By Ken Tucker
Updated June 23, 2009 at 04:25 PM EDT

Nurse Jackie is such a good show that it overcame one of the hurdles of quality television: The Distinguished Guest-Star Appearance. In last night’s episode, that meant the arrival of Eli Wallach to Jackie’s hospital in one of those roles that makes you gawk a little at how old an acting legend has become and still admire the way he can pull off a deliberately underwritten role as a dying man who just wants some chicken soup, not state-of-the-art medical tending. Basically, all you have to do is put Eli Wallach in a hospital bed and he’s going to upstage anyone who approaches his pillow.

Which is not to say Edie Falco was slouching last night. Her Jackie is dealing with an increasingly-apparent emotional problem one of her daughters, Grace, is exhibiting: a constant anxiety about the world (last night, specifically, worry about the bubonic plague and flu epidemics). Falco knows how to guide her tough-but-compassionate character through scenes like this with just right mixture of concern and impatience. (Like a lot of parents exhausted from work, Jackie blames herself for anything wrong with her kids, and also wishes the problem would just go away.)

Having also seen next week’s episode, I can tell you that Grace’s problems become a recurring, poignant storyline in a series that’s really settling in as one of TV’s best.

Did you watch last night? What did you think of Eli Wallach’s guest-star performance? Are you enjoying Nurse Jackie?