'Nurse Jackie' Boss Talks Jackie's Surprising Decision

Clyde Phillips talks with THR about the fifth season finale and what's in store next year.
"Nurse Jackie"

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's fifth-season finale of Nurse Jackie.]

After nearly two seasons of sobriety, Jackie Peyton reached a new milestone during the fifth-season finale of Showtime's Nurse Jackie.

Preparing to accept her one-year cake celebrating a full year of sobriety in front of friends and family, Edie Falco's titular character did the unthinkable, popping a pill she'd stashed with her wedding ring before heading out the door.

"We're doing a show about an ER nurse who is a drug addict and I don't know that the audience wants to see a sober drug addict for another couple years," first-year Nurse Jackie showrunner Clyde Phillips tells The Hollywood Reporter of the decision to have Jackie fall off the wagon.

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As Jackie went through the 12-step program, finding happiness with new love interest Frank (Adam Ferrara), civility with Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) and making a big decision about the custody of her daughters, Phillips says the flawed character came to realize there was one thing she was ill-equipped to handle.

"She was so used to darkness and pain that what bubbled to the surface was joy, and she didn't know how to handle it," the former Dexter showrunner says. "So she went immediately to the crutch that she'd always gone to before when she was confused."

The decision to have Jackie relapse was part of what landed him the job at the helm of the series, replacing co-creators Linda Wallem and Liz Brixius.

"We had to get Showtime to sign off on it," he says. "We knew two things going in: that Jackie was going to be surprised by feeling inadequate in the face of joy and that she was going to use because of that."

The decision, he says, was an easy one to make with the writers room coming up with the idea of Jackie accepting her one-year cake and saying, "Hello, my name is Jackie Peyton, and I've been sober for one year" after she'd already used. It sets up a storyline for the recently announced sixth season to take Jackie down a darker path.

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"There needs to be consequences; you can't just do it as a one-time thing and say to the audience, 'Hey, come back and watch year six and she's on the wagon again,' " Phillips notes. "I don't think that's fair to the dynamic of authentic story telling. Her struggles will be even deeper next year."

Phillips notes that Jackie spent the first couple seasons of the show "bulldozing" through people's lives and running the risk of not being likable.

"We've got the consequences and compassion," he says of the fifth-season finale. "We really approach it from the point of view of loving and understanding this woman and we want the audience to feel the same. When she took that pill at the end, we took that bullet and put it in the chamber, and we were ready for it in that she did it so matter-of-factly. She just sat down, took it, surprised everybody -- maybe even herself -- and it was so satisfying just as a viewer of watching drama and comedy to see something that authentic."

What did you think of Nurse Jackie's season finale? Were you surprised by Jackie's decision? Hit the comments below with your thoughts.  

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com
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