This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Last week, Shameless seemed to turn a corner. The fallout from Fiona’s brief but highly destructive breakdown in season 4 had run its course and she had created something resembling semi-stability with Sean (not counting her 72-hour marital bliss with Gus). Additionally, with the Sami problem apparently out of the way (for now), the Gallaghers have been left with plenty of their own rope to hang themselves on.
And this is what makes “#AbortionRules” such a strong continuation of an impressive kickoff to season 6. Whereas last week felt akin to catching us up with the Gallaghers at the Alibi, chatting about how they’ve been doing these past months—and perhaps sadly taking Mickey Milkovich out of the equation for a while—this week genuinely develops a real thrust for the New Year. And it looks to be posited on a grim but necessary question.
How good of a parent is Fiona Gallagher?
While Fiona should never have been in charge of her younger siblings’ well being, Frank’s eternal disappointment as a human being and the even worse Monica left her in that position. Thus as viewers, we’ve routinely been asked to root for Fi as she keeps her family’s head above water with nary a high school diploma to her name. Audiences (mostly) cheered when she beat Frank for legal custody in court and celebrated her keeping the house from cousin Patrick, or for finding the money for food on the table.
But at the end of the day, Fiona has primarily been a big sister to her family that she loves more than her own happiness. Yet is that enough?
Speaking even wider than her severe crashes in the fourth season with both wee baby Liam and everything that followed, she has treated Debbie as a beloved sister and friend, and Carl as someone she can only do so much for. But she has never given them many boundaries, and now it isn’t necessarily so cute for the characters as they have gotten older.
So here we are with one brother selling guns in his school and another sister who must be explained the “#AbortionRules.” Because for a pregnant 15-year-old girl, abortion does indeed rule over ruining your life.
This year has positioned itself to be a referendum on Fi as a parent, particularly since it looks like she might actually become a full-fledged mother in only a few months…
But before we go down that rabbit hole, let’s look at how the episode contextualizes this issue: first, we witness Fiona’s most monumental struggle of convincing Debbie Gallagher to use her wits for once in at least several years. Debbie, the girl who was applauded for beating up another girl in a pool and whose lessons on romance has been trips to the dance club, is convinced that she can be a mother simply by carrying a sack of flour around all day. This is wonderfully warped and only logical to Debs.
Elsewhere in the episode, Veronica tells Fi that “Debbie’s a smart girl,” but I suspect many viewers would not venture that far since Debs leaves her “flour-baby” after one day on the Elevated train, never to be seen again. Further, she is told by her ex-beau’s sister that he wants to join the Air Force and has no interest in sticking around for Debbie or her kid. Yet, she still thinks the bright lesson of all this is to follow him to Florida—a state of eight million people and her with no clue as to which town he even lives in.
Carl meanwhile has hilariously made even greater strides in his new calling than I could have predicted. I had at first entertained tonight the idea that Carl’s new 20-something roommate would be a con played on viewers: he’s not in the gang life and neither is Carl, why would you make that assumption?
But nope, Carl is shaking down Asian drycleaners and selling guns in school. I especially love his brand of gun control—if you say you want a gun to annoy someone, no dice. But if you’re even mildly sincere, here’s the trigger and look up how to use it online. Sweet Home Chicago, I hope that is not accurate to how weapons are pilfered on the Southside (or how easy it is to get them through metal detectors). Either way, Carl is going to go far in this life until shit inevitably gets bloody very soon.
At this point, it should be noted that there were other good comedic storylines coursing through the episode. I personally enjoyed how gentrified the Alibi is getting since it is voted in the equivalent of Time Out to be the best shitty bar on the Southside. I called the espresso machine last week, but I still couldn’t predict in the span of seven days there’d also be a hookah table and karaoke! The hipsters even help Frankie figure out he needs to burn Bianca’s crap—which leads him to preying on terminally ill women for some potential one night stands.
Aye, the joke of the night is Frank causes another dying woman to shuffle off this mortal coil early when she overdoses on her first hit of a crack pipe. Between her, Bianca, and Butterface in season 2, I legitimately believe Frank has turned into a serial killer of the terminally ill. Doctors better keep him out of hospice!
Lip also might have a little blood on his hands in the near future since his professor-girlfriend appears to be going all femme fatale on him. In a beat right out of Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice, she jokingly suggests that Lip could just kill her boring square of a hubby. After all, the life insurance would be through the roof. And to be fair, this strange fellow who offers to make Lip breakfast is kind of a maddeningly bizarre example of academia.
I highly doubt Lip is ready to commit murder for what is still essentially a booty call, but the idea that the show might propose the concept of going film noir for him in season 6 is so out of leftfield that it’s genuinely welcome. There really are new territories of depravity that the Gallaghers haven’t even dreamed about traversing, and getting ensnared in a WASPy murder plot would be just the right kind of levity for what appears to be already another heavy season of suffering.
Because Lip is part of the real main plot of the night too: Fi asks him to try to drive Debs to the abortion clinic. And therein lies another of the season’s most unsettling contrasts for Fiona. As legal guardian, Fi has agreed to be more than a sister—she is also a mother. And much like her taking on the role of assistant manager, that means she cannot just be Debbie’s friend or Ian’s loving big sister. She also has to “mother” them just as much as she needs to call Ian out for being chronically late and lazy at the diner.
Fi is not wrong to call Ian out on his shortcomings as an employee—or his need to take medication—however that makes Ian hate her and, much to my surprise, side with Debbie. In retrospect, the guy who stole another person’s baby not seeing the big picture with Debs’ madness shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Luckily, Fi can get Lip to show a united front. But unlike Fiona, who has had to deal with Debbie’s teenage hormones every day for years, a visiting Lip can apparently give the better sort of paternal advice that almost sinks into Debs’ thick skull.
Fiona’s parentage, in contrast, involves wrestling Debs to the front lawn so she can’t get on a bus for Orlando. “Fucking Gallaghers,” says Lip. Indeed. But it’s also overdue.
At this point, I have no idea if Fiona will keep her own baby, but despite her horror at Sean shooting up again (which did seem to come out of leftfield), she seems resigned to wanting to try to love him and their relationship. There is an actual cathartic emotion to their closing love scene too. So much of the Shameless nudity tends to be so gratuitous that it’s a pleasant surprise to find something soulful and even potentially romantic going on between Fi and Sean. Surprisingly, I find myself really rooting for them.
But should they have a kid? Honestly, I do think Fiona is old enough now to be a mother. Sure, she started taking responsibility for her siblings at 14-years-old and never really quite got the full hang of it. But I know she has been a good influence on kids who would have done far worse if left solely to Frank’s selfish, alcoholic hand, or in a soul-crushing system (well actually, baby Liam might have been better off with that sweet, upscale gay couple….). It’s because of Fi that Lip had the chance to seriously consider going to college, even if Mandy filled out the application, and why Carl didn’t end up in a gang sooner.
Nonetheless, Carl is in a gang and Debbie is confounded about why Fi is finally putting her foot down about something so small as another child for Fiona to raise. And that’s also why Fi probably shouldn’t be a real mother again so soon. She has never been able to have enough time to fully know herself, and another kid will ensure she probably never will. Then again, that might be reassuring for the girl who spent her entire adolescence and now most of her 20s being a den mother.
It’s a fascinating question that makes us reexamine these characters and their series-long relationships in a new light after being six years deep into this story. That is the sign of a great episode and one that opens up a whole new slew of possibilities for the rest of season 6.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week:
“The Alibi voted the ‘Best Shittiest Bar on the Southside?’ It also says we have the skankiest and meanest Russian bartender… I’ve never been the best at anything!” – Kev
“We’re not in the training business. That’s what the Internet is for!” – Carl
“Nice one boss, nothing cuntier than firing a relative.” – Melinda
“Think of me as your cancer concierge.” – Frank