The ”Rescue Me” finale: Tommy’s losses
Baseball as a metaphor for life may be a cliché, but it was a perfect capper for last night’s season-ending episode. To stretch the analogy further, the episode — even this entire Rescue Me season — played out like a long, often intensely frustrating game, with an all-star lineup cursed by fumbled pitches, dropped balls, and a general overcast of chaos and lethargy. At times last night, as in much of the season, it was all too easy for casual viewers and even longtime fans to drift away, lulled to somnolence by gimmicky, out-there plots, increasingly one-note characters, and underused supporting players. Yet incredibly, the ball met the bat with a satisfying crack as the season ended with a blazing late-inning rally. (It was also fitting that the climactic game took place in a minor-league ballpark rather than, say, Yankee Stadium. Hardly surprising, given Denis Leary’s hometown passion for the Boston Red Sox, but it also evoked an innocence vanished from a major-league sport lately tarnished by steroid scandals.)
This season has been marked, and often marred, by swing-for-the-fences story lines, beginning with Sheila’s fire-insurance scam and rising to soap-operatic heights with the Sheila-Janet baby tussle. Last night’s Jimmy-the-ghost visitation continued the trend toward the preposterous, beginning with Tommy’s apparent scheme to spook his boozing new crewmates into a Section 8 discharge by wearing his late cousin’s jacket. As long as Jimmy and his fellow spirits existed solely in Tommy’s alcohol-fogged mind, they served to highlight his nagging conscience and inner demons. Once unleashed upon the firehouse, however, the ghost quickly dragged the episode down into cloying, unfunny shtick (complete with a thudding pizza-on-the-shoes gag). By the time Sheila turned up to let loose a shrieking tirade at Tommy, matters seemed to be spiraling toward a ludicrous denouement. Thankfully, the writers wrapped up the story thread with a neatly twisty resolution: ironically rewarding Tommy for his deviousness with his own Section 8 classification, courtesy of Chief Feinberg — and, more poignantly, giving Sheila a final interlude of genuine grief.
This brief sympathetic moment for Callie Thorne’s borderline-deranged character (her talk of baby ear piercing was truly macabre) came as something of a relief. Similarly, it was refreshing to see Natalie Distler, as Colleen, show some spark in a rebound romance with Black Shawn after an entire season of playing a one-dimensional, petulant, bratty teenager. And Andrea Roth’s improbably multidimensional Janet Gavin, who had veered rather unconvincingly from alcoholic depression to Sheila-like rage, revealed some spark of her own in a surprisingly erotic scene with Tommy. (The final gauzy domestic tableau of Janet, boss Bob, and hitherto-neglected baby Wyatt, however, struck a jarring note.)
COMING UP: Hail and farewell!
Other romantic farewells deftly tied up some hanging story threads, and showcased a sterling roster of too-little-seen performers. Tatum O’Neal, who had virtually been reduced to a walk-on even in the uproarious family AA sessions, got a moment to shine in a hilarious goodbye to Sean. (Sean’s comparison of his one-night stand to Julianne Moore and Lucille Ball stands as one of the night’s brightest non?Kevin Costner showbiz shout-outs.) Another standout, Cornell Womack, brought about an amicable parting between Franco and Natalie — and stared down a body-painted street artist, to keen comic effect. Also lending a comedic touch: Artie Lange’s big-bellied Cousin Mike, who experienced a romantic comeuppance courtesy of a contrite Lou, guilt-stricken over their high-calorie love triangle (and triangle raviolis). Perhaps the most ripely satisfying romantic twist of all, though: Tommy breaking up with, then turning the tables on, Gina Gershon’s domineering Valerie. Besides giving Gershon an all-too-infrequent opportunity to ooze sexuality and submissiveness all at once, Tommy’s final display of alpha-male testosterone not only brought his old, incorrigible self to the fore but also upended their sparring, role-reversal-driven relationship.
While Gershon et al. delivered solid turns, last night’s MVP spotlight arguably belongs to Charles Durning, whose tenure as the Gavin family patriarch seemed to come to a quiet but achingly poignant close. At its best, Rescue Me has always been a trenchant comedy of masculinity, of male competition and camaraderie, and this season’s father-son sparring matches, alternately tart and tender, have reflected the show’s strengths. (Pa Gavin’s passing, it must be said, also stands in contrast to the unsatisfyingly abrupt send-off to the show’s other father figure, Jerry Reilly.) Certainly Durning was a commanding presence on the show, and he will be missed.
So where do you stand on the season finale? Did you have a favorite scary-comic moment (the elevator episode, for instance)? Or an especially grating least favorite moment? Do the final plot twists bode well for a reenergized fifth season? And is it time to bid farewell to Denis Leary’s misogynistic, race-baiting, stereotype-tossing alter ego, or do you look forward to seeing Tommy Gavin return in all his scabrous glory?