As I sit here sifting through mountains of fan mail and nude fan-portraits, I keep reading the same questions over and over: “Where’s your Rescue Me blog?” “The show’s been so great the past few weeks; haven’t you been watching?” “Don’t you want to finish what you started?” (That’s what she said.)
My answer is that Rescue Me is a typically good-to-great show that recently has been astounding. These last three episodes in particular have been exceptional and the show is clearly operating at peak. Obviously it’s a personal favorite and that’s why I devote so much thought to it. Intellectually, I can recognize why other shows might equal its quality, but the one I champion is the one I enjoy the most; the one that hits me right in the center of my circulatory system. Objectively speaking, however, this season is technically eye-to-eye with the best seasons of any of the other better-heralded TV shows of recent history.
This all has a mildly unfortunate side-effect: Thrilling to watch, not leaving much left to write about. It’s easier to be constructively or uselessly critical than to be consistently positive. Writing about how good Rescue Me has been this season is like talking about how hot Jennifer Aniston is: Been good for a long time; might waver from time to time, but is never less than top-shelf; and anyone who disagrees is probably just being an asshole.
Episode 5.8, titled “Iceman,” gave us something we’ve never seen before, in that, for over half the running time, the episode was virtually a stage play, and no scenes with the other regulars were interjected – it was all Denis Leary as Tommy Gavin, alone in a bar with his ghosts. His ornery, unsparing, pissed-off ghosts: Dad (Charles Durning), brother Johnny (Dean Winters), and cousin Jimmy (James McCaffrey). Much whiskey, a couple bodies set on fire, and several shotgun shells later, Lou walks in and brings things back to normal, such as things are. No full-episode dream sequences here! (No offense Tony Soprano.) The episode ended on a cliffhanger. The point is, everyone on this show is expendable. Every last character, probably excepting Tommy. Then again, with the show likely to end next season, even he might go early. Hell, I could foresee a circumstance where Tommy kicks the bucket and returns to haunt Cousin Mickey.
Episode 5.9, “Thaw,” picks up a few beats down the road, where we off-handedly learn that someone who looked like he was destined to be BBQ at the end of the last episode is still walking around uncooked (though it could be a narrative rope-a-dope; we may yet see the end of this guy.) Tommy’s figurative hole gets dug deeper at work, and on the home front, precisely because of those circumstances. We also see the return of Black Shawn, and are further introduced to the family of White Sean [Garrity] whose mother and brother unfortunately explain a lot. I’ve got a strange feeling about Garrity’s chances to last to the end of the show; don’t mean to harp on these speculations but the specter of death has rarely hung so heavily. It’s like the Grim Reaper is angling for a spot in the credits between Pasquale and Scurti.
Episode 5.10, “Control,” had plenty of things going on, including the escalating weird-villainy of Probie Mike and the return of Candy the porn hooker, but the main thrust is the further development of the haunting notion I first caught on to in the previous episode, which is: the imprisonment of Tommy Gavin. Tommy is trapped; by booze, by the people in his life, by what he’s made of it. Critics might point to his return to concurrent relationships with Janet and Sheila as ground already trodden many a time, but they’d be missing the point – every time Tommy went back to either or both of those wackadoos, it was because he had his own reasons or was following his instincts, misguided or no. This time, the decisions have been out of his hands. He can see how crazy this cycle is, but still he has been bullied back into hooking up with them on their terms. That’s a metaphor for his return to heavy drinking, or conversely, the drinking is a metaphor for his failed, destructive relationships. He’s trapped, and the only safe harbor he can think of is the bottle, which in turn leads to the ghosts. He’s going to the ghosts by choice this time, and that’s scary. Makes you wonder if this is a horror story after all.
So where does that leave us? Besides watching intently for the next three months, that is. I’m probably not going to keep writing up these episode reflections, since I started this little sub-column to get people excited to be on board, and by now, everyone is going to be, already is. If something happens that demands attention because it is so right or so wrong or so big or so small (that’s what she said), then I’ll write about it. Otherwise, I’ll shut my ever-flapping trap and watch the fires burn.