This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 11 Episode 5
“One again it’s up to Frank Gallagher to save the neighborhood.”
At several points season 11 of Shameless has reminded me of Weeds’s messy final year. This is not a positive comparison, but Shameless’s “Slaughter” creates several parallels between these Showtime series and the dissolution of their central families. Weeds doesn’t end on a perfect note, but its finale at least attempts something deeply ambitious. Shameless is headed down similar territory with its characters, but it’s not a show that’s ever stylistically rocked the boat. This has led to a final season that has largely felt aimless, which is true to life sometimes, especially when the majority of a series’ characters are caught in ruts.
This can be an exciting way to explore character development and push individuals forward when it happens early on or in the middle of a show’s run, but it’s not necessarily the best approach for a series’ final year unless it’s willing to really put in the work. Shameless’s 11th season has felt simultaneously more fragmented and serialized than previous seasons and it’s amounted to a season that’s felt largely superfluous, even if it’s almost halfway over. Each episode of the season has been able to play with at least one compelling idea, yet “Slaughter” is an episode where so many characters mess up their lives.
Shameless’s final season has perhaps arrived at the narrative marker where it pushes everyone to their lowest points before they’re able to reach–or not reach–redemption by the series’ big finish. “Slaughter” is by far one of the craziest episodes that Shameless has ever done, which would be true even if Liam didn’t commit manslaughter by the time that the credits roll.
Debbie has been problematic all season, but her misadventures in “Slaughter” make up some of the episode’s most painful material. This storyline actually begins in a decent place where Debbie listens to Franny for once and takes her daughter to see her favorite wrestler, Queen Justice. Despite how this sounds sweet, Debbie reverts to her usual behavior and her own interests and insecurities become more important than those of her daughter.
Debbie realizes that there’s a good deal about her girlfriend, Sandy, that she doesn’t know about, whereas Debbie has implicitly shared her entire life with Sandy, to the point that her bond with Franny seems even stronger than Debbie’s at times. Nearly every episode of this season of Shameless has contained a disgusting moment between Debbie and her daughter that’s really made me cringe.
This time it’s Debbie lying about Franny having cancer so she can rush off to a strip club in order to invade her girlfriend’s privacy. Somehow this is more vile than Frank’s attempt to euthanize an elderly lady. That being said, this is basically exactly the same behavior that Frank pulled off with his children in the past, so at least in this sense Shameless has properly shown how some of Frank’s kids are very much their father’s children. That’s distressing to some extent, but it’s these moments that validate and get the most out of Shameless’ decade-plus run.
On the subject of the Gallagher patriarch, Frank is largely still occupied with fallout regarding the Milkovich invasion next door. There’s copious gruesome content that I suppose qualifies as visual gags, but it mostly involves animal carcasses, body mutilation, and Milkoviches that are covered in fresh blood. It’s a lot more shocking that someone egging the Gallagher home or negligently walking around naked.
Poor, sweet Liam is also the one who seems to needlessly suffer the most from these new confrontational neighbors. Extreme jokes aren’t Shameless’ strong suit and the series isn’t articulate enough to make a scene where someone gets a swastika branding feel satirical or even necessarily comedic. Nevertheless, this feud between the Galaghers and Milkoviches continues to intensify in significant ways. All of this comes down to Frank’s commitment to murder an old lady, because this is Shameless.
Lip and Tami’s strife in this episode also revolves around housing woes, but of a completely different nature. They quickly need to find a new place to live, which is a complication that’s ridiculous for all sorts of reasons, especially with the news that Lip has nothing in paper regarding his ownership of their home. This somehow leads to the two of them heading into purchase the South Side’s equivalent to an Amityville murder house.
There’s such whiplash with this material over whether it should be a problem that Lip withholds this information from Tami, which has become a running theme through this season. However, the episode doesn’t treat Lip’s lies or the fact that a full family was murdered in their prospective home as problems. This is a little stunning and what instead becomes the issue is something that’s a lot more preventable.
Suddenly Lip and Tami don’t have the money to buy this bargain slaughterhouse because of Lip’s behavior at work. There’s such a palpable sense of dread once Lip picks a fight with his bosses after his hours get cut. It’s pretty clear where things are headed and this disaster occurs when it’s literally the worst opportunity for such a thing to happen. Lip’s drinking afterwards doesn’t help either and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if his former employer presses charges against him, because this is Shameless.
The rest of the Gallaghers are caught up with material that doesn’t necessarily amount to much this week, but definitely has potential to grow. Ian and Mickey establish a work dynamic that doesn’t seem sustainable, but at least has them friendly towards one another. Vee’s attempts to contribute more to the neighborhood than cheap weed are sadly discouraged when she’s not met with the expected results during her canvassing. No one is a part of the demographic that Vee feels properly represents the South Side, but this is perhaps indicative of what the South Side may actually be like now, which speaks to the season’s one big theme.
The one real saving grace in “Slaughter” is Carl’s development in the police force and his capacity to remain unflappable in the face of pressure from his seniors. Leesie continues to utilize radical tactics at work that bring out complicated feelings in Carl. Truly some of the most redeeming moments from this season are the scenes where Carl demonstrates that he’s good at his job and knows the neighborhood well enough to be the kind of cop in the community that can actually get results.
“Slaughter” consistently turns up the heat until its final scene reaches a boiling point. The episode’s conclusion where Liam inadvertently kills–or doesn’t?–the head of the Milkovich family is the perfect encapsulation of “Slaughter’s” blunt, violent, absurdist nature. It’s a completely unexpected ending that feels highly out of place in Shameless, even more so with the stylized manner in which it’s presented. It’s an event that would have had serious repercussions in the earlier seasons of the series that’s now played off as a morbid punchline.
This is a world where hypothetical “magic bullets” will solve problems and everything will return to the status quo. There’s a full season’s worth of new plotlines that are haphazardly initiated in this episode, but it’s also possible that lightning will just strike everyone or that the South Side will experience a bout of spontaneous human combustion, because this is Shameless.