There’s a pretty interesting idea at the center of “Initiation,” one that helps the episode's numerous vignettes string along pleasantly enough. What if everyone was like Tommy Gavin?, the episode asks, prompted by a speech from Garrity about how glad he was to be alive when he left the hospital, could see the blue sky and feel the wind on his face. Spurred on by this, some of the other guys decide to throw caution to the wind and just live life big. This is all well and good when they’re drinking like fish at a memorial for a firefighter who died on Sept. 11, but when they plunge into a life-threatening situation after Mike thinks he hears something or someone, it doesn’t end nearly as well. And the look on Tommy’s face when he sees that everyone is kinda sorta trying to be him is amusing as well, a glum look of self-recognition.
The initiation the title referred to, of course, was Damien’s initiation into the house as the new probie. If Rescue Me is going the predictable route, Damien is almost certainly marked for death after this episode (when everyone reiterated their promises to Sheila that the kid would certainly not die), and when and if that happens, it will likely be eye-roll worthy (Rescue Me rarely does these kinds of BIG, DRAMATIC DEATHS well). But for right now, the storyline is pretty good. The guys have needed someone to officially pick on since Mike graduated out of probie status, and Damien, with his cocky attitude, makes a pretty good target for them to focus their hijinks on. Damien’s got that cocksure way about him that a lot of kids his age have, and seeing everybody take the piss out of him (as the Brits might say) is fun, particularly when they mess up the kitchen and make him clean it up.
This initiation also raises some interesting questions about whether or not Tommy is going to let his duties as a firefighter supersede his duties as part of Damien’s family or vice versa. When he makes Lou pull Damien out of the burning building near episode’s end, I thought perhaps this was how all probies would be treated, but Needles makes it clear that that’s not necessarily the case, that Tommy’s preferential treatment of the kid means he’ll have to fall under the purview of Lou from now on, which, of course, goes against what Tommy told Sheila (hell, what the whole house told Sheila) would be the case. It seems fairly obvious what this is all building to (see above), but the conflicts before the seemingly predetermined conclusion are interesting enough that I’m engaged for now.
This was a surprisingly Tommy lite episode. The guy was around, certainly, and he did everything from get in a fight with a politician to having lots of sex with Sheila involving her in a variety of costumes, but for the most part, this episode turned itself over to some of the other storylines from the supporting players that have been kind of in the background of the last few episodes. Garrity’s still on the mend, but in this episode, he got more to do, returning to the firehouse to share that monologue (a really well-written one, even) about how good it felt to be living and his desire to live life to the fullest (come to think of it, maybe Garrity’s going to die in some sort of thirtysomething style twist). Then, he said goodbye to Terrence and his mother, giving Terrence a hug and learning from his mom that, yeah, she loves Terrence more. It was the sort of queasily uncomfortable admission this whole storyline has done well, and it was played perfectly by Steven Pasquale and Kathleen Chalfant.
Then there’s Franco and Carla (I think? I can never pick out her name for some reason), where my concern about the storyline going to clichéd places turned out to be ill-founded. While I still think the storyline tiptoed up to some weird lines, at least in this episode, it was pretty clear that because the character of Carla didn’t quite measure up to the guys’ limited worldviews, they weren’t sure what to make of her, instead of having their thoughts validated. I did like Carla twisting the question of her sexuality back on Franco, suggesting that maybe he should be concerned, since he likes being thrown around by a girl so much. I imagine this is the point when the show will be done with the storyline, and if that’s the case, that’s fine by me.
If this episode sounds more loosely plotted than usual, it really, really was. But because it had that central question of whether or not life should be lived to the fullest, as Tommy does, that seemed less important than it might in other weeks. A case in point is that long, rambling scene at the dedication of the memorial for the dead firefighter, which wandered all over the place, with Lou talking about the widow’s new breasts in front of her new husband and Franco and Black Shawn clinking bottles as they talked about the Garrity way of living and Tommy getting offended at the politician who showed up to transparently hobnob for votes on the back of others’ memories of their pain. (And Tommy’s speech before he got the guy in a headlock was pretty good too.)
It’s the stuff between Tommy and his women that, as usual, got a little old. The choice to shoot that sexual encounter between Tommy and Sheila in one, sped-up wide shot was rather inspired (even if it made me think a little of when Homer tells Mel Gibson that everyone laughs when things are in fast motion), but everything else around it, from Sheila doing a little cheer for Tommy in a cheerleading uniform to Jimmy showing up to bless this union (yet again) but admonish Tommy to tell Sheila the truth about how Damien was now under the care of Lou was stuff we’ve seen time and time again. And this is to say nothing of the scene where Tommy tried to hug Janet, as if trying to live out Garrity’s advice in his own way, and she just told him that she hates him too much to be interested in him for anything but sex. Ugh.
To a degree, these stall tactics are probably necessary at this point in the season for Rescue Me, but they’re also a wee bit tiring. I’m longing for some forward momentum on something, but all I get is one step forward in one storyline and four steps back in another. Here’s hoping that these last two episodes have just been putting the pieces in place for a really terrific last seven.
- Wasn’t Maura Tierney supposed to show up at some point? Hmmmm …
- Nice to see the cancer kids stealing the fire truck was worth a throwaway line in this episode and little more. It’s stuff like this that makes this show feel more haphazardly thrown together than it likely is.
- Once again, I’ve reached the end of my screeners. We’ll see if FX comes through with more (I’m doubtful) or if we’re going to be getting these write-ups up super late.