I feel like I spend too much time being negative in these reviews from week to week, as though none of you have any idea why I'm writing about Rescue Me. Indeed, when I first applied to be a freelancer for The A.V. Club, the show I specifically wanted to write about was Rescue Me. It was coming off a couple of rough seasons, but I had heard the start of season five was much better, and I wanted to check it out for myself. There was a time when this show was one of my unabashed favorite shows on TV, and there were episodes - as recently as a couple of weeks ago - when I felt that familiar sense of watching one of my favorite shows make everything snap into place. Heading into the end of season five, I thought the show had, largely, righted itself, and even with that season's abysmal finale, I was convinced that the final handful of episodes could be something special if the show just doubled down on what it always did well. I stuck with the show not for a paycheck, but out of love for what it once was and what I believed it still could be.
But, honestly, after tonight's episode, I'm not sure how much more I can take. I'll ride out next week's finale and hope something awesome happens, but this show and I may have to finally part ways after making it almost to the end. It's been a good run. I'll always remember certain episodes and moments fondly. Most of the first season, but especially the opening of that pilot. I loved a lot of season two, as well. In fact, I'd say I liked just about everything up until the death of Connor, one of those events that seemed to send the show off on a misery bender it has never recovered from. I loved that scene in season three where Tommy realizes his brother is sleeping with his wife and then vaults across the table at him (Denis Leary's wordless close-up in that scene is a marvel of TV screen presence). And there was terrific stuff in season five, too, like Tommy starting drinking again while overlooking Ground Zero or when he wrapped that dead child up in the blanket. Hell, I even liked the search for Colleen on the beach in that one episode this season.
But, look, the show had three main thrusts tonight: Would Damien quit the force, would Janet forgive Tommy and/or trick him back into drinking, and what would happen with Tommy and Sheila? If the series is truly heading into a wrap-up of its storylines, it can't just keep rehashing the old ones without heading toward something new. I was thinking, as I watched the scene where Janet tried to trick Tommy, that it might be fascinating if he resisted her, and then I realized that it just wouldn't matter. No matter if Tommy picked up the drink and slammed it down or if he poured the drink down the drain, the show would be stuck in the same, endless gear where we wondered whether Tommy's change was truly permanent. We would get a variation on this scene in EVERY EPISODE until the finale, when we would be led to believe that whatever Tommy chose, it would be his choice for the rest of his life, no matter how preposterous that notion is on its face.
Similarly, there's no real effort to suggest anything new about the Tommy and Sheila relationship. If season five - at least at first - was a genuine attempt to move the show forward by going back to some of its earliest emotional beats, season six has been like revisiting every false note from the other three seasons over and over and over again. And it doesn't do anything new with these false notes. It just tosses them out there and suggests that we should be impressed with the way none of the storylines have moved forward on a plot or character level. It might be interesting if the show were seriously arguing that change is so hard that it's much easier to slip up, but it really seems to think that we're still as interested in all of this stuff as we were for the first few seasons (we weren't interested in it.)
And then comes the really, really, really final straw. The show sends all of the guys into a pretty harrowing fire - after Lou has a doctor's appointment where it becomes quite clear that he's too unhealthy to be fighting fires - and it's just completely obvious that the show is going to kill either Damien or Lou and probably the former. The bulk of the episode was taken up by Damien contemplating quitting, with Feinberg trying to talk him back into it, and Tommy giving him a lengthy monologue about how much better it was back when he and Damien's dad were young guys or whatever. Damien is almost out, and when he gets back in, you know he's going to die, because that is how dramatic irony works, and Rescue Me once read the dictionary definition of the term. This was so bald-faced that it was borderline fucking offensive, not because it was, like, racist or anything but because it was a crime against TV story development.
So the guys stumble ahead into the fire, and a bunch of shelves fall and land on Lou, trapping him. He's made a bad situation worse by venting when there's little to no water and he just needed some air. Now, he's stuck, and the other guys have to help him. Damien (and Franco, I think) have made it out, and the show is asking us if we really believe it's going to kill all of the guys, have Lou send them on in heroic fashion, or bring back either Damien or Franco just to drop the table saw we keep cutting to (one story above!) on one of their heads. (Hint: It's the latter, and it's Damien.) The last fucking shot of the episode is Damien getting brained by that table saw.
Here's the thing. I don't like Damien so much that I hate seeing him get killed. But the thuddingly obvious way the show did it was irritating to me as a viewer who's seen television before and offensive to me as a fan (perhaps just a one-time fan, at this point) of this show. And everything else? All of the rehashed plotlines and completely obvious scenes where we slowly realized that Damien was doomed? That was just frosting on the shit cake. I want to believe that Rescue Me can pull itself together. I hope against hope that it can head toward something interesting and vital again. But the show seems determined to keep resurrecting the skeletons in its closet. "Surprise!" Denis Leary says as he turns toward us, creepy rictus grin affixed to his face as he beats a dead horse. "IT'S THE SAME OL' SHIT AS ALWAYS!"
- Also, there was a scene that was seemingly designed to get much of the male cast to take off their shirts. Garrity was in a robe. Honestly, the robe was pretty sweet.
- Damien is not actually Tommy's son, Janet helpfully reminds us, and he can still build a relationship with Katie. GEE, I WONDER WHAT THE LAST NINE EPISODES WILL BE ABOUT?!
- I suppose at this point, it's time to start speculating about what will happen to this cast after the show is over. I think Daniel Sunjata will go on to big things. But I hope against hope that John Scurti lands the lead in a show about a TV chef who solves murders. The premise sounds atrocious, but I'd bet Scurti could make it riveting.