Michael Wong / FX
Ben Spier
August 16, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Rescue Me

TV Show
Current Status
In Season

”Rescue Me”: Suicidal tendencies

In last night’s episode, Tommy Gavin, trying to save a life, took a plunge, only to end up trapped on a rickety fire escape. The moment was ripe with symbolism, suggesting not only his borderline-suicidal derring-do but his penchant for getting caught in his own stratagems. On another level, his leap provided a wrenching kicker to an episode that shook up a seesawing, once-vibrant series lately thrown off balance by slack writing and zigzagging plotlines.

Earlier in the episode, lifesaving intervention of another sort had been on tap, as Cousin Mick gathered an assortment of Gavins (including, incredibly, Charles Durning, drink in hand) in Tommy’s ravaged apartment to ”kill two birds with one stone” — ”the badger and the rhinoceros,” in Cousin Eddie’s succinct phrase. Tatum O’Neal was a study in quicksilver volatility as her character, Maggie, stunned the assemblage by acquiescing: ”Box me up and ship me to rehab!” Lenny Clarke’s Teddy, by contrast, remained obdurate, even after a verbal onslaught from his wife; Patti D’Arbanville all but ran away with the scene, displaying a ferocity to rival Entourage‘s Ari Gold. Throughout, the air crackled with recrimination, evasion (Cousin Eddie’s denial), and pitiless truths (choice line: Maggie’s ”We got enough drunks here to start our own AA meeting”). Given the stew of intergenerational pathologies on display, future family meetings should be something to look forward to — if Maggie and Teddy actually show.

Elsewhere, a non-lifesaving intervention led to a supercharged three-way tug-of-war among Janet, Sheila, and Tommy. On the face of it, Janet’s ruse of deploying Katy Gavin to take back little Elvis (the name is hardly a good omen, as Tommy pointed out) seemed more outlandish, and less comprehensible, than Tommy and Sheila’s adoption scheme. Why couldn’t Janet simply have found a sympathetic judge to award her custody and an alimony settlement? (Granted, that lack of regard for legal niceties puts her in the company of Tommy, Sheila, and Franco.) Plausibility aside, the drive-by snatching yielded a hilarious street set-to, with Callie Thorne shrieking, ”That’s my baby!” It also set the stage for a phone exchange with Tommy in which Janet showed her hand: She intends to use the baby (and possibly Katy) to extract money from Tommy. Strange that she should invoke Wyatt Earp and Kevin Costner (even in an episode stuffed with movie references), but it points to an implacable self-righteousness that virtually promises a coming showdown. Is Janet a ”lunatic,” as Sheila so unironically put it? Hardly.

Another battle of wills appears to be brewing with a newfound nemesis also given to movie references: Chief Feinberg. For the previous few episodes, Jerry Adler had hovered on the periphery; seeing him shed his menschy exterior to reveal a persona as hard-edged as Hesh Rabkin’s came as little surprise, but it was welcome all the same. It’s hard to tell whether his ire was stoked more by Tommy’s reckless disregard for the firefighting rule book or by Tommy’s ruining a date with his daughter to run into a burning building and get hit on by Gina Gershon. Either way, he looks to be a fresh source of firehouse tension now that Larenz Tate’s Black Sean appears to have receded into the background.

And speaking of figures on the periphery, hapless Mike finally took center stage in dramatic fashion. Effectively abandoned by Sean and Franco (who’s reeling from a slip of the tongue that cost him his relationship with Natalie), the despondent erstwhile probie, after failing to slit his wrists, finally called on Tommy, of all people, for help. Beyond demonstrating Tommy’s physically severe idea of suicide counseling, the rooftop scene allowed him to deliver a monologue on death and guilt linking Mike’s dead mother, 9/11, Connor Gavin, and his feelings about Janet. Why, then, the leap? Whether intended to jolt Mike out of his funk or to undercut the incipient sentimentality beneath their heart-to-heart, that last dramatic gesture closed the episode with a stunning image — Tommy himself hanging in the balance.

Other questions raised by that final scene: Was Tommy really swigging water? Was the Our Father prompted by fear or reawakened spiritual fervor? Also worth considering: Did Tommy switch hockey teams to honor Johnny, appease his brother’s angry ghost, or get back at the FDNY coach who sidelined him? Will Gina Gershon’s Valerie invite Tommy to leave his scroungy apartment for her animal-themed digs? What lies behind Janet’s fixation on Kevin Costner? Can we look forward to another guest cameo from Comedy Central’s Samantha Bee? Was Tommy’s encounter with the stray mutt symbolic? And lastly, does Chief Feinberg go commando?

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