I am choosing to pretend that "Vows," the penultimate episode of Rescue Me, which aired last night, is actually the series finale for the show. I'm sure that's going to be an unpopular opinion, but hear me out...
Peter Tolan and Denis Leary have said numerous times that they toyed with the idea of ending the series by having Tommy commit suicide. They pictured him walking into a fire and just sitting down as the walls crumbled around him. He has fire in his blood; it's what he knows best and what he does best. Without it he would be lost. But all throughout the season his wife (Andrea Roth) and even some of his kids have been pressuring him to retire. The stress of the job hasn't eased up; he isn't getting any younger; he has a new baby to think about; and most importantly, he isn't getting any healthier. The trauma and the post-traumatic stress of what he has experienced and those he has lost is still weighing on him as heavily as the day it all occurred. Maybe more so because he has had time to ruminate and stew in his own mind.
Tolan and Leary have also said numerous times that they rejected the suicide idea because ultimately they do want to show a spot of hope for Tommy. His life is not a lost cause, even if at many times he cannot see it that way. And that being said, I feel "Vows" is the most hopeful place Tommy will ever be without having to give up so much of who he innately is. His family has found happiness; his daughter Colleen (Natalie Distler) has her happy ending with Black Shawn (Larenz Tate); he even pulled it together enough to walk her down the aisle. He renewed his pledge to his wife and even promised something new-- something that I don't think any of us want to see him follow through on (or at least I don't). Yes, retiring would keep him physically safer, in that he wouldn't be running into burning buildings anymore. But he is a man who survives on that adrenaline and without it he will go stir crazy. Or chase the high in other ways.
At the end of "Vows" we see Tommy, although still intending to keep his promise, back with his boys for one last fire. One last of his career, theoretically, and of the show, especially in my mind if this is the last episode I will consider. He is back where he belongs; he is back where he is most happy. There could not be a more poetic ending. The fact that the fire gets so dicey so quick is just the cherry on the top of the beautifully sculpted layer cake. When it seems you are finally going to have it all-- when it seems you are figuring it out-- life throws you a giant curveball, even in the form of something you always thought you could handle. Life's just that way.
"Vows" was sweet in Tommy's interactions with his family; it was funny in its drunken antics (Callie Thorne deserves some kind of award for her toast, even if I have to craft a trophy myself!); and it became somber at the end when we saw just how serious the fire was and how dire the situation would be for the guys we have come to see as our brothers over the last seven seasons. I just wanted to hold my breath and saunter side by side with them in there because even if they don't all make it out okay, they're going in strong and they'll take whatever life throws at them. And honestly, I don't need to know if they all make it out okay or who does. I want to remember this show for what it was at its core: a family of guys who bust each other balls every waking second but would die for each other in a heartbeat. Ending on a fire the way Tolan and Leary always wanted is what I want, too.