”Rescue Me”: Thinking the unthinkable
Much as I’m tempted to call last night’s episode a cliff-hanger, the word pales in significance before the sheer black enormity of the moral abyss opening beneath Tommy Gavin. As he stumbled through a miasma of guilt, self-recrimination, and soul-searching toward an awful choice, I couldn’t help thinking of the late Ingmar Bergman. What would the Swedish son of a Lutheran minister have done with these characters, steeped in Irish Catholicism yet adrift in bleak agnosticism? Even Max von Sydow’s chess match with black-hooded Death in The Seventh Seal does not seem quite as doom-laden as Tommy’s waterfront colloquy with the ghost of murdered brother Johnny.
Right from the outset, an aura of doom settled upon last night’s episode. From the quick-cut shots of a toddler plunging from a window to the camera panning over tiny bodies lined up on the sidewalk, the scene combined stylized slo-mo with raw imagery more disturbing than the quasi-balletic firefighting sequences earlier this season. Also unlike those sequences in episodes past (the cat-filled warehouse, for instance), the grim aftermath — seven children and one adult dead — struck a note of futility completely overshadowing the heroics of Truck 62 (and the forced cooperation between Tommy and Black Sean). In ways large and small, the specter of these needless deaths (caused by a space heater) haunted the crew, with surprising (and occasionally improbable) results.
One surprise: After winning at b-ball, vagina-obsessed Lou was suddenly seized by a desire to have kids of his own — and gobsmacked by the discovery that said desire was not shared by avowed non-mother Theresa. (More head-spinningly, he promptly patched things up with his horndog cousin Mike, whose ”bros before ho’s” quip neatly emphasized the power of male bonding above all else. In a similar vein, Mike let feckless Sean Garrity off the hook for burning down his mom’s house. If Mike could stand up for himself just once…) More seriously, Franco reacted to the return of Alicia, back from Europe and eager for a reconciliation, by reconsidering his engagement to Natalie and attachment to Richard. After Alicia snatched away Keela on the grounds of Franco’s womanizing? Franco’s desire to make nice with Alicia for his daughter’s sake was understandable, but this particular plot twist stretched plausibility. At least it brought back Susan Sarandon to brighten the proceedings.
Darkening the proceedings to pitch blackness, however, was the central drama of Tommy and the baby. True, this domestic situation had been building to a head: With Janet’s indifference and Katy Gavin’s vocal resentment of her sibling, not to mention Sheila’s suspect offer of adoption, things were spiraling out of control. But how to explain that Tommy would even contemplate a choice as drastic as infanticide? Was this an encoded message from his little black book (a rather heavy-handed plot device, in my opinion)? Even his angry existential debate with his cousin Mick — while more pointed and coherent than Tommy’s disjointed anticlerical tirade in the previous episode — did not really point to such a thoroughly sociopathic course of action. Pathological lying, fighting, boozing, self-destructive behavior, yes — but murder?
Where do you stand? Have Denis Leary and Peter Tolan audaciously pushed the boundaries of cable? Has Rescue Me gone beyond mere shock value and sunk into a dramatic black hole? Or is a less dark resolution in the offing? Judging by the preview, things don’t look promising.