11 Seconds

by

CallieThorneThis post is going to contain spoilers for season 5  of Rescue Me through episode 5, Sheila. Please be careful and do not continue to read unless you are ready for that kind of information. I had a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy spoiled for me and, while it wasn’t the end of the world of course, it sure did ruin the punch line.

I am a faithful watcher of Rescue Me. It’s about the only 9/11 related media I tolerate and, while I’m not sure why, I do know that I’ll take a lot more from these guys than I do from anyone else trying to process post-demolition NYC on screen. This year, however, they’re testing my boundaries. Until they showed it I hadn’t watched any footage of the crashes or the buildings collapsing since about November of 2001. Apparently if Denis Leary and Peter Tolan say it’s time then I watch. Despite my seemingly slavish devotion I don’t follow unquestioningly. As I read previews of the season I wondered how they could pull this off and for all 4 of the previous seasons I’ve been a little baffled about how they manage to go so over the top emotionally, to a place almost slapstick, and still honor their subject matter and move many of their viewers.

There are moments when they lay the answers to my questions out clear as a fire engine’s siren and last week’s episode closed with one of those. Callie Thorne’s Sheila Keefe is perhaps one of their most outlandish characters. She’s brassy and loud and her entire character is a string of bad choices made with near operatic voice and gesture, if you’re in the habit of watching your opera performed by the Sopranos. I find her storylines often hard to watch and her raw emotion too much to be believed even when I can’t tear my eyes from her.

Last week’s episode ended with a monologue by Sheila Keefe about the end of her husband’s life and, in a sense, her own. I transcribed it below because I want to know I can always come back to it. It is not a perfect piece of writing, though I mistook it for one initially, but it has the charactaristic unflinching honesty of the series. In point of fact I spoke the final line aloud to my living room before the character did and I still can’t decide whether that means I’m unnaturally in tune with the writers or they’ve become lazy. What is perfect is Ms. Thorne’s delivery. She gives us these words as a Sheila we’ve never seen before which, in many contexts would mean that the writers had lost their grip and veered so far off character that the show was jumping the shark. Not so here, though, here the change is deliberate, skillful and riveting. In four plus seasons we have glimpsed here and there moments of containment, of rational strength and of the woman Sheila was on September 10, 2001. They were just moments, though, in the ocean of thrashing, screaming, naked firestarting madness that consumes her. Last week Thorne delivered a nearly 5 minute monologue that rips your heart right out of your chest and hands it back to you with a polite nod and a smile and she does it without either raising her voice or shedding a single tear. It is not what she says so much as, of course, how she says it. Just watch her eyes in the moment before she speaks the final line. Your mileage may vary but my blood ran cold.

Having watched Callie Thorne for nearly five seasons here and caught episodes of her in other favorite shows I suspected she was a force to be reckoned with. Now my suspicions have been confirmed.

“My husband was a firefighter when we met in high school…in his mind. His uncle Mike, Tommy’s dad, had been a firefighter, his Uncle Teddy. He and Tommy, that’s the only thing they ever thought of being. So when I saw that new footage of Jimmy it made me happy. I can’t explain it but I knew that he didn’t, that he wasn’t in the first building. Do you know that feeling you get when you just ever so barely escape a car crash? You know, someone suddenly stops short or races in front of you at an intersection and you think to yourself for a second like right as you slam the brakes like, “Uh oh oh OK this might be it.” And all the air skips out of your lungs and your heart feels like it’s going to explode with fright and your skin sits up real tight…on your bones and there’s this huge rush of breath and blood and… That shiver just shot right through me but not when the 1st building fell, it was during the second. I knew that Jimmy was gone during the second collapse. I stopped breathing. My eyes, I couldn’t blink, my hands froze up like claws and I thought to myself, “Oh we’re never going to finish the kitchen,” because you know, we were working on the kitchen. New counters and cabinets and stuff. And as those first floors began to tumble down, in like, I don’t know, however long it took, like 11 seconds my whole life, my love, the way I wake up in the morning every day, the way I go to sleep every night, all of that just changed, forever. Floor by floor I just…disappeared. When you lose the one person that you, you know, were meant to be with for the rest of your life so unexpectedly and so soon I don’t kn.. I can..it’s like who can walk into your….real love? Is just gone. Talk, touch, sex, breakfast. It’s funny you know, I totally thought that I was gonna just go fetal and curl up in a ball and cry but I didn’t. I made arrangements. I carried my husband’s helmet to the funeral. I listened to the mayor and the chief and Tommy talk about my husband. I buried him. I held my son as he cried against my shoulder and I tucked him in that way every night for months. And then I went fetal. For 5 years. Among many other things I uh, I completely zeroed in on Tommy because he was the closest thing that I could find on this entire earth to replace Jimmy. I cursed Tommy, I slept with Tommy, I blamed Tommy, I made Tommy breakfast, Tommy finished my kitchen…I know that Tommy is haunted by Jimmy’s death, literally. And I, I, I think that sometimes Tommy wishes that Jimmy had lived and that he had died in Jimmy’s place. And so do I.”

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2 Responses to “11 Seconds”

  1. Mrs. Chili Says:

    I JUST finished watching it, and the monologue at the end was the entire episode.

    I don’t think that the writers went off track with Sheila there; I really do think, like you said, that that’s the woman she was BEFORE. That single event – and the millions of implications that it brought with it – changed EVERYONE, whether we were in NYC or not. I think that the writers are being deliberate here in showing us what kind of person Sheila was before the wreckage. We have no concept of who these people were before 9/11 – we have nothing to compare the people we see now to. For all we know, Tommy and Janet had a wonderful marriage and a happy, balanced family and what happened on 9/11 wrenched all that apart. The same could be said for every single one of those characters, and I think that’s what the show was trying to illustrate with Sheila.

    That last line, spoken honestly and without guilt or venom, probably did more to heal Sheila’s character than anything the psycho-dramatist ever could do. It’ll be interesting to see where she goes from here.

  2. kizzbeth Says:

    Do you remember a home video Tommy watched in, who knows, maybe the 2nd season? It’s him, Jimmy, Janet, Sheila and the kids and they’re playing football in a park and it’s fall and they’re in hats and scarves and vests and Janet does a dance and Sheila is kissing Jimmy? What we saw in it couldn’t have been even as long as this recent monologue but it’s what has kept me engaged with Sheila’s character even when I’ve hated her. She was so happy and so light, all the same energy and none of the lasered demonic feeling we have always seen in her present tense. This monologue honored what they set up there, I think. I’m now kind of impressed that they went over 4 seasons without feeling the need to show us this type of deeper blast from the past.

    And they pull it on you like a slap in the face, too. They always do that. The episode was fine, interesting stuff was happening, characters were moving but I was, frankly, a little sick of the stupid French journalist and not super excited about what was going on. Then, wham, she’s talking and I’m on the edge of my seat and they could have kept me there for hours…CREDITS. GAH!

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