This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 11 Episode 7
“Why do you still all live together? You obviously hate each other.”
A tenet of Shameless that’s defined the series even more than its Chicago setting or lower class social strata is that the dysfunctional Gallagher family all live together in one crowded house. There are nearly ten people living in the Gallagher household at any given time and these close quarters are metonymic of the love-hate relationship between the Gallaghers that’s at the core of the series.
This cramped lifestyle is uncomfortable and limiting in many ways, but it’s allowed them to become stronger and closer in the process. Shameless has previously handled this living situation as an enduring badge of honor for the Gallaghers, but “Two at a Biker Bar, One in the Lake” is the first episode that wonders if it’s actually codependent behavior and questions if the Gallaghers should still be living together after these eleven seasons. This important question causes different reactions in the entire family, which results in one of Shameless’ strongest episodes of its final season.
The biggest conflict that drives nearly all of the activity in “Two at a Biker Bar, One in the Lake” is Lip’s selfish proposal to sell the Gallagher home and the resistance that he faces from everyone else. It makes sense that this idea would have extremely limited appeal to anyone, so it’s reassuring to see the various Gallaghers come back at Lip with unenthusiastic responses, because why wouldn’t they!
It’s actually kind of sickening to see Lip try to buy out his family’s votes with meager favors like preparing their favorite food. This is a major decision that’s going to change the rest of their lives, not a vote over what’s being watched for movie night. Digestible favors aren’t the solution here and Lip should really just listen to his family instead of focusing on the right way to flip them.
Lip’s unscrupulous tactics become cruelly manipulative when he tries to sway the younger members of the family, like Carl, with the potential in their $20,000 buyout. That’s hardly enough for Carl to upgrade from the life that he currently has, especially after he just decked out the basement and made his living quarters more comfortable than they’ve ever been. It’s rough to watch Lip aggressively bully his family into immediately voting on the matter and then being resentful when the consensus doesn’t side in his favor. The fact that nobody else votes to sell the house should give Lip enough of an indication that this is something that his family isn’t interested in and that he should find another way to solve his housing and financial problem.
I was concerned over Liam’s future if the Gallagher house disappears and so it’s satisfying to see this episode explore Liam’s fear over this exact situation. Surely some family member would step up and allow him to live with them, but the fact that he doesn’t consider that and thinks that he’s on his own speaks volumes for how he currently views his family. He’s more comfortable with Kevin and Vee than any Gallagher. Honestly, Lip should volunteer to house Liam until he finds something else, considering that this is all his fault, but Liam could do better than them at this point.
No Gallagher is more opposed to Lip’s suggestion to sell the house than Frank. He sequesters himself and grapples with the possibility of losing this symbol that’s been with the Gallaghers for generations in a much more philosophical manner than everyone else. Frank has been possessive over his territory and this very home in the past, but it’s always been for selfish reasons whereas his motivation here is surprisingly tender and poetic. Now, that’s not necessarily the reason to keep a house, but it’s a much purer motivation than Lip’s reasons for wanting to sell it.
Frank’s continued to watch his family grow up and move beyond him and this house is the one constant that’s been present in the majority of his life. This means even more to Frank now after his dementia diagnosis and he finds more of his world slipping away from him. In many ways, Frank needs to keep this house and this episode highlights that in a manner that’s graceful and natural.
The rest of Frank’s material in this episode is quite haunting even if he does playfully manipulate others with his fresh diagnosis as a new tool in his arsenal of cons. “Two at a Biker Bar, One in the Lake” finds another clever way to juxtapose Shameless’ final season with some of its earliest exploits. There are several installments where Frank has gone on a massive bender and spends the episode in a stupor as he attempts to find his way back home.
There’s never been an element of fear in those past excursions, but it’s now genuinely frightening to see Frank out of his element in some foreign place as he struggles to remain composure and figure out where he belongs. Shameless is already getting a lot of mileage out of this and it’s making its limited time with Frank’s diagnosis work as opposed to a whole season where he’s lost and mentally in bad shape.
Frank barely manages to get home in one piece due to his failing memory, but new drama with Sandy makes Debbie learn something that she wishes that she could forget. More of Sandy’s guarded past comes home to roost and now there’s a child that’s also in the equation. Debbie actually manages to create a modicum of empathy for her character as she emphasizes the importance of not shirking the responsibility of parenthood.
It’s helpful for Debbie to display some humanizing qualities in an episode where the rest of the Gallaghers explicitly shout, “We just hate Debbie,” but she quickly turns the situation around on herself by how she handles her feelings. It’s incredibly inappropriate for Debbie to get involved in Sandy’s custody battle and consciously ignore what both parents and the child are requesting in this situation. Debbie’s erratic behavior is all the response of her intense abandonment issues from Monica and even Fiona, to some extent. Debbie seems resistant in the area even if it’s something that the audience has been aware of for some time.
The other major relationship that this episode deconstructs is the recent encounter between Carl and Tish, which begins as DOA on account of the sexual assault component of it all, but takes a surprising turn by the end of everything. Carl lets Tish down in a gentle and caring manner that’s actually mature and seems like it will be premature, albeit responsible, conclusion to their time together. This is Shameless, so “mature” is a word that’s typically out of the show’s vocabulary. Initially, Carl’s stress over this scenario explodes in a humorous and inappropriate display at work, but then matters take a more realistic approach to this relationship.
There’s a very sitcom-like aesthetic to a lot of “Two at a Biker Bar, One in the Lake’s” storylines and like in most sitcoms, Carl and Tish’s problem is a case where clear communication would have solved everything. I actually love how this plot plays out where Tish is a decent, accomplished person who has valid excuses for all of her behavior. Similarly, Carl never initially accuses her of rape because he’s equally trying to act like a gentleman and minimize any unnecessary conflict in their goodbye. It’s a simple, yet surprising, resolution where Carl is actually the wild one and Tish is completely normal. It’s a welcome change of pace and it provides a nice taste of Carl’s awkward transition into adult relationships now that he’s growing up and entered this seemingly more responsible stage of his life.
Ironically, consistency has been good for Carl, but it’s something that’s been sporadic in this season of Shameless. The group dynamic in episodes has occasionally been unbalanced or felt unnatural, but there’s a very comfortable energy around the Gallaghers in this episode. Characters like Lip and Debbie become antagonistic and cause ripples throughout the rest of the family, but these moments of tension are explored in larger group scenes that benefit from the complete family’s dynamic. Mickey not even say something in a scene, but the fact that he’s there and offers an exasperated eye roll to Ian or Carl accomplishes so much. The beginning of this season struggled in this area, but it’s been a triumph across the past few installments and will hopefully continue until the season’s end.
This is a natural and effortless Shameless episode not just in terms of its character dynamics, but also its sense of humor. This installment is easily one of the funnier entries of the season and lands some legitimately hilarious gags. It’s always appreciated when Shameless can accentuate its strong comedic skills, especially since lately it’s embraced melodrama and quirky scenarios over direct jokes.
“Two at a Biker Bar, One in the Lake” is an effective reminder that this show can still be quite humorous and the moment where Frank is a bar that’s not the Alibi and gets tripped up over a Vee doppelganger made me laugh out loud. It also might be the last joke that’s made which stems from Frank’s dementia if the subject matter grows more intense on that front.
Shameless embraces this lighter comedic energy the most with Ian and Mickey’s storyline, where they try to acquire some gay friends for themselves. This is fantastic right from the jump and it’s such a pleasant and affable storyline that it almost feels out of place in Shameless, especially eleven seasons in. Mickey struggles to make something as simple as a smile seem natural and it only gets more ridiculous as these two put themselves out there.
Mickey and Ian both generate an awkward energy and it’s a major wakeup call to just how atypical the Gallaghers and Milkoviches are in contrast to the rest of Chicago. The craziest detail here is that Mickey becomes the more popular of the duo in the end and it’s a highlight to see him trading barbs and doing pile-ons as Ian tries to collect himself. Ian and Mickey’s behavior in their post-married life has been a bright spot in this season and this is the easily most enjoyable of their storylines so far. The two have been in such heightened scenarios that there’s a real charm to them doing something this normal and mundane.
Once everything comes to a head in “Two at a Biker Bar, One in the Lake,” Lip reaches a very dangerous place and he practically has a mental breakdown over the avalanche of selfish and misguided decisions that he’s made this season. Lip has been responsible for some seriously awful things, but “Two at a Biker Bar, One in the Lake” concludes with behavior that is so out of line and on par with any of Fiona and Frank’s worst behavior. A reckoning is coming and it might be too late for Lip to get a happy ending by the time that all of this is over.
All of Lip’s foolishness crashes together in such a disastrous manner that you practically expect the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme to kick in. The most important thing that Lip needs to do is just face reality and know when to tap out rather than continue to dig himself deeper. This behavior was problematic when Lip was a single self-destructive alcoholic, but now he has a child and life partner and it’s not tenable any longer. Just live with her family, dude!
“Two at a Biker Bar, One in the Lake” is a satisfying episode that greatly benefits from a smart script that’s heavy in humor. This season of Shameless has gotten a little away from itself, but this episode turns to more grounded scenarios that are rooted in the characters’ backstories. It’s exactly what the series needs right now and as Frank loses track of who he is in a mental capacity and Lip loses sight of himself based on how far he’s fallen, it’s reassuring that Shameless has found itself and remembers what makes it work as it heads into the Chicago sunset.