After seven seasons, FX's Rescue Me concluded with its usual blend of dark plots and dark comedy before ultimately leaving tortured hero Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) with a surprisingly sunny outlook on the future.
That ending reflects the stories of a couple real-life firefighters who inspired his character, Leary says.
Peter Tolan celebrates the end of Rescue Me by dropping his pants
"They're definitely in a place, 10 years later, where they still love the job," he tells TVGuide.com. "They're actually as happy as you could expect them to be. They're whole. They're back to as close as they could be to the men they were before the events of 9/11 happened.
"Not only did they survive, but I think they survived in the best possible way you could: They are very aware of what went on that day," Leary continues. "They'll never get over it, and they're still very angry about what happened in a way, but they're still jumping on the rig and fighting fires. It's not necessarily where I thought those two guys would end up, but I think Tommy kind of reflects what happened to them."
Co-creator Peter Tolan told reporters at the Television Critics Association previews in August that two other endings were considered but abandoned. One had Tommy sacrificing himself in a fire to ensure his family would be taken care of; another involved him walking out into the ocean to drown. But Tolan feels those cappers sent the wrong message.
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"You don't want to send out a message that says human beings don't survive tragedy, because the reality is that they do," Tolan told us in an interview before Season 7 began. "You realize that laughter is the whole coping mechanism. The show was saying, on some level, 'Look: We go on, we laugh, we survive.' ... I think that's the choice we had to make — to offer some glimmer of hope."
That hope was embodied by John Scurti's Lou, who, despite not surviving the harrowing fire at the end of the series' penultimate episode, is seen as a ghost at the end of the finale. But he's a far cry from the dead men who have haunted Tommy throughout the series.
"This is a ghost that he's comforted by," Tolan says. "It's not a contentious thing or something that takes him to a dark place. It's really Casablanca at that point with the two of them driving off. It's the continuation of a beautiful friendship."
Rescue Me's John Scurti on the final episodes: "Lou steps back up"
Lou's death came while he was doing what he loved — not, as the show had so heavily foreshadowed, as the result of a heart attack because of his unhealthy lifestyle. "We wanted to not trick the audience, but have this misdirect," Tolan says. "We wanted the audience to think that his heart was going to go before something else happened. It becomes a surprise when he actually dies in the line of duty. And he does die heroically."
"There is that moment [in the fire]," Leary adds, "where Tommy realizes maybe we're not going to be OK. But this guy, knowing the circumstances, has chosen to land on top of the grenade. That kind of bravery is really what the show was always about."
That bravery was also on display in perhaps the finale's greatest misdirect. The opening scene, which is eventually revealed to be one of Tommy's dreams, shows Lou as the fateful fire's only survivor giving a rousing eulogy for his five fallen comrades."That was something I pitched at the very beginning of the series," Tolan says. "And we just never used it. Year after year, people would die and we would go, 'Is it this person? Do we do it here?' So, we finally used it for Lou, and I was really happy with it."
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Scurti, who expressed some displeasure with the amount of food-related jokes in the final season, was thrilled with Lou's heroic swan song. "When you look at Lou in that scene, he won't let the emotion in," Scurti says. "The only emotion that he'll deal with is the pride that he feels. And that could've been a big weeping, sopping mess, and it's not. It's a cry of defiance to the heavens. It's one of the most beautiful things as an actor I've even been asked to play.
And as it turned out, the emotions of that scene weren't far removed from the actor's mournful feelings.
"Knowing that I had to march through that church and stand in front of all those coffins, I was afraid that I was going to lose it, because it happens to be the absolute last scene that we ever shot of Rescue Me," Scurti says. "When I was done with that speech, the show was over. That was it. We all got in our vans and went in separate directions. So that added something else to it. I'm not only saying goodbye to all of these people, but I'm also saying goodbye inside to the best job that I've ever had. So it was very, very difficult."
What did you think of the finale? Share your favorite Rescue Me memories in the comments below!