OK, that’s maybe a BIT harsh, but that’s sort of how I feel after “Drink,” an episode that indulged more in the sorts of things I’ve found irritating about Rescue Me both this season and throughout its run instead of in the sorts of things that made so much of this season so riveting. At the same time, I reserve the right to completely reverse my opinion of this episode if the show actually goes through with what it promises in the closing scene, which would be a truly daring way to head into the final season (which the upcoming sixth season was revealed to be between last episode and this one). That said, though, I can’t imagine even a network as willing to let shows take risks as FX allowing a show to kill off the main character heading into the final 19 episodes, even if it was on a show where said character could continue to appear to people as a ghost. It’s just not gonna happen.
If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the false cliffhanger. If there’s one thing Rescue Me loves, it’s a false cliffhanger. You could see where this has come between us in the past. Basically, a false cliffhanger is a plot point that seems to promise that characters you know are not in danger are in danger, potentially losing their life or limbs. The best cliffhangers promise to change everything, but in a way you can find believable. It’s the people from Lost getting off the Island or Buffy having to send Angel to Hell or a mystery springing up not around whether J.R. would live or die but around who shot him. Rescue Me’s most egregious example of this sort of cliffhanger was probably in its third season, when it sent the house Tommy and Sheila were in up in flames while both of them were passed out. It’s more infuriating than anything else because you know no one will die. It’s just false drama.
But, then, TV is all about figuring out ways to head back to the status quo. The status quo is a big magnet, and dramatic storylines on TV are like ball bearings desperately trying to roll away. You know where it’s all headed in the end, for the most part, but you admire the hell out of them for trying. So, to a degree, you have to accept that Rescue Me is going to do stupid shit like this from time to time and know that it will be doing something interesting just around the corner. But it’s equally irritating to have to sit there and watch the show act as if Tommy might actually die when you know he’s not going to.
On the other hand, this was a better cliffhanger than the one in season three, simply because it seems like it’s being set up to teach Tommy some sort of lesson. It comes at the hands of Teddy, who’s angry about how he’s lost Ellie, thanks to Tommy talking him off the wagon and dragging her with him. Teddy’s speech about karma, about how Tommy can do whatever he wants and nothing seems to befall him, is pretty good, and if I thought it was heading to a place where Tommy was going to legitimately try to change his life, I might rank it more highly. But there are still 19 episodes between us and the end of the show, and a functional Tommy is, too often, a boring Tommy, and that means that the show will have to have him back off the wagon for much of the final season. So while it was interesting to see a sober Tommy gradually lose himself in the liquor again earlier this season, I can’t imagine it will be as interesting to watch him do so as he recuperates from being shot.
But I wouldn’t be so irritated by this if the rest of the episode didn’t feel like such a long, slow leak of tension. We’re back to Janet and Sheila fighting over Tommy, easily the show’s worst element, and while the series has learned to balance this out with some genuine darkness from Tommy to show why these women would behave like this. In particular, seeing Tommy lock up Sheila after she took Kelly away from him, leaving the key for her son to find in her breasts (and thus playing up the weird sexual tension between the two) worked pretty well, and would have worked better if it hadn’t felt like a repeat of a million other scenes from this series. Then you had something nice like the shot of Kelly watching the two battle it out with a look of supreme sadness in her eyes, but you knew that it meant nothing because the series has proved it can write compelling female characters with Kelly and is now choosing to continue chasing the irritating farce of the Janet and Sheila storyline down the rabbit hole.
Or how about how the ensemble cast completely and utterly disappeared into the background in this episode, all of their storylines completely closed off after the last few episodes? Garrity and Mike, for instance, barely had any lines in this episode, while Franco was pretty much just there to let Teddy in the bar. After doing such interesting and vital things with all of these characters, the show just seemed like it completely lost interest in them around episode 15, as it went back to a well it long ago drank dry. There’s nothing new to say about the Tommy-Sheila-Janet triangle, outside of the weird possibility that Sheila and Janet might finally team up against Tommy (an idea the show quickly abandons every time it comes up).
It’s not that anything in this episode was so bad as to be completely untenable. It’s just that the entirety of the episode was a long, disappointing sigh of a conclusion to a season that’s been pretty damn good in places. A season finale doesn’t need to be wall-to-wall excitement, but it needs to have some sort of dramatic heft to it, a sense that this is all summing up what came before and pointing forward to the future. Last week’s episode, a few tiny scenes aside, did a pretty good job of suggesting that Rescue Me was heading in an exciting new direction. This episode, instead, felt like an episode from the season’s long middle, when nothing really changed and we kept watching things just kind of rattle around in place. And then there’s that cliffhanger. Again, if Rescue Me actually kills off Tommy, I’ll be impressed that they had the stones. But I can’t imagine there’s any way they did so.
- Even though literally nothing of note happened, I couldn’t go lower than a C+ because I rather enjoy hanging out with these characters from week to week. Which is something, I suppose.
- Since we’re heading into the final season, how do you think those final 19 are all going to play out? I’m going to predict that the series ends with Tommy miserable and alone.
- Credit where it’s due: The final scene between Tommy and Kelly was pretty well done, even as it felt rather abrupt.
- “Evil smile. Complicated eyes. Girl hair.”