It’s the rare episode that makes us feel bad for Tommy; usually he deserves every bit of vitriol coming at him, especially when it's in the form of metaphorical castration via Sheila and Janet. So we were surprised at the end of this week’s installment, when Tommy took a long drink after a long, frustrating day — and we kinda couldn’t blame him.
After last week’s trip to hell and back, Tommy’s still walking around in what appears to be a dream state. Two disturbing visions (bloody Sheila; shirtless Franco teaching Katie) even prompt him to ask, “Am I dreaming?” He’s determined to begin changing his ways, but he’s also suddenly given a rude awakening to the changes going on in the friends and family around him. Katie’s no longer a helpless little girl; sketchy contests are going on at her school (thankfully she’s just participating in the dance contest, not the blow-job one — leading to a hilariously believable scene of dad-daughter misunderstanding). Colleen’s consistently drunk enough to worry Black Shawn, who’s apparently got the girl’s time till puking and till bar-fighting down to a science. Sheila’s still carousing in Soho wearing off-shoulder blouses, but this time around, her interests are slightly less Tommy-centric: She’s hell-bent on getting Damian out of the firefighter’s career. Meanwhile, Franco’s not exactly reformed, but his time with Keela seems to have at least instilled a bit of fatherly wisdom in him, as we see when he gives Tommy a slightly convincing talking-to about how he’d better tell the girls and Janet his feelings, fast.
Trouble is, it’s too little too late. Tommy’s either met with laughter and ridicule — after a reasonably touching talk with Damian meant to gently talk the kid out of firefighting, Tommy’s nephew’s convinced his uncle is either drunk or on pills — or with cold, hard truth, like Janet’s: “Now, everything I do is coated in anger and cynicism and ash. I hate what you’ve made me.” Which makes for an episode that feels a little off-rhythm: swift jerks between the guys yukking it up (that whole chit-chat about jerking off and how much sin is involved) and Moments of Gravitas that somehow don’t ring very true (until someone explains to us how, exactly, Tommy’s shooting — NOT at the hands of a fellow fireman — looks bad for the house, it’s hard to take cranky Feinberg seriously).
Still, we get an intro to one issue ripe for exploration — Lou’s obvious interest in, and fear of, Tommy’s encounter with death, and a hint at Lou’s own mortality with the crack about his weight. We’ve always found Lou to be one of the shows meatier characters, and we’re intrigued to see how he’ll figure in to the redemption arc that’s been set up for Tommy this season. We’re also intrigued to see some development in Tommy and Damian’s relationship, especially after the practically tragicomic moment when Damian makes his first, breathtaking save — right before a building wall crashes on the same exact spot. We’re happy to see that the writers haven’t granted Tommy insta-forgiveness. But we’re still wary of the fact that he seems even more central than usual to the plotline. Great secondary character arcs are what have made this show so watchable — especially last season, when Tommy’s ego threatened to ruin all — and we’re hopeful that, after this introductory focus, we’ll see a bit more of Lou, Franco, and Garrity soon.
At TVSquad, Jason Hughes gets us thinking about Tommy’s current world as an “altered reality,” ie parallel to the world he was in before getting shot, but in some disturbing ways “not quite.” He also notes a relationship that’s getting more interesting and will hopefully be explored over the course of the season: the evolving one between Black Shawn and Tommy.
The AV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff makes the reasonable point that Rescue Me often works better as a collection of scenes judged as separate entities, rather than as overall episodes. The good news: most of the scenes in this episode score in the upper “B” range, among them the opening sequence with shirtless firefighters in the house and Franco’s sweet speech to Tommy; Tommy’s talk with Lou; and the firehouse scene in our video. Also, we’ve got to agree — the opening credits sequence for this show is still one of the best on TV.