This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 8 Episode 3
Well that escalated quickly into something great, didn’t it?
Normally, Shameless builds across the span of a season to the moment when Gallaghers’ lives (and storylines) intersect. Otherwise, they’re mostly all off in their own debauched worlds, completely oblivious to the fact that Debbie is “with” poor Neal, or that Lip is no longer bound to his great expectations in college. But only in episode three of the year, Fiona leads an entire flock of Gallaghers, still fresh with rotten pieces of Monica skin under their fingertips, to go eyeball-to-eyeball with a meth dealer living in a storage unit. And “Saint” Francis, bless him, actually is a protector of the little children and, for a passing moment, resembles something akin to an actual father.
It was a strong episode that flirts, if even casually, with virtue. Mind you it is not necessarily a virtue that would be taught in the Sunday School that Frank might next take up as his mission to tutor. Nay, as Lip is reminded of by his rehab brethren tonight, selfishness can be its own noble deed. And doing something for someone else to also feed your soul, ego, or genuine boredom does not make it any less honorable. It is what lets one self-centered alcoholic listen to another’s problems about a doomed professor. And it is what makes tonight’s episode so much fun.
From Kev feeling up Fiona to “protect her” from cancer to Fi herself helping her siblings out of another hole by literally digging into one with them, everyone has some self-serving motives to a degree. But they’re all making their lives better. That even includes Frank this evening, which is about as close to a South Side miracle as we’re going to get.
To start with Frank—excuse me, Francis—his newfound spirituality is bound to last as long as his sobriety. The mere fact that he thinks because his name is derived from the patron saint of animals that he himself is also a saint of woodlen creatures is more preposterous than him only losing one tooth after smoking a pound of meth. But it is also glorious. There is something genuinely serene about William H. Macy’s performance when he is allowed to explore Frank Gallagher during a moment of introspection. The more absurd the tangent, the more earnest Macy commits to this sad man trying to bequeath happiness to the world.
Thus the scene of his epiphany, that he is in essence Saint Francis reincarnated, is shot with the stoicism and lingering, reverential lower close-ups reserved for Jesus biopics and Mel Gibson snuff films. It’s nutty and heartwarming, particularly as he is the same POS who won’t buy his daughter’s supplies so she can get the employee discount. Still, it is not as ingratiating as the unexpected sight of Frank at the end of the episode standing up for his family to a meth dealer pointing a gun.
Both demeaning and celebrating the “rotting soul” of his dead lover/scapegoat, Frank marvels how the repugnant smell that unsettles a man who chooses to live in a storage unit is also the remaining traces of Monica’s “magnificence.” Then his eyes sparkle with sudden madness and actual clarity, and he says, “She’s six feet under again, and if you come near my family, Eric, with God as my witness I’ll bury you with her.”
This is the episode Macy will send to the Golden Globes’ Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Television Academy. It should definitely be enough to secure another nomination too. Plus, it allows the audience—and even Fiona—to cheer on Saint Francis. It cannot last with this guy, but the idea of spending an extended period with Frank trying to make amends for his awfulness, as opposed to only as a gag that lasts for a few episodes, is appealing. Just don’t get too attached, lest we end up like all the disappointed Gallagher children always do.
Speaking of the next generation of dysfunction, we saw a consolidation of effort and thus storytelling. The threat of having your eyeball scooped out by a drug dealer has that effect. Nevertheless, there were a few other side stories that all landed very well this week.
For starters, Kev and V going from the big guy’s latest health obsession to discovering his roots was like seeing one small vein in a comedy goldmine explode with an even bigger payoff that will be buying drinks for weeks to come. Kev genuinely groping Fiona out of concern while Veronica barely turns her head is obviously humorous, but him discovering that he has his roots in Kentucky—and is from a family that practiced an extraordinary amount of inbreeding—is so out of left-field that it may actually be coming in from the parking lot. Yet it makes so much sense given what we know about dear old Kevin.
And as Kev discovers he’s Bart, V makes an unlikely reconciliation with Svetlana. If this subplot was played for anything more than laughs, it would fail the smell test a thousand times over that they would get back into proverbial bed (for now) with the woman who tried to steal their bar. Yet Svetlana’s peculiar relationship with this family has provided too many pitch black giggles for it to be completely written off. Even so, if I were Veronica, I would have just hired an accountant. At least when you get screwed over then, you’ll get a receipt.
Lip, meanwhile, saw a role reversal with the professor who pulled him out of his Frank-ish death spiral and put him on the mend. It also felt completely authentic (unlike the Svetlana reunion), because the man was a stumbling drunk when we met him several seasons ago. Hell, he and Lip bonded because they were both alcoholics. The difference is the prof was functioning, but even that has his limits.
Now Lip is in an unusual position: caring for a father figure. As a kid with a chip on his shoulder and no parent to bother with, he barely ever had a shit to give for Fiona or her stumbles in season 4. Yet here is a man that saved Lip from bottoming out just like his own deadbeat dad, and now the old bastard is flushing himself down the toilet. I suspect this storyline is not going to end happily. Lip didn’t feel particularly moved saying goodbye to Monica, but he is about to watch a parent depart in the most painful way. I believe the tweed-wearer when he says he’ll kill himself before he goes to prison, and with five DUIs, he is going to prison. Nor is he giving up the bottle at 60. Lip had it right the first time, but it will nonetheless be fascinating to watch how he’ll deal with real grief.
Other than Debbie getting the boot from Neal though (shocker, I know), the rest of the episode was about the Gallaghers having their back pushed up against a wall… from which they then crawl and slither their way out from. This is how we like them best, and that desperate creativity was a joy to revisit.
Huddled around a kitchen table, Ian, Lip, Debbie, and Carl struggle mightily to keep Fiona from knowing that they’ve screwed the pooch again. Listening to Frank has blown up in their collective faces, and now there is a drug dealer sticking Carl’s individual face into that beloved hot tub. This also depicts an interesting new dynamic. The Gallagher children, whom Fiona basically raised, now truly see Fi as a maternal presence. She’s no longer part of the team. Rather she’s the authority figure who must be circumvented to survive, and the parent they don’t want to disappoint. (Their actual parents meanwhile got them into this drug-fueled dilemma.)
But as this chasm appears to grow between Fi and her “children,” there remains a Gallagher resilience about the way Ian swings a golf club into a goon’s back to save Carl, and when they all accept they must go, tail between their legs, to Fiona.
Consequently, what at first seemed to be a lighter episode for Emmy Rossum turned out to be her best so far in the nascent season 8. A subplot rife with comedic B-material—including the mention of a word no New Yorker can laugh about (“bedbugs”)—turns triumphant when she discovers that, lo and behold, selling meth on the streets from Monica’s “inheritance” is a goddamn awful idea.
As aforementioned, this episode is all about the virtue of the self-serving. Her siblings’ desire to cut Fiona out of their slightly irksome “someone wants to kill us” problem is not an act of love to protect an older sister. Nay, it is about saving face and avoiding a lecture. Comparatively, her desire to let them “learn” from this moment means little about their growth or betterment to Fiona. It is the epitome of “I told you so.” Deliciously so.
In fact, I am not sure I can think of a better moment in television of one character savoring the schadenfreude of another’s shame. Yes, actual shame on Shameless. Rossum is glowing like a Christmas tree as she gets to remind them all that she is the reason they didn’t end up in foster care or dead on the streets, and that their eye-rolls have backfired. And as a viewer who is usually on Fiona’s side in these family squabbles, I delighted almost as much as the beaming pleasure on Fi’s face at their discomfort.
However, not everything is an act of selfishness. Fi rubbing their noses in the mess they’ve left on the rug is definitely that, but her helping them dig up the corpse of their mother and then stand up to a drug dealer is the return of the den mother we haven’t seen too much of in later seasons (she even jumps in front of Debbie and Liam when a gun comes into the picture).
There is something ghoulish in the best possible way about the Gallagher kids exhuming the body of their mama in a cemetery. It is also in keeping with the better aspects of the show. They only come together to participate in the severely fucked up, whether that be due to Frank, meth, or yes Monica’s bloated, worm-riddled body. Even Carl’s big moment of using a bulldozer to dig her out backfires when the body flops out of the coffin like it’s an ‘80s comedy. It’s just that this laugher is one where they actually have to see the swollen face of the Hurricane that haunted their dreams.
It is all vintage Shameless played to perfection. As is Fiona getting to bring back the South Side scrapper audiences love when she threatens the hipster-lesbian equivalent of a Stepford Wife who is trying to screw her out of a quiet tenant. Fiona’s threat of bringing the dreaded “b word” to ruin in her apartment, just to have an excuse to evict the thorn in her side, is an obvious fan-cheering moment. And cheer, I did.
In fact, that pretty much sums up the whole episode. I am not sure how they can top this episode with still three-quarters of a season left, but for tonight it feels good to have that familiar buzz that comes around whenever we stop by the Alibi and friends.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“Did you say inbred?” / “Did you say Kentucky?!” – Veronica and Kev.
“You might want to burn those clothes. The little fuckers are like bouncing off the walls in here.” – The worst tenant ever.
“She died. We watched her die. And then we put her in the ground. We buried some drugs with her, but that’s neither here nor there.” – Francis.
“I’ve been trying to be nice. I’ve been trying to be mature. I’ve been trying to rise above my station in life. But if you want to go ghetto on me, I will beat you at that game every fucking time.” – Fiona.