The title of tonight’s episode of Shameless is “I’m the Liver,” but it might as well have been “I’m the prophet.”
As we detailed in last week’s review, everybody else is changing in the Gallagher clan—or at least trying to—save for Frank. The irony is that he is the one who has changed the most on paper, including with a new marriage and a new liver that both forbid him from excessively drinking. And that paradox is possibly the best thing Shameless season five has going for at the moment.
Indeed, it is Frank’s reliable cynicism that allows him to foresee a gentrified future for South Side Chicago that provides one terrific joke after another, including an eloquent monologue about the indignities suffered by the working poor (assuming Frank himself ever worked), which we have detailed below as the quote of the night. Beyond that though, it appears to be building a common narrative thread on which everything is based. There is the more broadly humorous (for now) subplot about Lip’s new summer job, which offered some terrific comedy as the college boy who didn’t want to leave the neighborhood can barely survive a full day working in it. This is the kind of backbreaking bricklaying that Lip romanticized in previous seasons, so seeing him get his hands dirty in it and to then yearn for sexts from his college girlfriend has a secondary delicious irony to it.
However, already the threat of gentrification is rearing its head in this storyline as well since Lip’s job is to clear the way for an organic coffee shop. As the Gospel of Frank preaches, their end will come in the guise of a “Starbucks.” Humorous now, it is clear that these plotlines will all converge very soon.
For example, the other storyline directly involving Frank is that Sheila wants to move. This is quite an accomplishment for a woman who a few seasons ago wouldn’t step foot outside her house for fear of a plane falling on her head. The difference, however, is that at that time, Sheila didn’t have Sammi as a daughter-in-law.
Last season, the reliable secret weapon of Shameless that is Joan Cusack was left mostly to dote on a dying Frank with pseudo-drama (forced comatose marriages notwithstanding), but her war with Sammi is allowing the series to play to her comedic strengths once more. Frank attempts to be detached from this battle, and is indeed played by Macy with just the right amount of disgusted apathy for both of them. Yet, even he must hand it to Sheila’s comic timing (or the fact that she owns the deed to the house), because he ultimately sides with her when he abandons Sammi and Chucky from going to his awkward and benignly creepy “Father’s Day” dinner with his donor’s parents.
Unfortunately, this means war, and Sammi knows what the nuclear option might look like for an OCD raddled woman with a penchant for a clean house—it looks like shit.
Sheila’s calm, rehearsed, and even-handed explanation to Sheila about why she is a terrible daughter, mother, and all around human being was the other highlight of the night. And methinks it is pushing Sheila’s home closer to those “lesbians” that Frank fears so much.
Another strong point of the evening involves what is (for now) a positive extension of Ian’s newly revealed bipolar disorder: he gets revenge on the Westboro Baptist types in a way only Shameless could devise. Sending in Mandy as corrupted innocence in a schoolgirl’s skirt, she is essentially playing the bait that she damned Lip for being so long ago. Except, she isn’t actually going to sleep with this Bible thumping jerk-off that would protest a soldier’s funeral. No, she lures him into Ian—or really Mickey’s—plan of having him photographed with a young Asian-American soldier’s mouth around his dick, as opposed to the nubile underage schoolgirl he thought was answering his perverted prayers. It’s a nice revenge and shows that when channeled through Mickey, Ian’s manic and murderous extremes are quite manageable. Of course, we’re all waiting for the pendulum to swing back.
What has also been managed quite a bit better than last season is the puberty trauma being faced by Debbs. Last season, I did not care for how Shameless veered toward shock value in exploring a genuine fact of life (especially now in our social media age), but this week handled it very well without losing an ounce of the cynicism and snark that I associate with the series’ perspective. For example, Debbie is once again dissed by her school’s mean girls and ignored by another boy (who for once is not over 20-years-old!), but her answer this time is to have a makeover—provided by an honest to God whore.
It’s a sitcom playbook scenario, but how Shameless runs the field makes it feel organic and fresh. When Fiona finds out what her little sister is up to, she makes Debs cut it down by half but still takes her clubbing. And fortunately, this is not a sitcom freeze frame moment, because minutes before this sequence, Fi was faced with a hard truth: she is not changing as much as she thinks. Despite desperately trying to be the good girl, or more aptly to play the adult, she is still trying to seduce her employer during substance abuse help meetings, and she is getting bloody lips because of an overweight douchebag that isn’t getting his butter fast enough.
We all cringe when Dermott Mulroney unfairly judges Fi as being as bad as the femme fatale who apparently turned him on to smack. She only did cocaine that one time, though her entire life will forever pay as a result. But he is right that she loves chaos, and this hasn’t changed a damn bit, in spite of all her protests.
Which brings us back to that ending where some creep is trying to grind on Debbs, even after Fi warned him that she was 14-years-old. Fiona knocks his teeth in and they run into the Chicago night laughing. For Debbs, this is a terrific moment. It is her first “adult” experience with her big sister, and indeed Fi is treating her at least like an adolescent as opposed to a child. It is a wonderful, exhilarating shared moment that stands a testament to Debbie’s evolving role on both the show and also within the Gallagher hierarchy.
But for Fi, in her own quiet hell, it is a confirmation of what her boss told her: she is chaos. And on first night of taking Debbs out, she has reveled in it with her younger sibling. Honestly, in the moments we witnessed, Fiona handled Debbie’s make-up experiment and later the jackass grinding on her well and appropriately. But in the context of what else has transpired on this night, we join her in hesitating if she has truly learned the lessons of season four. Or if like Ian, another crash is inevitable. At least it’s still summer, so let’s enjoy this moment while we can. That should go for Fiona too.
Most Shameless Quote of the Week:
“They may have female genitalia, but those lesbians are the man moving in on our territory. It used to be people poor folks could get a decent apartment right near downtown, and then suddenly it moves 40 blocks south, and then 80 blocks. Where does it end?
…This is just like the Jews. Ten years from now they’ll claim it never happened, but it is happening. They want people in who can pay taxes, so they push us out! And eventually we end up at a camp somewhere at the end of civilization, a tent city built on old landfills and toxic waste sites, and then they start passing out the smallpox blankets.” – Frank