Nurse Jackie, TV’s Most Honest Depiction of Addiction, Enters Its Final Season

By May Wilkerson 04/14/15

One of the most honest depictions of addiction on television entered its final season this weekend.

Nurse Jackie
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Lauded as the most honest depiction of addiction on TV today, critical darling Nurse Jackie entered its final season this past Sunday. The Showtime series stars Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton, a high-functioning nurse battling an addiction to prescription opioids.

At the beginning of the season premiere episode, Peyton is trying to hold on to her job after a car accident and arrest. "I'm clean today because of you," Jackie tells Zoey, another nurse and Jackie’s former protegé and ally. "I went through detox." But Zoey brushes her off, saying: "I can't believe anything that you say. You should really go."

Falco, who has spoken about her own long-term sobriety, tells NPR that the scene offers a real glimpse into the alienation often created by people in active addiction. "The story of addiction is that they are often highly lovable individuals—charismatic, charming, and easy to love," says the actress. "They systematically go about destroying all those feelings of attachment to the people around them."

Show co-creator Liz Brixius says Falco and the producers had wanted to veer away from typical depictions of addiction on TV by creating a character who remains high-functioning in her career. "We wanted a picture of a woman with addiction on TV that wasn't pathetic or slovenly or slurring her words," she says. "Like, somebody who is still incredibly competent at what she does."

Part of the show’s accuracy can be credited to the fact that Falco, Brixius and the show’s other co-creator Linda Wallem have all personally battled alcoholism in the past. "It's something that we know so well," says Brixius. "It's the idea that, there is—no matter where you're going —there's always an undertow pulling you in a different direction. And that's your addiction."

The show creators also refused to offer a simple explanation for Peyton’s addiction, uniquely portraying addiction as a disease rather than the outcome of a personal drama. Unfortunately this, along with the focus on Peyton’s personal struggle instead of on romance or medical emergencies, may have cost the show in ratings. Though critically acclaimed, it never become a huge hit like medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy.

Co-creator Brixius, who left Nurse Jackie after season four to develop new shows, is brutally honest about how she thinks the main character's journey would end if she were still working on the show.

"I would have her die; I think that's the truth," says Brixius of Peyton, who goes to rehab four times and continues to relapse throughout the seven seasons. "I don't think, as a viewer, I would trust her sobriety. Having her walk into another rehab center, it would be, like, 'Yeah. Right.'”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.