06/08/2010 10:22 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Nurse Jackie Matters So Much

(Spoiler Alert)

Season 2 of Nurse Jackie ended last night with Jackie's carefully ordered world coming apart around her. It was absolutely chilling to see her stare into the bathroom mirror, glimpse a fantasy outcome where she faces her drug addiction, and then laugh hysterically before essentially telling the world (and those who love her) to pretty much fuck off. She's trapped in every possible way.

Edie Falco has brought this character alive and made her someone we would be overjoyed to run across in a big city hospital. She's a healer - plain and simple. For the sick, broken, terrified patients at All Saints Hospital - she's there with a smile, advice (sometimes, even, overstepping the line to procure marijuana and a dealer for a patient who is constantly nauseous from radiation treatments for lymphoma), and true caring. It's only recently as things began their downward spiral in earnest for her that she started to let patients down (i.e. promising a young girl with a bullet in her skull that she would be there after she woke up from the operation - and then wasn't).

The other characters on the show are familiar to us. We know these people. We've worked with them, and perhaps we work with them now. Everyone is layered, complicated, and human. They're all great and some are real standouts; Eve Best's portrayal of Dr. Eleanor O'Hara (Jackie's best friend at the workplace) is fabulous, biting, sarcastic, bitchy, and sweet. She is one of those characters where you hang on her every word of dialogue. Anna Deveare Smith's measured read of Dr. Gloria Akalitus, the hospital admin, has taken giant strides this season to reveal not only her by-the-books compulsion, but also the moments when she feels it's right to overstep the line by, in one case, overlooking a bill for someone without health insurance. And the recent episode where she worked the floor because the hospital was short-staffed was terrific; she rolled up her sleeves and pitched in. No pedestal for Akalitus. She's actually in the trenches. Who knew?

Zoey Barkow (played by Merritt Wever) is a nursing student who is the show's moral compass. She always wants to do the right thing, and Jackie is her idol. It's been a joy to watch her developing romance with the EMT guy Lenny. Zoey has saved quite a few lives this season, because she really observes the symptoms people exhibit whereas doctors sometimes are too quick to assume, and go on to the next crisis.

This show is realer than reality TV because it concerns things that can - and do - happen to real people, and the actors inhabit these roles as authentically as possible. I've never been one to get involved in a hospital-based show, I don't know why, it's just never been a place I wanted to spend time in - even watching it on TV. But knowing how Falco's superlative acting tends to inform a story, I gave this show a chance last year and was hooked. Addicted, you might say. And I for one will be waiting eagerly to see what happens when she opens that bathroom door in Season 3.