"Forgiven" combined the best and worst tendencies of Rescue Me into one, big mess of an episode that was still somehow satisfying. In some ways, a lot of stuff in the episode came out of nowhere, but it was still dealt with in a fairly enjoyable way. At the same time, the female characters were used execrably, which is a long-standing problem with the show, and there was a lot of shoddy plotting around the edges, plus rather poor use of Father Peter Gallagher. It's an episode I'm struggling to say a lot about because I liked moments of it, but found others pretty terrible, and most of the episode hinged on the firehouse's connection to the neighborhood, something that has never really been established before this episode, when the show apparently decided the two were tight.
Anyway, let's start with both the good and bad of the episode's main plotline, which was all about how the firehouse gets closed down by the city before the guys can even have their cookout. I kind of liked the gleeful approach toward government cutbacks here, the way that the show made it clear that the cookout was always just a stupid idea the guys came up with to distract themselves from the imminence of the ax falling. Even better was the fact that a bunch of people from the neighborhood were, apparently, just waiting for the firehouse cookout and were now shocked to find that their local firehouse was closing. This makes sense, and I liked the way the show got back into the fact that the firehouse is located in a poorer, blacker neighborhood than the cast would seem to suggest. (This is not to say that majority black neighborhoods can't have majority white neighborhoods, but the cast so rarely steps outside of the firehouse and out into their neighborhood that this still seems to come out of nowhere.) Anyway, I was with this plot right up to the people of the neighborhood protesting the closing of the firehouse. It all mostly made sense to me, even if it seemed like it had dropped in from some other show entirely every so often.
But then there's a fire that the next closest firehouse isn't responding to in time. And it's at a school. A SCHOOL. And there are STILL CHILDREN INSIDE. Here's the thing. I don't have a problem with there being a fire that the city is taking its sweet time responding to and then having the guys step in to help out, even without all of their equipment. It's a good device. But by making it a school, you pretty much stack the deck from the get-go, to say nothing of the fact that, well, if a SCHOOL FULL OF KIDS was really on fire, you'd think that would be the FDNY's priority number one, not left to languish for a bunch of ne'er-do-wells and miscreants to take care of. I don't necessarily object to the idea's prominence within the plot, but I do think there were better ways to do it than by essentially making the guys into media saints. Still, it should be fun to see the fallout from this as the video that Sheila takes hits the airwaves.
The uncomfortable realities that Rescue Me refuses to get into here are the city's need to make budget cuts. If the firehouse is reopened, then, obviously, some other firehouse somewhere will have to be cut. I don't mind the show making the point that when these cuts start to happen, it's always the poorest neighborhoods - and often the ones with the highest percentage of minorities - that lose services first. But it also doesn't seem horribly interested in the plotline beyond it being a way to break our guys apart and take away what defines them. Tonight's episode seemed to suggest that no firehouses still serving their intended function, for the most part, should close ever, and while I more or less agree with that take, I also think the show wouldn't be bothered with this at all if it weren't the firehouse our guys work at getting axed. (I reserve the right to take this back if next week is all about raising the top marginal tax rate and the Laffer curve, and in the midst of this, Lou gets out a chalkboard to graph out income tax revenues since 1915.)
So, naturally, most of the rest of the episode was about Tommy and his women and the utterly pointless "Franco has kind of a crush on Janet and he and Black Shawn had to fight it out" plot. Now, I didn't mind the way all of this ended - having Tommy and Janet get brought back together by seeing one of Connor's friends, all grown up, was very touching - but most of the way there was the usual irritating sense Rescue Me has of taking two steps forward with its female characters and then six steps back. Making Sheila someone who has collar fever and just wants to bang priests? Seriously? That's such a stupid and reductive idea, and it makes one of the show's worst characters somehow even worse. And the whole thing where Tommy's banter with the waiter irritated Janet so much that the two ended up in another of their ugly fights was, again, reductive and stupid. The show redeemed itself with the final Connor moments, but the road there was often way, way too messy.
The thing is, the show seems to be heading toward a future where the firehouse is much less important to the show's final hours (unless the protest succeeds in getting the firehouse reopened, which would make this an even stupider plot than it already seems to be). And that's not such a bad idea. At this point, the characters - particularly the guys who work at the firehouse - are far more important to the show's long-term legacy than its setting. For as much as Rescue Me could have done with the idea of the firehouse's prominence within the community or the way the guys reached out to the people around them, it simply ended up doing nothing at all. The problem with building a show around a firehouse was always that the central device of the show - the guys putting out a fire every week - was always going to be a little dull once you exhausted all possible firefighting stories. So, naturally, the show became more of a character piece, which was the right call. At the same time, the show never really expanded its universe of characters beyond the central few, and in tonight's episode, we got a sense of just how much that has been to the detriment of the show as a whole.
- I genuinely have no idea how many episodes are running this half season. I suspect nine or ten, but I don't have screeners for the next few, and I haven't seen any talk about the "season finale" anywhere.
- Another thing that was stupid: The show dealing with the consequences of Tommy's baptism of Colleen last week in such a blase fashion. At first he's in jail, then he's out. And Colleen is magically cured of alcoholism! (For now, at least.)
- That said, I laughed quite a few times at tonight's episode, so it wasn't all a loss.