I feel confident in saying that ‘Rescue Me’ appears to be on the right track this season. Things may have seemed a bit shaky for a little while there. Well, not exactly shaky, but it felt like the season was taking its time getting warmed up. Then episode ‘Blackout’ was a real standout. While I don’t think that last week’s episode, ‘Sanctuary’, is quite up to that level, it’s pretty solid all around, and puts an interesting new spin on Tommy’s story arc.
Surprise of all surprises, that trip to rock bottom seems to have done its job and hit Tommy pretty hard. He’s sobered up and agrees to go back to AA. Of course, he’s cleaned up his act before, and it didn’t take then. So he’ll probably relapse again inevitably. But for the time being, he’s back on the wagon.
Colleen, however, is in pretty bad shape. She’s learned exactly the wrong lessons from the experience. In her mind, the drinking didn’t cause her any problems, just the fact that Teddy and Mickey spiked the bottle. Her continued descent into alcoholism takes a serious toll on Tommy, because he knows that he’s responsible for it. It isn’t just his own life he’s ruining any more. A call at work really drives home the anguish when the fire truck is called out to a DUI accident involving two girls the same ages as Tommy’s daughters. The drunk driver Colleen’s age walks away, but the younger girl Katy’s age is already dead by the time the crew gets there.
Tommy’s so shaken up that he refuses to go on the next fire call. He may have finally burned out. Needles calls him a coward. Hoping for validation, Tommy visits Father Phil (Peter Gallagher) again, only to find that Father Phil actually agrees with Needles. He also tells Tommy that he’s a coward. It isn’t fire that he’s afraid of, however. He’s afraid of karma. Tommy has always assumed that all the bad things he’s done in life, especially since 9/11, would be balanced out by his heroism as a firefighter. Now that belief system is in doubt, and he’s terrified.
Tommy goes to the AA meeting with Mickey as promised, and is very surprised to find sister Maggie there openly harassing him about how he’s ruined the lives of everyone around him, especially Colleen. Then Teddy shows up with Colleen in tow, both of them shit-face drunk. He told her that they were going to a party, and explains to the group that his own drinking was a ploy to get here there. This leads to a huge argument and a Gavin family brawl right in the middle of the AA meeting.
In a last-ditch effort, Tommy drags Colleen to see Father Phil. He hopes that Phil’s pragmatic, no-bullshit approach will get through to her. Unfortunately, this plan backfires as well. She calls Tommy out for his hypocrisy. “You don’t have enough Commandments for him to break,” she tells Phil, and defiantly proclaims that drinking is the only thing that makes her miserable life at all tolerable.
As she tries to storm out of the church, Tommy stops her and tells her a story about how and why she was never baptized. She still doesn’t care. Tommy grabs her wrist and handcuffs her to the altar. He looks up at the statue of Jesus and says, “You never had kids. You wouldn’t understand.” Colleen’s screaming draws the attention of a nun, who calls the police. Tommy takes all of Father Phil’s booze and pours it into the baptismal font, then forces Colleen’s head in repeatedly until she agrees to renounce Satan. This is a truly harrowing scene that ends with Colleen nearly drowning and Tommy being taken away by the police.
In the side storylines this week, Damien is still dating the probie from West Side who is far too hot for him, but they haven’t had sex yet. Franco and Black Shawn push each other’s buttons over Janet and Colleen while on a call. They get in a big fight that Needles has to break up and smooth over with the cops. This animosity seems like it will be revisited in subsequent episodes.
Later, Sean and Mike get Pat “Balls Out” Mahoney out of the hospital for a night. They agree to take him to the ballet because he wants to do something before he dies that he never would have done otherwise. Naturally, both Sean and Mike fall dead asleep in the middle of it, but Pat is overcome with emotion. Afterwards, he flies into a rage because he realizes how much he wants to live. He becomes despondent about the regrets in his life, such as never sleeping with a ballerina or never having kids. “I always wanted to punch Dr. Phil in the face” is another big one. Me too, brother. Me too.
‘Sanctuary’ isn’t as heavy on the black comedy as ‘Blackout’ was, but has its share. The episode delivers plenty of strong character moments, and packs quite an emotional punch at the conclusion of the Colleen storyline. This short season has only four episodes left. I’m eager to see where they go.