It’s easier for me to keep a positive image of Rescue Me in mind if I forget most of what happened in the middle of the series’ run: all the wackiness, the Tommy-Sheila drama and the various, familiar re-spiralings of Tommy into alcohol. The Platonic ideal version of Rescue Me in my mind would be a series that ended after, say, its third season, then returned this year for one last, searing mini-run at the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Last week’s episode, “Head,” was an example of the kind of Rescue Me I’d just as soon forget, with its zany plot about getting the crew out of trouble with the media and the department through a double blackmail sting operation, the kind of nuttily implausible plot you might see on a Disney Channel sitcom, if they had subplots about fellatio. But this week’s, “344,” is precisely what I was hoping for as the series wraps up its run.
The episode looked past all the complications of the show’s middle years to get back to its original theme: how survivor’s guilt and the trauma of 9/11 still wrecks all the members of the FDNY, in a jov that was never conducive to emotional and physical health to begin with. This was most evident in the high-drama moments, like the opening scene that likened the unfinished 9/11 monument to the Vietnam Wall, and concluded that in the end, putting up a statue will never make the pain go away.
But I liked how this theme came through even in some of the lighter storylines. The ongoing subplot about Lou’s weight, for instance, seemed like a a distraction to me at first, but it’s really part of a larger theme. In one way or another, be it through alcohol or sex or red velvet cupcakes, these are all guys who internalize their emotion, whose stress and grief manifests itself in their bodies. Lou’s weight problem, like Tommy’s drinking problem, shows how things are eating at him (even if, literally, he’s doing the eating).
I don’t expect Rescue Me ever to be neat or consistent; its inconsistency and looseness make it what it is. But if it manages to conclude its last few episodes in this same vein, it will have—amid the dozens of 9/11 remembrances coming up out there—made a monument that’s worth something.