Now that’s how you wrap up a long-running TV show. ‘Rescue Me’ brought its seventh and final season to a close last week with a pitch-perfect series finale episode that was absolutely everything it needed to be.
Beyond the premiere episode, I haven’t given this season of ‘Rescue Me’ much coverage here in the blog. It’s one of those shows that I watch but don’t have enough time to write about. This has been an interesting yet almost uncharacteristically low-key season for the show. I haven’t loved every episode, but I wouldn’t say that there were any outright stinkers either. While the season was peppered with some classic ‘Rescue Me’ moments, it also felt like most of the storylines had already been covered before.
One of the greatest strengths of this show is its fearless ability to wildly shift tone from one scene to the next. Every episode is a rollercoaster ride that races crazily from moments of raunchy lowbrow comedy to serious drama, to nerve-wracking suspense, to searing emotional pain and anything in between. You can never predict where it will go next.
The second-to-last episode was, for the most part, one of the more humorous of the season. The majority of it concerned the wedding of Tommy’s daughter Colleen to Black Shawn, an event which naturally turned into a drunken Gavin fiasco. However, the episode turned on a dime at the end when the entire 62 Truck crew (Tommy, Lou, Sean, Black Shawn, Mike, and Franco) got trapped in a burning building with no way out. The final scene ended with a giant explosion that made it look as though the whole crew would be killed.
The way this show is, I would never put it past the writers to kill the entire cast off in the last episode. It’s a natural extension of the themes that have run throughout the series – that life is unpredictable and can be cut short at any moment. Denis Leary has said in interviews that he even wanted Tommy to die a few seasons back, only to hang around as a ghost, but the network wouldn’t let him go through with it.
The finale episode ‘Ashes’ opens with a fake-out. Lou has, almost inexplicably, survived the explosion (he was closest to the blast), but everyone else has died. At a funeral with five caskets and the show’s entire extended cast in attendance, he delivers a rousing emotional speech. And then Tommy wakes up in the firehouse. He’d been dreaming. In fact, all five of those guys rode the stairwell down as the building collapsed and somehow pulled themselves out, with various painful but not fatal injuries. Lou, however, wasn’t so lucky. He died in the explosion.
Tommy is now acting Lieutenant. He’s decided to put in his retirement papers, as he promised Janet. The rest of the guys also talk about either quitting or transferring to other houses. It’s time to move on.
Tommy puts in a good effort at being a stay-at-home dad, but he’s just not cut out for it. In a very funny scene, he causes a huge fracas with a bunch of uptight parents at a playground.
At Lou’s funeral, Tommy reads a letter he found in Lou’s locker, not to be read until the event of his death. (The last couple episodes had a storyline about Tommy doing likewise, but everyone read their letters early.) In the letter, Lou urges everyone to keep the crew together.
Later that night, Janet goes into labor. Tommy and Black Shawn have to deliver the baby boy. Tommy wants to name him Lou, but Janet thinks that’s too old-fashioned. They compromise by calling him Shea (Lou’s last name). Janet then tells Tommy that she appreciates his effort, but she was wrong to make him retire. It’s time to go back to work, because he’s driving her crazy.
As the episode ends, we learn that Franco has been promoted to Lou’s job. Tommy gives a passionate, heartfelt speech to a group of new recruits, warning them what they’re in for. Afterwards, he gets in his truck to drive away. Lou’s ghost is waiting for him there. He busts Tommy’s balls a little and they drive away talking. Finally, Tommy is happy to be haunted.
After the initial fake-out, I was left with a lingering suspicion that the episode would end with a revelation that Tommy really did die in the explosion, and everything else had been his death dream. But no, there’s no twist at the end. It’s just a really touching scene of two old friends shooting the shit. And it’s perfect.
The finale has a ton of really great, classic character moments for just about all of the show’s major cast members, and a lot of really funny comedy too. On the way to the funeral, Mike opens the box with Lou’s ashes just as Garrity and Black Shawn are opening windows, creating a vortex that spews the ashes all over everyone. I was howling with laughter when a cop car pulls up just as Garrity is trying to shake the ashes out of his butt crack. And the replacement they find for the missing ashes? Chocolate cake mix. This whole sequence is one of the most hilarious things the show has ever done.
Honestly, I can’t imagine how this show could have ended better. Well done, ‘Rescue Me’. Well done.