Welcome back, Rescue Me — over a year later, your sometimes lovable, sometimes frustrating combination of credible drama, adorable dude humor, and occasional self-righteousness is still intact! Speaking of which: We’re glad to see that Tommy is all in one piece, after last season’s cliffhanger ending that left our antihero in a pool of his own blood on the floor of the bar, shot by a grieving, suddenly vigilante Teddy. (Lenny Clarke when not funny? Kinda scary!) Tommy’s survived with naught but an injured shoulder, but as usual, things upstairs aren’t quite as healthy: As we see in the first five minutes, he died and came back again, in between glimpsing a waiting station where his fallen 9/11 comrades, led by an ever-twinkly Jimmy, wake up in a heavenly hockey rink and walk toward a bright light. But not Tommy — instead, he’s thrust by flame into a burning building, where he’s haunted by images of his lost saves and a terrifying flash of Sheila being strangled.
It’s all a lead-up to an episode finally drumming home the point that Tommy isn’t infallible, and neither is the firehouse (who knew that they had the second-fastest response rate in the city? Well, now they do). Cranky as ever, Feinberg is spouting plot device-y dialogue (“This city is in a goddamn recession! The mayor’s gonna have to close a couple firehouses!”), holding up Tommy as example par excellence of the renegade who met his match: “Guess what? He wasn’t bulletproof. And neither are any one of you assholes.” (He also seems to have demoted Needles — by the by, lookin’ good, Adam Ferrara!) During Tommy’s time in the hospital, folks seem to have been scared sober. Like, Teddy, who’s making creepy bullet-shell cufflinks, and Mick, who takes Tommy on a hilarious lesson-teaching joyride (and reminds us Robert John Burke has a hell of a lot more charisma as a fallen Irish-Catholic than as Bart Bass — we hope to see a lot more of him this season). Even the firehouse is dry. Colleen, on the other hand, is suddenly a mini-alcoholic (we can tell because she’s wearing no makeup and is dressed like a Forever 21 version of a junkie), drinking pints of vodka under Janet’s watch, and Katie’s magically transformed from a little girl scared of her dad’s drinking to an eerily composed teenager who makes Tommy a whiskey neat.
We have trouble swallowing these too-well-demarcated new plot points and the sudden reformations of so many characters. And we’re still confused as to how the guys’ paralysis while being held hostage by crazy Teddy reflects badly on the house, not to mention tiring of Sheila’s out-of-nowhere, personal-space-invading, ultimatum-making appearances. Finally, it must be said: After five seasons, Rescue Me’s 9/11 mentions are more rote than dramatically useful. Still, Tommy’s behavior may become more intriguing: He looks older and frailer, like a man walking through a living dream of some sort. He didn’t go to hell, but he’s now facing a living one, in which his daughter inherits his addiction, Sheila never stops tormenting him, and the firehouse could close. The final scene — Tommy drinking alone in church, envisioning the macho devil on his shoulder saluting his current, weaker self from the pulpit — is mystifying and disturbing. But it reminds us that soon, we get Peter Gallagher (a.k.a. the Eyebrows of Gravitas) as the priest who maybe helps Tommy see the light!
Until next week, here’s our favorite “bro-off” from the episode: