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'Rescue Me' finale recap: The end of the road

September 8, 2011 |  9:53 am

Dennis Leary plays Tommy Gavin in 'Rescue Me'

Man, they had us going, didn’t they? As the opening minutes of "Rescue Me’s" series finale unfolded, it was as if we were watching a totally different show. It opens with Lou -- supposedly the lone survivor of last week’s explosion -- who leads us through a tearful funeral service complete with his gut-wrenching eulogy for Tommy Gavin and the crew of 62 truck. We see it all, the burnt bodies, the train of caskets inside a church, Lou’s scarred face staring out into a crowd of sobbing family members and friends. But just as you’re about to reach for the Kleenex ... boom. Tommy wakes up and realizes the whole thing was a dream.

From that moment on, those who expected a respectful, somber tribute to the firefighters on "Rescue Me" were quickly reminded that this is not that kind of show. Reveling in its loud, politically incorrect ball of dark humor, the series finale makes an art form out of comic relief. That includes the death of Lou, who in reality was the only one who didn’t make it out of the explosion alive.

Assuming you could suspend your disbelief long enough to buy that, the first part of the episode was an uncomfortably tense waiting game to see how Tommy would react.

When Chief Needles asks Tommy to type out a report on everything he remembers about the deadly fire, we’re taken on a crazy ride to flashback town as he sits at a computer and recaps the miracle of how he and the crew all managed to survive except Lou. For some reason, even though I know they were going for shock value, seeing Lou’s burnt-up face when Tommy finds him under a pile of rubble just seems a little schlocky, like some bad horror movie. But the death of his best friend had a very real effect on Tommy, to the point where he’s willing to finally retire from firefighting.
Nursing various bumps and bruises, Franco, Garrity, Mike and Black Shawn are each struggling with their next move in life, whether that means transferring houses or quitting along with Tommy.

And while it appears to be the end of the line for the crew, the show reminds us that we could never see these guys operating in the real world, especially Tommy. Despite coming off as a borderline basket case for most of the series, Sheila is the one person that can sum Tommy up the best when he tells her he’s trying to quit the one thing in life that he’s really good at. “I know who you are,” she says. “You need two things to survive: Sex and fire. One’s no good without the other.”

We see just how true that is as Tommy’s neurotic, overly agitated behavior grants us some of the funniest moments of the season. Whether he was arguing with a group of New Age, overprotective parents at the playground during playtime with his son Wyatt or grilling Franco about chewing his gum in the car on the crew’s ride to Lou’s funeral, there was no point where Denis Leary’s brand of foul-mouthed, grumpy-guy comedy didn’t shine through.

And no matter how you thought the final episode played out, there’s no way you didn’t crack up at the scene in the car with Lou’s exploding ashes.The second that Mike opens up the box o' Lou on his lap, Franco and Black Shawn roll down their windows and create a vortex that sends their dead brother’s ashes all over Tommy’s car. That includes their clothes, their hair and Garrity’s butt crack. Honestly, that entire sequence is brilliant. Right up to the moment where we see Garrity squatting over the ash box on the side of the road, trying to sift the remnants of Lou out from between his cheeks.

A scene from the 'Rescue Me' finaleWhen you really break it down, that’s the stuff people are going to remember about this episode. And while it’s undeniable that the reminder of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is ever-present, the episode did a fine job of showing these firefighters the way the series always has: as real people with flaws, quirks and problems. Seriously, would Lou’s funeral scene have been the same if Uncle Teddy hadn’t chosen to publicly acknowledge the firefighter’s encyclopedic knowledge of porn?

The letter that Lou left for Tommy to read at his funeral is also a comedic stab at the realization that together, through all the jokes, fire, death and redemption, this crew and this show really had something special.

So special, in fact, that Tommy’s resolve to quit being a firefighter is dashed by the tail end of the episode. Although it’s also because his wife Janet realizes that if he stays at home for much longer, she’s gonna kill him. But Tommy’s last major hurdle in the episode requires him to be both a firefighter and super dad when pregnant Janet finally goes into labor with their child and can’t make it to the hospital. All of a sudden he’s forced to spring into action and deliver the baby safely. And all before before fainting like a wimp and falling on the floor. The boy-child, dubbed Shea Gavin, is another pretty good attempt to bring the show full circle from death to new life.

One thing that seemed to be lacking from the episode was the presence of Tommy’s cousin Jimmy -- or any of the ghosts that Tommy was directly related to for that matter. There’s so many to choose from: his son Connor, his dad, his dead cop brother Johnny. But at the very least Jimmy should’ve been in there somewhere patting him on the pack or busting his chops.

Either way, the show ends where it left off as Tommy addresses a new batch of fire academy recruits. Standing in front of a banner filled with the 343 names of firefighters who died on 9/11, the scene was a proper "Rescue Me"-style tribute filled with yelling, cursing and unshakable respect for those who died.

After passing the recruits off to the newly promoted Lt. Franco, Tommy gets one last hallucinatory chat with Lou in his truck before driving off camera and off the air as one of the most riveting, foul-mouthed, battle-scarred, wise-cracking, unforgettable characters FX has ever produced.

What did you think of the final episode, Showtrackers? Did it do the show justice? 

The final call for 'Rescue Me's' 62 Truck

'Rescue Me' recap: Lou goes from Jeter to Judas 

'Rescue Me' recap: The last fire for Tommy and the crew?

--Nate Jackson

Photos: Denis Leary, left, plays Tommy Gavin on 'Rescue Me.' Bottom photo: A scene from the 'Rescue Me' finale. Credit: Jeff Niera / FX