"We wanted the finale to be authentic and controversial," says the show's executive producer Clyde Phillips
All Saints Hospital is officially closed, with the staff throwing a farewell party in the series finale of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie…where the term “farewell party” took on a whole new meaning. Showrunner/executive producer Clyde Phillips chatted with EW about those fateful final moments (and how you should interpret them), how 200 strangers in Times Square were corralled to create one of the episodes’s most indelible images, and the much-adored central deity (the one and only Edie Falco), who anchored the show through seven eventful seasons.
EW: So it seems you really didn’t let us off the hook with the finale…or did you? [SPOILER ALERT: In the finale’s last moments, Edie Falco’s Jackie Peyton inhales a few lines of heroin and collapses to the ground, surrounded by her peers. Which may or may not be her last moments on Earth.]
CLYDE PHILLIPS: We wanted the ending to be authentic and controversial, and for the finale to continue to be part of the conversation. [Showtime CEO] David Nevins and I discussed how we wanted it to happen, and had some different choices. I made the pitch for keeping it somewhat ambiguous and inspiring. When the credits rolled, I wanted people to lean forward and talk about what they just saw.
So in a way, they could decide Jackie’s fate if they wanted to since the finale supports either theory?
Yes. That’s a good way of putting it. I personally did not want a happy ending, nor did Edie. Edie was so amazing—can you imagine lying on the floor like that and giving up so little that you and I are having this conversation because you’re not sure? It was an extraordinary, sacred moment.
What was interesting is how it took its cue from all the other season enders, where Jackie was always at a crossroads with something, kind of “How’s she gonna get out of this one?”
That’s what’s been so compelling about the show. Why else would an audience take this sociopathic drug addict into their homes each week? A woman who sacrifices her family and her friends, her children and her job for her addiction? The first three reasons are: Edie Falco, Edie Falco, and Edie Falco. Also, really stimulating storytelling.
Did you always know the direction the last season was heading in?
We had a whole other ending. About three quarters through the season, we realized that we had planned was too much about story and not enough about character. We had to turn this big ship around and bring it down to Jackie Peyton.
The final episode has a strong spiritual through-line (Jackie’s daughter Fiona gets confirmed, Jackie washes a heroin addict’s feet, she asks God to “make her good” in the chapel just as she did in the very first episode, etc.). Have you always seen Jackie as a Jesus-like figure?
I’ve always seen her as a saint-like figure. We got to know a lot of nurses over the courses of the show, and they’re gifts from heaven. We did light it to have a religious feel to it.
That’s why that near-climactic image of Jackie joining the large yoga group and laying down in the middle of Times Square is so interesting. It’s the busiest part of the world, yet she seems so serene.
Isn’t that amazing? And that song is playing [k.d. lang’s cover of “(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls,” also heard in the show’s pilot episode]. We had 200 extras in Times Square in the middle of a wintry day, and God was on our side because it didn’t rain or snow. We had to time an overhead shot so that the sun would not create a shadow over the crane hovered over Jackie. It all worked out–we had a blast doing it.
I’ve always been impressed with how as the season progressed, NYC culture wove into the narrative. With the demise of All Saints, it seems a direct parallel for living life in NYC these days.
We always wanted this show to reflect the blue-collar and disenfranchised nature of the city.
The finale really hammers home Jackie’s friendships, like her final scenes with the returning Dr. O’Hara (Eve Best) and her pal Zoey (Merritt Wever). Was it always determined that she and Zoey would go their different ways?
If you saw the ninth episode [this season’s “Serviam in Caritate”], where Jackie and Zoey take Grace (Ruby Jerins) to visit the college, they kind of made their peace, but it was determined that the mentoring part was pretty much over and the curious thing was whether a friendship could be salvaged. The previous season ender had the dying nun storyline [Jackie used a dying woman’s photograph to create a fake ID to score drugs], and that really opened Zoey’s eyes to her addiction. This season, Jackie worked really hard to get Zoey’s trust back, even harder than her family.
Any chance of a Zoey spin-off series?
Nah. [Laughs] Not that I wouldn’t love it, Merritt is so talented and such a great voice and makes everything her own. Even when you give her an Emmy she makes it her own.