"I want to walk away from this as clean as possible, but I'm not gonna sugarcoat it."
Warning: If you aren't current on this season's episodes, you may want to wait to read this story until you've had a chance to catch up.
Jack McGee wants to talk.
The 59-year-old former firefighter and veteran character actor played firehouse chief Jerry Reilly for three seasons on FX's controversial hit series Rescue Me, acting opposite star and executive producer Denis Leary as part of one the most colorful ensembles on television. The show's macho melodrama -- largely co-scripted by Leary and his main collaborator, Peter Tolan -- has followed the blustering Reilly learning to understand and accept his gay son, coping with his beloved wife's Alzheimer's diagnosis, and recovering from a heart attack.
After all that, he blows his brains out, in the final seconds of the show's June 27 episode.
The character's suicide occurs after a series of epiphanies. Reilly makes a heartfelt toast at his son's wedding to another man. But he also fails a physical exam required to resume work at the firehouse, then grudgingly accepts a desk job in the Fire Department of New York's administrative headquarters, where he helps Leary's character, screw-up firefighter Tommy Gavin, quash documents implicating him on arson charges. In the final minutes of McGee's last episode, Reilly goes to the firehouse to inform Gavin that he's saved Gavin's bacon yet again, and is given a surprise going-away party and a set of golf clubs. Then he goes home and shoots himself.
McGee says the character's exit didn't make sense. "Tell me, how does the only guy [on the series], the guy who always does the right thing, a stand-up guy with all the other guys, the guy everybody goes to when they have a problem, the guy who stood by his wife after she developed Alzheimer's, go off and take his life?" McGee asked in a phone interview from the set of a film shoot in Hawaii.
Is Reilly's suicide understandable, considering how much the character loved fighting fires? McGee says the character might have considered suicide after losing his dream job, but he wouldn't have followed through, because he was a tough, adaptable man with a wife who depended on him. "My own true feeling is, I think the wrong character killed himself," McGee says, referring to Gavin.
Beyond that, McGee objects to his treatment by Leary: "I want to walk away from this as clean as possible, but I'm not gonna sugarcoat it."
McGee says that Leary, who declined requests to be interviewed for this piece, cultivates a public image as a bold, blunt, hands-on actor-writer-producer who loves collaboration, but is actually an insecure, controlling person who hogs the spotlight. ("The promos are all him -- you'd think there was nobody else on the show.") McGee also says Leary demands deference from costars, ostracizes those who don't grant it, and avoids taking responsibility for unpleasant creative decisions, preferring to subcontract the delivery of bad news to his fellow executive producers, Peter Tolan and Jim Serpico.