Acting Geeks Get A Fix From Nurse Jackie’s Edie Falco

Edie Falco’s performance in the last episode of Nurse Jackie was a semester of acting classes.

We don’t cover Nurse Jackie here at Den of Geek. I ask at the beginning of every season but, sadly, Nurse Jackie doesn’t register high on the geek meter. In spite of her lack of geek appeal, I’ve mentioned Edie Falco in Veep reviews and slipped references to the show in Game of Thrones pieces. As the gangster geek here, not the geekiest of geek subjects, I’ve followed Edie Falco since she played Carmela Soprano, wife to Tony on The Sopranos. Edie should appeal to the acting geek, people who pore over method and character, break down motivations and inconsistences. Acting geeks yell things like “her character would never do that” and “they didn’t use the word `wanker’ in 1891” at TV screens. Historical inaccuracies, plot holes and series continuity problems drive them to distraction.

Edie Falco is an acting geek’s dream. Watch one random episode of her playing any of her three best known roles, Diane Whittlesey on Oz, as Carmela Soprano on The Sopranos, or Jackie Peyton on Nurse Jackie, and you get a full semester of acting lessons. It’s all there forever etched in celluloid to be paused and rewound, pored over and emulated.

I believe Jackie Peyton is the most complex character on TV, sweeping indictment as that may be. Edie Falco and James Gandolfini had incredible chemistry and, lord knows she acted the shit out of Carmela, but she was in the second family. The Mafia family, by definition, comes before the family family. Nurse Jackie, though still very much an ensemble work, gives her enough screen time to shine.

I missed the last episode of Nurse Jackie because I was happily covering the finale of Penny Dreadful, I do double time as a horror geek. I didn’t get around to seeing it until recently. It is a white knuckle ride. My stomach got tighter and tighter as Jackie got more and more desperate. My balls dropped when her world unraveled. This is a comedy? It sure as fuck is. There are set pieces of physical comedy. There are beautiful scripted lines that surprise you into laughing, inappropriately. Words are bricks in a dirty street fight. That doesn’t make it any less gripping. It does not diminish the suspense.

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Edie doesn’t have to yell or flail about wildly. She doesn’t have to scrunch up her face or grimace in pain. Her desperation shoots through her like electricity. When Jackie hits bottom she does it with a false, demure smile as her eyes go red and teary, screaming for her. Her emotions go one way and her body language goes somewhere else completely. Falco does that a lot. And through it all, everything she says and does is still a bluff. Jackie is lying when she’s telling the truth.

When she’s covering something up, you feel her improvising on the spot and yet, there may be nothing happening of Edie Falco’s face at all. The emotions are still there, contradictory, obsessive, and yet there is nothing to point to as evidence as to why you are being moved to react. I paused. I rewound. It’s got to be a psychic energy or something that Falco emits because everything about her performance is a red herring. She doesn’t have to show a thing and she shows it all.

And then there’s Zoey. Oh my god, Zoey. When I bring up the scene where Zoey and Jackie have it out with someone who’s seen the episode, they all say Oh My God, Zoey. Merritt Wever is a wonder in that scene. “I believed you. I always believed you.” Zoey breaks and is reborn. She doesn’t deserve a hug even though everything she did was out of real love and real concern. She confronts the demon Jackie, who is stronger, more willful, a more experienced nurse and person, a bully. Zoey confronts that bully and flinches, blinks and pauses. She hems and haws and stutters and stammers. But she wins. Zoey does not back down and it is killing her not to. It is ripping her soul in half and when she comes back together she is reborn as Nurse Jackie in miniature. Zoey always seems to backing up, even when she was wearing that speedometer thing in season 2, she makes forward motion look like an afterthought.

Jackie is nothing if she’s not a nurse. She would then be stripped bare to the junkie underneath the scrubs. But even as her professional world comes tumbling down, she’s worrying about her connection. Where is she going to score if she is not a healthcare professional? I am not an addict and I was chipping.

Jackie and Carmela both live in a world of two families. Jackie has the hospital and her home. In the first few seasons, she kept them separate. On The Sopranos, what happens in the streets of New Jersey stays on the streets of New Jersey, or they’re dumped in the swamps of New Jersey. Whatever happens, you don’t take it home. When Tony does take it home, like when he hides cash with the bird food, Carmela just might find it and invests it in $9,000 increments. When one of Jackie’s kid’s friends hides her stash at Jackie’s place, Jackie just night find it and snort it in 10 milligram increments.

Edie Falco was born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island. Her mom is the actress Judith Anderson and her dad was a jazz drummer who became an advertising art director named Frank Falco. Falco’s parents got divorced twice. Falco started acting in the Teakettle Players children’s ensemble. Falco studied acting at  the Acting Program at SUNY Purchase. She never seems to stop acting. On her down time from TV roles, she does plays. Falco was in Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, Warren Leight’s Side Man, Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother and John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves.

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Before she became a household name, Falco appeared in the film Laws of Gravity and TV series like Law & Order and Homicide: Life on the Street, 30 Rock and a recurring part on Will & Grace. Falco’s first regular role was as the jail cop Diane Whittlesey on HBO’s Oz. Falco’s film breakthrough came in a small role in Woody Allen’s film Bullets Over Broadway in 1994 She went on to play in the films Trust, Reversal of Fortune, Cop Land, Private Parts, Random Hearts, Freedomland and Sunshine State.

In 2003, Falco won a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a SAG Award for her performance as Carmela during the fourth season of The Sopranos, the only actress besides The X-Files star Gillian Anderson, 30 Rock‘s Tina Fey and America Ferrera in Ugly Betty, to win all three awards in one year. Hmm, if you mash up Nurse Jackie and Ugly Betty you get Nurse Betty starring Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock.

So far Edie has won four Emmys, two Golden Globes and five Screen Actors Guild Awards for her TV work. She was nominated for one Tony, so far, for House of Blue Leaves.

Falco was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, but didn’t tell anyone for a year. In the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Falco put in an appearance in a TV commercial for M.O.B. (Mothers Opposing Bush). She also told parents to keep kids away from the zoo in an ad for PETA in 2013. Falco adopted a son in 2005 and a daughter in 2008.

That episode triggered a binge-watching jag and I remember now how much I miss Mohammed from the first season and God, played by Michael Buscemi. And I give a little cheer when I see that an episode was directed by his brother Steve.

Gloria Akalitus, played by Anna Deavere Smith is almost a cartoon, but that doesn’t diminish her performance. Tough on the outside with a tender filling, she’s the one who took the chance on Jackie and she’s the one who’s going to crash the hardest.

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The last episode, “Flight,” was directed by Jesse Peretz, from a story by Abe Sylvia that was turned into a teleplay by Clyde Phillips & Tom Straw.

The next, and sadly, last season of Nurse Jackie will be Jackie Peyton tearing down everything around her, like Samson knocking down a city by pushing out the pillars. The repercussions of Jackie’s crash will burn everything she’s touched and that will cause a seismic systemic implosion. Nurse Jackie’s cast is a troupe in the very best sense of the word, but Jackie’s spinout will dissemble the ensemble.

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