Though this week’s episode is titled “Forgiven,” “Forgiven?” might be more appropriate, since every moment of apparent plot resolution feels a little too good to be true. After last week’s (literally) breathless conclusion, we figured there would be hell to pay for Tommy, but five seconds into the episode he’s already out of jail, with only a momentary visit from Jimmy’s and Connor’s ghosts (with gravely disapproving looks) to show for it. Back at home, Colleen’s scared sober (her vomit-on-demand response to Tommy’s final alcoholic test is queasily entertaining) and only vaguely distrusting of her father (really? He almost drowned you, Colleen! In alcohol! In a church!), and Janet’s making goo-goo eyes and ready to go out with her husband again before he can even finish asking. All’s well that ends well, right?
Well, maybe — with a slight interruption from some very hard to believe conflict. The firehouse has been shut down, which results in some halfhearted jabs at Tommy from Needles (it’s all his fault, for sitting out that one job last week — nice try, Needles), a short bit about Mikey and Garrity’s misguided attempt to tell the higher-ups about Pat’s cancer, and an extremely stilted scene of fatherly wisdom between Tommy and Black Shawn. It’s only minutes until the crew has magically rounded up angry yet supportive locals for a scrappy protest, and Father Phil is giving the guys a twinkly talk on “collarists” (ladies who can’t resist priests — like Sheila).
It’s difficult to buy into the first two-thirds of “Forgiven.” We know the firehouse will somehow reopen (if only because the cook-off HAS to happen soon, for our sanity’s sake), so it’s difficult to watch the crew’s spontaneous school-fire save with any sense of anxiety (what a surprise — children are saved, friendship reigns, nobody’s injured, and all is right with the world). The one saving grace: an excellent moment between Tommy and Damian, when Damian confesses he’s having serious second thoughts about the job, mostly thanks to Penny (which seems like Damian’s one adult relationship lately). “You want to treat me like a son? Try acting like a father. Let me do what’s best for me.” Oooh, snap, writers! Well done.
But things improve drastically in the episode’s final act. It’s date night for Tommy and Janet, care of Lou’s amusingly well-thought-out suggestions and Tony Bennett tickets, and at first we get a typical Tommy and Janet screwed-up attempt at reconciliation (fancy Italian restaurant and snotty waiter plus Tommy’s ego equals disaster). Much like Janet, we’re fed up — until a very unexpected interaction with one of Connor’s friends, now a waiter at the restaurant, throws everyone for a loop.
With lines like “He’d probably be taller than me,” the scene could have veered into maudlin territory easily; instead, Leary and Andrea Roth underplay magnificently. Their silent ride home is extraordinarily powerful, as is their subsequent tentative, sad reunion. For once, they’re not just two people bound only by anger and carnal need — for the first time in forever, they’re emotionally honest, united in grief that’s clearly still real for both. As Tony Bennett’s voice sings “It Had to Be You” in the last few minutes (another wonderful dialogue-free Rescue Me ending with an excellent music choice), we’re pretty sure the reverie can’t last, but hopeful all the same — perhaps like Tommy and Janet, too.