Shameless: Season 4, Episode 4: The Helpful Gallaghers, Review

The predictable consequences of crystal meth . . .

The power of many is greater than the strength of one. In this week’s Shameless, the defining characteristic is how much the “helpful Gallaghers” can accomplish when they unite around a common cause for others. And how badly things go if you stand alone. When speaking of Fiona’s new creepy boss, Jimmy said it best: “United we stand, divided we keep sucking dick.” Fiona retorts, “Hey, revolutions have begun with less inspiring phrases.” Indeed they have, Fiona. Indeed they have.

Fiona’s journey of eloquent activism centers on the supermarket job she landed in the previous episode. Despite having V’s video that proves Bobby the Manager is a perverted creep, the job is still hellacious for Fi as she sees all the other women having to keep their jobs by pleasuring the scumbag. On the one hand, Fiona’s feminist streak makes her want to quit before he finds other ways to get her to package the deli meat. Plus, if her new coworkers find out that she hasn’t bent the knee for the job, she will become the daily pariah. But after seeing a fellow coworker brought to tears of anger from her “Bobby break,” Fi is prepared to bring him low. She organizes a party at the Gallagher homestead for all the ladies at work and gallantly convinces many of them to collectively report on Bobby and get him fired. Yet, to her surprise a thin majority would rather keep the perv they know for 10 minutes of degradation a week, as opposed to the one they don’t know who may not let them have time off for sick kids or funerals. “Bobby doesn’t taste that bad,” one laughs at Fiona. “I wouldn’t know!” she throws back. Oh Fi, you lost the cause and the group.

Also fighting the good fight this week is Frank. Don’t laugh! Frank is killing himself to help Jody and Sheila through their bedroom woes. Sheila is bored by how stale things have gotten with Jody’s emphasis on compassionate, missionary, lovemaking. What is an unfulfilled girl to do, except bring out the toys? Frank, already back to living off Sheila’s dime as their “baby whisperer,” knows that if he can’t convince Jody to entertain the lady of the house, he will be the one going under the dildo. What some men will do for free pancakes. He tries reasoning with reformed sexaholic Jody to let his repressed freak out again. He pleads with him an, finally, he guilts him into becoming Sheila’s boy toy. Frank’s determined focus combined with Sheila’s eclectic sexual appetite leads to a happy ending for a Frank who can still sit down right.

Someone who Frank isn’t helping is Carl. Still convinced that he has cancer, the newly shaven Carl is sent off to “summer camp.” The rest of the Gallaghers are told by Frank that it’s for basketball, but it is really a Make a Wish camp for the most dire of cases. Carl shows self aware remorse for the first time in his life as he hugs Fiona and is trucked off to where he fears he may actually die. But do not weep for the kid, because when he finds out that there are no shooting ranges or ice cream with sprinkles like in the brochure, he brings hell to Cancer Camp. It turns out a Gallagher can be just as helpful at destroying a well meaning person’s life as they can be at fixing them. Look no further than the cautionary tale of Wendy, the sincerely sweet redhead camp counselor.

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Wendy is a lovely, caring college student who wants to spend her whole summer helping kids facing tragically unfair problems. But as Carl comes to ringlead children with serious cases of leukemia and other terminal problems, she finds herself unable to please them. She can’t let them go to the lake or let them have the chicken nuggets they beg for at dinner. All she can offer is healthy food and games of chess. But with Carl’s new friend dying, there is only one wish that she can grant after days of his dying lamentation: the opportunity to see real life breasts. Just a week with Carl’s conscience-burdening mind games is enough to break her and let the boys have one final wish granted…only for her instructors to walk by at the worst possible moment. Cancer Camp may be for a month, but Carl is on the bus headed home after only a week. Next to Wendy. Crying because she lost her job and is likely going to face criminal charges when she only wanted to help dying children. Carl says, ever so comfortingly, “They were really nice.” What a helpful lad!

Meanwhile, Lip is in a much more serious moment of need. At the beginning of the episode, during the show’s obligatory sex scene cable audiences expect every week, Mandy and Lip overhear on her bedroom’s answering machine that Molly’s mother died of an overdose. Molly, an innocent half sister, has no other family to turn to. Mandy just wants to leave the girl to the system of foster parents, but Lip insists they take care of her. Mandy knows all too well what kind of repellent evils her father is capable of with young girls in their house and cannot take her there. The aunt she had to run away to when she was a little girl is also much colder these days and will not pay for another mouth to feed. Thus, Lip drives all the way to Milwaukee and picks up the girl himself. He brings the pink, kitten-shirted child back to the Gallagher house and gives her and Mandy his bedroom as he bunks with Ian. It’s only a matter of time until Fiona’s warm welcome will cool, but for a brief moment, Lip’s brash morality did something very good. Still, Fi warns that he is sending some very strong signals to Mandy…

The final lesson of the week is what happens when one stands alone. Jimmy, somehow uncharacteristically still broke, has to pawn his $5,000 watch just to help Fi pay the bills. His closeted father also is alone when his mother finds out he is broke (and Gay) and throws him out of their Magnificent Mile home. A few martinis later, he too is crashing at the Gallagher house. He attempts to sneak into Ian’s bed and then into Ian, only to find a less than receptive Lip. Faster than R. Kelly can say “bust open the closet,” the whole Gallagher family is there for Jimmy’s dad’s admission.

This was a strangely sincere episode of Shameless. There were laughs to be had, such as when Jody reveals the level of his depravity before meeting Sheila or any scene with poor, poor Wendy on her way to prison. Yet on the whole, it’s a more earnest look at how awful life is for the desperately poor in this country. A group of women are willing to go on being sexually assaulted on a weekly basis, simply to ensure they can keep a job that gives them sick leave? Is it better to leave a little girl for social services or to take her into an unstable home? Either way, the grimness of the project she lives in with a junkie tripping on her front stoop makes even the Gallagher house look homey. How can Carl say he’s never seen a lake when he lives right next to Lake Michigan? Sure, the last one is more a statement of his poor education of even his local geography, but the tone was far more somber and less mean spirited than usual.

In a world that’s as grim for the “have nots” as the one Shameless celebrates and derives humor from, a sense of camaraderie and unity seems more necessary than ever. I do not think it is a veiled message about organized labor, however this episode does show that when people are so small in society’s eyes, working together, even as a family, is their only hope. Too bad that so few will even try. Lip and Mandy giving morality a real shot is the most endearing character moment the show has presented since Kev tried to be a foster parent. I’d like to hope they’ll succeed, but that would just be shamelessly naïve of me with this show and the world we live in.

After Jimmy’s dad leaves for a room at the Four Seasons, Fiona comforts a shell-shocked Jimmy. He tries to apologize for the world shattering humiliation of the night’s events, but Fi gives the most genuinely helpful thought of the episode. “If I had to apologize for all the stuff my father’s done, I wouldn’t have a voice left.” Indeed, Fiona. Indeed.

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Most Shameless Quotes of the Week:

“It’s good to be nervous.” Sheila as she presents Jody with the lifelike dildo she wants to put inside him. He declines.

“I got the evening Bobby Shift, which is easy peasy. By then, his dick is basically just coughing up smoke.” Fi’s stunningly content coworker.

“If ignorance is bliss, then Down’s Syndrome must be euphoria.” Frank remarking on Sheila’s special needs grandkid.

“Welcome to the predictable consequences of Crystal Meth.” Ian’s unsurprised reaction upon hearing of the death of Molly’s mother.