Shameless Season 8 Episode 12 Finale Review: Sleepwalking

Shameless ends its eighth season by leaving a lot of bottles up in the air, but the ones it does drink go down well enough.

This Shameless review contains spoilers.

Shameless Season 8 Episode 12

A Shameless finale is usually when the laughter comes to a stop—or at least an intervening chortle—and the typical South Side shenanigans get real. Last season alone, we said goodbye to Hurricane Monica in a shockingly poignant, and necessarily wistful, coffin slam. But burying the old battle axe with several pounds of meth wasn’t the only time Shameless was willing to shed some tears and teeth before the final fade. In previous finales, we’ve seen Frank face his own mortality, Fiona realize that the man she was going to marry is every bit the lying user that her father is, and Lip hit rock bottom and lose everything.

Yet Shameless Season 8 finished not with emotional highs; it preferred sitting at the bar and just enjoying the buzz of a long day (or season) coming to a close—while leaving the work still undone for tomorrow. There is something therapeutic and admirable in such visual understatement, but it also felt decidedly unfinished by the end of the hour. Storylines either wrapped up neatly or were left in complete disarray with no narrative cohesion in sight. Such messiness is obviously more akin to life, but after 12 hours and weeks with the Gallaghers, this ending sometimes felt as disappointing or chaotic as life is too. In some ways that is likely the point, as several Gallaghers picked the less spectacular, harder path and persevered forward. But others still felt like their journey was only beginning when it became clear we weren’t going to see them again for the next eight months. Be that as it may, there was enough good cheer worth drinking to during this hour of Shameless.

The most satisfying storyline that achieved the kind of grace that one imagines the writers were reaching for involved Fiona refusing to let Gallagher luck (and Shameless plotting) knock her back down off the proverbial ladder… while also still being able to knock some heads in classic Gallagher fashion. Such that it was when the writers hinted the apartment building we’ve seen Fiona work so hard to build up in season 8 almost get taken away from her. Her lawyer suggested to Fi that she sells her apartment building now and takes the money to travel around the world, or blow it on a fun week in Vegas.

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Both options appear catastrophic to Fiona, and frankly to the viewers. For a moment I also believed that Shameless would go in that direction, because frequently the show enjoys taking away nice things from Gallaghers who dare to dream for more. So Fi thinks she can turn her temp job into a permanent position, complete with a stable relationship to the nice upper-middle class boss? She’ll sleep with his brother and torpedo it all! Lip finally gets the hang of navigating the pressures of college and might live up to his great expectations? He’ll sleep with a professor and have a drinking problem that spirals out of control until he loses everything! Ian has finally reached a happy medium at modulating his bipolar disorder while holding down a steady job he loves as an EMS paramedic? He becomes Hot Gay Jesus and then invites the crucifixion!

So it was entirely plausible, and almost inevitable, that Fi would lose her apartment. She is given the temptation by her lawyer and the excuse to go by Ford, who likewise hints she could see the world. Maybe she’d become just as cosmopolitan as “I don’t fall madly in love” Ford? Luckily Fi realizes she’s a Gallagher and she loves Chi-town, the South Side, and even this apartment building. And she’ll defend that all. Madly if need be.

Plus, they demanded she give them her dog. Her dog. She had no choice but to unleash a highly questionable smoke bomb. This self-realization is what made a slighter conflict feel finale-worthy in its denouement. Fiona decides she is not getting pushed back to start on the board game, nor is she running off with some hunky mysterio at the next sign of trouble. She’s South Side, and she’ll protect her gains with all the ferocity implied therein.

This conclusion felt far more satisfying than a similar moment of clarity inflicted upon Lip Gallagher. When he wasn’t worrying about drunken mentors, Lip was caught in an awkward situation between Charlie and Sierra, which was visualized tonight with him actually standing between the exes as they shouted obscenities at each other outside of Patsy’s diner. I’ve liked Lip and Sierra in the past, but the moral guilt he has about “stealing” Sierra from Charlie—even though he knows Charlie is a screw up—felt as contrived as his realization that he may not love her.

The truth of the matter is that Lip has been exceedingly fucked up on booze, drugs, or any manner of vice throughout much of Shameless. He is his father’s son in that regard. But his admitting this to Sierra in a moment of happiness, as opposed to after he had been caught relapsing or is being confronted by one of his rotating collection of father figures, reveals a genuine desire for self-improvement. He is acknowledging what viewers have long known: Lip latches onto one woman after another and clings to them while ignoring his own problems. He even finally finishes fixing up the motorcycle that embodies his own insecurities being put to good purpose. Symbolism! Yet his admitting this to Sierra is not the quiet game-changer that I suspect Shameless producers might expect.

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Once again a season ends with Lip saying goodbye, possibly forever, to a love interest while moving further along his often circuitous road of self-improvement. There is a glimmer of light for a new major story thread next season, as Lip seems to be bringing another face into the Gallagher household after Eddie left her girl hanging in the wind until social services shows up. Lip taking on a paternal responsibility to an at-risk youth is a noble development for the character, however we’ve seen him in the position of big brother before many times, and it isn’t like Debbie could use some guidance as she lost three toes and is now having an insidious offer from a family that tried to steal her baby; or Liam isn’t being tempted into grand larceny by St. Francis.

Indeed, while Lip and Fiona’s narratives surprisingly stood apart from the rest of the Gallaghers, and enjoyed a walk toward wordless maturity, much of the others were wrapped up in a series of gags. Poor Debbie lost three toes last week, and other than some hilariously grim morning after humor as Frank extols the virtues of amputation, she was sidelined again while the threat of slowly losing her daughter to the in-laws and absentee dad reared its unresolved head. Liam, meanwhile, got the joy of telling Frank off in the best way: by enjoying the wealth of the one percent (if only for a week) while Frank was diving head first into a pile of crap. Literally.

Carl also finally left Kassidi in a storyline that not so much ended as it abruptly stopped, because Carl was able to get to the extraction point on time. Hopefully there will still be major ramifications next season due to the Gallagher lad being a husband, but the only really satisfying catharsis to it all was Kassidi spelling out her fantasy. She wants to live like “normal people,” which to her is the chic image of having too many children while crammed into a single bedroom in the projects with gangs, and an overabundance of fattening fast food. She isn’t even infatuated with Carl; she’s infatuated with the concept of wallowing in squalor. Also credit to Sammi Hanratty, who absolutely nails it in this scene so that Kassidi’s madness is both bemusing and terrifying, while never feeling like a sketch.

The tear dripping down Carl’s face is a great touch, but the reckoning should have been more than a dangerous escape. There is admittedly something humorous about him on the bus trying not to look back, but it felt like all the dramatic and narrative potential of Carl being a 16-year-old groom was put off until season 9. At least it should promise Hnaratty getting more scenery to destroy as she stalks Carl to an early grave.

In a similarly open-ended fashion, the question is raised as to whether or not  Svetlana can keep the charade of being a kept woman going for potentially years if there is a prenup. Yet this plays smoother because it was the final punchline on a hilarious subplot. As Kev, V, and Svetlana’s storyline is complete X-rated Looney Tunes at this point, it is hard to compare and contrast it to the rest of the events in a week-to-week review, however if we treat it as complete farce than it is deliciously warped in its indulgences. And how could it be anything but indulgent ridiculousness after Veronica let Svetlana slide her way back into 50 percent ownership of the bar?

So week after week, I’ve rolled with it, complete with Kev and Veronica now going along with a plan that involves selling Svetlana’s rival into Eastern European sex slavery while possibly killing off her cannibalistic mother. It’s bonkers, but at least the finale ended with them achieving a major coup: marrying Svetlana to an old fool. There is comedy to mine for weeks to come next season from that.

Yet at the end of the day, Shameless has never been a full-tilt comedy, despite however awards shows categorize it. This series is powered by the dramatic strength of the Gallagher siblings coming together to do big, wicked, or wickedly big things. And nothing had gotten bigger or more out of hand than Hot Gay Jesus becoming a Hot Gay Fugitive.

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Ian Gallagher has more or less thrown away all of his good works to preach truth. By preaching self-love to those who’ve been brainwashed to hate themselves, their sexualities, and their bodies, Ian is improving the life of countless followers. But he is also going to lose that platform because he’s taken it to a violent place. Yet instead of Fiona, Lip, and even Debbie rallying to Ian in his time in need, they’re only passingly interested in it while dealing with their own stuff. This could work in a penultimate episode, yet in a finale, it’s the definition of anti-climactic.

Ian went from doing this to impress the at-risk kids at Trevor’s shelter to putting Trevor’s shelter in danger, because he gets a high on the crowds rallying to his cause. What Ian is throwing away should have been the focal point of the finale, as well as how it is affecting the siblings’ view on what they’re working toward. Ian is fighting the good fight in all the wrong ways, so who stands with him or against him?

One of the strongest hooks of this season was Ian and Fiona going to passive aggressive, and then aggressive-aggressive, war over the ownership of a decrepit church on her tenement’s block. That conflict was never truly resolved; they had simply reached an armistice. That tension returning as Fi would be forced to walk Ian back, or their butting heads, could have brought all of the emotions both have had this season to an explosive head. Instead it is left to a post-credit stinger of Fi actually seeing Ian arrested. And his arrest plays still more for laughs before the reality of the situation can creep into Hot Gay Jesus’ teachings.

Consequently, the season feels unfinished. Central conflicts were abandoned or postponed, and several major storylines concluded with a largely perfunctory quality. There were some affecting moments, as well as some hilarious ones (although not Frank in a sea of poop, that is low even for a show that treats amputation as a jest), but as a whole season 8 didn’t bring all its pieces into a grand sum total. Overall that matters little when compared to the weekly enjoyment had from Gallagher debauchery. But when grading the finale? It leaves us wanting a lot more than this.

As it turns out, they really couldn’t top the Gallaghers coming together to “negotiate” with Monica’s meth partner in a transcendent episode three.

Most Shameless Quotes of the Week

“Waste of money. Cauterization has been used since the Egyptians were building the Pyramids.” – Frank.

“You can love two things at once if you’re not fucking them both, right?” – Carl.

“What do cannibals eat other than people? Do they like pizza? We could stop and get a pizza?” –Kev.

“Gay Jesus Speaks the Truth.” – Newscaster.

“Time to go Gallagher.” – Fi.

Rating:

3 out of 5