Jimmy Keefe is the ghost that animates Rescue Me, a show uniquely obsessed with ghosts, with the way we force ourselves to move on after tragedy. “Jimmy” is the first episode of the show’s fifth season that has mostly gotten rid of the chains from prior seasons holding it back, and that ends up being just the reinvigorating boost the series needed because this is the best that Rescue Me has been in quite some time. Even the relatively disconnected Sheila and bar plotlines worked pretty well tonight, while the main story – Tommy and Lou watching a pile of DVDs of Sept. 11 B-roll footage at the behest of the French journalist – was shot through with grief and emotional immediacy.
Take the scene of poor, downtrodden Lou in the kitchen. He’s spent so long pining after women way, way out of his league and getting jerked around by them that when he indicates his intentions to win over the journalist, it seems like the show is going back to that well again. But something curious happens. The 3.5 seconds of the footage that Lou is able to watch unlocks something within him, and he’s writing again. The words are pouring out of him (46 pages, to be exact). And, what’s more, it’s GOOD. The journalist is suitably impressed by it, and he’s beginning to realize that not only does he have a shot at publication but maybe even a shot at sleeping with her.
Lou’s writing was an ample font of jokes in the show’s early days, but it didn’t really jibe with what we knew of the character, who seemed too sensitive, too tuned in to be THAT bad of a writer. So, on the one hand, it’s not surprising that just seeing the footage would cause Lou’s writing to come tumbling out again and at a much higher level of raw emotional intimacy. On the other hand, when Tommy starts to mock Lou (something that’s been building all episode, since Tommy thinks Lou’s exploiting the tragedy to win the woman’s heart), it feels like the show is going back to the easy jokes. But it’s really, really not. Lou stands from the table, his notebooks scattering to the floor, and he berates Tommy for mocking him for only watching a few second of footage. The ghosts that follow Tommy around are only the most obvious manifestations of the horror of that day. Lou’s living with his own ghosts. We just don’t really get to see them.
This episode, actually, may have been so good because it was almost a Lou episode, even if most of his scenes were shared with Tommy. If I’ve been arguing that John Scurti is Rescue Me’s secret weapon, this episode was proof positive that that theory is correct. From the eerie scene of the guys trying to save a man whose pickup was disappearing into a sinkhole full of boiling water which gained much of its tension precisely from the fact that it was LOU in trouble to the early scene of Lou and Tommy arguing about cleaning up their apartment, Scurti got a chance to play pretty much everything, and the show, which has often forced him to be the clown, was sympathetic to him in almost every situation. The show is only as good as it gives its supporting cast, and the level of material dished out to Scurti here was high.
It’s not as though Tommy doesn’t have anything to do, though. He sees something in the footage as well: Jimmy. When he tries to tell people, they think he’s nuts and seeing dead people again, but he knows that’s Jimmy, and, worse, he knows that Jimmy shouldn’t BE there, should have been dead when that footage was filmed. To make matters worse, the only person who’s even remotely sympathetic to what he’s saying is a psychic who sure seems to be a fraud but also knows about Tommy seeing Jimmy in the footage, something he hasn’t told anyone. With all of the other irons he has in the fire (from his ex-wife telling him that his idea to have their daughter sleep with Black Shawn to the AA member he’s sponsoring needing a job), it probably seems to him as though he’s completely losing it, especially when he starts to see the same footage on the TV in the back of his cab, but at the same time, he knows what he’s seeing, and he knows there must be some sort of answer.
If there’s one thing in this episode that keeps me from fully embracing it, it’s the idea of a psychic who’s faking it but is, also, actually a psychic. I can go along with that sort of thing on Lost, but even with all of the dead people following Tommy around, this show has always been fairly grounded in a recognizable reality, and it always seemed to me as though the dead were speaking to him as a manifestation of his own survivor’s guilt after all of the trauma that surrounded him. Granted, the show has never made this explicitly clear, but it tied in so well with the show’s central theme of dealing with loss that it was the sort of thing I assumed to be true. Maybe Tommy really IS psychic, and he’s been sent to help us all deal with our psychic wounds from Sept. 11 John from Cincinnati-style, but I’m apprehensive about this development, to say the least. That said, I dug the way the show made the actress playing the psychic, Stephanie March, look a lot like Patricia Arquette. That’s the kind of goofy little joke the show does well.
Over in the bar plotline, the guys finally got their new place open (and Tommy got his AA member pal a job there, which turned out to be a terrible idea) and dealt with having to grease the right palms to keep from being closed down and creating buzz for the place by being suitably mysterious. The plot remains a pretty obvious way to deal with giving the supporting players SOMEthing to do, and it didn’t work as well this week as it did last week, when it was good for some easy laughs, but the guys are still enough of a pleasure to hang out with and it takes up so little time that I can’t be too upset.
It was Sheila, though, the other character still dealing with the death of Jimmy, who finally re-justified her existence in this episode, talking to her therapist about Tommy and realizing that all of the rage she’s turned towards Tommy is really rage she’s still holding against Jimmy. Sheila was a good character in the first season because she and Tommy could be linked together by just how much they both missed the same man, and the two are linked in that fashion again, one by the words of her therapist that cause her to light pictures of her former lover aflame, the other by the eerie sensation of seeing a dead man where he’s not supposed to be.
- Sean’s tale of performance anxiety messing up his masturbation was amusing enough, but it sure seemed like it was missing an ultimate punchline.
- I’ve been failing to give the show props for the way it uses its rescue sequences every week as a kind of commentary on the rest of the episode’s action. In past seasons, I was a little irritated by how the rescue sequences didn’t ever really add up to anything, but I think that’s kind of the point now. Firefighting is the only time these guys really feel like they know what they’re doing. It’s in their personal lives where they fall apart.
- I clearly need to start telling people I could beat them with “one ball tied between my sack” more often in my day-to-day life. Sounds like something my mom would really enjoy hearing.