“Wine” indulges in Rescue Me’s affection for cheap comedy disconnected from everything else going on in the episode, but, I am not ashamed to admit, I laughed quite a bit at it. Yes, Mike painting his bar entirely in black (including the tables and, possibly, the broom) doesn’t make a lot of logical sense and feels dropped in from a sketch comedy show, but hearing the guys running into stuff and falling over in the distance? I laughed, reader. I laughed.
“Wine” is probably the season’s most blatantly comedic episode so far, and from that perspective, it can’t quite match the heights of what happened last week, but it also finally put me in the right mindset to appreciate why, exactly, the show can be so maddeningly inconsistent, episode to episode or even scene to scene: Rescue Me, for all its virtues, is basically a wide-ranging monologue that might be delivered by a stand-up doing a special show on Broadway. It’s a story you tell after you’ve had a few drinks, and it carries all of the thematic incoherence that implies, but it also has the strengths that implies, including a sort of brash confidence and freedom.
This means that you’ll get things like the weird subplot about Garrity and Franco both visiting the massage therapists who climb up on men’s backs and, essentially, ride them. It doesn’t really have anything to do with anything (unless you think the entire episode is about how women are always riding men’s backs, which, maybe, but let’s go there in a moment), and the story development feels more like a long joke than something that goes along with all that came before. It’s the sort of thing you’d drop into the middle of a long conversation at the after-bar. “Y’know, I once had these two friends, and they had back problems …” Viewed in that light, it’s entertaining. Viewed in the light of being a part of an actual episode of television, though, it has its faults.
“Wine” is probably the most disjointed episode so far this season, and it also skews a little too uncomfortably close to the series’ previous problems with how it views its female characters. Most of these problems stem from the Sheila character, who might be an amusing example of a woman unable to cope with how much her life has let her down if she wasn’t surrounded by so many other, equally shrewish women. As it is, she often seems like the chief shrew, the main exemplar of the ways women get in the way of guys just havin’ a good time. The series has sort of gotten around this by keeping Sheila mostly separated from the main storylines this season, but tonight, she came to the firehouse, so her psychodramaturg could better get into character as Tommy, and the whole thing just kept hitting the same notes of “Sheila is obsessed with Tommy!” that the series has always hit.
On the other hand, Tommy’s attempts to deal with his daughter dating Black Shawn are handled better. Perhaps this is just a sign that fathers being overprotective of their daughters is still societally acceptable enough to provide laughs on a drama series instead of winces (as the Tommy-being-obsessed-with-his-ex-wife plots often can), but Tommy’s attempts to navigate these trickier waters are executed well, especially his early discussion with Lou about how he kind of WANTS his daughter to have sex so she can eventually end up as resentful and he and her mother, where John Scurti hit punchline after punchline with aplomb (though when doesn’t he?). Plus, having Garrity pop around the corner after Colleen was talking about penises and vaginas to say, “You guys aren’t talking about cars, are you?” was pretty hilarious.
More troubling is the turn taken by the French journalist this week. The ways the characters related to her and opened up about the still healing scars of Sept. 11 last week made an episode that might have felt disconnected like this one have an emotional immediacy that the series needs to keep pulsing along. This week, we get another beautifully-written monologue, this time from Feinberg, who talks about how little he understands religious hatred, but for the most part, the journalist becomes just another sexual conquest for Tommy.
There is a sense that the series is flipping the script here – that the sexually open and adventurous journalist (she and her husband have what amounts to an open marriage! SHE propositions Tommy!) is going to make Tommy HER conquest – but it’s a little troubling that she’d throw her journalistic integrity into question for Tommy. Maybe I just can’t grasp the attraction, but why do the women throw themselves at this guy? The scene where Tommy and the journalist make their various confessions to each other was another well-done scene, which concluded in the moment where Tommy decided to stave off having sex, but everything in the storyline needed to get there just didn’t work. Plus, Lou’s clearly carrying a torch for her, and that sort of thing never ends well.
The episode’s final injustice to female kind featured Tommy going home to his girlfriend, getting caught in a lie and seeming like he’d gone back on the sauce (because he’d been kissing a woman who was drinking wine) then getting kicked out. At least in this scene, Tommy was kind of a jerk, but his girlfriend has been such an underwritten character that it seemed a bit cruel to not give her a note of sympathy as the relationship ended nonetheless.
So maybe there WAS a larger point to the unusual massage therapists, and it’s the one mentioned above. I sincerely hope not. I like this show a lot, and I want to love it, but it keeps falling back on these old pitfalls, and even when they work (the musical montage tonight was oddly sweet), they remind you of the things that hold the show back from being as good as it was in its first season or two.
Still, the good stuff is so good that I’m almost tempted to give the whole episode a pass. Following up the payoff to the black-painted bar and massage therapist extended joke storylines with a scene featuring Franco and Mike putting their dispute over Franco’s belief in a government conspiracy behind Sept. 11 behind them because Mike’s simplicity requires a world of white hats and black hats was just a terrifically executed little character moment between two characters who’ve really grown since the series beginning. Similarly, things like Feinberg’s monologue or Lou putting his heart on his sleeve once again in regards to his poetry were just great.
But that’s the nature of this show, I guess. You’re just always going to have to hope that the good part of the monologue is going to override the stuff that seems dropped in from some other stand-up routine. Rescue Me doesn’t always pass that test, and it didn’t quite this week.
Tommy’s girlfriend was a really underdeveloped character, to the point where I can barely be bothered to look up her name (Valerie!). What a waste of Gina Gershon, who’s maybe not the world’s best actress but plays the kind of woman she was asked to play here very well.
I didn’t miss Janet this week, but I did kind of miss Dwight. Here’s hoping Michael J. Fox gets more to play because he’s surprisingly hilarious as a jerk.
FX really needs to post some new photos for this show. Here’s a fairly staid shot of Black Shawn and Mike in the kitchen for your viewing pleasure.