“Head” is an enormously strange episode of Rescue Me. Outside of one device, I’d hesitate to call it “bad.” It held my interest throughout, and there were some very good scenes as well. But the whole thing was based on a premise so ludicrous that I found it hard to take it seriously. Look at it this way: The Tommy and Franco conflict feels forced by the writers in ways that aren’t entirely natural, but at least it’s been brewing for a while now. When it pops up, it’s not my favorite thing in the world, but I also don’t get too upset by it (though I do hope it doesn’t turn into a major plot point for the rest of the season). But the story of the reporter? That’s just too stupid for words, and I don’t entirely understand why the show is doing it—particularly because “Head” more or less dispenses with it entirely.
Here’s what I can’t get past: I don’t buy that any of this would have happened. No one on 62 Truck—least of all Tommy—broke any laws. These guys aren’t covering up multiple murders or fraud or faulty firefighting technique or anything like that. They’re covering up a bunch of ludicrous plot developments from seven seasons of a show that always saw the “melodrama” button, shrugged, and leaned on it as heavily as it could. The idea that Tommy was sleeping with his dead cousin’s wife? Why would anyone care about that? And the idea that Franco was interested in conspiracy theories? I guess I could see that being a kooky brief on page seven or something, but it’s hard to imagine it igniting any interest (even Pam the reporter shrugs it off). There’s really nothing here that would warrant anyone’s attention. Even Tommy’s initial interview might be a brief hit on YouTube but would eventually fade into the woodwork very quickly.
The only way this story makes any sense is if Tommy Gavin is a celebrity. Then people might care about him sleeping with his dead cousin’s wife. Then they might care about him flipping off the camera or having friends who believed in Sept. 11 conspiracy theories. Then they might care that another of his friends married a hooker and another a Russian mail-order bride. This is often a problem in fictional plots about how the media operates (Aaron Sorkin runs into this a lot on his shows). There’s this idea among many in Hollywood that what the media most wants to do is turn up gossip about people. And I wouldn’t disagree with that. But the people it’s turning up gossip about are the rich and powerful and famous. Actors. Politicians. Athletes. The media doesn’t bother with random firefighters—unless the details of the story are just so salacious that they are hard to believe—because nobody cares if one of them has an affair. It doesn’t affect my life if a firefighter cheats on his wife; if a famous actor does it, maybe I’ll cluck my tongue and shake my head at Hollywood’s depravity.
Mostly the story seems to be a way for the show to pull out all of its half-abandoned storylines and say, “Hey, look at all this shit we did over the years. Wasn’t it weird?” Franco’s long-abandoned daughter comes up. Sean’s marriage to Maggie does as well. And there’s a section where Pam is rattling off weird plot developments from seasons ago, and I think it’s supposed to be funny because they’re all so ludicrous (at least I hope it is), but it also feels a touch desperate, as if the show is realizing how many disparate threads it’s left drifting in the wind over the years as it tries to bring them all together in time for the big finish. I chuckled at some of these lines, but I also found myself wincing at the fact that the show was wasting so much time on this here so close to the end.
For the most part, though, the episode didn’t bother me too much. It was based on a ridiculous premise, but I did like the way that the threat of the reporter brought all of the characters together to work toward one common goal. In particular, I liked that the episode gave Sheila something to do, as a proactive Sheila is almost always the best Sheila, and the show has used this version of the character too little. The scene where she explained to Pam just why she kept having sex with Tommy was the best of the episode and highlighted the show’s nicely drawn version of grief as something that you don’t really get over but find a way to live through. I also liked how saucily pleased with herself she was as she dropped the knowledge of Mike’s dalliance with the guy in headquarters on the others working there. (And how ludicrous and convenient was THAT plot point?)
If there’s a big problem here, though, it’s the fact that the show has returned—outside of Sheila’s gleeful rampage in the final act—to its weirdly misogynistic ways. This is particularly disappointing in a season where we’ve gotten to see so much of Kelly, easily one of the best female characters the show has ever created. Yet here we are, right back with yet another shrieking harpy of a woman who wants nothing more than to cut Tommy’s nuts off and drive around with them hanging from her rearview mirror. Pam is, quite simply, an awful character. She was vaguely tolerable when she was a story device, but now that she’s pursuing stories that don’t really matter and just generally behaving like a vengeful bitch, there’s nothing about her that’s at all realistic or redeeming. She’s just another horrible woman on a show that’s been too full of them over the years. And then there’s the scene where Tommy gathers the women in his life and sits them all down for a monologue where he tells ‘em how it’s gonna be like Marshall Matt Dillon or something. Denis Leary’s delivery in this scene is particularly odd, all stutter-y and halting and weird, and it’s just a poorly written, unfocused scene.
And, see, I said I didn’t really mind this episode, yet here I go again. Watching this show for its plotting has never been the best idea, but back in the first few seasons, the show was enormously good at laying out compelling characters who got into interesting situations and then improvised their way out. In addition, the themes of grief and sorrow and rage were so compelling that they patched over any shoddy storytelling. But as the show has gone on, everybody’s been reduced to the lowest-common denominator version of themselves, and all the show has to rest on are its (admittedly strong) thematic elements. This leads to the point where an episode like “Head,” which isn’t too bad as you’re watching it, keeps falling apart the more you think about it.
- There’s a cool guy with a leather jacket on the NYPD who keeps having fights with Tommy and his name is Todd? CLEARLY THIS IS A SHOUT-OUT TO ME. Leary and Peter Tolan obviously know how super-cool I am.
- The Rescue Me session at TCA press tour was legitimately one of the highlights of the two weeks I was there, and it reminded me of why I love this show when I do love it. And others I know who’ve seen the finale say that the season closes strong. So I will maintain hope, even if the first half of this season has been a disappointment.
- Hey, I know that these characters wouldn’t be up on the latest terminology, but making Mike declare himself as definitively “gay” kind of irks me. I thought he was bisexual? Now it seems like he’s turned almost completely into a stereotypical gay guy who fights fires in his spare time not planning weddings. A firefighter who happens to be gay? That would be an interesting, awesome character to explore. But it seems like the writers are too often taking the easy way out with Mike.
- This episode also answers all of your questions about why Sean’s girlfriend smells so bad after sex: It’s her butt! She gets gas after penetration. Fortunately, Sean’s penis is small enough that it doesn’t create as terrible of smells as the center for the Knicks she once dated.
- "I think you have a great little penis."