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Six days after the episode aired, debate among TV critics, bloggers and fans about last week's ''Rescue Me'' has yet to subside. And the show's co-creator has even joined the online fray.
At issue is one of the more polarizing scenes in a TV drama in recent memory. In the June 20 episode, called ''Sparks,'' firefighter Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) and his estranged wife, Janet (Andrea Roth), were having a testy though reasonably grown-up conversation about dividing their assets. A throwaway comment about a dining-room set, though, sets Tommy off, and he forces himself on Janet, tearing her shirt and forcibly having sex with her.
Janet fights back, clawing at him and punching him in the face, but then seems to accept the situation, if not even enjoy it a little. And Tommy leaves her house with a smirk on his face. Those two details, as much as the act itself, have sparked debate among fans and critics about not just whether Tommy raped his wife but whether the show was somehow condoning his actions.
''Some puerile little jerkoff writers are being paid handsomely to put forth the idea that rape is okey-dokey,'' reads a post from a viewer squarely in the latter camp on Television Without Pity, whose forums host a lively debate on the episode.
''Rescue Me'' co-creator Peter Tolan has been a part of that back-and-forth, posting a number of times about the episode, which he co-wrote with Leary.
''Our feeling has always been that Tommy and Janet are in a highly dysfunctional relationship [obviously], a negative vortex fueled by only one positive - a faint glimmer of love that is constantly overshadowed by truly fantastic physical attraction,'' Tolan writes in one of his posts. ''In terms of the scene . . . I never wrote the words 'don't' or 'no' at any point in the scene, and when I talked to Andrea about the playing of the thing, I pretty much told her that she had to stand up to Tommy - that he had taken so much away from her over the years, that she had to stare him down from a position of strength while he was forcing himself on her. I told her to shame him with the words she was given - to let him know she couldn't hurt her anymore, no matter what he did.''
That said, though, Tolan acknowledges that a lot of viewers didn't interpret the scene that way. ''The idea of any woman 'enjoying' being raped is repellant, and caused all of us [and the network] a great deal of concern. But again, these are seriously damaged people who are unable to express their emotions - and so expression through brutality has become expected,'' he adds.
The dialogue continued from there, though not at flame-war intensity. Indeed, by the standards of message-board discussion, the discussion was markedly civil. Several posters thanked Tolan for sharing his thoughts, and Tolan repeatedly acknowledged the passion of ''Rescue Me'' fans on the TWOP boards.
He did betray a little bit of frustration, though, at one point writing that ''Several of you will be receiving a large box in the mail in the next few days. It's a dead horse. Beat away.''
Tolan also says that Tommy will suffer some form of karmic payback for his actions in coming episodes, though not necessarily this week.
American Eats: History Channel, tonight, 8. The history of the pizza industry and America's fascination with pizza are profiled in this series premiere.