In a big shocker on ''Rescue Me,'' Jerry does not go gently into semi-retirement; meanwhile, his men struggle with the women in their lives

By Ben Spier
Updated June 28, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
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”Rescue Me”: Hail to the Chief

Two smackdowns. One street kerfuffle. One relationship abloom, another on the verge of collapse. A torrent of gay-baiting jokes. Tommy at his most detestable. And an anticlimactic death followed by a climactic shocker of a musical montage. Did last night’s episode, ”Commitment,” blindside viewers with a gratuitous shot to the solar plexus, or was it a plot masterstroke we should have seen coming?

Before I address that, let’s talk smack(down). To wit, the not-unexpected punch in the nose ring Tommy administered to Tony, Colleen’s scruffy boyfriend/Fake Baby Head frontman. (I confess I half-expected him to be a buff Henry Rollins type or a model-fab Julian Casablancas, not a baby-faced variant of Ryan Adams.) In this opening confrontation, Denis Leary achieved a farcical blend of fatherly horror (at Colleen’s belly-baring tee) with pigheaded obtuseness (i.e., putting down his daughter’s behavior as the act of a hormonally crazed rock groupie). In the end, however, Colleen landed the knockout blow by telling Tommy exactly why she ran off: to escape from a dysfunctional home and a drunken father. Faced with such rejection, a defeated Tommy for once had no comeback.

Colleen’s defiant outburst set the tone for the rest of ”Commitment,” which at times came off like a parade of male frailty. (For a show accused of misogyny for episodes like the third-season ”rape,” Rescue Me is equally unsparing toward its men.) Exhibit A: a crestfallen Tommy enduring a tongue-lashing on his controlling ways from Janet, which had the salutary effect of quieting the baby. (One wonders whether Janet should be giving lectures on proper parenting, given her odd inability to calm a squalling infant.) Elsewhere, Lou tweaked last week’s theme of impotence by bemoaning the sexual ”tsunami” unleashed by his insatiable ex-nun; Franco bickered in a bowling alley with Natalie, who branded his failure to commit a mark of emotional retardation; and Uncle Teddy, hiding from Ellie in the home of his corrections officer, all but committed himself back to prison. (Frankly, the Teddy subplot is growing tiresome. Bring back Patti D’Arbanville, please!) In the one bright spot amid the sourness, Sheila appeared to be getting hot and heavy with her lovestruck vollie boy — a promising change of pace for Callie Thorne, who’d been stuck in two modes: weepy, clinging Sheila or passive-aggressive, scheming Sheila. (Plus, her calling Tommy a ”heroic son of a bitch” came as a needed touch of sass.)

Underlying last night’s general aura of male powerlessness was a queasy current of jokey homoerotic obsession, beginning with Tommy’s and Sean’s cracks about Mike’s face cream and culminating in Tommy and Mike’s cringe-inducing restaurant tête-à-tête. Give the show credit for refusing to soften its charmless protagonist, but Tommy’s refusal to comfort a distraught Mike (even as he coolly offered him advice on euthanizing his dying mother) for fear of seeming gay made excruciating viewing. Even vollie Nona chimed in, sizing up the chichi boîte and quipping ”Lotsa homos in here” — and later kicking Tommy out of her truck with a curt ”Good night, sweetie” after he rebuffed her advances. (The interlude in which she slung Tommy over her shoulder and halted a brewing street spat with a male couple helped lighten things a bit, but still.)

Much more jarring than any ”homo” banter, however, was Chief Jerry Reilly’s decision to end his life rather than accept a quiescent ”pencil-pushing” semi-retirement. Coming after the sudden but peaceful death of Mike’s mom — and juxtaposed against Tommy’s decision to utterly degrade himself by provoking a retaliatory beating from Tony — his suicide brought a ”What the f—?” jolt to an unfocused and rather listless episode. Looking back, though, there were clues in earlier scenes to Jerry’s despair at being pushed out of the firehouse: His admission to his superior Stu that ”I got nothing else left,” for instance. Or was he motivated by the knowledge that Stu’s mention of ”s— in [his] lungs from Ground Zero” portended a more protracted and agonizing demise, as it has for an ever-increasing number of 9/11 rescue workers?

What do you think about Reilly’s motives for doing what he did? Was his apparent reconciliation with his gay son Pete really just a way of saying goodbye? Did he really clear up Tommy’s arson-investigation mess, or will that story line return? And when will Gina Gershon arrive to perk things up?

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Rescue Me

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