The final season of "Rescue Me" starts with a bang

Like Weeds, Rescue Me is one of the shows that defined the last decade’s television Golden Age. Also like Weeds, it hasn’t aged particularly well, the victim of the same kind of stakes-raising that has made the former a parody of itself. With the seventh and final season kicking off last night, can Rescue Me salvage its legacy?

The season premiere opens with the Gavin universe in an uneasy stasis. Tommy’s nephew Damien, rendered severely brain damaged in a firefighting accident last season, appears ready to join the rest of Tommy’s “ghosts.” Yet his is a fate worse than death, arguably – living without living, Purgatory on Earth. Predictably, Sheila is delusional and in denial about Damien’s possible recovery. Janet is pregnant (for the fifth time), and she and Tommy decide to keep the baby. The specter of their deceased son Connor still hangs heavy over their relationship, even with Wyatt (the product of Janet and Johnny’s affair) in the fold. Janet wants a normal relationship, but Tommy can’t promise that: “We are way beyond goddamn normal.”

Fast forward five months: A very pregnant Janet has formed an alliance with longtime nemesis Sheila; a friendship forged in fire at the hands of Tommy. With two women and two maturing children to tend to things, Tommy’s role as “man of the house” is in question. Complicating matters is this new dynamic with the women in his life: can he trust either one, or is this more “she said / she said?” Either way, Janet and Sheila calling Tommy “a walking hard-on with a fire helmet” is essentially his character bible.

Finally, the audience sees the firehouse. During a dry spell, fire-wise, the gang sits around making dated Jersey Shore and Flavor of Love references. Remember when these characters were the lifeblood of the show? Lovable dimwits Sean and Mike, ladies-man Franco, and salt of the Earth Lou have been run through the ringer the last few years, surviving cancer, death in the family, sexual identity crisis, baby mama drama, nuns and con artists. At this point, their banter rings hollow.

The bar is now being run by Teddy and Johnny, who have Tommy’s daughter Colleen on the payroll. Should all these recovering alcoholics be in a bar? The bar as support system is a re-hashing of the Gavin family AA group, and audiences will remember how that turned out (tragically). When “Black Shawn” proposes to Colleen, she gets hammered; apparently Tommy’s “baptism in alcohol” didn’t stick. Tommy is furious, but rejects a drink after a meeting with his ghosts (his father, his brother, and his cousin). Instead, he breaks up the bar with a few warning shots from Teddy’s shotgun: “Party’s over, assholes.”

The party will be over soon, as the series will end on the tenth anniversary of September 11th. Frankly, it’s about time: what started as a comment on how quickly we forget our heroes became an overwrought soap opera with the macho trappings of firefighting. Here’s hoping Rescue Me shows some respect for its characters in its final episodes, so that audiences never forget this gut-wrenching journey.

Rescue Me airs Wednesdays at 10PM on FX.

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