"Doctors don't heal. We heal." -JackieSeries pilots, as a rule, tend to be flashier than the series on average will be. They're designed as a selling tool, and therefore are loaded down with the biggest, most memorable elements that might convince a network executive to pick up the show, or a casual TV viewer to set a DVR season pass.
Second episodes, when they're done right (as opposed to when they just have to repeat the pilot all over again for the benefit of viewers who didn't watch the previous week), tend to go a little deeper -- to show angles to the characters we couldn't see in the pilot, to reveal the mundane reality behind some of the pilot's more shocking moments, etc.
"Sweet-N-All" is very much in that tradition. After giving us a whole lot of Jackie as vigilante nurse in the pilot, and surprising some (but not all) of the audience with the last-second reveal that Jackie is married with kids (and, therefore, that her relationship with Eddie the pharmacist is adultery), "Sweet-N-All" dials things back a bit, while offering more insight into Jackie and the people around her.
Where the comparable second episode of "Mad Men" showed us the reasons why Don Draper might be stepping out on his trophy wife, this one offers no obvious explanation for why Jackie needs to cheat on her husband Kevin -- at least, no obvious fault of Kevin's. He makes pancakes for dinner, is an enthusiastic and uncomplaining primary caretaker parent, and the sex scene in the Peyton family kitchen (on top of either Fruity Pebbles or Cap'N Crunch) suggests that the couple has a relatively active and healthy sex life (as active as any couple with two relatively small kids can have, at any rate).
But that lack of obvious character flaw on Kevin's part so far tells us more about Jackie, and allows us to ask more questions. Is she restless? Weak? She and Eddie get along well enough, as we see in the discussion of the "God particle," but would she even be sleeping with him if she didn't so badly need a painkiller supply?
Beyond Jackie, "Sweet-N-All" goes deeper into the rest of the cast(*). We discover that Coop isn't a 100% incompetent doctor -- and that this, in turn, threatens the worldview of Jackie's lunch buddy, Dr. O'Hara. (I love her description of Coop as "nothing but a big girl's blouse.") Zoey continues to be funny, but also seem human, as she understandably freaks out after Jackie gets slapped by a patient, and again after Jackie tries to pass the buck to her for the ear Jackie flushed in the pilot.
(*) Most of them, anyway. Anna Deavere Smith is again stuck with a goofy subplot, as Mrs. Akalitus accidentally takes one of Jackie's secret painkiller packets. It's also one of the few times in the episodes I've seen where I noticed them employing the obnoxious "Grey's Anatomy"-style Please Laugh Now music.
And speaking of the unflushed ear, while the second episode doesn't feature Jackie doing anything quite as extreme as that, or illegally turning a dead patient into an organ donor, we do still see her going beyond the line of duty (or simply crossing a line) a few times, as she tells off the skater kid's mom for putting his modeling career over his safety, and as she helps out the cab driver after his heart attack. What makes those moments work, where on other shows (like, again, "Hawthorne," which I'll be panning in tomorrow's column) the nurse just seems insufferably self-righteous, is the matter-of-fact nature of Edie Falco's performance in those moments. She sees the cabbie arresting and very calmly asks burnt-face Eileen to wheel herself back into the hospital to get help, then barely blinks before she offers the guy her very last painkiller packet. This isn't a big dramatic moment; this is just Jackie doing what she does -- which, more often than not, lives up to what she tells Zoey about how nurses are healers.
Some other thoughts:
• Unless they added it to the pilot after the version I saw, this is the first episode with the opening credits sequence. As with most Showtime and HBO series, it looks amazing, but I'm not at all a fan of the music that goes with it. It sounds too brassy, like an outtake from the scoring sessions for the "Boston Legal" theme, and it doesn't seem to match the visuals.
• Somebody reminded me that Dominic Fumusa, who plays Kevin, is another "Sopranos" alum, albeit far more obscure than Falco or Paul Schulze. He played Christopher's cousin, Greg Moltisanti, who introduced Chris to the Alicia Witt character (aka Greg's fiancee) in season one's "D-Girl." IMDb (which is admittedly always iffy about ages) has Fumusa as six years younger than Falco, but the age gap looks wider than that. Either way, I have to assume they cast a more boyish-looking actor as Jackie's husband for a reason.
• Not surprisingly, Mo-Mo isn't the only gay nurse at All Saints, as we're introduced to the imposing but very effeminate Thor, played by Stephen Wallem, who's related (the Showtime publicist thinks they're siblings) to "Nurse Jackie" co-creator/showrunner Linda Wallem.
Keeping in mind, once again, that we're limiting our discussion to only the episodes that have aired (as opposed to what's available On Demand a week in advance), what did everybody else think?