We’ve finally learned what puts the fear of God in Tommy Gavin — and no, it’s not getting shot and almost dying. Colleen’s almost-fatal bender on roofied whiskey has scared Tommy sober (for now), but fully freaked him out as well. We can tell because, for most of this episode, and perhaps for the first time on Rescue Me, Mr. Gavin (with mega help from the illustrious Father Peter Gallagher) seems like the voice of reason. But before we regret writing that, let’s move on …
At the beginning of “Sanctuary,” the situation doesn’t seem entirely dire: Colleen’s alive, well, and getting drunk at Black Shawn’s place (same old, same old!), and Tommy’s momentarily getting along with Janet (“I remember everything I said and did last night — and it sucks”). It’s not long before events take a turn for the tragic: The firehouse’s first call of the day is a drunk-driving accident, a grisly scene in which the crew finds the obnoxious, still-drunk driver alive (a girl about Colleen’s age and temperament) and the passenger (a girl about Colleen’s age) most certainly dead — which doesn’t stop Tommy from feverishly trying to resuscitate her. In the words of Black Shawn, “She reminds me of someone; they both do.” Apparently Tommy sees the similarities to Colleen as well — back at the firehouse, as the next call sounds, he’s completely paralyzed, unable to get up despite Needles’s best attempts to bust his balls (by appealing to his ego).
The rest of the episode swerves sharply between the deepest of pathos and even more hilarious than usual moments, with an uneven tone that makes us unsure as to whether to laugh or gasp at some of the more dramatic moments (read: Colleen’s waterboarding in liquor). We get a great side plotline with Mikey and Garrity going to the ballet with their cancer-stricken friend Pat, in which Pat gives a fantastic tragicomic monologue about his fear of never feeling like a man again (and, thus, not being able to screw a ballerina). Damian continues to grow on us thanks to his side plot with firefighter Penny and a few moments this week when he actually sticks up for Tommy. The Gavin family returns to AA, dragging a kicking and screaming Colleen in a scene that feels simultaneously farcical and highly uncomfortable to watch. And Franco and Black Shawn’s street fight is a great set piece, showing us the guys’ rage, bitterness, fondness for old ladies’ cats, and friendly animosity toward the NYPD all at once.
But the grand lesson this week comes to us from Father Peter Gallagher (we keep forgetting his real name, and really, he’s Peter Gallagher in priest’s clothing, generally being awesome). Tommy seems to like the padre, which is good, because he’s the source of some of the truest words ever spoken on Rescue Me: “You ain’t afraid of fire … as far as fire’s concerned you got a pair of titanium testicles. So, it’s gotta be something else that’s stuck in your throat. And let me guess — karma? I got you nailed down on this one, I think.” He makes a valid point: Tommy’s always justified his own bad behavior with the fact that he saved so many lives on 9/11, until now, when, at the moment of realizing his family and friends are capable of dying, too, he chickens out on his job (at the firehouse, and as father). “Here’s a headline for you: You ain’t Jesus!” On behalf of the Gavin clan, and the Rescue Me audience, we thank Father Peter.
Of course, never one to read deeply into stark statements and always one to immediately bristle at any threat to his masculinity, Tommy takes the most extreme course of action, cornering a very reluctant Colleen in church, somehow handcuffing her to the altar (does Tommy just carry this stuff around at all times?), and ultimately practically drowning her in whiskey as part of a very twisted baptism analogy (the guy’s complex). It’s one of the most horrifying scenes on the show thus far, eliciting some very painful laughs (when Colleen says “goddamnit” and Father Peter decides she could go for another dunk) and leaving us, like Colleen, breathless. Tommy’s turned himself in to the police; Black Shawn is at Colleen’s side, along with Father Peter; and we’re knocked for a loop. So what next — Colleen becomes a Jesus freak? Will the firehouse cook-off ever happen? Till next week, we’re still regaining our breath.
Todd VanDerWerff has a theory for why all the super dramatic moments in the show lately are hitting us in a weird fashion; they’ve essentially been played out, in different ways, so many times before, that the punch isn’t quite as strong as it should be. “Rescue Me is a three-act series that ended up stuck in the end of its second act for three or four years,” he says. VanDerWerff also feels Father Peter Gallagher is a little too good to be true of a character for the show’s universe – which leads us to ponder, how would Rescue Me be different now if he were not so sympathetic to Tommy?