“Disease” perks up from the last few Rescue Mes, which have been good but haven’t quite hit the highs earlier episodes this season managed to hit. “Disease,” however, is at that level again, save for one scene late in the episode that returns a character to a point we’ve seen her at too many times. Other than that, though, this is a dark, unrelenting hour about these characters’ weaknesses, the ways they let themselves down over and over and over again. It’s a fine, fine episode, and it’s a sign that Rescue Me hasn’t yet forgotten the things that made its return to quality so riveting earlier this season.
For starters, the episode almost seems like it’s going to be a musical when it begins. The entire teaser is set in the midst of a fire that goes cataclysmically for the guys, set to Duffy’s “Syrup and Honey,” no dialogue on the soundtrack, increasing the hellishness of the scenario the guys find themselves in. Sure, they’re saved at the last minute by Feinberg’s ladder, but the weird surreality of the sequence (especially the way the fire collapses down at first, instead of climbing up as we might expect) sets the tone for what’s to come. Duffy’s mournful song is about a guy who ignores his love because he’s out chasing the titular highs (which could stand in for other women or drugs or what have you), and Rescue Me is, at its base, a show about a bunch of guys who are unable to have relatively normal lives because they keep getting sucked into their work or their addictions or their need for danger.
Fitting, then, that the episode’s second musical number, a Busby Berkeley-esque song-and-dance routine performed by Steven Pasquale about just how lovely it would be to be a vegetable, is all about opting out of that life, about running into your own head where things are lovely and bright and everything’s a daffy musical sequence. (Also, based on this song, Peter Tolan should seriously consider a post-Rescue Me career as a Broadway lyricist. His work here is very, very solid, with some fun and unexpected rhymes.) Sean is on the verge of waking up, but he retreats into that fantasy world, content to be a vegetable for just a while longer.
Tommy’s also perpetually chasing fantasies. The best thing about season five has been the way it’s been so brutal about the fact that Tommy drinks not because it feels good or even because he’s addicted so much (though he is addicted) but because when he doesn’t drink, he begins to realize just what an asshole he can be. When he drinks, he gets to see his visions of his much-missed dead relatives, yes, but he also gets to live in the fantasy world where everyone else in his life is the problem and not him. Because Rescue Me is so thoroughly told from Tommy’s point-of-view, this had been glossed over a bit in previous seasons, so it’s been nice to see it so thoroughly embraced this season.
“Disease,” in particular, shows just how much Tommy hurts everyone around him when he drinks. His daughter, Katie, points out how hurtful he could be when drunk (in a scene that was perhaps a little overwritten, though the actors played it beautifully). Sean’s mom praises him as the good friend he is starting to realize he isn’t, then knocks back some whiskey with him before imploring him to pray with her (interestingly, the other character in the episode asking Tommy to pray was Katie). Mickey points out that no matter how much he drinks, when he wakes up from his stupor, Tommy will still have the pain in his heart and the noise in his head. And in the scenes at his home, Tommy gets a sense of what could have been, the family life he could have had, if he just hadn’t gotten in his own way.
Obviously, this is Rescue Me, so no plotline could be completely, darkly serious, but even the goofier scenes had moments when that goofiness would tip over into something more emotionally real. The scene after all of the guys visit Sean in the hospital, for example, turned from a genuine expression of sadness on all of their parts to a terrifically funny scene when all of them noticed a hot nurse standing in the hallway. (Said Franco, “I know. I didn't see her. I smelled her.”). But then all of that was reversed by Mike crying for his vegetative friend, imploring the others that he wasn’t faking. The nurse gave him a Kleenex and asked him to come with her to sit down, tossing a quick, comic capper on the scene, but the whole thing felt like a more realistic blending of comedy and drama than you might see on Rescue Me much of the time.
Lou, meanwhile, fell back into one of his old addictions, a classic trap: a beautiful woman who seems interested in him. I suppose one could make the argument that Candy is genuine in her affection for Lou, but given the show’s noted skepticism both about Lou’s romantic prowess and females in general, it seems highly unlikely. Still, one of the things that makes Lou such a good character is that he, too, has his delusions. They’re just sweeter and less dangerous to society and the people around him than Tommy’s delusions. I honestly can’t imagine this storyline ending well, but hopeful Lou is such an appealing character that I hope against hope my worst fears aren’t confirmed.
But while the Lou and Candy plot is making me nervous, the Sheila plot is now officially just getting on my nerves. After a whole episode where the people in his life pointed out to him how alcohol makes him a jerk in quietly forceful ways, Sheila just went over the top about how Tommy’s an alcoholic, yes, but a functioning alcoholic, and he only gets to have sex with her if he’s drinking. Since all of this strange behavior popped up in the wake of Tommy taking the blame for Damien’s near death, I’m sure she’s working some sort of loopy long con on the guy, but that makes Sheila even more of a shrew than she normally is, and the character is so much less interesting as a shrew than she is as a woman getting in touch with her anger and grief. While this scene wasn’t enough to sink the episode, it did leave a bad aftertaste for the scenes immediately following it.
Fortunately, that didn’t extend to that final scene in Sean’s hospital room. With footage of his children playing on the TV (from yet another DVD Mickey made for him), Tommy downed several paper cups of whiskey, then met with Sean’s mom (played by the wonderful Kathleen Chalfant), immediately after Sean gave several gasping breaths that seemed as if he were right at death’s door. As the two joined together to say the Lord’s Prayer, footage of Tommy’s kids interspersed throughout, it was a genuinely moving and dark moment, two people backed up against the wall of life, grasping for anything to hold on to.
- I normally would complain about Janet here, but I thought she was used pretty well here. She’s always been a woman who just wanted a nice, normal life but was never able to accomplish that because of who she was and the man she married. Returning to that base level for her character is a good idea.
- Another thing I’d normally complain about that was handled pretty well here: the courtship of Black Shawn and Colleen. Seeing him turn up and do his best Sidney Poitier was terrifically funny, and the whole racially-charged conversation between him and Tommy before that scene was an amusing bright spot in a very dark episode.
- We're past the halfway point in this season now. Any predictions for how this is all going to shake out?
- “They got everything on Craig's List.”