I picked this title because stylistically the episode demands Tommy juggle three different expectations being placed on him, a la the restaurant sequence in Mrs. Doubtfire. But these expectations are all coming from extreme emotional pain. It’s an odd mix, but I’m pretty sure they pull it off.
I’m gonna play armchair psychiatrist a lot for this recap. Or, more accurately, armchair freshman psych major who still hasn’t bought his textbooks. And just discovered pot. This episode contains some of the more complex displays of emotion I can remember on scripted TV. And it’s really, really funny at times. I’ll do my best to capture both tones.
The burning question to open this episode is, how is Damian, and the second, slightly less burning question is, how is everybody else? We start with the second one. Sheila is sitting on her bed, talking on the phone with her therapist, Dr. Klein. Dr. Klein is trying to get her to accept a reality. But “there’s a huge canyon between knowing something and accepting it,” Sheila says. The stumbling block for Sheila is her deep belief that Damian will walk again. So Damian is at least paralyzed, and Sheila is in denial.
Dr. Klein also wants to know how she’s doing with blame. She still blames herself, she says. And “him.” Meaning Tommy, for not protecting Damian? Or Mick, for not getting Damian to give up firefighting? It isn’t clear yet. She tries to change the subject, but Dr. Klein isn’t satisfied and he presses her further. Sheila reconsiders…it’s really nobody’s fault because Damian chose to get on the rig. But when she finishes her self-analysis, she wavers. Really she was grasping at straws, because she’s still processing, too.
But it’s time for her to wrap it up for today’s session, and she asks Dr. Klein for the daily mantra. “It’s not my fault,” she’s told to repeat. She does this a few times, and seems to be feeling better, but seconds after she hangs up, she falls apart again.
Callie Thorne’s pretty good at acting
Mid-cry she hears Tommy coming through the front door. She goes out to meet him and finds him putting groceries in the fridge. So he’s there for emotional support—once he sees how the phone session left her distraught, he hugs her. Even if she was telling the truth last week’s episode when she told Tommy she never wanted to see him again, (and I’m skeptical), Damian’s disaster has thrown them back together again.
Tommy is aware of Sheila’s ongoing struggle with guilt and tries to reassure her the way Dr. Klein did. He’s brought her a self-help book called, way-too-appropriately, It’s Not Your Fault. They even manage to get a laugh out of all this gloom when Sheila can’t believe he went to a bookstore. Tommy protests that he’s read plenty of books about…baseball, hockey, golf…even the huge biography of Mickey Mantle, “which doesn’t count as a baseball book because it’s mostly about drinking.”
(He also technically didn’t go to a bookstore, because he found the book in the supermarket checkout line. But it has a quote from Dr. Oz on the dustjacket so, you know).
Sheila is appreciative, but she’s also on her way out to see a “specialist,” no explanation yet what kind. She asks Tommy if he’s heard from Mick—whatever that means—and Tommy says Mick has been mostly off everyone’s radar, except for one AA meeting with Teddy. Mick’s sobriety “couldn’t happen to a nicer douchebag,” Sheila says. More on this later.
And on her way out, Sheila bids goodbye to Damian. He’s been sitting in the room the entire time.
So’s Michael Zegen
The slurred speech, paralysis, and loss of limb function all point to severe brain damage. And the specialist, we learn, is supposedly able to get Damian to walk again. This is one of the directions Sheila’s processing has taken her.
Now we’re over to 62 Truck, where Garrity is bringing some news to the other guys on the crew—in the time between last week’s episode and now, the FDNY has moved forward on a dedication for Pat Mahoney. They’re going to name a pavilion in Central Park after him at a ceremony tomorrow. It’s great to hear. The guys have no idea what a pavilion is, but still, great to hear. (Here are their guesses…a pavilion is “some kind of building,” an “open-air plaza,” “a building with some big windows,” or a “really big number, like higher than a jillion.” That last one is from Garrity).
The would like to bring Damian along to tomorrow’s ceremony, but they’re not sure if he’s healthy enough, or if Sheila would allow it. We also learn from Black Shawn a minimum of how much time has passed between the accident and now: Damian’s been home for two months. So maybe three months total? At least.
But Garrity thinks Damian should be there no matter what. The purpose of the dedication is to remember heroes, and Damian is a hero, too. The matter is settled.
Mike bursts into the kitchen with some incredible news, (he says). He starts telling them a story, and after a way too long and unnecessary buildup, he informs them he’s just seen Mick in a bodega, two blocks away. The guys can’t believe Mick’s audaciousness to show up so close to the firehouse. So apparently whatever Mick’s done has pissed off more than just Tommy and Sheila.
Finally, Niels comes in. He’s also got a piece of news: Lou has a visitor. It’s his doctor.
They’re giving Niels stuff to do! He’s a fireman in real life! I want them to bring back Cam Neely and let him play an actual character
You know, for a scene that’s essentially just a succession of characters coming into a room to deliver pieces of information, this was very good.
Lou heads out to the garage to meet with his doctor—the one who told Lou to quit firefighting in last week’s episode, because of Lou’s continuing health failure. That’s why the doctor is here this week, to reprimand Lou for not quitting yet.
“By the way, I’m gonna need a copay for this visit. I brought a credit card swiper if you don’t have cash.”
Lou tries an excuse. He couldn’t up and quit right after the house lost Damien, could he? The doctor doesn’t buy it. He even accuses Lou of wanting him to lie to the FDNY so that Lou can keep working under a clean bill of health. I’m not really sure how we got from Lou being to disobedient to Lou being a schemer, but Lou doesn’t deny it.
But he does explain where he’s coming from—firefighting is all he has left, that and cake. If you took away firefighting, Lou would be dead within three weeks, of “cake-related injuries.”
To me, the “this is all I have” argument is covering up how frayed a person Lou is. As a firefighter his lifestyle is just an endless cycle of upheaval in the form of loss, but disrupting that would be the biggest upheaval you could inflict on him; and somewhere deep down he knows he’s too fragile to withstand that. So even if his current lifestyle spells doom, he prefers the devil he knows to the one he doesn’t.
But the doctor won’t let him off the hook. Staying on the job to avoid facing his psychoses is selfish, because he’d be endangering his crewmates. He’s endangered them already—Lou’s collapse at the coffin warehouse fire is indirectly why Damian’s accident happened.
I actually wonder if this scene is a way of making Lou conscious of that, because otherwise I don’t see any signs of his guilt about that. He’d have to feel guilty, wouldn’t he?
Fast-forward to that night. Tommy arrives at Janet’s place to find the family behaving coldly toward him. He hasn’t been helping Colleen through AA, and Janet doesn’t think he’s been home for enough dinners. But the real problem isn’t scheduling conflicts, it’s Tommy’s emotional distance.
They give Janet a line that helpfully lays out the problem exactly: Tommy has an aura of “broken promises, disappointments, and general ADD malaise” that’s poisoning the family.
I’m not sure how I’m feeling with this part…at first it seems insensitive. To be fair, Sheila and Damian are going through a crisis and don’t have anybody else, not even Mick. But maybe Janet has a point. Firefighting and caring for Sheila and Damian couldn’t be so much of a burden that he has to be totally absent, right?
Janet makes another accusation here. She sees a contradiction in his character—he’s obsessed with saving the world, but he neglects his own family. “Emotional ADD,” she calls it.
I could see that ADD as a stand-in for Tommy’s self-loathing. What seems like Tommy being easily distractible is really just self-sabotage. Deep down he’s always felt worthless as a person—it’s why he beat up Jimmy’s and Connor’s ghosts, for the most recent example—when you feel that way, you irrationally deny yourself things like a loving family. You don’t deserve it, is the thought process.
I guess I’m inclined not to see Janet and the kids as unreasonable or burdensome or There seems to be a ring of truth to what they’re saying.
Tommy doesn’t have any good responses to these accusations—it’s not that he can’t think of any, he really just doesn’t have any. Janet then gives him two tasks: tomorrow, Colleen has her 50th meeting in 50 days, and Katie has a dance recital. He needs to be at both.
They do leave the scene on a light note, though…Tommy finally helps Katie with her Vietnam paper, and he finds his relationship with Janet pretty analogous to the entire war…once they got in they couldn’t get out, so both sides dug in their heels and wouldn’t cede any ground.
We’re back at Sheila’s, where Tommy is spoon-feeding Damian, having just pitched to Sheila the idea of taking him to tomorrow’s ceremony. She has her reservations about it, but she can see why it would be appropriate. She’d even go herself if she didn’t have to see another specialist claiming to be able to cure paralysis. This one apparently is world famous and only visits the US one week a year. Sheila ultimately gives Tommy the green light, but Tommy has to be the one driving their specialized van—which, obviously will conflict with Colleen’s and Katie’s events tomorrow.
Then Sheila tells Tommy more about this specialist she wants to see. He sounds like one of those old-world rich-people physicians, with a sanitarium in Zurich and all sorts of vague-sounding treatment techniques like “blood supplements.” So basically he balances your humors. And he charges you $25,000 a MONTH for treatment. And he probably also thinks he could prove racial superiority if he wanted.
The only evidence Sheila needs to buy into this guy is that supposedly one patient in Sweden is starting to regain feeling in his legs. The point is, this is the form her grief has taken: delusional hope.
It’s tricky ground for Tommy to trod, because he sniffs out the quackery instantly, but he can’t exactly mock it like he normally would, because he can also see how tightly Sheila is clinging to it. So he tries a joke, sees her face darken, and quickly changes the subject.
What comes next is a wonderful, crazy mishmash of three or four different sets of agendas, and it really reinforces just how love-hate their relationship is, with a good amount of shared grief, too. It all starts with genuine caring when Tommy asks her if that self-help book, It’s Not Your Fault, is helping her. Yet when she says it’s helping a lot, he can’t help but tease her and make fun of self-help books in general. They’re for chicks. The only self-help book he’s ever read is How to Throw a Football, by Johnny Unitas. Which he read when he was twelve, and again when he was thirty-five and joined a flag- football league with Jimmy.
And Sheila doesn’t like his condescension, but the flag-football story reminds both of them about Jimmy, and it makes her chuckle a little. So she in turn genuinely thanks Tommy for supporting her and Damian so much, and reassures him that he’s doing the right thing. She even tries to apologize for earlier telling him she never wanted to see him again.
Tommy insists she doesn’t need to apologize, because he brought it on himself. Which is how they both inadvertently segue into playing the blame game. Tommy admits he pushed Damian into firefighting in the first place. Sheila first tries to take the blame herself, but Tommy is adamant. And finally Sheila turns accusatory.
So Tommy becomes defensive. Sheila was the one who gave Tommy the badge in the first place, to keep safe for Damian some day. And Sheila always suffocated Damian…
But now Damian starts to moan, and both of them immediately turn their attention to him.
Whew. Somehow Tommy and Sheila didn’t wind up having sex right here. This conversation is a lot to plot out by hand, but I bought it. Actual grief is complex and it dredges up all your old baggage. And these two individuals don’t exactly possess self-awareness, so they would fumble around a normal conversation like this.
We get out of the scene with a phone call. Colleen is calling Tommy to warn him she’s going to start drinking.
Tommy runs over to a liquor store where Colleen is already loading up a shopping cart with her favorite booze and nearly making out with the bottles. But she’s not really going to drink any of it. She just wanted to light a fire under Tommy’s ass. She’s been trying to get through AA with him as a sponsor, and he hasn’t been putting in the effort. She brought him down here to show him just how serious she is.
After this Tommy heads over to 62 Truck, and there he discovers that Mick has shown up. Mick sits on a bench, alone, looking ashamed, and the guys in the crew are huddled together, keeping their distance and keeping an eye on him. It’s time for a showdown.
Mick starts things off by asking the guys to give him and Tommy a moment alone. They pretend to leave but are really hiding behind the rig to listen. Then Mick returns two of Tommy’s DVDs—a Cam Neely’s Greatest Hockey Hits, and a copy of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. (Which I promptly Netflixed). Mick makes small talk about how he knows Tommy how much Tommy cares about his Robert Mitchum collection. Tommy accepts them but says nothing, seething. And Mick leaves.
Tommy can’t believe what’s just happened. It’s such an inappropriate gesture given what’s happened. He stops Mick before he can leave, expecting Mick to apologize, so Mick punches him. Tommy hits back, and they go back and forth again.
Remember how Tommy used to punch someone like every third episode?
The guys come running out—not to break it up, but to see who wins the fight, because they’ve been placing bets on it. (Which I loved). But Mick tells them to leave again, and this time he means it.
Now it’s time to talk. Mick does have something to say, but Tommy basically lays out what he wants to hear, that Mick is a spineless, no-good gutless pussy who abandoned his girlfriend and crippled son. So Mick obliges, and you can detect the shame and self-loathing when he says it.
I’m digging the role reversal here. Throughout the series Mick has served as Tommy’s conscience, always encouraging him Tommy to stay sober and honor his family. But not only is this is a rare moment that showcases Mick’s feelings, with the self-loathing, it also has Tommy being the superego.
Tommy is stunned with how easily Mick fessed up. He asks the guys, who are still loitering behind the rig, if they heard it, and they did, (but they only bet on the physical violence, so that’s all they care about). Mick calls everyone back in. Now that he’s taken his lumps, physical and emotional, he wants to say his piece.
He didn’t leave out of cowardice. He saw how delusional Sheila was being about healing Damian, saw how that would lead to certain financial ruin, and when he tried telling her this, she kicked him out.
It puts Mick back in his usual role, as the voice of morality. He didn’t even come to 62 Truck to improve their opinion of him, he did it to tell them to be as honest with Sheila as he’s been. Then he takes his leave. We’ll have to see where this goes.
Now we’re in Central Park for the pavilion dedication. Franco has just found out what “pavilion” means: public toilet. That’s what the city has decided to name after a fallen 9/11 firefighter. Nice. The city government usually plays the faceless, incompetent straw man role on this show, and here is no different.
Obviously the New York of Rescue Me needs a dose of Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty. Come on, Rescue Me, bring back Michael J. for the last season!
The guys look for someone to take their anger on, and luckily there happens to be a man in a suit walking by. No, they really say just that that: “Yeah, we need a guy in a suit. Right now.”
This bland city official is 100% unapologetic and insensitive, as though the city can’t even train its mid-level bureaucrats to muster up false sympathy. Puh-leeze. This guy just tells them to go with the flow, then threatens to bring over Mrs. Mahoney when the guys try to protest.
Lou joins the group at this point. He’s been using the facilities without realizing those facilities are dedicated to Pat Mahoney. Ooooh.
Franco’s had it. Pat deserves better and he wants to do something. The guys are in agreement. Lou has a plan. Franco will run to Lou’s truck to get his toolbox, then meet the guys back here.
Then Tommy gets a phone call. It’s Colleen. Her meeting starts in 15 minutes, AND Janet is waiting at home for him to pick her up to go to the dance recital, which starts in an hour and a half. But the ceremony hasn’t even started yet, and he’s stuck here with Damian. They’re kinda veering into farce territory, with all the juggling Tommy has to do, but they stop just short because Colleen angrily tells Tommy he can just forget the meeting. She’s got another sponsor: Uncle Teddy, and the request is withdrawn.
Tommy thinks he can still make it to Katie’s dance recital, so he decides to head out, leaving Damian in Lou’s care. There’s a complicated planning sequence for how they’ll work this out–they’re trading cars so Lou can drive Damian around in the specialty van, but Lou also can’t take Damian home because Sheila only allowed Tommy to drive Damian, so they’ll have to switch cars AGAIN later.
And Tommy heads out.
A short while later the ceremony is in full swing. The suit from earlier is giving a halfhearted speech for Pat Mahoney, and then it’s time to reveal the plaque. They pull back the curtains, and in the plaque’s place is a note that says, “Pat Mahoney says, ‘Eat Shit!’”
Still, I wonder how the never-seen Mrs. Mahoney feels about her son’s plaque being stolen. They never explain that one.
Tommy meanwhile arrives back at Janet’s to find that she’s gone ahead to the dance recital without him–he learns this via a note she left him, which also reminds him not to be late. Tommy decides he’ll have a snack, so he gets some lunchmeat out of the fridge and just eats it by itself, then squirts some mustard into his mouth. (Which I can personally vouch is delicious!).
Then he notices a book on the bookshelf. It’s that How to Throw a Football book by Johnny Unitas. He takes it down and flips through it fondly. See, HERE is where I’m thinking Janet and the kids have a point, that Tommy is being neglectful. He’s left the dedication ceremony and Damian to tend to the family, but when he finds this book he gets sidetracked. Janet’s diagnosis of “emotional ADD” sounds spot-on.
Then we catch up with Lou and the guys. They’ve taken the stolen plaque to city hall, where Lou is supergluing it to the wall in a discrete spot. Franco worries it’ll get noticed and taken down. But the guys don’t mind. It’s a better place than a public toilet, and even if nobody knows it’s here, they know it’s here.
I double checked, and the plaque does say it’s meant specifically for a pavilion. But I bet it’ll still go unnoticed.
Back at Janet’s, Tommy replaces his book on the shelf and notices an envelope sticking out of another book. He pulls it out, opens it, and inside discovers a pamphlet on how to have a healthy pregnancy after 40, and a pregnancy test for Janet. From a doctor. She’s pregnant AGAIN! Good thing she has nothing else to do besides be a mother and wife, otherwise this could get tricky. Actually, how awesome would it be if it turns out Janet actually has an amazing career as like a restaurant owner and they just never mention it?
Also, I noticed the title of the other book Tommy finds the pregnancy test in…it’s a self-help book for Janet, only it’s called Blame: A Guide to Coping with Life’s Issues.
Remember Sheila’s book from earlier? If anyone has doubted that Janet is, like Mick and all the hallucinations, serve as manifestations of Tommy’s conscience, here’s your proof.
Tommy is in the car now. Gets a call from Sheila. She wants to know where Damian, and he seems to have forgotten all about Damian, but only for a second. He lies that Damian is right there in the car with him and that they’re on the way back to her place. Which she buys. She also says there’s some kind of alternative health seminar tonight, and she wants to go, so Tommy offers to watch Damian while she’s gone. That way he’ll have more time to get Dame-o.
But before she hangs up…Sheila wants to say hi to Damian. I think you know where this is headed.
Yup. Tommy does “the voice.” Which Sheila actually takes as a sign that the protein whatevers Dr. Zurich is giving Damian are working.
I gotta admit…this was hilarious. Tommy’s fully aware of how horrible he is the entire time, which also made it wonderful.
Then Tommy calls Lou to find out where everyone is. Lou’s hammered, because everyone is at a bar, and they’ve taken Damian along with them! Tommy’s extremely upset and steps on the gas to get there ASAP.
But the guys all have some time before Tommy arrives, so we get to see what happens when the guys take a brain-damaged individual to a bar.
Nobody is really sure what to do with Damian, and Mike is vaguely uncomfortable. But then some very attractive ladies come over. They’ve noticed Damian and want to know the story. The guys all explain how Damian used to be a firefighter, and this is how he ended up, and they’re firefighters too, but they still hang out with Damian, blah blah blah.
It keeps going.
The guys start talking about the ways they individually take care of Damian, from washing to feeding. Garrity even cock blocks Mike in the most unique way I’ve ever heard, which is to say he tells the girls Mike’s the one to clean Damian’s groin area. Franco asks the ladies if they’d like some drinks, they say “Yes,” and the guys agree to meet them over at the bar.
But THEN, amazed at how easy that was, the guys decide Damian is “the ultimate wingman,” because he attracts women but can’t cockblock anyone, so they start drawing out a schedule of when each guy will get to have Damian to himself. It escalates into an argument, but Needles steps in and puts some shame in them. The guys are chastened and head over to the ladies. Needles and Black Shawn both can’t believe how disrespectful the others are being. And finally a lone woman comes over to ask about Damian, Needles decides to turn on the charm too, and that’s that.
Tommy is still in the car when he gets a call from Janet. She’s called to tell him he missed Katie’s dance recital completely. So he’s completely botched his familial obligations today, and didn’t get to attend Mahoney’s ceremony OR anti-ceremony. All that’s left is Damian. He tries to use the dedication ceremony as an excuse for missing Colleen’s and Katie’s things, but Janet won’t hear it. She tries one last time to direct Tommy’s behavior. Pat Mahoney is gone, and Damian basically is too. But Tommy’s daughters are still here. She points out the inherent flaw in Tommy’s character, which is that he’s a fantastic firefighter and will go to insane lengths to rescue strangers, but he’s a complete fuckup with his family.
(Tommy also tries to draw out an admission from her that she’s pregnant, but it’s not the main thrust of the scene, and it only prompts her saying that).
Then it’s back to city hall, which is empty except for two members of the cleaning staff. One has noticed the plaque, but doesn’t realize it’s out of place and instead refers to that section of city hall as “The Pat Mahoney Pavilion.” That sounds off to the other guy, because he’s never heard of it being called that before, but the first guy thinks that’s because he’s just unobservant. Maybe being observant is why this Pat Mahoney guy gets a plaque, whoever he is. And they go back to their work.
I liked this scene a lot as a memorial to Mahoney…it doesn’t especially single out Mahoney; it could be anyone’s name on there. But the plaque belongs, and the respect normally given to anyone with a plaque of their name fits Mahoney, too. They avoid the public toilet idiocy, but they also avoid a false kind of dedication. Earlier the guys understood that not every firefighter can really get an individual memorial, so a big show of grandeur wouldn’t fit, either.
And finally we end up at Sheila’s. Tommy is reading the pregnancy pamphlet as Damien dozes. Damian’s blanket slips. Tommy gets up to adjust it. And when he’s leaning down, Damien snaps to his old self, grabs Tommy’s wrist, and says, “You did this to me!”
Was there confusion about the ending? I saw it as straightforward—Tommy hallucinated it, similar to the way he sees Jimmy and Connor, and the purpose was to expose Tommy’s guilt about Damian. His hallucinations are almost always just a visual way to portray his conscience. I’d been wondering why Tommy didn’t seem as affected by Damian’s brain damage as Sheila was, and the ending would indicate he’s been sublimating it, but now it comes surging to the surface.
I’ve seen some other interpretations online…two that I’ve seen are that Damian is actually dead, (which I guess fits into the overall idea that Tommy is really dead), or that Damian is faking it. It didn’t even occur to me that there could be multiple interpretations until I found those interpretations online, so I can’t really defend the alternatives. Anyone have differing ideas?
This was an uneven season, but it did have many wonderful moments…loved Tommy and Janet’s ongoing attempt to rekindle their marriage and especially the restaurant scene where they cycled through everything they love AND hate about each other in a span of five minutes; loved the way they played with 9/11′s long-term consequences and how it affects the FDNY politics; loved the overall psychological realism, which I thought they especially nailed in this episode.
They’re coming back with nine final episodes in a year’s time, with the series finale to coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I thought the part of tonight’s episode, about everyone’s struggle to figure out just how to honor the dead, was particularly setting up the series finale. I’m really eager to see how they handle the 10th anniversary, whatever they decide to come up with.
And there’s more of this to look forward to:
I still get chills from that.
Thanks for reading!