Rescue Me finales have made me say, "Well, that was interesting" or "Well, that was terrible" or "Well, that's a stupid cliffhanger" for many years now, but they've never left me dumbfounded, staring at the screen, saying "What the fuck?" I don't know if this should be a congratulations toward the show or anything, but tonight's finale more than made up for that previous deficit. It felt less like a finale and more like a season premiere, leading me to wonder if, perhaps, last week's episode was originally supposed to be the season finale and this one was chosen for some reason instead. We've got the significant time jump of two months, the surprise resolution to last week's cliffhanger, and the scenes that suggest new storylines to come. This really feels like the beginning of the end, and I have no idea just why it was aired at the end of this season instead of held for the summer of 2011.
If nothing else, this episode makes my decision to make a clean break with the show less clear-cut. I had planned to definitely come back for the series finale, but I imagine I'll come back for the premiere next summer as well (only to get sucked in yet again). The finale plays a lot of the series' usual games about changing things just enough that they'll be different, but it also has a few pretty dynamite scenes. The question, then, becomes whether getting through just nine more episodes is worth it. I'm sure that the show will meander all over the place and there will be some enjoyable stuff in there. Will that be worth the effort? Are the storylines introduced here enough for the series to re-entice its loyal fans back for one last go-round of getting jerked around and punished? Obviously, the show and FX can only hope.
The big question mark here is the final scene, which involves the now brain-damaged (and possibly brain-dead) and paralyzed Damien seeming to wake up and chastise Tommy for his role in what happened to the kid. It's clear that the show wants us to think that this is some sort of abrupt recovery, at least at first, but it's more likely that Damien is either dead (and thus Tommy is seeing his ghost), Tommy is sleeping and having a dream, or the whole thing is some sort of extended post-traumatic stress related hallucination. It's certainly an odd sequence, and it's an odd choice to end the season on, but at least it's something I haven't seen a million times before. Insofar as provoking discussion, I'd say it's a success, so good on Rescue Me for pulling it out.
On the other hand, I found the whole thing where Damien was actually just in the wheelchair to be fairly awful storytelling. I suppose it works as a "twist," but it's right up there with the very worst misery porn moments in the show's misery porn-laden history. The show long ago became unable to come up with actually interesting ways to drive conflict in the lives of its characters, so it more or less just started flinging bad shit in their general direction. There's some interesting subtext at play here - Tommy feels so bad about what happened to Damien that he spends all of his time trying to help out Sheila and her son - but this was subtext that was already mostly at play before Damien got a table saw dropped on his head. By throwing in the fact that he's now unlikely to ever function again, the show unfairly stacks the deck against its own characters. It's only interested in the people in its universe insofar as it can punish them for existing.
But the show has always done this. If we've been watching up until this point, it should be easier to overlook. For some reason, though, the dispatch of Damien really stuck in my craw, and I wasn't sure why. But I think I've figured it out now: The show is only interested in making bad things happen to these people so they can reflect on Tommy. It's like the unholy reflection of the fact that Tommy always gets all the hottest chicks. Bad things happen in Rescue Me world because Tommy needs to learn a lesson or become a better person or something. Everything that happens is a kind of karmic retribution directed at one man, and the others essentially have no free will or bearing on the discussion. This is a show that stacks the deck against these people because it's so intent on teaching its lead a lesson. So Damien has to end up in a wheelchair, rolling his head around and making monosyllabic noises because Tommy Gavin was not a good enough person. Sure, sometimes bad shit happens, and sometimes a lot of it happens to one person, but Rescue Me is basically ungenerous toward any of its characters in a way that harms it dramatically.
Sure, other stuff happened in the episode, but it was dramatically uninteresting enough to make me wonder just why it was shoved in the midst of all the rest of this. The dedication of the Pat Mahoney pavilion in Central Park was revealed to be just a bathroom, though I liked the way that Lou moved the plaque to a different location. And, as it turns out, Janet is pregnant again, presumably thanks to that late night rendezvous with Tommy a few episodes ago, and her refusal to tell her husband stems at least as much from his inability to put his family ahead of caring for Damien as anything else. These plots seem interesting, but one is closing off a storyline that never really attained any sort of liftoff this season, and the other seems better as a prologue to a new season than closing off this one. It's a curiously structured episode, leaving me even more confused as to its ultimate purpose.
In the end, the sixth season of Rescue Me was almost a complete bust. It's as though all involved knew that the end was coming in 19 episodes' time but didn't have enough story to fill the episodes on the way there, which led to a long, meandering season filled with plotlines that didn't go anywhere and character moments that didn't add up to anything like an insightful portrayal of these people. I've struggled with what to write about the show this season because I genuinely have no idea how to keep saying the same four or five things in new ways every week, and yet, as I come to the end of this finale, I want nothing more than to know how it all ends. Something about this show has its claws in me, and that's probably its finest success, in the end.
- It's worth pointing out that Michael Zegen was very good at playing out what he was asked to do in this episode, no matter how much I objected to it.
- The fact that Lou seems completely unconcerned with how his health impacts his fellow firemen when that's what indirectly led to Damien's current condition strikes me as out of character. I hope this builds to something next season.
- I did like a lot of the dark humor surrounding Damien's condition, like Lou worrying about pigeons at the dedication and the fact that the guys used Damien as the ultimate wingman.