As we learned last season, during Garrity’s bout with cancer, hospitals can be good for Rescue Me — they’re the perfect setting for the blend of gallows humor and heartfelt moments that, properly balanced, can make for some of the show’s best episodes. Knowing Lou was probably not dead and more likely a heart-attack survivor (and of course we were right — seriously, how could this show go on without John Scurti?), we looked forward to what “Breakout” would bring — and we’re pleased to see that, four episodes in, Rescue Me is digging into some meatier material.
Motivated as usual by the desire to win the cook-off with their West Side rivals — which has just been moved up a week, thanks to the news that chef Lou is out of commission — the men of 62 Truck hatch a plan to get Lou out of the hospital. A great deal of hilarity ensues, mostly in the form of a firehouse debate as to whether Black Shawn or (Puerto Rican) Franco is more believable as a doctor, and of course not all goes according to plan, but there’s a silver lining to just about every mishap. Damian decides against going with the crew in favor of a date with rival firefighter Penny, which allows us to see a bit of humanity in the twerp: He reveals that he always thought his dad didn’t like him because he didn’t show enough interest in the job. Franco’s doctor act doesn’t go entirely smooth, but the lady doctor who smells a rat gets his number instead.
Most important, Garrity runs into Pat Malone — another ground-zero veteran with cancer, except his, unlike Garrity’s, is lingering and slowly killing him — and their scenes together make for some of the best in the episode. We’re consistently impressed by Steven Pasquale’s ability to shift seamlessly between Cro-Magnon idiot and believably sensitive, upstanding guy, and his moment defending the decision to break Pat out of the hospital — and his ensuing decision to take him back — is a powerful one. Also knocking us a for a loop this week: one of the best Tommy and Lou scenes yet, in which we find out that Lou, too, caught a glimpse of the other side during his heart attack — except he appears to have seen the polar opposite of what Tommy did (his mom, cupcakes, tender gestures, instead of “zombies, fear, burning”), i.e., heaven. He states point blank what we already know, but what apparently shocks Tommy: Lou’s the better person, and Tommy obviously saw the hell he’s headed for if he doesn’t shape up, especially in the fathering department.
We’re generally pleased with the development of supporting characters this week, but we’re also happy to see just about the right amount of focus on Tommy. It’s not until the last segment of the episode that we see much of Mr. Gavin, but the scenes feel particularly resonant. Tommy goes to Father Phil — played by Peter Gallagher as a charming combo of daffy, passive aggressive, regular guy, and wise — in search of answers and an easy way out of his troubles. Instead, he gets a reiteration of Lou’s lesson (he saw hell) and a directive to focus on what solidifies his all-over-the-place life: his family. Speaking of which, Janet and Franco almost kiss but don’t, even though their guilty faces have Tommy convinced the worst happened.
Like many times before, we’re left with a dialogue-free scene of Tommy drinking alone, this time in his car with the top-shelf whiskey Mick and Teddy left. And for once, this feels less like an opportunity for us to wince at Leary’s weathered mug than to contemplate what must be going on in Tommy’s head. What happens when a firefighter has to face his own mortality and fallibility? It’s a theme past Rescue Me seasons have touched on, but this episode has us hoping season six will actually be the one to truly and compellingly explore it.
At TV Squad, Jason Hughes is pleased to see the show widening its net to draw the focus away from Tommy; he also makes the good point that, though the hospital breakout made for hilarity, it was also borne of typical selfishness of the guys (they broke Lou out to win the cookout — not because they missed him).
Todd VanDerWerff continues his excellent scene-by-scene episode grading, though this one comes out with a B, an average of high marks for John Scurti’s monologue, Father Peter Gallagher’s great scene with Tommy, and assorted moments of amusingness with lower grades for random, useless, or too-wacky moments. Also, he makes the excellent point that, thank the Lord, Sheila was for once fun and not annoying this week!