”Rescue Me”: Moving on down
”Some people have trouble moving on,” snapped a black-lingerie-clad Maggie (Tatum O’Neal) in a piquant moment from last night’s episode, as she coolly evicted both soon-to-be-ex-husband Sean and her latest one-night stand from her home. That throwaway remark could sum up this episode, which picked up the pieces and lightened the series’ gloomy cast after the deaths of Chief Reilly and Mike’s mom. Yet ”Black” still packed a kick: While some of the regulars were moving on, others remained stuck firmly in place or slid deeper into their own personal quagmires.
In this episode at least, change began at the top. Even as Jerry Reilly — or his earthly remains — became the butt of Anna Nicole jokes, not to mention actual butts (thank you, Franco, for respecting the dead), his replacement arrived on the scene. This viewer, for one, welcomes Jerry Adler, who shone on The Sopranos as the wily and pugnacious Hesh Rabkin. Even a Mob-hardened survivor like Heshie might quail, however, before the motley crew of 62 Truck. For all his efforts to set a gentle, empathetic tone, the new chief quickly inspired wisecracks about his ethnicity (Tommy’s ”Jew chief” is worthy of the notorious antisemite Jimmy the Jew) and his — how to put this delicately? — manly attributes. Even his standing offer of a comradely barbecue dinner became grist for meaty double entendres. To give the new chief credit, he showed one trait of effective leaders: i.e., delegating to his No. 2 man, Needles, a thankless task — enforcing the latest FDNY ban on politically incorrect locker displays. One can only wonder how long it’ll be until the new chief finds his own twig ‘n’ berries artistically memorialized in the recesses of the firehouse — or whether his gentler management style will successfully replace the gruff bluster of Jerry Reilly.
As for male functioning, Tommy appeared to have regained his mojo, even if it was handed back to him. By Nona, no less. On the rebound from Janet, Tommy suddenly (and not altogether believably) mustered up his old bravado to ask out the vollie for a dinner of ”mushy” pasta and, finally, a backseat encounter set to the strains of the Black Hollies’ ”Tell Me What You Want.” Which, of course, Nona subsequently did, telling Tommy exactly what she wanted — to move on to someone who would take her for granted. Viewers can share in Tommy’s bewilderment: Nona’s man-chasing quasi stalker has always struck me less as a fleshed-out character than as a walking postfeminist punchline, serving mainly as an instrument of Tommy’s ironic humiliation. (Not that Jennifer Esposito doesn’t fit the part, with her rangy, somewhat mannish looks.) Perhaps the musical interlude should have been set to the ’80s chestnut ”If She Knew What She Wants.” (Other mysteries to ponder: the provenance of the prayer book that found its way into Tommy’s firehouse quarters. Was it left there by his half-seen ghostly visitor, who vocally resembles Jimmy Keefe?)
Another unsettling development came courtesy of Sheila. During the hockey game, noteworthy for Tommy’s drubbing by the NYPD and replacement by a reluctant Mike, angry sparks flew between Sheila and her own vollie — whose emulation of Tommy has made him into a truly creepy presence. Nonetheless, her proposal to Tommy to adopt the baby came as a bolt from the blue, even in this heretofore melodrama-packed season. Granted, she had picked up on the unmistakable lack of affection between Janet and the infant. ”That baby hates her!” was a characteristically malicious lie with a ring of plausibility (enough to be uncannily echoed by the hitherto little-seen Katy Gavin). And certainly, Janet’s precipitous descent from postpartum depression into full-blown alcoholism would give any sensible adult (let alone Tommy) nightmares. Still, Sheila’s maternal offer left me wondering whether she had simply reverted to her old unstable, clinging ways or had come completely unglued.
Meanwhile, off to the side, other firehouse habitués continued to make their own transitions. Reformed ladies’ man Franco at long last summoned up the gumption to pop the question to Natalie, fending off nausea all the while. Ellie popped in to offer Teddy a choice between her and booze, and he chose to…uphold the Gavin family tradition. Lou won a bedroom ”moratorium” with Teresa and landed his prized b-baller for 62 Truck, albeit after a round of NBA-worthy negotiations. Not only did Mike step up his game, he showed a newfound and welcome assertiveness with his new housemate, Sean.
So what do you think of season 4 so far? Are you reveling in the David Mamet-pungent firehouse banter or reeling from the jaw-dropping story twists? Are you looking forward to more single-take fire scenes, or do you regard them as stunts that add little to the mix? Do you think the issue of the baby’s paternity will cause a final split in the Gavin household? Or will it pale next to the potentially combustible mixture of a Jewish chief and a Muslim non-probie recruit?