June 29th, 2009
When a show introduces a protagonist who has small children, and appears interested in investigating their family dynamic, there are really only two choices. One is to dehumanize them entirely, turning them into an amalgamated responsibility that influences them in some way, while the other involves taking them and turning them into an additional commentary on the protagonist’s behaviour. Medium, for example, had Allison’s kids begin as a sign of a normal life she wasn’t able to lead thanks to her ability, but eventually morphed into a scenario where all of her daughter’s inherited her psychic abilities. It’s really the only way a show can run for any period of time while still acknowledging the way the children age and act differently on a regular basis.
What we see in “School Nurse” is the use of Grace as less a mirror and more a potential burden on Jackie, a test of her ability to turn her back on her family. Grace’s anxiety over the world raises a lot of the usual questions facing a mother who is drifting away from her home life to some degree, but it also touches on the idea of knowing, and of being able to somehow sense that unrest that Jackie has tried to keep hidden.
It’s a worthwhile point of interest for the show, and a sign that there are no intentions of using the children as just an object; as long as they keep things subtle and nuanced, I’d say that the show is in fine form.
On a basic level, the show loves putting Jackie trapped between her two lovers, to the point of her buying a second cell phone in this episode so she could humorously pick up both at the same time to get rid of both of them as she deals with Zoe’s first dead patient. The show isn’t going to be blowing the lid off of that issue anytime soon, as the show is too driven by her secrets and her double life to abandon it. Instead, it’s going to be about finding different ways to illicit anxiety over it, ways that feel like a legitimate extension of the existing conditions by either filling in back story or adding a new element to the equation. This week, it was about turning Grace’s anxiety over plague and the flu into something legitimately concerning, and something that raises a lot of questions for Jackie.
I don’t want to spoil much of Mad Men, which as noted during my review of the Pilot has a similar conceit to it, but for the most part Don Draper’s children are not really characters: we learn traits about them, and the second season gives each of them a bit more characterization, but they’re really there to complicate matters more than they’re there to become legitimate actors in the show’s conflict. What this episode does is ask whether there is a correlation between Grace’s paranoid behaviour (the tin foil hat can’t be far behind, according to Dr. Skip) and Jackie’s affair, and if her negative view on life (did you SEE the shifty-eyed looks on everyone but her in that photo?) is in any way the result of a conscious or subconscious awareness of the unrest in her family.
It all connects, in many ways, to the injured twin, and Marco’s story of his own twin’s early death at the age of One. Neither storyline was particularly subtle or eventful (although Eve Best’s acting as the uninjured twin hugged her was amazing), but each contributed to this notion of whether it’s possible that Grace is sensing something, that beyond her viewing of too much news and too many documentaries Jackie is oozing adulterous at all times. This is, of course, unlikely, but it’s a legitimate concern for Jackie, and I like how her personal life isn’t actually turning into a mess so much as things like this are adding up and offering some unwanted commentary on her extra-curricular activities.
What’s interesting is that Jackie really wasn’t that divided between them in this episode: she ignores Eddie’s phone call, doesn’t have sex with him even when she does eventually return his call, and is far more emotional and reactive with the school nurse than with anything related to Eddie. Thus far, this is the most evidence we’ve seen that her relationship with Eddie is just about the drugs, as that new cell phone isn’t so Eddie can’t reach her but rather that she can control when he reaches her, still wanting to receive his call so that she can receive her drugs. She tossed him aside as a fling at points here, disgusted at his “me so horny” text messages (justified, but harsh), and you don’t do that to someone you love.
I remain intrigued to what degree Eddie knows about Jackie’s situation. Did they make a rule early on not to talk about her kids or her marriage, so as to make things easier, thus explaining why she had to lie about where she was going? Or, does Eddie seriously not know that she’s even married? I have trouble believing this last one, as Kevin would surely have come into the hospital at some point, and surely some person would have mentioned her marriage at one point or another (surely the one-note Anna Deavere Smith, absent here, would have noted that she had dependents in Eddie’s presence or something). It’s a bit tougher for me to believe that he’s just an innocent here, but it depends on what the show wants: does it want to destroy Jackie’s reputation almost entirely by making her relationship just about the drugs (lying to him in order to continue the facade), or does it want to vilify Eddie and make him out to be a knowing adulterer?
I’m still not sure, but for now playing around the issue and surrounding it with some great performance work from Edie Falco (the altercation with the school nurse was particularly strong) and some nice comic beats is going to be enough, especially as they branch out into family to give things a new perspective.
- One of the things I like about the show is that, knowing it only has the half hour format, working in little character beats that aren’t turned into “Very Special Episodes.” Mo-Mo got his moment singing to the twin with the collapsed lung and his story beat about his dead twin, Zoey got her first dead patient, and Coop got to be both way too excited about a gunshot patient and extremely human and effective in the presence of the elderly patient who dies on Zoe. It was all a bit quick and simple, but by not dragging it out it works a lot better, somehow.
- I noted it above, but I really can’t get enough of Eve Best’s Dr. O’Hara – I thought her lack of sensitivity was a bit too amped up here, especially when talking to the mother about the boy’s condition, but everything after that point (including her reaction to the drawing/hero worship) were really fun, and let the show do dramatic stuff elsewhere.
- Again, I hate how juvenile they make Kevin out to be in his interactions with Jackie – the actor already looks much younger than Jackie, making it kind of awkward, but the whole play on words with “softie” was just not doing him any favours.