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'Nurse Jackie' boss on shocking final season: 'There is a price to be paid'

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David M. Russell/SHOWTIME

After six seasons of lies, adultery and more pills than you can imagine a human being feasibly consuming, it may finally be time for Jackie Peyton to pay the piper.

Nurse Jackie returns for its seventh and final season on Sunday, picking up with the show’s anti-hero addict in jail after getting into a car accident with a suitcase full of pills. And yes, there will finally be some consequences for Jackie, who faces losing her job, friends and family as the Showtime series nears its conclusion. EW sat down with executive producer Clyde Phillips to get the scoop on the final season, including who won’t be sticking around and whether Jackie will pay the ultimate price.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where is the final season picking up?

CLYDE PHILLIPS: We pick up the final season of Nurse Jackie basically at the same moment that we ended it, where she’s getting her mugshot after the car accident at the end of the sixth season. We see that she’s in a lot of trouble and she’s in jail. We’ve got to deal with that.

Based on the casting of Mark Feuerstein as Jackie’s lawyer in her wrongful termination suit, it’s clear that Jackie’s future at the hospital is very much in the air.

She will make an accommodation to rejoin the hospital. If nothing else, everything that Jackie Peyton is, is a nurse first. She’s an addict, she’s a mother, she’s an ex-wife, she’s a wife, but she’s a nurse. She will find her way, no matter what it takes, to get back into that hospital. It takes a lot and it may not be on terms that she’s particularly happy with at the beginning, but she gets her toe in the door. Once she gets her toe in the door, you can’t get her out.

But can her colleagues ever trust her again?

No. They have a lot of trouble trusting her after what happened at the end of last season. She has to win them back one by one. Zoey (Merritt Wever) is the toughest nut to crack and is the one who is most important to Jackie. Jackie was her mentor. In a way, she’s a mother to her. They had a great friendship and a great trust, which Jackie violated. Jackie works very hard at getting it back. Zoey is assigned to be a little closer to Jackie than Zoey would prefer to be, and that puts them in an awkward position.

How does Zoey step up following Jackie’s arrest? Is she finally becoming her own woman at the hospital rather than being under Jackie’s wing?

It’s a little bit of a mix. She goes back and forth between starting out not trusting Jackie at all after the betrayal of last season to having to remain very firm with Jackie until we have a road trip episode later on this season and they break the ice. Then something happens again that upsets Zoey, although not on such a large scale, and Jackie works to bring her back into her circle of trust.

What does Jackie’s arrest do to her relationship with Kevin (Dominic Fumusa)?

Kevin will find out about the accident because the car is still in his name. Kevin will become very firm with Jackie about her not being allowed to see the kids, but then Jackie gets something on Kevin and they have a meeting of the minds.

It sounds like Jackie is using blackmail instead of facing the consequences.

She’s a drug addict. We can’t lose sight that she’s a drug addict. She’s narcissistic and sociopathic. We love her because it’s Edie Falco and because we all have that pain. When I did Dexter and we loved coming back to watching this serial killer, we did it because of the mechanics of voiceover. We got inside Dexter’s (Michael C. Hall) soul and learned of his pain. The voiceover of Nurse Jackie is Edie Falco’s face, and the way she can do anything with any expression. We feel for her. We’re all flawed.

Can her children ever forgive her? Has she reached the point of being unforgivable?

She has not. In fact, we were tempted to go in that direction. We started the sixth season with Grace acting out. The child of an addict has a greater opportunity to be an addict or be in trouble. We decided to go in another direction with that. We think it’s surprising and inevitable and satisfying.

So what about Frank (Adam Ferrara)?

He’s not in the picture.

He’s not in this season at all?

No, he’s not. It actually was in the fabric of what we did last year, where Frank, at the end of the year when Zoey came to him, he says, “She’s torn that cloth.” He can’t trust her. He’s not the sort of person who’s equipped to be with an addict. That relationship actually ended with storytelling satisfactorily last year. She has another romantic relationship this year. That’s all I’m telling you. It will not be a surprise. It will make sense.

Can you talk about some of the new characters coming in this season?

Mark Feuerstein comes on as her take-no-prisoners lawyer to get her back in the hospital. He comes in as this character named Barry Wolf. We have an episode called “Jackie and the Wolf.” He is fierce and the shortest distance between two points. He’s a great guy. Tony Shalhoub, another great guy, comes in half way through the season. It’s not a secret, but Peter Facinelli wanted to go off and do a broadcast show. We gave him that opportunity in exchange for his being with us for a couple of episodes at the beginning of the year. Tony Shalhoub, as far the hospital is concerned, takes his place. As far as Jackie’s life is concerned, he comes in not knowing Jackie’s history, so she’s a blank slate. He sees that she’s a terrific nurse and he doesn’t care about all the other stuff that’s going on in her life. He knows she saves lives and that’s all he cares about. He’s got a really interesting story as well, which will just blow the audience away.

When Shalhoub’s casting was announced, it said his character had a special touch with Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith). Is that a romantic sort of thing?

No, it’s not. He’s got his own personal issues that are very dramatic and that Jackie will get involved in.

What’s in store for the rest of the doctors?

A huge secret will be revealed about Gloria Akalitus. She’s the one who’s least inclined to come around toward bringing Jackie back. That dramatic tension continues throughout the season. Carrie Roman (Betty Gilpin) will help Coop (Facinelli) leave and make it alright. Thor (Stephen Wallem) has a big story arc this year that’s surprising and satisfying. Prentiss (Morris Chestnut) left last season. Eddie (Paul Schulze) has a deep, deep involvement with Jackie both personal, professional and there’s some uncharacteristic danger involved in what goes on with his character.  

What can you tease for Coop’s exit?

His struggle is that he’s in love with Carrie and Carrie loves him in a different way than he loves her. He wants children, he wants marriage. She wants fun. They’re 12 years apart. She doesn’t want to be something on his checklist. They have a very emotional parting.

Jackie has practically gotten away with murder throughout the series. How will she ultimately pay for her sins?

There are several things you can do with an addict. You can have the addict die, you can have the addict be completely clean and have a happy life, or anywhere in between. As Edie herself will say, you’re an addict for life. The character of Nurse Jackie is an addict for life. There is a price to be paid for that. There are consequences. We examine those consequences very closely at the end.

How do you think fans are going to walk away from this show?

Having seen the series finales of several series in the past couple of years, I think they will be shocked and understanding and compassionate.

Will we feel a sense of closure?

If I can change the word closure to completeness, then yes. Closure is this word that we need to find somebody’s body so I can have that sense of closure. It’s lost its meaning in the real world. We will feel a sense of completeness.

Going into this final season, was there anything you definitely wanted to include?

When we started the season, we had a whole other ending than what we ended up with. We did last year, too. The characters take you somewhere. We didn’t have to make any course corrections, other than the fact that Peter Facinelli is leaving the show, which caused us to do a little bit of storytelling gymnastics. And the fact that Jackie had been arrested and how we’re going to get her back on the floor, those were our two big challenges.

How different are the two endings?

Completely different. Entirely different. Polar opposite endings.

What was the alternate ending for last season?

Last year, she was going to get on a plane. We don’t know where she is. She comes out into the sunshine and it turns out she’s in Haiti and she’s there to do relief work. It’s kind of what we were planning with  what her getaway was going to be, but we completed that getaway in ours minds last year. Then we realized it felt like a series-ender and we just wanted a season-ender. So we had her get in the accident, get arrested and go out on the mugshot. That got us picked up for another year.

Nurse Jackie returns for its final season on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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