In the penultimate episode for this season’s Shameless, things (for the most part) are looking pretty good. So, why do I have the same sinking feeling for the Gallaghers that I did the second they introduced heart-transplant girl? Because in Shameless, no one gets too far ahead without losing a tooth. Just ask Mickey.
One reason “Emily” was strangely optimistic for most of its running time (with two woeful exceptions) is because Fiona is going to jail! And for everyone but her that is some much-needed breathing room from an imploding character vortex. I expected the punishment to be a week or two of jail time after she broke her curfew and went on a Wisconsin-bound bender, but 90 days in prison seems a little bit excessive. Yet, as miserable as Fi’s face is as she sits next to a baby-killer who stabbed her boyfriend’s wife’s pregnant stomach—yikes—everyone else she seems to have given her life to raise is relatively flourishing.
Obviously, the one that will have some Shameless fans most excited is that Mickey finally came out of the closet like a prized bulldog on fight night, and he did it at his child’s baptism no less. It was remarkable that Mickey even agreed to show up for the baptism until I realized that his father was expected to make it to the after party and appearances are key with him. Unfortunately for Mickey’s privacy, they now mean everything to Ian too since his closet-case angst has faded into the background with much grace and kind ambivalence from his family. As I suspected several weeks ago, Mickey staying on Ian’s floor (or bed) will raise eyebrows to even the most oblivious Gallagher—namely Carl who asked if Mickey was Ian’s boyfriend. They don’t care and neither does Ian. But Mickey’s coming out party was far less warm and fuzzy when Ian party crashed the baptism and threatened to leave Mickey’s self-hatred behind at the Alibi. As soon as Ian pulled the “I’m leaving you again” card, any viewer should know what Mickey was about to do since Mickey has become so beholden to Ian this season that it is hard to remember that this relationship started with him on top.
This has really been a standout year for Noel Fisher who has brought some shocking pathos and depth to Mickey, a kid introduced as a closeted bully that nearly killed Ian in Season 1 for touching Mandy. Indeed, other than the writers totally dropping that aspect of the character when Mickey turned a blind eye to Mandy continuing to date the douchebag who gave her a black one—these Miklovich brothers beat Lip half to death for simply defending Ian’s reputation at Mandy’s expense in Season 1. Does it only matter when she’s Jane Levy?—Mickey has never shown more complexity in what is arguably the best performance of the season. With the ties of a sham marriage threaten to strangle him to death, as well as Ian’s accelerated rip from the closet mandate, the wordless hesitation Fisher never has to verbalize in each scene has been a highlight. And it’s also why until Ian said “I’m leaving” that I didn’t think Mickey had it in him to come out. But out he came and in a big, broad showstopper way with his terrifying father being only 10 feet away. “I’m fucking gay.” And that was pretty much dad’s reaction too, save with more emphasis on the “fucking” part when he lunged across Kev’s new strangely Zen bar to strangle his son half-to-death until Ian intervened.
Some fans are undoubtedly applauding this twist of fate, and it does feel like a hard-earned victory when the eldest Milkovich is being dragged off back to prison, and Ian and Mickey revel in their freedom along with some serious injuries. But I would not be too overjoyed yet. Mickey strikes me as a character who could get buyer’s remorse as he was already mocked for being gay in that victorious moment, and Ian has been revealed to have an early hint of Monica to his personality. I felt Ian was just as much bored with Mickey as he was with the military when he left and used the closet as an excuse. Sure, he’ll defend Mickey when he is being attacked by a father who Ian has wanted to beat the living crap out of for about a season—as have we all—but that was as much a personal score settling as a heroic rescue. I look at the circles Ian runs in now, and the circles that Mickey has just made himself a pariah in, and I still don’t see this lasting long. Or happily.
It certainly wasn’t a happy ending for Debbie when she had her first “real” boyfriend and lost him in the span of a few hours. Seeing a guy several years older and super-dreamy interested in her was like a Cinderella story when he picked her over her two incredibly trashy friends. He even offered to take her to the dance while making out with her in a stairwell, but it was obvious he just wanted her shirt off. What was not obvious is that this little snot was the stepbrother of Mattie’s girlfriend who went total Regina George on Debbie when she ruined middle school for a rival who never had a chance to begin with.
I have been weary of Debs’ storyline this year, because it has had to thread a very delicate needle. I even got some criticism from you faithful readers when I suggested that one episode in particular was a bit exploitative. But on the whole, this season has done a great job of examining the increasing modern pressure for young teens and even tweens in an over-sexualized culture, especially in low-income groups. It is a real world issue, and one that is difficult to explore. So, Shameless tackling with such bluntness is unique an occasionally refreshing. Plus, Crazy Debbie (who we glimpse every season) using a snake was pretty hilarious. Nonetheless, this particular chapter rang a little bit false. A nursing student, as in a 20-soemthing young woman who wants to work in the medical field, decided she would slut shame a 13-year-old in seventh grade after already making her point? This seems like a convenient way to bring Debbie and Mattie closer, because of course he isn’t going to stick around with Little Miss Fatal Attraction after he heard what she did. How this all plays out next week will really decide if this season’s Debbie subplot achieved what John Wells and Paul Abbot have been reaching for in the last 11 episodes.
However, another story that has paid off remarkably well is the sudden romance between Lip and Amanda, formerly the girlfriend of his roommate. Granted, she is dating him mostly because she likes how kind he is to Liam, and that he is the kind of guy her parents would hate. Especially if they met him. But, if it works for them, who are we to judge?
Her parents certainly did though when they showed up on the South Side for probably the first time in their lives. Lip was supposed to have dinner with them at a restaurant and scare them away from Amanda’s choices, making her leaving the med school track that much easier. But after Fiona got sent up the river, Lip doesn’t have a free evening. So, they were cordially invited to a dinner at the Gallagher homestead. And it’s perfect timing since Carl invited his new girlfriend’s entire sibling family to live with them! Oh, and Social Services sprang their surprise visit at exactly that moment too! It’s a win-win all around.
As funny as this storyline was, and it had classic Shameless humor like Lip taking the rich dad’s $10,000 bribe to not date Amanda and then split it with her, it felt a little too neat. When one person Lip has to be squeaky clean for (Social Services) shows up at the exact same time one person he wants to be a slob for (Amanda’s parents) do, it is bordering on a sit-com scenario. In fact, it all concluded in a way that would have made Jack Tripper proud, because social services and the story of his “coke snorting” sister scared the parents away just as much as Bonnie’s siblings endeared Lip to social services. It’s cold, and he’s taking on more charges, if only for a night. In return, the nice social worker admires Lip’s compassion and tells him when she will next appear for a “surprise” inspection.
All of these scenes work and are highly entertaining, but they felt exceedingly happy and semi-charmed for a show that revels in chaos.
That’s why we also have Emily. The episode’s title character seems to solely exist in order to bring down the vibe of everyone’s good mojo this week. And it works painfully well. Introduced as a girl in need of a heart transplant (or “looking like a vampire”) she had tragedy stamped onto her forehead, and yet I still rooted that for once the show would not go to that dark place. But perhaps it needed to. Almost everyone can agree that Frank’s last minute salvation for a liver transplant last week crossed that sitcom line again as being far too lucky and contrived for a show about an alcoholic in extreme poverty. Nonetheless, I am happy Frank survived anyway—and will have something much more extensive about that later in the week—so, seeing him a little loopy and mentally unstable after his operation was like curling up with a favorite drink. But Shameless had to re-earn its street cred and quickly. It did exactly that when Sammi, Sheila, and Frank discovered his roommate was adorable, if sickly Emily. A little girl who wishes she could go to school or dance.
The real heartbreaker though was that hallucinating Frank did not see little Emily sitting near him. He called her Fiona, and for a brief moment we too glimpsed what Frank must see when he thinks of Fi: a scared little girl wishing she had a daddy. Emily’s father left her too, so she grapples on to Frank’s kind words like a young Fi did once upon a time. Frank apologizes for abandoning her and Lip in a car all night when he and Monica went to get high. He also offers to find her some food.
Inevitably, Frank gets to enjoy a new liver to wreck when innocent Emily’s heart gives out. In the episode’s final moment, Frank watches on as they call Emily’s death, and he cries for the dead girl in whose face he sees Fiona. And as predictable as it is, it is heartbreaking. It even has a point too when Frank cries for Fiona and it finally cuts to her back in jail where she better not drop the soap.
Fiona’s decisions were her own, and she has to finally take responsibility for her self-destruction that has led to this place. But Frank really put his once equally innocent and sweet daughter in this position that has thus far ended in a hellhole. He literally abandoned her for drugs and booze, leaving her in extreme poverty to raise all of her siblings. He took away her childhood, and he got to watch it happen one more time tonight. Sadly, he won’t remember it…but we will.
It was a stark ending left to remind viewers just what kind of show they are watching. It also had the vibe of earlier seasons that mixed the absurd comedy with the most downer of character moments. For some, it may therefore be one of the season’s best. However, it all felt a little too convenient for me in the plotting to be one of the year’s best Shameless episodes. It was one of the funniest though (until it wasn’t) with a killer ending, so I can’t be too harsh on the contrivances used to create it.
Going into next week’s finale, I expect the shoe to drop hard after this weeklong era of good-ish feelings. The question is on who. At first glance, Ian and Mickey would make the most sense, but the disintegration of that could be milked for a whole season worth of drama next year. So, it will have to be somewhere else. Lord knows that Fiona has suffered enough this year, but could one good kicking deserve another?
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week:
-KEV: I’m a consciousness objector now.
MICKEY: The fuck does that mean?
KEV: I don’t really know. Something to do with Muhammad Ali. Peace and love?
-LIP: You want to torture your parents? Bring them to my house for dinner tonight. Here’s my address. Don’t call me not a man of my word again.