I almost don’t know what to write about this week’s harrowing episode of RESCUE ME, which left me totally shaken. The tone of the show whipsawed wildly from sweetly zany to gruesome to blackly comic to sad to sentimental. Watching it was like enduring an emotional pummeling.
The episode kicked off with Sean dreaming up a variation on Singin’ in the Rain, with himself as Gene Kelly, singing and dancing — while coughing constantly. It turned out that he was choking because Uncle Teddy was holding a pillow over Sean’s face, trying to put him out of his misery. (Apparently Teddy learned his lesson well at the VA hospital!) From that comic interlude, viewers went with the Engine 62 crew responding to a traffic accident, where the hardened firemen were horrified and sickened by the sight of the broken and burned corpse of a little girl. Only Tommy was able to approach and gather the tiny body parts in a blanket. The rest of the crew was in awe of his dedication to the job. But was it courage that enabled Tommy to do his duty, or something that was broken inside him when his own son, Connor, was killed by a drunken driver? Is he that disconnected from his basic humanity? The central question of the entire five-season run — what makes Tommy tick? — was finally addressed directly when he settled in with some booze to watch home movies. In short order Tommy was visited by the ghosts of his dead son, dead cousin, dead brother and dead father. It was dad who spelled it out: Tommy is the best firefighter ever because he’s completely dead inside — “the original Iron Man” — he has no feelings anymore, and no tears left to cry. Tommy decided to test the theory by burning a hole in his leg with a blowtorch! His skin cracked and blistered, and it hurt like hell, but he did not cry.
Later, the guys were visiting Sean at the hospital when they spied some “cancer kids.” A nurse told them not stare at the kids with sad faces, because it upsets the children. While the rest of the group shambled away, Tommy went into the cancer ward and chatted up the kids, smiled and even read to them! For the second time, the guys were thunderstruck by Tommy’s interaction with children. But instead of proving how cut off Tommy is, might I suggest that Tommy’s compassion for the sick children was exactly the same emotion he demonstrated for the mutilated little girl at the beginning of the episode? And that Tommy is not as alien as he fears he is? Just because Tommy cannot cry does not mean he’s no longer human. In his own way, Tommy’s disconnect lets him make the world a little bit better place.
Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com