This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 8 Episode 11
Early in tonight’s episode of Shameless, I began speculating how bizarre and arbitrary it can be what the Gallaghers take seriously and what they take not so seriously. For instance, sometimes major lifetime milestones or setbacks are treated with genuine awe or horror—say, Debbie choosing to have a baby versus the actual birth of Frannie, or Lip choosing to drop out of high school versus Lip subsequently being expelled from higher education. Sometimes Fiona freaks out in a reasonable manner, and sometimes the Gallaghers just take it on the chin in a way that’s comical but shockingly detached. This occurred again at the top of tonight’s episode when we discovered what Carl and Kassidi’s idea of a honeymoon is: a wedding night tryst while his brothers are trying to sleep in the same room.
Fiona, who understandably freaked out at Debbie and Lip’s poor choices during their high school years, is totally ambivalent toward Carl’s bad idea of putting a ring on it at the tender age of 16 or 17. Then again, Carl is making a mistake that will be easily amendable… for now. Until the day if he might actually follow through with Kassidi’s request for him to dropout. It’s unclear which way it’ll go at the moment, but some mistakes have lasting consequences… including in the most stunning and darkly cruel twist of the night.
Because yes, this is all building up to Frank’s nonchalant walking into the kitchen of his home. Upon seeing his daughter passed out and sprawled across the table, with three disturbingly crushed toes, Frank decides to give her what the episode titles to be a “Gallagher Pedicure.” And just what is a Gallagher Pedicure you might ask? It involves the easy removal of three gangrenous toes via garden sheers. It’s so terrifying in how underplayed it is, you can’t help but laugh… yet maybe cry for Debbie, if you can ever stop watching through your fingers.
Indeed, Debbie’s storyline has been one that the writers have intentionally left understated this season. Given all the fireworks of Fiona fighting to save her building, or Ian becoming a big fabulous South Side messiah, it is easy to overlook Debbie seeming to be sowing her oats a bit after having a baby too young. Not necessarily vying for mother of the year, ultimately her misadventures have been a source for humor and seemed relatively benign by Shameless standards. I even chuckled when a giant piece of equipment smashed on her foot during nocturnal non-union activities. At worst, I worried how it would affect her standing with the union she’ll eventually need to join. It appears I’d forgotten that, once in a blue moon, Shameless loves throwing brutally realistic consequences atop preposterous scenarios.
So here we are tonight, with Debbie in the ER being told she’ll likely have to lose her three toes. Suddenly the laughs aren’t so funny, and a grim reality takes hold. Only Fiona is even mildly aware of how dark her circumstances are, because Fi’s the only sibling Debbie calls to pick her up from the hospital (she fails to mention that she might soon be crippled). And then we get to the heart of it.
In a familiar but ever necessary storytelling beat—perhaps more so now that the executive branch is deliberately sabotaging the already flawed Obamacare—we get a glimpse of what healthcare is like for those who can’t afford it. Especially those businesses “reward” for not being unionized. Debbie is given two options: the best type of surgery that might salvage her foot before the gangrene takes her leg, but would require a yearlong rehabilitation process and easily more than $70,000 before it’s all over. Or for $7,000, they can just lop off the toes and give her a special shoe. Whether 50 grand or seven-gs, both are as equally out of reach for a young single mother without a stable income. Even if she did have a stable income, it would remain a pipe dream for a girl who is in no danger of ever owning a credit card.
Thus here we are, with Debs on her kitchen table, swallowing pain killers like they’re peppermints and mixing it with alcohol so Wee Baby Liam can have the honor of playing butcher. And when Liam passes out more quickly than the drugged up Debs, in comes down to St. Francis to do the good work. Since it is Frank who gets the honor of taking the toes, it plays absolutely perfectly that there would be no horror or self-doubt about what needed to be done. William H. Macy’s Frank is a towering amalgamation of nothing if not practicality. One senses this isn’t his first amputation, and he takes it like a champ. Enjoying more booze for himself than the ones used to help close the wound. This only makes the clinical way in which the cutting is filmed all the grosser.
It’s a moment so unexpected and skin-crawling that it elevates a solid episode of Shameless to a great one. Yet it leaves some unpleasant realities that Shameless better not shirk off in its finale: What does Debbie do now? Beyond getting a special shoe, she has endured an experience that will leave her permanently handicapped. How will she handle getting a job and taking care of Frannie if she can’t even get out of bed for some time to come? I’m sure we’re on the precipice of Frank scheming away at a disability check set-up for both of their “retirements,” but the future will never play a smoothly as Frank’s workmanlike precision.
Elsewhere bad choices lead to slightly less disastrous consequences (for now), but the show seems to be setting up nearly every major character for a giant brick wall of pain in the season 8 finale. The most obvious one is of course Carl and Kassidi’s doomed marriage. Their marital bliss indeed only lasts for about 24 hours, concluding with Carl taking Kassidi on a walking tour of his neighborhood and history. In a scene where Shameless writers unintentionally predict the social media demise of Logan Paul, Kassidi takes a selfie with a dead body they stumble upon, as if it was a quaint boutique bakery.
But soon, it’s revealed that even though she said she’d be understanding if he returned to military school once they’re wedded, she has no intention of letting Carl go—nor do I suspect that he will. With only one episode left this season, it appears that the school Carl fought so hard to attend will be chucked away like Lip’s University of Chicago aspirations in order to keep him on the South Side long after this sham marriage went bust. Although, if I could posit an alternative reality that’s almost as grim, perhaps Carl does go… for a time. Until Kassidi seeks her revenge by suggesting she was Patty Hearst’d by Carl, who still technically did receive his tuition by blackmailing her parents, complete with a kidnapping video shot in his basement. Tack on that she is supposed to only be 15, and thus the marriage is nonbinding, and we have the recipe for a disaster almost as bad as losing three toes.
Lip’s calamity, meanwhile, won’t be as severe, but the emotional anguish will be high when Charlie inevitably finds out next week that his baby mama is now spending the night in the Gallagher house. How could he not if Lucas reports where he’s been? I like Lip and Sierra, but there is too much drama (and lying) in their relationship. It is an unknown variable what she’ll do when she finds out Lip set her father up to blow his parole. However, this good deed further entrenches him in murky territory with their family drama, and it seems likely that there are invisible icebergs in those waters.
But this isn’t that far removed from the trouble Fiona might be in. Apparently the fact she let the family who is suing her also squat in her apartment means that she legally shows signs of culpability. That puts everything on the line. Not just her apartment building, but also her house could be liquidated by a $6 million lawsuit that will still leave her in debt for the rest of her life. It’s a situation that she doesn’t seem to have a lot of options for escaping from, either. I for one was definitely relieved that Fiona saved her dog from that apartment, and it was ever so satisfying that she delivered a drop kick to the face of the woman who took advantage of her kindness, but all of this just puts her in more troubling legal standing.
I do suspect this will be the one storyline resolved with cathartic Gallagher glee next week, if for no other reason than we cannot lose the house. The better season finales always feature the Gallaghers rallying or falling apart, and nothing will bring all the siblings’ heads together (to butt or otherwise) than the threat of losing their home. I don’t see a realistic solution to Fi’s problems, but there could be a devilishly enjoyable one.
Yet the narrative that, besides Debbie’s, could have the most long-lasting and painful consequences are what becomes of Ian’s decisions to go from Hot Gay Jesus to tonight’s Hot Gay Vigilante. Inevitably being a social media celebrity with religious implications would eventually place Ian in a situation where performing a “miracle” would be too tall an order. And it came in insidious fashion.
It was obvious when the camera lingers on the boy hanging outside the church where Ian is performing his good works that this lad would soon figure prominently. What is less obvious is that his issue isn’t so clear cut as his father is “coming after him.” Ian lying down in front of the papa’s van, so that the boy cannot be abducted, plays like a satisfying act of defiance… but doesn’t necessarily seem as clean as when he just suggested a group of at-risk teens follow him.
Sure enough, it is brought up that the child is 14 and that Ian cannot take him away from the boy’s legal guardian. Further, a level of nuance is added that is completely alien to social media’s ability to digest any facts—there is ambiguity. The father, relatively reasonably, comes to Ian and reveals that he is fine with his son being gay, but he is afraid that his son has a mental illness and is not taking his medication, and is now living on the street while prostituting his body.
Granted, this is a he said / he said situation, but there could be a ring of truth to what the father says. Rather than trying to figure it out though, Ian unsurprisingly sympathizes in total with the teenager who feels alienated due to his sexuality and possible mental illness. The boy also claims that the pills he takes are solely to keep him from getting an erection.
While it is possibly the truth, there is no obvious evidence one way or the other when Ian becomes Woke Twitter’s Avenging Angel and blows up the father’s van. Perhaps the boy is telling the truth: His father wants to brainwash him and medicate him into acquiescence. Either way though, Ian just lost the ability to help him, because he committed an actual crime by blowing up the father’s van. As it burns in fiery glory behind him, Ian has the look of an angel… or a demon. He is almost certain to be faced with the latter in court while losing the confidence and support of his institutional churchgoing benefactors, as well as likely throwing away his more stable EMS career.
It is a moment of triumph that it is hard to not cheer, but a Hot Gay Crucifixion is also at hand. As such, the groundwork is laid for a season 8 finale that should hit very hard. Carl, Ian, Lip, and especially poor, poor Debbie are destined to some tough realizations the morning after. When the smoke clears, it could end poorly for each of them. Still, I suspect Fiona will keep her apartment building, even if she winds up living back at the Gallagher House. Because there is no escaping the family. Not that I’m sure we’d want to.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“This is it. This is where my first job was.” / “Selling crack? That is so cool!” – Carl and Kassidi.
“Jesus, what do you got in there, a dead body?” / “I do not believe she is dead yet.” – Kev and Svetlana.