This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 11 Episode 4
“This only ends with death.”
Shameless is at its strongest when it has a focused story arc to commit to and so season 11’s more laid back nature hasn’t done the series any favors. There’s still entertainment to be found in these characters and their shenanigans, but it’s hard to deny that a third of the season has passed and it doesn’t really feel like anything has happened. The most unifying element to this final season has been its deeper look into Chicago itself and how the various Gallaghers fit into it after they’ve both significantly changed since the start of the series. “NIMBY” is a messy episode, but it’s one that does a good job at representing the many different pockets of the South Side as different characters try to assert power over the city that they love.
“NIMBY” revolves around a number of competitive rivalries and schisms between Gallaghers and members of the South Side, whether it’s professional strife like what Carl, Ian, and Mickey encounter, or the more personal conflicts that plague Tami, Debbie, and V. The biggest conflict that grows out of all of this is the new chapter in the blood feud between the Gallaghers and the Milkoviches after the two families become neighbors. This ignites a “Civil War of South Side,” which is the angle that should have started this season. A premiere that featured the Milkoviches moving in and allowing this turf war to build over several episodes is exactly the kind of larger storyline that’s been absent. It’s helpful that it’s now a part of the season, but this pacing makes it feel like it’s catching up with everything else.
After so many seasons of the Gallaghers making the rest of Chicago uncomfortable it’s actually fulfilling to see them feel like outsiders due to the unkempt nature of the Milkoviches. This tension is so severe that it has the Gallaghers consider looking to greener pastures, which would have seemed impossible at any other point in the series. The displacement that the Gallaghers experience is very real, but this story is mostly used for comedic relief as Frank finds repeated ways to compare the Milkoviches to a virus. It also leads to a scheme that aligns Frank, Liam, and Kevin, which is a strong team that’s not often together. Naturally, Liam has to be the voice of reason here.
This trio don’t get very far in their mission, but it briefly leads to them turning to help from the Nation of Islam. This produces the funniest moment of the episode, in which the Nation rescind their offer because even they’re too frightened by the Milkoviches. What’s perhaps the most interesting thing about this plot development is that Frank repeats his suggestion to turn to the Nation of Islam for support. It’s treated like classic drunken buffoonery from Frank, but it’s not the first time this season that he’s absently forgotten or confused details. It looks like these final episodes may introduce the idea that Frank’s developing Alzheimer’s and that Shameless will culminate with a very nostalgic and supportive conclusion that bands around Frank rather than rejects him. It’s also a serious enough development that might get Fiona back before the series finale.
Frank’s war keeps him preoccupied from his growing drug trade and the same is true with V, who finds herself consumed with another turf war, albeit with Debbie as her target. Debbie and V is a fun combination that’s also rare for Shameless, which makes it disappointing that this story is a disservice to both of them. Debbie’s aspirations for Frannie to win the pageant all circle around the same points that every Debbie storyline this season has made. It’s also honestly kind of horrible that Debbie can so casually refer to her daughter as a “dumpster fire” and that Frannie just takes it in stride like it’s the norm, even if it’s a moment that’s meant in jest. The pay off here where someone else wins the beauty pageant also isn’t very satisfying or surprising. Debbie and V just publicly drag each other and surely create new memories for their children to repress in the future.
The one redeeming factor to come out of this chaos is that V may get some legitimate business opportunities ahead of her. It’s always nice when V is properly valued, but this is something that should have been happening for seasons now after V briefly helped Fiona with the business side of her investments. There’s at least now some potential for the series to end with V’s family in a more stable place.
Lip and Tami also find themselves dealing with someone that appreciates the beauty of youth, but in a wholly more unwholesome manner. This entire storyline is very irksome and will be telling to see if it leaves any lasting effects on Tami. A seemingly innocent brunch date with Tami’s old high school music teacher initially seems like it will verge into reductive territory where Lip gets jealous for no reason or Tami is drawn to another man. Thankfully this isn’t the case and neither of these characters regress, but the end result that Tami is the product of grooming by her teacher is even more bizarre.
Tami is initially lost in denial, but what does work here is that this revelation has Tami turn inward rather than vilify her former teacher. She’s able to learn things about herself as she slowly implodes and Lip gets to play the role of support rather than aggressor. As it stands it’s an odd character insight, but with how Shameless has taken a more breadcrumb approach to some of its storylines it’s also possible that Tami’s old teacher will be back to talk real estate.
Carl goes through a similar style of soul searching as Tami, but he comes out the other side at a much healthier place, even if it’s not an easy journey. Carl has finally been able to settle into his job with the police department when he gets pushed into a difficult situation that pits his career against his neighborhood. Carl’s enthusiasm has him “fully erect for police work,” but this causes a compelling conflict when his patrol around the area has him face-to-face with many people that he knows on a personal level.
Carl’s partner has no affection for the colorful characters of the South Side, whereas to Carl they’re like a part of his extended family. The conversation that this opens up is well handled and there are some genuinely uncomfortable scenes that depict abuses of power. Ethan Cutkosky really sells the scene as his respect for his new mentor decays into disgust. It’s an easy scene, but one of the better moments in the episode is when Carl figures out how to balance these halves of his life and still help the people he’s lived alongside for his entire life.
“NIMBY” has a lot of smaller moments that are easy to enjoy and Carl’s storyline remains enjoyable the entire. However, it’s still an episode that succumbs to the larger problems of this season where low impact plots make so much of this material feel disposable. It’s starting to feel like the gears are turning and that there’s bigger stuff ahead, particularly with Frank, but as it stands it hasn’t been the challenging return that Shameless needs to go out on top.