'Rescue Me:' It's not my fault
Before I begin my recap of the season finale of FX's "Rescue Me," a word about the review of last week's episode. I wrote that review based on the episode itself in which it was unclear whether the character of Damien died in a fire. After I posted it, a reader commented -- rather obnoxiously but that's neither here nor there -- that Damien indeed was dead as was revealed in the preview of the upcoming episode. I subsequently adjusted my review to acknowledge this.
However, despite what the preview implied, Damien didn't die. He was severely brain damaged and in a chair, but still very much alive. I regret that I did not stick to my original review, which was correct. In the future, I will review only what is in the episode that is airing that night.
Now on to the episode at hand. As "Rescue Me" winds down its remarkable run, Tommy Gavin is still trying to find his path. He's not drinking, but that doesn't mean he's sober. Tommy, like most Gavins, is white knuckling it when it comes to staying off the sauce. The inner peace that comes to many who surrender and acknowledge their powerlessness over alcohol eludes Tommy because surrender isn't in his vocabulary. He thinks he can out muscle his addictions. Tommy has never recognized that drinking is only a symptom of his illness, not the problem itself which is why Leary's portrayal of an alcoholic is both compelling and frustrating at the same time. Leary captures the angst of the kind of drunk who just doesn't get it and whose inability to recognize that he needs to change more than his choice of beverage makes those around him all the more miserable and on edge.
However hard Tommy is trying to turn over a new leaf, as usual he's wasting his efforts on the wrong people. He is spending all his time with Sheila, who is convinced that Damien can beat the odds and learn to walk again and function. When she's not doting over Damien, she's reading self-help books and talking to her shrink trying to convince herself that it is not her fault that Damien is so damaged. Mickey, Tommy's cousin who had been with Sheila, has dropped her out of frustration over her inability to accept that Damien will never be the same again.
Tommy's constant attention to Damien and Sheila is touching. Unfortunately it is coming at the expense of his relationship not only with his wife, Janet, but also daughters Colleen and Katy. In another only in the world of "Rescue Me" does this happen storyline, Tommy, who has gone all of a couple of months without a drink and maybe a week or two more than Colleen, is actually serving as her sponsor. One doesn't need to be an expert on substance abuse and recovery to know this is a train wreck waiting to happen. In no time at all, Tommy's blowing off his daughter who, despite her poor choice in sponsors, seems to be trying to keep it together. He also misses Katy's dance recital as well.
Back at the firehouse, the guys don't seem to be all that shaken by Damien's plight. Lou, who should feel guilty because he knew he was too weak for active duty but went into the fire anyway and that ultimately led to Damien's injuries, is surprisingly without conscience. He even tries to persuade his doctor to provide a clean bill of health to the FDNY so he can stay on the job.
Lou has always been the soul of "Rescue Me," so as a fan it is distressing to see him showing so little remorse over his part in Damien's demise. Lou was the one who seemed capable of calling Tommy on his garbage and own up to his own flaws. Perhaps Lou's as yet unexamined role in what happened to Damien will be a plot point when "Rescue Me" returns next year with its final nine episodes. If not, then Tolan and Leary are missing a golden opportunity to bring some fresh tension to Ladder 62.
While much of the season finale was bleak, having a character who can only mumble and shake is too good an opportunity for the black humor Leary and Tolan are famous for. Tommy dumps Damien on the crew while he tries to get to Katy's dance recital. The guys decide to take Damien to a bar with them where they discover that even a brain-damaged Damien is still a chick magnet. "He's the ultimate wingman," declares Franco. "He attracts chicks and he won't mess with your game."
This season of "Rescue Me," as anyone who has read my recaps on a regular basis knows, was at times frustrating. Sometimes one invests too much in the characters of shows and perhaps I have done that with Tommy and the gang. Tommy doesn't behave the way I think he should and it bugs me. He keeps doing the same things over and over again expecting the results to be different, and not only is it sad to watch, it doesn't always make for good television.
But there was enough in this season to keep any real fan satisfied. The dark humor was as deranged as ever and the blackout episode stands among the show's best.There were particularly strong performances from Callie Thorne who plays Sheila and Adam Ferrara as Needles.
"Rescue Me" is due to come back some time next year and the series finale will likely take place around the time of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Tommy and the gang are still battered and bruised from that Tuesday morning. The question isn't whether they can heal, it's whether they want to heal or would prefer to keep picking at their scars and making themselves and everyone around them bleed.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Michael Zegen as Damien in "Rescue Me."