This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 8 Episode 2
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s an old adage that also applies to TV shows that, if not old, have been around the block for a while. Certainly Shameless qualifies in its eighth year. We’ve seen Frank “try” to clean himself up, and we have seen Fiona make an admirable stab at climbing out of the gutter. We’ve seen Lip make stupid choices in the name of love, and we’ve poor Kev bumble into one hilariously misguided choice after another.
And yet the second episode of the season, “Where’s My Meth?” with a title that sounds akin to a fast food television campaign slogan, seems dryly aware of this fact. Nearly every subplot echoed something we’ve seen from these delightful degenerates before, and the point appears clearly to be addressing the eternally uncomfortable issue of self-change, self-growth… or the lack thereof. After so many years, are the characters changing or merely running in place? And is it something they or we want?
The most obvious and humorous example is Frank. Dear, stupid, lovably irredeemable Frank. In previous seasons, he’s had moments of inspiration to impress his children, but now he desires to impress… well everyone. Personally, I am starting to suspect that the copious amount of meth he junked into his system is still working its way toward his heart. After all, he does have a sudden drive that has replaced his rotting teeth.
So he tells his children he is going to be a productive member of society and get a job, and by God, he does it. Providing an “honest” answer as per why he hasn’t worked much in the last 30 years, he preys on the mind of a man who is really attempting to change himself by reclaiming his culture and religion by blaming Hurricane Monica for his descent into self-destruction. Poor Frank. He was just a helpless lad—a babe in the woods, really—before Monica sank her hooks into him. He promises his new boss that he won’t let him down, and viewers could hear a collective sigh from Showtime Household to Showtime household in honor of this well intentioned employer. “Poor guy.”
Still seeing “productive member of the working class” Frank Gallagher walking around provides plenty of humor. Happily suggesting how to protect co-workers so they can’t get disabled and become a “leach” on society, Frank is sobriety’s perfect asshole, puffing out his chest and causing everyone around him to rip their hair out.
So the question is does Frank mean it? Is he really trying to be a productive member of society, or is he simply scheming his way into a massive disability check. I’ll say that I think he thinks he means it at the time. Previous seasons have confirmed Frank’s sociopathic mind is a wonder, doing mental gymnastics worthy of the Olympics. So he is allowing himself to believe he won’t get bored on this job after three days to a week.
But he is already mentally figuring out the angles. His notes during orientation were overeager, but also scribbling down all the ways he could have “an accident.” His final scene with his boss confirms the doomed schmuck is unaware of Frank’s true nature, thinking he is management-bound when in fact, Frank is consciously or subconsciously laying the groundwork for the end of this subplot, which shall conclude when he and we both get a little tired of “responsible Frankie.” Because Frank will be Frank.
Compare this with Fiona who has come damn far. That is crystallized in her storyline this week, which revolves around her first collection of rent checks. Enjoying an old school apartment building that has a lobby worthy of a gothic horror movie, Fi is aware that she has changed sides on the great divide of power. Going from the role of Valjean to Javert has that effect. So she makes nice with each of the tenants, be they the crazy shut-in hoarder, the stoner who leaves his door open, or the single mother.
Contrasting nicely with the smokers’ open door, there is a single mom with seven children and an iron grated gate in front of her door, ominously foreshadowing how difficult this is going to be. And the point of how much Fi has actually changed is underscored by the revelation that this woman works some of the same dead-end jobs that Fiona worked back in the day. The look of contempt when this woman hears Fi also used to take care of five siblings and had a shitty income, but now is a landlord and collecting rent, is not lost on anyone. Least of all Fi.
Yet Fiona has changed, even though she wants to pretend she has not. She tries to sympathize with the woman and gives her a more than generous offer: pay half the rent a week late, and then take a few more weeks on the rest. For her troubles, Fi gets called a sellout bitch for a penny. Yeah, that would get a foreclosure sign from most anyone else too. And so it does! Fi and Debbie have their first cooperative one-on-one interaction in years when she hires Debbs’ services to burn off that iron gate and leave an eviction notice on the door.
Fi is not the same as the woman inside the apartment. Perhaps she never was, but at this point Fiona has changed, and she—and the viewers—don’t want to see her going back. So adios, lady!
Other characters find themselves running into the same hijinks with new contours. Surprise, surprise, Debbie still does not want to be a fulltime mother to Frannie, the baby she elected to have by herself, in part to spite her maternal figure, Fi. And it turns out living with a handicapped man with special needs like Neal is not that exciting either. Poor Neal, in some of the show’s darkest humor, can throw himself out of his own chair, and Debbs just drops Frannie off with the “in-laws.” The same ones she went to court to fight to the death last week, and who she now sees as a free babysitting service.
As it turns out, Debbie is as selfish as a mother and “girlfriend,” as she was as a Gallagher living with her siblings. And I suspect she’ll be living with them again, because Neal is about two episodes away from having a fit. Still, you have to give Debbie this: her hair is looking very nice these days.
Perhaps the most poignant of the Gallaghers trying to change is poor Ian. He was really the only one who did care about Monica after the earliest seasons. It’s a harsh but so-perfect line when Fiona says, “I moved on when she was still alive.” That makes Ian feel empty given he is the only one who cares, but it makes sense. Monica was more sentimental than Frank and also more in tuned with her kids when she cared (which was fleeting). She also passed him his PTSD, and as such is a potential ghost of his future. He has to let it haunt him.
Not that that doesn’t manifest in unique and illuminating ways. For those of us not versed in the many nuanced tribes and dialects of the gay culture, it is eye opening to learn about the world of “chubs.” Also, unlike when Shameless rather uncomfortably normalized the “underage twinks” and rich men subculture (which is certainly awkward these days), it is more played for good humor here.
Apparently when a good looking guy like Ian needs to feel doted upon, he is given the advice to find it in a “worshipful chub.” And in the most unexpected moment of heart of the night, Ian finally allowed himself to articulate his mourning for Monica while crying beneath the spooning bear hug of a fat man. I’m not sure what to say about that other than it was both hilarious and kind of touching.
As was Ian getting a terrible tattoo in honor of Monica. I still think she’d be proud of it.
By contrast, Lip showed a remarkable resistance to progress… but kind of pulled himself out of the fire by the hour’s end. As a kid who has committed all different forms of subtle suicide over jealousy and resentment, he took another dive off the proverbial bridge when he delivered Charlie a gram of cocaine in an anonymous pizza. What is more pathetic than babysitting for his ex as she gets back with an even more boneheaded different ex? Trying to destroy that idiot’s life.
And that is almost what happens until Lip has a moment of clarity and washes away the coke and pays a penance by serving his leg up to a Rottweiler. He’s also lucky the show chose to write Charlie as a fool, as opposed to those who have previously brought Lip much lower. The guy viewed Lip’s actions as that of kindness. Of course if he tells his baby mama about the swell thing Lip did… well at least he is showing a genuine desire to change, even as he fails to do so.
The series goes strong because it knows which characters we want to see have already moved on (Fiona), who still needs to grow past their South Side damage, but can dramatically remain in transition (Lip and Ian), and who should never change, baby, even though he really should (Frank). It also knows how to sprinkle in new but oh so shameless gags. In this case, it is a rich kid’s mother realizing that Liam lives not just on the wrong side of the tracks, but over where arrests are a daily part of the afternoon.
I have sincere trouble believing after that fateful drive she’d let her son stay with Liam—particularly if she’d just throw away the lad’s clothes the next morning—but props to Ian and Carl for having some fun at her expense. Oh and Kev’s lump is benign… and Kev doesn’t even know what benign means, despite all his hyperventilating on the internet!
Yep, all is right with the world on Shameless tonight.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“Will I survive my surgery? Has the cancer spread? Will I get to watch my kids grow up? Will I ever be able to take my shirt off in the gym… or let men feel me up for tips.” – Kev
“I don’t think you’re a freak for not wanting to forget about her. I think you’re a freak for crying in a fat dude’s arms.” – Fiona
“I want you to set-up a memorial for me at the Alibi. Everyone drinks at the exact time I die every year. And I want you to play Boys II Men, “End of the Road,” really loud.” – Kev
“To the order of the cock-guzzling sellout bitch landlord, one cent.” – Fiona’s check.