A-

Rescue Me: "Zippo"

Well, at least it wasn’t Janet.

I say this with full knowledge that Rescue Me could figure out a way to completely undercut everything that it’s built up in this episode. There could be a last second reversal in one of the last two episodes where, yes, it WAS Janet that had the affair with Jimmy, and it will send Tommy into a spiral of despair, and all will be lost. But the show didn’t go the obvious route in this regard, at least. Janet did sleep with Jimmy, but they slept together before Tommy and Janet were married, when the two were on some sort of unofficial break.

Tommy’s evidence for thinking Janet the woman Jimmy cheated on Sheila with mostly consists of the fact that Janet liked Sleepless in Seattle. Jimmy’s lover gave him a Zippo lighter with the Empire State Building on it as a gift, and that building, of course, prominently featured in that film. That Sheila seems to goad Tommy on toward believing that Janet was Jimmy’s lover is in character, I suppose, but it also feels like the show trying too hard to fake out the audience, even if it immediately follows that scene with one where Jimmy’s ghost says categorically that it wasn’t Janet.

All that said, though, the scene where Tommy and Janet go out to dinner, Janet assuming that Tommy has taken her out to announce his decision in regards to their relationship, was one of the better scenes between the two in a while. One of my favorite things about the show and Denis Leary’s performance is the way that Tommy’s anger is given room to build and build and build until it simply and completely explodes. That look on Tommy’s face where you know that something is just going to break inside of him and spill out all over is just terrific. Indeed, one of my favorite scenes in the show comes early in season three, when Tommy figures out that his brother and Janet are sleeping together over a family dinner and lets his rage build until it blisters. This scene was a rather tamer version of that one, but still, Tommy throwing an ashtray through a glass door was just impeccably timed and built to. Check out how the show builds this tension by sending Tommy outside into the street to stew and then back into the restaurant, cigarette still blazing, every little annoyance getting between him and the object of his wrath, then lets it build even further, past where you think he’s going to burst, until he hurls that ashtray. Great stuff.

That said, and I may be totally off-base here, but I think the show is trying to at least make us think that Kelly (the Maura Tierney character for those of you still confused by her having a name) was Jimmy’s lover. Part of this may just be my critic brain working overtime to tie Kelly into the master narrative more thoroughly and create a parallelism between the early episodes of the season, which were often all about Jimmy, and these latter episodes, which slip in and out of being all about Kelly. In addition, the law of economy of characters requires that Kelly have more to do with the plot than just being a mysterious woman with a mysterious box. I’m not completely sold on this theory at present, and I’ll admit a lot of it is based on Kelly using what looked like a Zippo at episode’s end and drawing specious connections, but I kind of like the weird, messy complications it would create for all of the characters, even if it even happening would be completely out of nowhere. Though, that said, am I crazy for thinking the show WANTS me to think this?

The rest of “Zippo” was largely enjoyable. We got a nice scene of Lou enjoying something that very much seemed to approach marital bliss (though I’m more and more worried that this can only end poorly after this scene). The scene at the bar with the Gavin family wasn’t too irritating, and it renewed the Garrity and Maggie hatred, which was always a fun undercurrent in the mostly undercooked fourth season. The Sheila and Tommy scene felt like it hit all of the same beats that their scenes have hit over the past few weeks, but this was made up for by the scene with Janet, which had some new information in it and ended with the amusing little gag of the cops hitting on her.

My other favorite thing in the episode was probably the whole opening sequence at the grocery store. I love when the series takes the characters on field trips out of the firehouse and into the everyday world, and their visit to the supermarket while Lou prepared for Mexican night was one of the better ones. It had basically nothing to do with anything, but it was completely entertaining to watch. Even the opening shot was terrific, the hazy billows of smoke accompanied by Lou wondering where Tommy was revealing themselves to be the steam escaping the freezer section and hitting the air, floating out around the guys.

It just got better from there, as the clash between the guys in their firemen attire and the everyday ordinariness of the store played for some great laughs. The guys talked about their personal lives, almost as if they were at one of the fires where they usually do this, but then, when a thief stole the last avocadoes, which Lou needed to complete his recipes, the guys resolved to make something of a citizen’s arrest. Sure, seeing them tear up the store was pretty predictable, but the weird parkour riff of the whole sequence, with the thief bouncing off of grocery shelves, scattering their wares, and vaulting over Lou at full-tilt was just fun to watch, as was the final moment when Tommy stopped the guy by tackling him in a flying dive.

I’ve been having some issues with committing to Rescue Me all season, probably because the show has seemed to be headed somewhere great in the past and has flopped at the last second. There’s still time for this season to utterly dissolve into misery porn or something of the like, but the series has rewarded my faith in it this season, for the most part. There was that shaggy patch in the middle there, but the show has mostly been taking its characters seriously and coming up with interesting situations to put them in. As we head into the final two episodes of the season, I’m not entirely sure where we’re going, but I have faith that where we’re headed is at least going to be interesting, and I’m not sure I had that a few weeks ago.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

  • Because I spent most of my time speculating about Kelly’s role in Tommy’s past, I didn’t get to ladle out the traditional praise on Tierney. But it bears repeating that she’s taken a character who could be tiresome – yet another woman interested in Tommy – and made her something of a livewire. Tierney’s a funny, funny actress, and the world is better for having her in it.
  • At this point, I’ll say that I don’t have screeners for the final two episodes of the season, and it seems unlikely that I’ll get them. To that end, we’ll probably have to put up the reviews pretty late in the next two weeks. Here’s hoping the episodes live up to the season that preceded them.
Filed Under: TV, Rescue Me

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