This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 10 Episode 5
“When money’s involved a Gallagher’s got nothing but time.”
Shameless season 10 has been a curious year that’s been full of changes, but as it nearly approaches its halfway point, “Sparky” feels like a particularly transitory episode. A number of new arcs begin in this entry and the second chapters of these characters’ seasonal stories begin to unfold.
This episode introduces plenty of new opportunities and problems for the Gallaghers, but through all of these changes the family remain largely cheerful and in check. Perhaps it’s the stabilizing return of familiar faces that have been out of the picture for a while, but in spite of all of the drama, “Sparky” depicts the Gallaghers as surprisingly in control and ready for whatever the future throws at them.
There’s a lot of calamity in “Sparky,” but the most significant event that takes place is that Ian is out of prison and back in the Gallagher home! It was a smart move for Shameless to have Ian spend half of the season away from everyone and it makes his return all the more cathartic. He may currently feel somewhat displaced and like he has no center to some extent, but he’s a great impartial presence to have around. All of his scenes with Lip are particularly sweet and a pleasure to watch. They pleasantly bookend the episode.
Most of the problems that Ian faced in prison were presented as largely romantic in nature, so it’s a big change of pace when his new parole officer turns out to be corrupt and ready to rope him into trouble. Already this seems like a convoluted scenario and something that Ian shouldn’t have to deal with after making so much progress. However, it’s a pleasure to have Rachel Dratch here in full force as the new negative influence in Ian’s life.
Shameless’ reckless plotting moves at such a chaotic pace that I forgot all about the terrible thing Frank did last season where he uses Carl’s sperm to impregnate someone else without his knowledge or consent. Of all of the plotlines to bring back into play, this is perhaps the one that I least wanted to see return, but here we are with Carl technically father to twins in some classic Frank Gallagher hijinks. The way that it’s played against the heightened drama of a telenovela is a clever idea that at least shows some self-awareness towards how ridiculous all of this is. William H. Macy, who directs this episode, leans hard into this premise and it’s just one example of some of his stronger directorial instincts in this installment.
Thankfully Carl doesn’t get saddled with a child here, but what does happen is that Frank decides he can take one of these two kids due to the financial perks that it will provide him. It’d be a bad idea for Frank to attempt to raise this baby, but his motives are even more negligent. Frank plans to sell this child on the black market (with Carl getting a cut of the profits) for one big payday. It’s one of the most selfish and idiotic schemes that Frank has ever embarked on and hopefully this plot gets cut short rather than Frank being stuck with a baby by his side for the rest of the year.
As despicable as Frank’s actions are, Debbie’s behavior unfortunately isn’t very different. She’s all in with her unscrupulous child support trap that’s actually more about her making some easy money while she’s stuck on strike. The way in which Debbie hounds down her poor target is not only very excessive, but seems especially callous under these circumstances. You’re rooting more for the victim here than you are for Debbie.
Debbie and Kelly’s ruse to serve papers to a widow in the guise of a condolence cake is something that’s simultaneously cartoonish as if it’s out of Looney Tunes, but also reprehensibly callous. That’s kind of becoming the tone for Debbie’s material this season. Speaking of cartoonish, at one point during Frank’s storyline he literally sees rotating dollar signs appear in front of his eyes. Whether these minor concessions work or not, it’s worthwhile that Macy takes such risks. He recognizes that this is already a pretty crazy episode and pushes it even further.
The most grounded plotting in this episode revolves around the very real growing pains that Lip and Tami face as they co-parent their baby, both together and apart. Tami is still having difficulty bonding with her own child, but it’s no different than the disconnect that Lip initially felt with Fred. Strangely, Tami’s insecurities somehow lead to Tami and Sarah bonding together in an endearing way, even if it does momentarily come at the expense of Lip and Tami’s own relationship. There’s no lasting damage from this “argument” and by the end these two are closer and more honest than ever.
Lip may currently be adeptly juggling the two important women in his life, but Carl is much less successful in his romantic regards. He’s currently deep in the hell of the love triangle that he’s created now that Kelly seems to be back in the picture. Kelly is highly possessive of Carl and “Sparky” begins to highlight her less desirable qualities as the episode starts to possibly transition on that front.
Meanwhile, Kevin struggles with the reality that he might not have been an attractive enough child to warrant being molested by a predator, or that he was molested and that he’s repressed such trauma. It’s material that’s been done on a bunch of other shows and all within better contexts. This is yet another story in the string of misguided plotlines that Kevin has been busy with this season.
It doesn’t amount to much and it’s borderline insensitive. V even has to tell Kevin, “Being molested isn’t the same thing as being loved,” but for the entirely wrong purposes. At least V’s foray into her new pharmaceutical sales career goes positively and is enough of a healthy boost for her character to balance out their material.
“Sparky” has Shameless’ tenth season shifting into second gear and getting ready for what their endgame will look like. This is an episode that still has characters making all sorts of mistakes and venturing into poor decisions, but there’s a level of stability that’s helping hold all of this together at the moment.
This season of Shameless has some compelling material on its plate, like Lip’s child and Ian’s return from prison. So let’s just hope that the rest of this year doesn’t preoccupy itself with Debbie and Frank’s separate baby shenanigans.
Hope Fiona’s doing okay.
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.