”Rescue Me”: Sheila’s bad-sex defense
”A Convenient Untruth.” That could be an alternative title for this episode (actually titled ”Tuesday”), which followed up last Wednesday’s climactic twist (Sheila lives! In luxury!) not so much with big revelations as with a smorgasbord of tantalizing lies. In the opening confrontation between Tommy and Sheila in her well-appointed apartment, Sheila met his demand for the truth about the fire (punctuated by the smashing of tchotchkes) with a sobbing faux confession that cast him as both an impotent, lamp-smashing drunk and a heroic would-be rescuer. Denis Leary’s parting comment (”I’ll call you when we decide which story we’re gonna use”) and the calculating look in his eyes made me wonder why he accepted her version of events so readily. Did he acquiesce simply because her story provided a plausible defense against arson charges (as Cousin Eddie loudly and gleefully pointed out later on), or did he find himself outmatched by a superior tale spinner? Sheila’s concluding smirk left room for both interpretations.
And therein lies my problem with this story line and with much of this otherwise well-crafted episode: Sheila’s transformation from the season 3 ender’s shrieking fury to a coolly conniving schemer. Her talent for brazen manipulation is indisputable (remember her season 2 pregnancy?), but in tonight’s episode she came off a tad too collected for someone who was so unhinged that she couldn’t even operate a fire extinguisher. (Did Jimmy and Tommy neglect to teach her that skill? C’mon.) At the same time, some of her behavior was inexplicable. Splurging on swank Manhattan digs during an insurance investigation? Sheesh, a Lower East Side walk-up would have been close to Damien at NYU too. Taking a hunky young squeeze to a deposition and kissing him in front of the attorneys? Okay, that last bit of business was a neat touch, provoking Tommy into dating Nona, tweaking the running theme of male impotence/emasculation (echoing oversexed Maggie and her porn stash), and paralleling Tommy’s agita over Colleen’s non-age-appropriate boyfriend. Still, by this point Sheila seemed to be headed over the top into soap-operatic cartoondom (a challenge Callie Thorne can handle with panache, to be sure).
Whatever ”Tuesday” may have lacked in dramatic credibility, it made up for with promising subplots and scabrous comic repartee. The firehouse ”spank bank” colloquy, culminating in Garrity’s blurted confession about his feelings for Janet, morphed from raunchy banter into a knife-edged silence between him and Tommy. An uncomfortable truth of a different sort confronted sweet, fuddled Mike the probie, straining to grasp his cancer-stricken mom’s grim prognosis by invoking the Red Sox and Babe Ruth (who died of cancer, as a harried doctor pointed out in chilling irony). Chief Reilly, reverting to form, casually lied about his son’s fiancé. Franco and Richie’s jewelry-store contretemps, while not as funny as their conversation last week, promised juicy complications; Cornell Womack is an absolute hoot as Natalie’s deep-voiced, Tourette’s-stricken bro. Lou dribbled tartly anti-PC one-liners in his quest to snag a probie point guard for the b-ball team. (John Scurti would make a perfect comedic sparring partner for future guest star Amy Sedaris.) And before being cruelly ditched by the newly sprung Uncle Teddy (Lenny Clarke), Ellie (Patti D’Arbanville) proffered apt insights into Colleen’s disappearance with her rocker boyfriend.
Speaking of Colleen’s not-altogether-surprising disappearing act, I confess to being taken aback by Tommy’s headlong final pursuit of the boyfriend. Even given the Gavin penchant for rash, impulsive behavior, where were Needles and Chief Pecker to stop him from commandeering the fire truck for his personal use? (One can only hope that this credulity-straining cliff-hanger will at least occasion a music montage as excellent as last week’s interlude set to the B-52s’ ”Dance This Mess Around.” My heartfelt thanks to those of you who ID’d this forgotten gem.)
So what do you think? Will Tommy kick Colleen’s lead-singer dude across the Williamsburg Bridge? Is Sheila crazy — or crazy like a fox? Will Tommy beat the arson rap? Will black comedy take a backseat to wobbly drama? And a final request for help from all of you sports-savvy readers: Who is/was Jackie Ryan?