In the years since Rescue Me premiered, Tommy Gavin's relationship with his wife, Janet, has been one of the show's most fascinating elements and, at the same time, one of its most problematic. The sheer hatred that often spilled over into lust between thetwo made for volatile television in the show's first couple of seasons, but since the episode in season three where Tommy seemed to rape Janet and the show seemed to validate him for it, it's been a little hard to take the relationship seriously.
Just as Rescue Me has been using other episodes in its fifth season to repair some of the things that went wayward in its third and fourth seasons, it used this episode to re-examine the Tommy and Janet relationship, particularly in regards to their youngest child (unless the seemingly missing baby Janet had with Tommy's brother was actually Tommy's after all), daughter Katie, who's now off at boarding school in a rather implausible twist that somehow seems no less implausible than anything else on this show. (Didn't Franco's daughter go off to boarding school too?) This episode wasn't quite up to the level of the last two, but it was a fine comedic piece to release a little of the tension from those two as well.
Katie's starring in the play up at school, and she wants her parents to come see her debut in the lead role. Forced together into a car on a long road trip to hang out with a bunch of rich folks who could not be more different from their usual company, the two ended up taking a hard look at what made them work and what didn't, at the fact that they're not as different as they really think. One of the reasons Rescue Me's worldview often seems needlessly claustrophobic is because literally everyone on the show is either a firefighter or related to one. This doesn't throw any of their actions in any sort of relief that might suggest how these people became the way they are or continue to live that way.
Sending Tommy and Janet out to hang out with the mega-rich, though, did create that sort of relief. While it's still a bit strange that they're able to afford the boarding school for Katie, the fact that she's sufficiently embarrassed by them to construct a whole alternate reality for them where he's a hedge fund manager, she's a fashion designer and they have a summer house in Montauk gives us a better idea of how others tangentially in the Gavin orbit might view these people. Furthermore, tossing Tommy and Janet into a dinner with all of the upper crust folks made for a marvelously funny scene, where we both saw just how little Janet can cope with the way her choices have relegated her to the life she has now and how Tommy, when push comes to shove, will still side with his wife, separation or no separation.
What I liked best about the dinner scene was that no one in it came out looking very good at all. The rich people are clearly condescending toward Janet (not Tommy, at first, since most of the rich men seem impressed by his job), but Janet allows that to push her buttons too much, and she's soon exploding at the others at the table, she and Tommy tossing out great insults (my favorite, from Janet, compared a woman wearing yellow to a school bus). It was a raucously ugly scene, and it turned into another chance for the two to have some good, old-fashioned nasty sex, so loud that it woke everyone up, knocked plaster from the ceiling on the floor below and eventually broke down the door.
As usual, though, these two don't wholly think out their plan. It feels good in the moment, but their lack of impulse control hurts someone else in their life, namely, Katie, who at first is thrilled by the prospect of her parents getting along again (even holding hands) and is later mortified to learn that her mother called one of her fellow classmates' mothers fat. After saying she'd come home more often if Tommy and Janet could just get along and be together, she's shooing them from the school grounds, asking them not to come back. Janet, wincing in pain, realizes that she's the one who made all of this happen (thanks to her inability to control herself), and she and Tommy are back at square one. Indeed, he can't help but snipe at her just a little.
This whole storyline worked where previous Tommy and Janet storylines haven't both because it dominated the episode (it took up probably three-quarters of screentime) and because it finally gave us a better sense of how these two got together in the first place and why their toxic chemistry keeps drawing them together. In one sense, it's ALWAYS been Tommy and Janet against the world, and when they have a common foe to bond against, they let their general toxicity turn outward instead of inward where it can hurt their relationship. Here, we see a little of that bonding can go a long way, as they're all but remarried the night after their dinner, but it still hurts their daughter, in a way their marriage has been hurting others for a long, long time. Good stuff.
I wasn't as thrilled by the rest of the episode. Sean's inability to take a crap was amusing enough, I suppose, for the sheer, "They went there?" aspect of it, and the capper (where he took a dump in a burning building) was pretty amusing, but it felt like quite a step down after the big, dramatic material he's carried in the last two episodes.
And after spending quite a few episodes hoping that Lou would get to score with the French journalist, when he made progress, I was irritated that it ended up being all about Tommy, when it seems as though she and Lou were building an actual connection on their own merits. That said, having Lou say that he was ridden like a hairy, middle-aged Tilt-a-Whirl was so funny that I can forgive a lot of this. Also, there was a scene where we caught up with Teddy and Maggie, and they were working in a VA hospital. While it was nice to see both characters, the scene itself was so disconnected from everything else as to feel utterly useless.
But this episode, as mentioned, was mostly about Tommy and Janet and about the ways they manage to hurt each other and the people around them without even really trying. As a mostly off-format episode (it reminded me of when ER used to send characters on road trips), it more than accomplished this in a way that the show has struggled to do for a while, and for that, it's worth a look.
• Franco realizing that grasshoppers are minty after getting a big kiss from Lou was another funny moment, though, again, I was disappointed to see the character getting backburnered so readily.
• Another thing: Lou's name should technically be spelled "Lieu," but all I ever see anyone spell it as is "Lou." Huh.
• And then there's Needles. His routine keeping Tommy at work until the last possible minute was funny enough, but I hope they have somewhere to go with him other than just making him an asshole boss.
• Finally, Tommy's reintroduction to alcohol went to the backseat (aside from his insistence that he could control it … right), but the scenes where people talked with him about it were filled with enough tension to remind you that plot's out there.