Following up the heartbreakingly shocking penultimate episode of Rescue Me, Denis Leary and Peter Tolan beautifully conclude their hit television series with the same grace and gravitas that has wonderfully been present throughout tenure of Rescue Me’s run.

It goes without saying this review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for the series finale of Rescue Me – read on at your own risk.

With a flurry of questions running through the viewer’s mind after witnessing the majority of Ladder 62 being caught in a seemingly unsurvivable explosion, it takes but mere moments from the beginning of the episode before the first upsetting images appear. Tommy, Sean (Steven Pasquale), Franco (Daniel Sunjata), Mike (Mike Lombardi) and “Black Shawn” (Larenz Tate) – the familiar characters have brought so many hilarious moments to the series – did not survive the blast. Somehow, the ever reliable (unless it’s with letters and fire) “Lou” survived with minor injuries, and now he must proverbially ferry his fallen comrades to the other side.

In a speech that not only exemplifies the truly masterful handling of words that Leary and Tolan possess, but also elicits tears in what may be the episode’s most emotional moment, John Scurti (as Lieutenant Kenneth Shea) delivers a performance so solid, so complete, so earnest, that one could easily mistake this to be a scene from an award winning film.

…and then Tommy wakes up.

Proving that Rescue Me is not beyond its familiar tricks of faux imagery filled with imagined actions, the reality and truth of what actually happened is finally revealed. All of the previously mourned characters are, for all in intents and purposes, safe. Unfortunately, as the appearances of characters once thought dead, it soon becomes apparent that someone is missing: Lou.

As Tommy relives the events that transpired during the course of last episode’s explosion, the shocking truth that “Lou” didn’t survive the blast is shown to be the one and only loss that Ladder 62 incurred.

Despite the fact that a week break separated the penultimate episode from the Rescue Me series finale, the ability to elicit an emotional response from those watching for the entirety of the series’ cast – even if only a single member actually died – is a wonderfully poignant and commendable endeavor – one that could only be competently handled by someone with the talent and dedication to the series and its fans.

When a longtime series such as Rescue Me comes to an end, the audience wants to – on some level – be able to say goodbye to the characters they watched for so many years. Often times such series end with the simple knowledge that the characters will be fine – and while that’s a commendable approach, it doesn’t provide the same emotional finality that many seek.

This is it; this is the moment – if there was ever a time when a beautifully planned rollercoaster of emotional confusion is welcomed, it’s in the final episode. While some may say the opening half of the Rescue Me series finale is not an earnest approach to such an expected conclusion, one cannot deny that the handling of this specific plot doesn’t fit perfectly within the confines of what Rescue Me has always presented as its brand of storytelling – a brand of storytelling that became the reason why many people initially tuned in.

Of course, given that all of the aforementioned scenes occurred within the course of the first half of the finale episode, there’s still an entire second half left to go – and if there was a place to critique the handling of events, this would be it.

Following the shocking revelation that “Lou” is dead, and after emotionally draining the majority of those watching, the notion that we’re simply pantomiming appropriate emotional progression can undoubtedly be felt. The laughs, while still present, aren’t nearly as funny as they were in previous episodes; the intent, while plainly laid out, doesn’t carry the same emotional weight that it should; and the scenes, while still as competently executed as always, somehow feels flat.

Whether it be the aforementioned emotional drain that was the opening of the Rescue Me series finale, or the feeling that the series had come to an end before its allotted episode time was up, much of what occurs as the Rescue Me series finale comes to an end feels like the last chapter of a book that should have ended 20 pages sooner.

Despite these noted grievances, the Rescue Me series finale was still a wonderfully adept conclusion to a series that, in and of itself, has been nothing short of a masterful rollercoaster of emotional intrigue through the life of one brilliantly troubled mind and his family, friends and co-workers.

Rescue Me aired Wednesdays @10pm on FX

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