Now, you have to forgive me if I need a minute to pick my jaw up off the floor after that last scene -- and I first saw it weeks ago. Here we have Tommy, still destroyed by his son's death, having just come out of a fight with his ex where she accused him of not doing all he could to save Connor, and he sees a little girl he just pulled out of a fire lying dead on a gurney -- and this time, dammit, he's not going to do anything less than everything to bring back this kid whom even the paramedics have already written off. And after furiously performing CPR for minutes (I'm ignorant on this stuff, but wouldn't he have crushed her chest doing it that hard for that long?) and having to scare the guys off with his Halligan, he somehow, miraculously, brings her back to life. And then, triumphant, he marches through the members of his crew -- all of whom, like him, have just entered a pact to quit smoking -- and, as Stereophonics' "Devil" drops off the soundtrack so all we hear is the clomp of Tommy's boots and the flare of his lighter -- he pops a cigarette in his mouth, lights it and walks away.
Over the top? Sure. Incredibly awesome? Hell, yeah. Best TV cigarette-lighting since "Two Cathedrals."
Denis Leary's career has never been about subtlety, and "Rescue Me" has never been a show that lends itself to the kind of line-by-line interpretation that, say, I've been writing about "The Sopranos" for the last three months. What you see is what you get, important points are underlined, but moments like that don't feel hamfisted -- they feel iconic.
And I love that the payoff to this heavy, heavy moment came from a funny subplot like the smoke-out plan. The moment when Chief Reilly suggests they all quit right then, followed by a pause, then Tommy's "How 'bout, like, three minutes from now?," followed by frantic puffing by all the guys, was comic perfection. And I loved Lou (should I spell it "Lieu" since his name is Kenny and the nickname is short for "Lieutenant"?) smelling the cigarette on Garrity's breath and then pretending he could identify the brand because he saw the pack on the floor.
When "Rescue Me" is really clicking -- as it was for most of tonight -- the funny and dramatic moments feed off of each other. The best episode from season one, and the one that Leary and Peter Tolan always point to as the model for what they want to do, was "Inches," where the guys are all caught up in a dick-measuring contest until Billy dies in a fire. Comedy to tragedy, and then back to funny again (sort of) when Lou/Lieu reveals that the late Billy "was packing ten" and won the contest posthumously. Tommy lighting up in that moment wouldn't have had half the power if they hadn't spent so much of the episode goofing about how hard it is for him to stop smoking.
On the other hand, you have subplots like the one about Tommy's godson being hot for teacher, and vice versa. Now, I'm all for seeing Paige Turco on my screen, as she's a good actress and now qualifies as what Lenny Clarke, in a press conference for "The Job," once said of then-ABC president Susan Lyne: "She's a hot older lady." But this show spends so much timing giving depth and heart to all the guys (even Garrity and Probie have their serious moments, though we rarely see them), while the women are all caricatures. Sheila's both a nag and a doormat, Tommy's sister is a psycho party girl, even Janet is usually portrayed in a negative light. To quote Matt's review from this morning:
Not so with the women, who are usually defined in relation to the men and often seem to embody the men's Neanderthal attitudes rather than challenging them. Tommy's ex-wife has good reason to loathe and distrust him, and her sadness is real (and sharply played by Roth). But she puts the screws to Tommy with such relish that she often seems like a divorced male persecution fantasy come to life.Mrs. Turbody isn't a person: she's a character in a Penthouse Forum letter. And I don't even want to get into what they did to Diane Farr last year; she's one of the few actors whom I've ever considered better off having gone to work on a procedural crime show.
At the moment, the female character on the show I'm most interested in is Tommy's younger daughter Katy. She had a great scene in last season's finale where her refusal to believe in the afterlife scared the pants off Garrity and New Mike, and I was intrigued by that opening scene (assuming it wasn't part of Tommy's nightmare) where she and Tommy are actually able to crack jokes about Connor's death. With this show, I can never tell what's actually supposed to be character shading and what's just a refusal to stick with a tone if it gets in the way of a good gag, but I want to see more of these two together.
Some other random thoughts:
- When the guys were freaking out about the menagerie in that one apartment, was I the only one screaming out "SNAKES IN A FIRE!"? Just me? Okay. That entire scene was really funny, especially Probie's entrance with the boa constrictor over his shoulders.
- Again, I'm really against the Mrs. Turbody story, but I loved Leary's delivery of "I got Sister Mary Shovelface, and you get Sharon Stone!" Also, his rundown of the kind of porn available on the internet was nice. Not quite up to the level of the "Happy Scrappy Hero Pup" scene from "Clerks," but close.
- Janet and Tommy's brother, eh? If it gives Dean Winters more to do, cool. I just worry that, once again, it's an excuse to make Janet look bad for having a normal emotional reaction to something.
- Does Charles Durning have some kind of deal where he has to play the father of every middle-aged male character on television? Is this like that period where Michael Caine was required to appear in every movie made between 1981 and 1987?
- Are the Chief and Rose already having an affair, or is he still trying to be faithful to his wife? I would think if they were sleeping together, we'd know (again, this is not a secretive show), but the scene where she offers to chip in for his wife's rent suggested they're on the way, if they're not there already.
- More uncomfortable woman stuff: Lou/Lieu and his fixation on his Madonna/Whore who turned out to be just a Whore. I'd rather we just forget about that story altogether.