There's a scene midway through "Perspective" where Lou berates Tommy for the way he seems completely unable to grasp that not everything in life revolves around him, and it may as well be actor John Scurti berating actor/creator Denis Leary for all of the ways the show has let down the supporting cast in the recent past. But if the last few episodes have seemed like a good faith effort on the part of the show's writers to diversify the plotlines just a bit, this episode seals it. As the episode caps off a loose trilogy of stories about how footage of the dead Jimmy Keefe turning up in Sept. 11 footage in a place he shouldn't have been, it also signifies, in a big way, that Rescue Me is back to the quality level of its prime.
"Perspective" is a little heavier on Tommy plotlines than the last two episodes were, but that's all right because they're really interesting Tommy plotlines, returning both to the story of his struggle with his alcoholism and the general theme of the guy being able to gain any perspective on his own life, to step outside of his own shoes and realize what the other people in his life are going through. The title of the episode is completely apropos. Not only does Tommy find himself forced to examine things through the eyes of his friends and family, but Sept. 11 conspiracy theorist Franco finds himself in a similar situation. Furthermore, the episode plays with a variety of perspectives on the events of Sept. 11, as the show continues to pick at that scab and see what lies beneath it.
Let's start with the one predictable and disappointing note here: Was it supposed to be at all surprising that the French journalist's true intentions with her Sept. 11 project were to try to get a greater understanding of why, from her perspective, the U.S. went a little nuts after the attacks and squandered worldwide goodwill in favor of pursuing the war in Iraq? The show placed this at the end of the episode like it WAS supposed to be surprising, but the very fact that the character was French (and given associated U.S. stereotypes about the French in relation to the buildup to the Iraq war) suggested that this was her true motivation. What's more, I'm not so sure that she would just break like that and launch into her OWN monologue. If nothing else, the character has been revealed to be an excellent listener, and I'm not sure she'd shatter her own objectivity like that.
To pretty much everything else in the episode, though, I say, "Excellent work, show." Everything Scurti does, as always, is gold, from the way he lays into Tommy about how he isn't just someone orbiting around Tommy in the universe of Gavin to the way he spits what's in his mouth back out to add "Chief" to the end of his little snap back at Needles. Similarly, Daniel Sunjata, an actor who seems to coast along on soulfulness a lot of the time, gets a lot of great stuff to play here. That scene where Needles storms into the kitchen to confront Franco about his extra-curricular activities was the rare dramatic scene set in that setting, and it played off the way that scenes there are usually easygoing and humorous to good effect.
After complaining last week that Franco's Sept. 11 conspiracy plots were going nowhere, this week's episode shows just how much his beliefs hurt some of the people in his life and how oblivious he seems to this. (And I do wonder if Tommy's speech to Franco about how when he's out in the open, he represents 62 Truck and the FDNY wasn't a bit of metatextual commentary on Sunjata's public discussion of his views on Sept. 11.) That scene where Sheila castigates Franco for turning her husband's death into a hobby cuts straight to the core of why so many people are so emotionally resistant to conspiracy theories: They often seem to negate the very real pain people feel about major world events, trying to replace that pain with a righteous anger that often seems directed at targets too big to be believed.
But Franco's heresies also allowed for the guys to band together, when the firemen on another truck get wind of what the guy's doing (since his photo from last week's episode turns up on a 9/11 Truther Web site). They come over to the firehouse, spoiling for a fight, and after Tommy tries to mediate a new peace and it seems as though things might be defused, a fight breaks out anyway, and the guys all rally behind Franco, even if it leads to a lecture from Needles that prompts him to make the realization that maybe he needs to be an asshole to be a good chief. This also seems like a promising development. The show has often seemed unsure of what to do with Needles, and, indeed, he's barely been in this season so far. Making him more of an antagonist is as good an idea as any, played out though it may initially seem.
Finally, there's Sean, who's dealing with the cancer diagnosis via the famed rollercoaster of emotions. Since he's unable to tell his friends what's up (due to his insurance issues), he finds himself exploding somewhat inappropriately during the Sept. 11 fight, skimming money from the bar and telling the doctor that he cried. "That was weird," he says, and it's clear just how little of this he's processing in his attempts to minimize just what's going on before he can be removed from duty.
But the episode kept circling back to Tommy, defiant, angry Tommy, the guy who shoves his wife angrily against a fire truck and acts like it's no big deal. The guy who takes even the slightest criticism of himself from Lou and turns it into an excuse to subject the entire firehouse to their bickering while on the way to put out a blaze. The guy who seems more embarrassed than anything to be given the chip marking his one year mark of sobriety but later in the episode downs the drink he orders at a restaurant to keep from drinking when the journalist asks if he wants to see his cousin again (and this is the only way he knows how).
Tommy keeps trying to inject perspective into the discussion throughout the episode - like when he tells the journalist just how much of an eyesore the World Trade Center towers really were - but more often than not, he's given a leveling dose of it himself. That's why that scene where Lou rips into him is so important. Rescue Me, as much as anything else, is about the mythology one man has constructed around himself. The only way it works is if we know the show knows that mythology is as much bullshit as anything else.
- At the risk of starting a flame war, let's discuss some of the political implications of this season of the series. The show has always assiduously avoided the politics of Sept. 11, but it definitely injects them in this episode, what with the journalist's speech and Franco's continued discussion of 9/11 Truth talking points. Leary himself is a fairly liberal Democrat (if the few times I've heard him speak on the subject are any indication), but Tommy Gavin's political views seem decidedly more conservative. Similarly, I can't decide if the show is proud of Franco for questioning authority or slightly scolding of it, though "Perspective" would seem to indicate it's the latter.
- A commentor last week asked if it really made that big of a difference if Jimmy died in Tower One or Tower Two. From the point-of-view of us in the audience, maybe not, but from the point-of-view of everyone who knew and loved him, it makes all the difference in the world and makes them re-examine their actions that day. Similarly, it functions as a useful way to force the characters and us to confront just how much we've tried to forget the events of the day.
- "By phone. When out of state. In a room with no windows and open to the street. And you know he's still gonna find you."
- No photos for this episode (thanks, FX!), so please enjoy giant Franco.