This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 10 Episode 3
“Because I’m worth it…”
Well, all it took was one episode for Frank to push the Gallagher household into utter squalor. That’s got to be a record.
Shameless is a series that is full of characters who often feel like they’re worthless or unimportant. They’re people at the end of their ropes who feel like society has generally given up on them. This can be a difficult feeling to escape from, yet “Which America?” focuses on the importance of having hope and recognizing the value in something.
This is a lesson that’s explicitly taught to Liam, but it’s applicable to every character in this episode, whether it’s through reselling used cars, operating a crooked ring out of a fast food joint, the benefits of a union, or a debit card that works without restrictions. The Gallaghers may gain a better understanding of their value and the importance of the things that fill their lives, but that doesn’t mean that they’re immediately going to transform into more idealized version of themselves. If anything, they might even fall down a few pegs first.
Shameless’ previous installment seemed to indicate that Debbie had turned a corner and that she was ready to stop holding herself to a higher regard than the rest of her family. Unfortunately, the strides that Debbie takes towards improvement only result in deeper problems for the Gallaghers. This fresh hurdle is apparently the result of how Debbie has used everyone’s actual social insurance numbers for their debit cards, which for people like Frank, just opens up a whole new can of worms. However, this seemingly helpful gesture puts Lip in even more trouble. It’s not that he has no money, like Frank, but that he’s amassed old debts and old fines that Debbie has now allowed to catch up with him and make his life even more of a stress-filled mess.
In spite of how Debbie’s cluelessness sets Frank back, it’s kind of incredible to see that he is genuinely proud over her racket. This means even more after he’s shamelessly put her down over the past few episodes. What should enrage him is actually what helps bury the hatchet between the two of them, whether she’s aware of it or not. It’s a sublime, perfect moment of characterization for Frank. It’s equally satisfying to see how seriously he takes his new role of “king” and the benevolence that he plans to administer.
Frank may currently be a king, but his partner Mikey is very much a peasant. And not one of those fancy, fun peasants. Mikey is in seriously bad medical condition and needs real help. For the bulk of the episode Frank treats Mikey like he’s a dog and it’s a dynamic that strangely works for the two of them. Regardless of how they have each other’s backs, it’s clear that they can depend on each other. Hopefully Mikey won’t end up in an early grave, which this installment begins to foreshadow.
Mikey’s need for medical attention forces Frank to pull the trigger on getting rid of all of Debbie’s merchandise. That being said, they also splurge on a keg to celebrate Frank’s general awesomeness. This may temporarily solve their problem, but it leads to a much larger predicament as Debbie goes on the warpath, taser in tow (in what’s a very Fiona move).
Debbie wants to give Frank and Mikey a piece of her mind, but she gets sidelined when the topic of unionization comes up at work. This unionization talk comes at the exact right time for Debbie as she’s all gung-ho about taking down the patriarchy and making herself feel special. This is certainly a relevant battle for Debbie to get caught up in and she and her fellow welders deserve better rights. It’s just a strange reconciliation to have her fight for the little guy while she simultaneously continues her selfish schemes.
Things in the Gallagher house are crazy, but tensions are just as much on the rise in the big house. Ian learns that he may be up for parole early, which could effectively solve his proximity issues with Mickey, but on a more permanent basis than either of them are ready for. “Which America?” extensively explores the intricacies of prison romances. The episode introduces how there’s a wealth of nuance to such a situation and that Ian and Mickey have simply been naïve to not address such eventualities.
What Mickey expects of Ian is a huge ask, especially since Ian never pressured Mickey to put himself in jail. This ultimatum reflects the different places that they’re at, not just in terms of their relationship, but how they view themselves. Ian’s left with a grueling decision to make that’s only made more difficult because of the skewed perspective of the man he loves. What Mickey wants from Ian is just as restrictive and unfair as an actual prison. Mickey has to figure out how to get over himself, but once he does and his softness appears it leads to some very delicate scenes. It’s a messy fight, but it’s arguably the most honest they’ve been with each other in nearly a year.
Ian and Mickey are locked in a deep and complex dynamic, but it’s not unlike what Lip now experiences with Tami. Yes, Tami is thankfully back in the picture. She’s a mess of emotions now that she can finally be around her baby, but it’s nice to have her return to the scene and be apart of Lip’s life. As happy as Lip is to have Tami back around, problems very quickly start to creep into their chemistry. Lip has managed to stay afloat during the beginning of Freddie’s life, but now the next challenge is to survive with Tami and make all of this work.
It may be brief, but Ian’s phone call with Lip and Freddie is easily the highlight of the episode. As out of control and exaggerated as this show gets with its storytelling, it’s these simple moments of connection and family that always make Shameless soar and bring it back to its roots.
Liam also searches for a feeling of community and understanding as he continues to pursue his birth family. He’s eager to learn anything about his roots and what makes him who he is. This process unites Liam with Mavar (Anthony Alabi), his ”black sherpa,” to properly navigate him through these questions. This feels more or less what Liam’s “new family” was doing for him last season, but I suppose they more so opened his eyes whereas Mavar will actually help apply these lessons to Liam and help give them a much-needed context (although I’m not sure why V couldn’t fill this role).
Liam’s journey with Mavar comfortably dovetails with the relatable problem that V currently faces. With Fiona’s absence, she longs for a female friend to knock back with. Granted, during the eighth and ninth seasons of Shameless it felt like V and Fiona were on different planets, but the idea of their friendship still existed. After Fiona’s exit, V longs for womanly companionship and even though that’s not as flashy of a story as prison romance or familial revenge, it provides this episode with an appreciated humanity and soul.
It’s very satisfying to see how all of this plays out, whether it’s Mavar’s perpetually perfect nature or Kevin’s immediate jealousy on the matter. This new relationship holds a lot of potential, but unfortunately Shameless is more interested in Kevin’s Bachelor-esque antics than Liam and V’s play date with Mavar. There’s no shortage of absurdity over at the Alibi (who are now also in the hot merchandising game as a side hustle).
Lastly, Lori’s affection for Carl has always been out of control, but now that she’s actively sabotaging his work life to keep him and Anne apart, she’s operating at a whole other level of despicable. This entire situation is a powder keg of bad ideas that’s going to explode in the worst way possible. If Carl at least still had Kelly to talk to and get some guidance, maybe he wouldn’t be in such a hopeless mess. At least—for now—he’s faithful to his relationship with Kelly.
In spite of Carl’s commitment to Kelly, there are some very endearing scenes where he just hangs out with Anne and her family as they act like platonic friends. There’s obvious chemistry between the two of them, but as it stands this is a fun relationship that may just be able to exist as a refreshing look at a platonic friendship. Of course, this is Shameless, so the two of them will probably be having sex on top of a plate of tamales before the season is three-quarters done.
“Which America?” is another solid episode of the series, but the pace of this season continues to be much slower than previous years. Shameless has a tendency to catapult through storylines, so it’s a welcome change to see these characters all take a breath. However, this is causing stories to spin their wheels or barely progress from week-to-week (there’s really no resolution to Frank and Debbie’s squabble and the episode ends with their home still in disarray).
There’s clearly a plan in place, but hopefully moving through it this leisurely won’t completely kill this season’s momentum. Everyone’s conflicts come further to a head and even with a more lethargic speed there’s about to be some serious trouble for every member of the Gallagher family.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, and Bloody Disgusting. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and that Hannibal is the greatest love story ever told. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.