RESCUE ME 6.1: Back from the brink…

The new season of RESCUE ME opens with a harrowing vignette in which Tommy dies — and then things go downhill from there. All of which is a good thing.

When last we saw Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary), he was lying in a pool of his own blood on the floor of the bar, bleeding out after being shot by a vengeful Uncle Teddy (Lenny Clarke). The story picked up with Tommy dying in the back of an ambulance, then jumped ahead to his recovery.

Viewers got to experience Tommy’s vision along with him as his recent life flashed before his eyes; a ho-hum near-death experience. But that culminated in a tableau of body bags arrayed on the foggy ice of a hockey rink. One by one, the bags opened to reveal firefighters, and a confused Tommy found himself among the brave men who were killed on 9/11. Jimmy (James McCaffrey) was there, and encouraged Tommy to join him in the light with the others. But Tommy couldn’t; he suddenly found himself trapped in a burning tenement, hemmed in by flames. He was visited by the familiar ghosts of victims he could not save on 9/11, and tormented by a vision of the Twin Towers before the attack. And then he awoke, alive. Tommy was lucky to survive that blood-chilling near-death experience. I find so many such interludes to be utterly dull; this one was downright eerie. And I should expect nothing less from this brutal series, which is so loathe to pull punches.

Naturally, Tommy did not awaken to a happy life (nothing could be more foreign to him). In fact, his life has rarely been so fragmented. One could argue he has more reason than ever to drink, but this season there will be plenty of pressure on him to stay on the wagon. On his way out of the hospital, Tommy stole a gym bag full of morphine bottles, which disgusted Mickey (Robert John Burke); the priest has been sober as a judge since the night of the shooting. For his part, Teddy was completely unrepentant. He claimed he let Tommy live only because Ellie (in whose name he shot Tommy) wouldn’t want him to die. So Teddy gave him cufflinks made out of the two bullets that doctors dug out of him, and warned that he will finish the job if Tommy ever takes another drink.

Well-motivated to dry out, Tommy went to check on ex-wife Janet (Andrea Roth), and was stunned to discover that eldest daughter Colleen (Natalie Distler) had taken up drinking! It’s sort of a family tradition, after all. Janet realized that if their willful daughter wanted to drink, she would, and decided it would be safer for Colleen to get drunk at home rather than in some dive bar. Tommy was ashen as Colleen — a once-beautiful girl who now looked exhausted and sullen under the influence — snarled at him: “Don’t worry, I don’t have a drinking problem.” Then younger daughter Katie poured her father a water glass full of whiskey.

Perhaps it was the child’s complicity in enabling him, but Tommy looked sicker than when he has a belly full of rotgut. I was glad when Tommy got out of there, too sickened to take sip himself. Surely the sight of his children succumbing to the alcoholic mentality was even more shocking than the vision of hell he experienced earlier.

But was it really hell? When Jimmy reappeared later and asked Tommy why he didn’t go into the light, he grew even more pale when Tommy mentioned seeing smoke and flames. “Where did you end up?” he demanded. Even Lou (John Scurti) — whose personal idea of heaven was summed up as “Fresh. Hot. Donuts.” — sensed what happened from Tommy’s reticence, and pinned him down: “Didja go to hell?” he asked, and insisted on hearing a description.

Did he “go to hell”? I think he’s living in hell, and has been for a while. Forget the series finale of LOST and its theories of purgatory and the afterlife. If you want to see someone being metaphorically punished for his sins, I think this is the show for you. Vicious man-eater Sheila (Callie Thorne) stopped by and told him, “I love you. I hate you. I want you. I hope you die.” Their relationship could not be more succinctly described.

After so much hell, what would make more sense then visiting a church? Of course, Tommy being Tommy, he took a bottle with him, lit up a smoke on the altar, and proceeded to get even more f—ed up than he already was. Which is really saying something.

Where does RESCUE ME go from here? All indications are Tommy will have to deal with his vision of hell. Remember a couple of seasons back when he was being followed by an apparition of Jesus? I can’t wait to see what Leary and partner-in-crime, fellow executive producer/writer/director Peter Tolan come up with for the rest of this season!

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