode's opening, with Jackie praying for God to maker her good. This throwback to the first episode is a nice touch, revealing a sense of self-awareness by the series itself. Jackie's struggles with drug addiction, and all the destructive things that stem from that have been the primary focus of the story from day one. Jackie's been on a collision course with reality for a long time now (probably too long, but, hey, this is Showtime; what're you gonna do?), so watching her run headlong into another self-destructive yet ultimately freeing act feels both inevitable, and, oddly, the right thing to do.
More importantly, however, it also demonstrates how human the series' protagonist actually is and how, despite all that she's been through in seven seasons, Nurse Jackie sought to treat its character as such. While the show at times felt like it was retreading the same story over and over again, anyone who has dealt with or knows someone that has struggled with addition and the self-delusion that comes with it will likely tell you, that sense of repeating the same beats again and again is not too far off the mark. Does it make for compelling television for seven seasons? Well, that might be debatable, but at least, in the end, Nurse Jackie felt like it was being honest with itself.
All seasons of Nurse Jackie are available on the Showtime Anytime app.
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