Any show that deals with saving lives, eventually lands on a story similar to the one that Sirens touched on last night: how a doctor/firefighter/EMT deals with trying to protect someone they love. It’s one of those things that first responders know how to compartmentalize when dealing with strangers. Even the deaths are a little easier to swallow because, at the basest level, you are just doing your job. But when it comes to a loved one… things are a lot more complicated.
Here, it was Johnny’s Dad Frank, who winds up in a coma after suffering a heart attack at the OTB. And, in their own way, each member of the cast is forced to deal with a spectre of mortality as a result. For Billy, he feels the need to express his true feelings to the people around him so it’s not too late—including the barista who he says wears dresses that remind him of his abuelita, and who he’d totally sleep with if he weren’t in a relationship. For the rest of the Eminent Ambulance Company crew, it’s discussing both “the light” that people on their deathbeds supposedly have to walk towards on their way out, and the potential joys of going to Hell if you’re a bad person.
As for Frank’s ex-wife, it’s taking bets about his time of death, or the time when he comes out of the coma. If that seems a little heartless, it only stings for a moment. The rest of Jean Smart’s scenes in this episode are far more tender, as she sits by her TV ex-husband’s bedside and expresses her regret that they didn’t make it, especially when there was still so much love between them.
The heart of this episode, though, was Michael Mosley. He looked appropriately haunted throughout, even as he tried to continue working, to keep his mind off his potentially dying father. And when he had a chance to sit in the hospital room, opening up about how impressed he always was at Frank’s work as a firefighter, and encouraging his dad to let go if he had to, Mosley brought such genuine emotion and depth to each line. It was a legitimately moving scene and one of the best moments on TV so far this year.
Of course, it all wound up for naught as Frank eventually woke up, refreshed and ready to take on the single ladies of Chicago. But the moments leading up to his recovery felt very real and very heartfelt. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who spent time with Denis Leary’s previous TV effort Rescue Me, but it’s a welcome balance of comedy and empathy that is sorely needed in the small screen landscape with the end of Parks and Recreation. The writers and actors of Sirens would never let their show get that treacly, but it’s nice to see them stretching into that territory more and more this year.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.