Sorry folks, Gina Gershon is not playing Gigi’s mother. Rather, the acid tongue-wagging Callie Thorne gets the honor. In hindsight, we really should have seen this coming; After all, Thorne was a series regular on Denis Leary’s Rescue Me and she actually looks somewhat related to Elizabeth Gillies. Even better, she knows a thing or two about playing a troubled mommy on-screen, having raised the children of Jimmy Keefe and Jimmy McNulty with little to no help. (Potential spoiler: One was dead, the other deadbeat.) And after last week’s abysmal “Doctor Doctor”, Thorne is a huff of fresh air, as if Bam Bam opened one of the unforeseen doors in The Heathens’ claustrophobic studio to let a little sunshine in.

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For the first time all season, Leary steps away from the typewriter and gives someone else a chance to write or save or do something with Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Once more, he keeps it in the family by handing off “Tattoo You” to former Rescue Me writer Evan Reilly, who wrote or co-wrote around 43 episodes of the firefighter drama. Today, he serves as co-executive producer on AMC’s The Walking Dead, so rest assured, this isn’t a permanent gig or anything. It’s a shame, too, because “Tattoo You” is one of the finer episodes of this series, and could have been the strongest to date (even over “What You Like Is In The Limo”) had he not felt compelled to wrap up what might have been this show’s saving grace.

If you couldn’t guess, “Tattoo You” is all about tattoos. Well, it’s about bigger things, but tatts bookend the episode—and also serve as this week’s rock ‘n’ roll cliché, which Reilly spares no time digging out. The episode tips off when Gigi confronts her father with a newly inked Johnny Rock tattoo, which she insists is a token of faith on her behalf towards their budding relationship. To her dismay, she quickly learns that he doesn’t have any tattoos at all. In his own Leary way, Johnny argues he’s being original (kudos to him), while a nearby Ava, who has his name etched on her bum, insists he’s simply afraid (yes, of commitment). It’s a fun family moment until Gigi’s real mama, Cat (Thorne), comes a-knocking and also has a new tattoo… of Flash’s lightning bolt.

Naturally, this doesn’t sit too well with Gigi. She loves Flash! So, she accuses her mother of being a “twat swat”—a female’s version of cock blocking, apparently—and calls her out on the “bitch switch” attempt. However, in a not-so-shocking twist, Flash and Cat have a history: They both had a little drunken thing in the early ’90s and she feels there’s reason to believe a spark might still exist between them. “Sex within the band never works,” she argues to Gigi, who is just not having any of this. What’s ultimately great about Cat, though, is that she’s actually being a strong mother in her own weird way. She knows Flash is too old for Gigi and she knows what that kind of relationship will do to both the band and her naive daughter.

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That revelation pops up in the intimate dialogue between Cat and Ava, where Reilly’s work begins to sparkle and shine. For one, we find out that Cat isn’t too bad of a mother. She pays the bills, namely the lavish studio space that Gigi calls her own, and she’s clairvoyant about her vested interest with her daughter, pleading: “It is about the money. It is about the fame. It is about my kid’s future.” When Ava sheepishly suggests she’s being too controlling, even flaunting that she gets along swimmingly with Gigi, Cat coyly spits back, “The reason you’re close with my kid is because you’re not her mom,” digging the knife further by adding: “Surrogate mommys get to be besties with their daughters. I am out to make sure she does not fuck up the way I did.”

Are we watching the same show? Is there a thread to get behind? Could this be what the Cat needed to drag in? This exciting momentum carries over into the next scene, a tranquil respite at the piano between Flash and Cat, where the two discuss their past, their present, and their future. Cat gets real with Flash and insists that her 21-year-old is just too young for the 50-year-old guitarist, who could be her grandfather. It’s a touching scene that unfortunately leads to nowhere, and remarkably fast, thanks to Flash later opting for Gigi, to which Cat literally says: “Oh well, I tried my best.” Why Reilly would neuter such a promising storyline, one that could potentially change the series for the better, only speaks to this show’s unwavering commitment issues.

So yeah, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is right back where it was last week, only now they’ve wasted their smoking gun by introducing Cat and taking her away from us. But who knows, maybe she’ll show up again—to be fair, how many times did Gavin and Sheila get back together during Rescue Me’s seven-season run? The problem is that this show has been nothing but a pandering series of back and forths and they’ve all lacked any substance to make any difference. At this point, it’s exhausting, it’s frustrating, and it’s what will bury this show into the ground. That is, if the final stake hasn’t already been driven down. As The Rolling Stones preached long ago, on the album that gives this episode its name, “Ain’t no use in crying.”

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Stray observations

  • Johnny on the black-on-black conundrum regarding tattoos: “I’ve been staring at LeBron James’ right shoulder for 10 years, I still can’t tell what the fuck’s on there. Is it a lion’s head or the Statue of Liberty?” Okay, that’s pretty funny.
  • Cat is famous for her tomatoes in Ohio. Also: Bam Bam likes tomatoes.
  • Flash has had a “sack jack” in the past. It’s basically a facelift for the scrotum. The way he sees it: “I’m 50 but my balls are 17.” Yeah, John Corbett really knows how to truly own his lines.
  • Ava gets her earrings on sale at Nordstrom’s. FYI.
  • Zumba is wonderful for the ass and legs, according to Cat, who knows a thing or two about Zumba.
  • Only Callie Thorne could deliver this cheeseball of a line with the right chutzpah to make it work: “Gigi is my song and you’re getting all the royalties. Go write your own fucking song, huh?”
  • Shots fired (part trois): “If it said Taylor Swift, that’d be a different story,” Gigi remarks, after the gang calls out Flash for jury rigging his Gaga tattoo to say Gigi, instead.
  • Oh yeah, Johnny has an Ava and a Gigi tattoo on his ass now. Thanks, Jameson!
  • But real tattoos don’t melt, which is why Gigi’s Johnny Rock sleeve is a fake. Is her commitment in jeopardy? One can only hope as it’s the only source of drama to fuel the next four episodes.

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