”Rescue Me”: A history of violence
Last night’s episode of Rescue Me might just be the most slaphappy, or violently punch-drunk, of the season to date. Throughout, emotions boiled over, and blows rained down from both the usual suspects and some not so usual. It all made for a rampageous, careening, yet often wildly entertaining hour that punctuated the fisticuffs with deadly punch lines spiked with uncomfortable truths.
First to raise a hand in anger: Valerie (Gina Gershon), driven to jealousy by Tommy’s failed date with the chief’s daughter. Evidently, even attempted good deeds do not go unpunished, and extended booty calls come with a set of rules. Somewhat less surprisingly, Uncle Teddy and Cousin Eddie brought Mick’s family therapy to a crashing end by trading verbal potshots for physical ones. (The tableau of the two standing in separate corners of a trashed schoolroom was one of the hour’s comic highlights.) Another family blowup came when Tommy confronted Colleen’s free-spending boyfriend, only to learn that he’d secretly ditched her for a blonder groupie. Shockingly enough, Tommy stopped throttling Tony, relieved not to be faced with a rocker son-in-law (and vindicated in his dire predictions about their relationship). Almost as shocking (though not unexpected) was Colleen’s venting her fury not on her cheating ex-boyfriend but on interfering Dad. (Lou’s suggestion of ”shin guards” was characteristically on point.)
Perhaps the most charged confrontations erupted in the confines of 62 Truck. The long-awaited showdown between Tommy and Chief Feinberg over Tommy’s treatment of the chief’s daughter was a beaut, allowing Jerry Adler to finally bring his character to full Heshie boil. What gave the encounter added zing, however, was Needles’ impassioned ”Jack the Ripper” defense of Tommy — a fraught analogy, to say the least. Meanwhile, a different and rather startling clash occurred between Black Shawn and erstwhile probie Mike, clearly torn over his backhanded role in last episode’s street-hockey match. In an especially telling moment, Black Shawn put his finger on Mike’s internal conflict, i.e., his simultaneous resentment of Tommy Gavin and desire to emulate him. Astute, but the observation also unintentionally pointed to the similarities between Black Shawn and his older nemesis, and hinted at a possible full-on struggle between the two manipulative, controlling egomaniacs.
While familial and firehouse tensions exploded into fisticuffs or near fisticuffs, the temptations of alcohol and sex continued to rear their heads. As Tommy resurrected the past (or laid his ghosts to rest) by wearing Cousin Jimmy’s jacket, the new crew continued to revive his ”old school” boozing ways — along with his penchant for seeing phantoms. (”Alcohol — the gift that keeps giving back” summed things up nicely.) A quest for intoxication led ever-hapless Sean Garrity into a drinking contest with Lou and his cousin (enabling Artie Lange to throw down the indelible ”beer queer” gauntlet). Naturally, it also led to a beer-goggles-inspired hookup (combined with lovelorn Franco’s club pickup in a bedroom montage worthy of Californication). And a priceless, food-themed interlude between Lou and the suggestively named Latrina riotously explored the intertwining of desire, guilt, and pleasure in the shape of succulent raviolis.
Last, what to make of Tommy’s climactic rescue of the comely Meg (Tracey Ruggiero)? Did it cross the line into unintentional parody, or was it a winking nod to the show’s excessiveness? Other questions to mull over: Will Tommy’s ”new guy” emerge from the shadows in the finale? Will Colleen find a new boyfriend to further alienate Tommy — say, a firefighter like Black Shawn? What ethnicity/nationality will follow the Dutch in the parade of equal-opportunity slurs? And, uppermost in my mind, who can place the haunting, dirgelike song that played in the climactic scene?