By Ken Tucker
Updated August 31, 2010 at 12:00 PM EDT

Since Rescue Me is such an assiduously irreverent show, I feel free to say that it ended its season trying to get us to both care for and laugh at one of its least appealing characters, young Damien (poor Michael Zegen), whom someone described last night as Tommy’s “brain-damaged godson.”

Then again, picking a least-likable character in Rescue Me these days is a real horse-race, since to my way of thinking you’d have also have to consider the shrill tantrum-thrower Sheila (poor Callie Thorne), Tommy’s ridiculously detestable, angrily alcoholic daughter Colleen (poor Natalie Distler), and the yelling idiot the show has turned Uncle Teddy into (poor Lenny Clarke).

Given this season’s amount of drinking, resistance to drinking, wild benders, and sorrowful regrets expressed after drinking, Rescue Me had liquor on its mind as a central theme. It’s unusual for a show to deal this extensively and variously with the subject of alcoholism. Where Rescue Me boxes itself into a corner is when it tries to make you chuckle at and feel sorrow for the plight of drunks, and doesn’t quite muster either sufficient humor or the requisite tragedy. It’s a difficult task for any kind of TV to attempt, and I salute Rescue Me for trying.

Although I’d grown very weary of Sheila’s one-note character, I was glad to see Tommy and Janet give the marriage another try, and thought the tricky speech Andrea Roth had to deliver this night about Tommy’s “A.D.D” — also the episode’s title — was clever and a good take on Tommy’s ongoing problems. Tommy’s accidental discovery that Janet is pregnant is a promising story-line for the show’s next and final season. As for the episode-ending grabber — it’s difficult to work up much suspense about that, given how prone Tommy is to having visions.

On Tuesday night, there were a lot of excrement jokes about the new “pavilion” dedicated to fallen firefighter Pat Mahoney, which proved to be a restroom. Better times were had earlier, back in the fire house, with the boys discussing the meaning of the word “pavilion.”

Overall, I thought this season of Rescue Me was uneven. Peter Gallagher’s tough priest was aces, but many of the episodes frequently see-sawed so wildly between poignance and derision, it reminded me that this is a balancing act the series used to maintain with more control. At the heart of the matter is Denis Leary’s Tommy Gavin: If you think of the season as being a fever-dream that occurred in his alcohol-soaked brain, the lurching quality almost makes sense. While a tamed Tommy would be a dull Tommy, a Tommy who does anything that pops into his head at any moment is the sort of guy who turns unpredictability into its own sort of routine. I’m rooting for Rescue Me to come back next season with a surer sense of who Tommy is, and where he and the series should end up. Since it’s been reported that the series will conclude on or around the time of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I guess we may be in for a grim finale; I hope it’s also a good one.

What did you think of the season finale, and Rescue Me‘s season overall?