This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 11 Episode 8
“You can’t cancel history. It’s already happened.”
Shameless is always looking to the future even as it considers its past. This reflection is typically a source of calm for the Gallaghers, but this season has been all about removing these characters’ familiar landmarks and comforting touchstones, whether it’s the dismantling of physical institutions or the metaphorical loss of old memories and a version of Chicago that no longer exists.
Shameless season 11 presents the future as an intrusive and frightening force, but “Cancelled” finds a way to have pride for the future by allowing it to celebrate the past. This is an episode where characters literally throw out pieces of their past while they prepare to move as others relitigate high school bullies and congressional speakers from yesteryear. “Context matters” is the underlying theme at the core of “Cancelled,” and when it comes to the Gallaghers there may not be enough context in the world to keep them “uncancelled.”
There are a lot of fires in “Cancelled” that need to get put out and the biggest one is the serious legal trouble that Lip might be in. Lip’s foolishly reckless behavior over the past few episodes has been incredibly frustrating, but it’s almost just as irritating to watch him continually fail upwards. Lip makes zero of the right decisions here while other people happen to clean up his messes and he smirks his way through the tension. It’s a testament to how there are still people that care about Lip, but if he doesn’t stop abusing this goodwill then he’s going to find himself in even bigger trouble than before.
It’d be one thing if this series of mistakes straightens Lip out for good, but it doesn’t seem like he learns anything from this close call. It’s actually depressing that Lip and Tami aren’t even a year into their “marriage” and they need to resort to mid-life crisis crime shenanigans like they’re Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler just to get a buzz. And are they seriously discussing murdering Brad? Because I have no idea if Shameless has reached that point. A two-year wedding anniversary is traditionally celebrated with cotton, but in their cases that may be their prison jumpsuits.
Lip continues to narrowly skirt the law, but some of the most interesting material from this season of Shameless has involved Carl’s ascent on the police force as his own personal morals brush up against those of the brass or Chicago itself. Carl finds himself doing more mental gymnastics than ever before when he’s transferred over to vice and dropped into an extremely heightened world. Carl’s new vice partners look and operate like they’re out of some slick CBS action procedural and it offers Carl a taste of the exaggerated image of police work that surely filled his brain as a boy.
Each of Carl’s assignments have tested his moral compass, but now he’s immediately offered the perks and public image that he’s viewed as an end goal. It’s always nice when Carl’s instincts kick in and he does the right thing. He seems to finally reach a point of temptation and the problem that he finds himself in is already compelling before it directly sets him up to hurt Vee and Kevin’s dispensary at the Alibi Room. Carl is left in murky territory, but he continually protects his family and loved ones throughout the episode. Kevin and Vee may be oblivious targets through much of “Cancelled,” but the wedding that the two get to celebrate, with Vee’s mom in tow, is also another highlight that makes this episode work just when it feels like it’s getting too crazy.
Characters like Lip and Carl make some difficult and dangerous decisions, but they’re at least operating with some greater good in mind. Debbie on the other hand is basically just a living id at this point and it’s becoming progressively exhausting to watch her selfish choices. Debbie chooses to flee from all of her responsibilities, which is treated like a liberating reward, but it’s unearned and at the tail-end of a strong of irresponsible behavior all season.
Debbie casually ruins several lives over the course of an afternoon and just keeps moving on to the next person when things turn sour. Everyone else’s responsibilities like work or marriage get pushed into Debbie’s face and not once does she think about Franny or the damage of her escapist behavior. What’s perhaps the worst part of all of this is that Sandy helps Debbie out and is willing to put all of this behind her, yet it’s Debbie that chastises her and still holds the moral high ground. It’s disgusting that Debbie doesn’t see the fault in her ways and this denial is only going to lead to a more destructive future for both her and Franny.
It’s quite the shock to see better family values present in the Milkovich family than the poor example that Debbie sets this week. The Milkovich family has always been intensely crude and unrepentant. This roughness is supposed to be their appeal, but they’re characters that I’ve always struggled to connect with on the same level as the Gallaghers. Terry’s recent debilitating situation has allowed for some much needed empathy within the Milkovich family.
“Cancelled” concludes this painful streak in the family with an exceptionally tender moment where Mickey feeds Terry and it’s possibly the best scene between them in eleven seasons. The two maybe, kind of, sort of share some affection for each other and it’s one of the stronger sequences from the entire season. It’s a nice moment that they can share together before his new nurse suffocates him to death.
Terry’s kindness towards his father during what turn out to be some of his final moments naturally conjure a lot of feelings that feel like a dress rehearsal for what’s ahead for Frank and his family. Frank’s dementia is contextualized through an innocuous naming contest for Liam’s school that becomes a platform for much broader character insecurities. In many ways this final season of Shameless feels the most socially conscious and rooted in events and trends that are present in the real world.
This has largely worked in the show’s favor and it never feels like the message gets too treacly. Frank and the other patrons at the Alibi Room function as a surprisingly competent Greek chorus that sounds off on the latest issues that are dominant in society. “Cancelled” gets into a thoughtful discussion on cancel culture and how many old figures will fail if they’re held up to modern standards. There’s a fantastic aside that even Gandhi is too problematic to get a school named after him based on the current rubrics of scrutiny that are used.
The name change at Liam’s school prompts this debate, but it’s emblematic of Frank’s larger desire to hold onto history and tradition as more of his memories and mind fail him. It’s a touching way for Frank to externalize his internal fear over what’s going to happen to him before he’s ready to share his diagnosis. Frank’s crusade to rename Liam’s school after the Gallagher family and in his honor is a little on the nose, but it honestly works. It’s the right kind of sentimental turn and I would have even preferred if this mission took up several episodes and culminated in the end of the series rather than it just being a temporary distraction.
Frank doesn’t succeed in his goal, but his actions do manage to open his family’s eyes to how he needs them during this trying time. It’s a brief scene, but the impact is felt and it actually looks like this dose of reality might sober up Lip and Debbie. Liam slowly cluing into Frank’s dementia before it’s made explicit is also heartbreaking and it’s one of many emotional moments that Shanola Hampton absolutely kills as the episode’s director. She does an excellent job with what’s a very tonally frenetic installment of the series.
“Cancelled” is an exceptionally strange episode of Shameless that’s full of some of the most emotional scenes from the entire season as well as some seriously bizarre dramatic turns that make it feel like there’s a murder quota that these episodes need to satisfy. Overall, this episode works and the moments that stick out are so unusual and unexpected that they strangely need to be respected on some level. There are four episodes left in Shameless and the characters finally feel unified and ready to address an unknown future.