This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Last week’s Shameless felt like the final nail in Monica’s coffin (being reapplied perhaps after a ghastly exhumation). The long goodbye was settled like so much moribund methamphetamine being passed to a crazy-eyed dealer. Even the Gallagher kids came together, held their collective noses, and swallowed their pride to pay homage to Fiona while getting out of a tight spot.
Coming off an episode that drives all the Gallaghers together will always be a tough sell. After all, how do you top that? The answer, at least judging by tonight, is that you do not, as “F**ck Paying It Forward” is a fairly by the numbers and lighthearted episode wherein characters usually relegated to the comic relief—Frank and Kev—tended to have the more satisfying dramatic moments too. When that happens you can bet the rest of the hour is playing it pretty softly… well at least as soft as Lip Gallagher can get these days.
Indeed, to highlight the weaker elements of this week, one only needs to look at Lip’s non-conflict for the hour. Understandably, Lip is feeling pretty damn frisky after going months on end without sex as part of his recovery. But when his boss/AA mentor tells him he can be allowed to have meaningless, carefree sex, the show bends over backwards to turn this into a burden. First Lip unwisely (but not necessarily out of character) goes fishing in one workplace at Patsy’s Pies. A poor and wholly Lip Gallagher-inspired choice under normal circumstances, it’s compounded as he has already dated one waitress there. Good looks and good IQ does not make for good decisions.
When that crashes and burns, Lip changes gears to lament his plight in every scene he’s present for, pretending during much of it that Tinder doesn’t exist—and then claiming that one bad Tinder date means the app (or its many competitors) couldn’t solve his handsome 20-something non-dilemma. In short, it was a bit of turning wheels, albeit at least he got the inevitability of banging his next attractive co-worker out of the way at the mechanics shop with Eddie. However, given she strangled him, I hope that Shameless knows better than to recycle the “Lip falls too hard for [insert name]” narrative.
Still, if the episode is ultimately meant to be more of a table-setter after the past three hours came running out of the gate, at least it did so with otherwise good spirited fun.
Thus enter one of the strongest elements of the night: Kev and Veronica visiting his Kentuckian relatives. Unsurprisingly, Kev becomes quickly seduced into the rustic, Southern charm of the Bluegrass State, and V is rightly worried about discovering she’s related not only to inbreds… but Confederate-worshipping ones too!
It’s such an obvious but amusing scenario to play out that one can forgive Shameless for ignoring the fact that Kentucky fought for the Union and not the Confederacy during the Civil War. Even so, many Kentuckians certainly had slaves, and the skin absolutely crawls when Aunt Ronnie, played by Hollywood’s go-to performer of redneck affectations, Dale Dickey—seriously, check out the much more thoughtful and terrifying exploration of redneck culture in Winter’s Bone—confides to Veronica that members of their family have always had a taste for the “dark meat.”
It inevitably has to end with the children running around with KKK masks that all but guarantee Kev and Veronica will never drive south again. Until then though, it shows some sympathy for even the dimwits who would wear “Make America [White] Again” hats. They voted for Obama but couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a woman who called them “deplorable.” That seems even faintly more reasonable when it is told by people who can look at Kev’s rough go at it on the Southside with envy. He does have a bar that he owns (by dumb luck) and a wife who loves him, and a solid life. He’s the “success,” even to those who dress in white hoods and consider it Christian to burn crosses as much as pray to them. Go figure.
The show also finds comic delight in Frank continuing his Saint Francis shtick. He is keeping up the charade so long now that even this cynical writer is going to get a bit misty-eyed when he crashes and burns. Because he has to, right? No one really sobers up in their late 50s or higher while claiming to be a 30-year-old man with a religious love for the little animals. Nonetheless, Frannie running to her grandfather and him being an actual member of the family, no matter how fleetingly, is a treat to see. What could have been, eh?
But Liam is of course destined for bitter disappointment as Frank promises the lad that he’ll make up his many failures to his other five kids by being there for him. Yeah right. We’ve spent enough time with Dirty Old Man Frank, who humps the gravesite of Bianca, to know that there was nothing chivalrous about him fixing that PTA mom’s heel. He’s making a play through the faux-pose of virtue. It is also hilarious.
Frank insulting all the other absent and successful “hedge fund” dads at Liam’s private school while extolling the virtues of lost masculinity is Frank at his best; it likewise turns bored moms into putty in his hands. Is this subplot a concession to William H. Macy’s ego whereupon younger women just find a shirtless Frank Gallagher playing with his son as sexy as a Fifty Shades of Grey novel? Possibly. It still is a nice comic capper on the best subplot of the week.
Other storylines go for a bit more of the dramatic, such as Debbie’s sympathetic disappointment that she missed Frannie’s first steps—and her in-character awfulness at the toll booth job that will probably soon go the way of the Neal relationship. There’s also Ian winning some brownie points after accidentally inspiring a homeless shelter girl to think about the future after, ahem, letting her sleep in his bed for the night.
Yet the main dramatic heft of the episode is obviously Fiona having Sean Pierce reenter her life. I have mixed feelings about this, primarily because Sean, while hardly the most exciting of Fiona’s boyfriends, probably suffered the most character assassination to get him off the series after Dermot Mulroney’s contract finished (and he and Fiona got too close to something resembling happiness). As the guy who took a chance on hiring Fi and fought kicking and screaming falling in love with her—and then did things like give his car to South Side drug dealers to get Carl out of the life—the revelation that he is a selfish user who had been shooting up this whole time felt like just a neat way to get rid of him in the most dramatic fashion during their wedding day.
That fact hasn’t changed in his absence. Unlike the re-confirmation that Jimmy/Steve was a selfish douchebag in season 5, Sean’s return in season 8 doesn’t entirely offer satisfaction to the character’s previous departure; but it does allow Shameless to put Fiona through the ringer again, and the ultimate reason why it happened feels appropriate for Sean, allowing for a glaring subversion of the old TV trope of “the bad ex is back in town.”
Sean shows up at Fiona’s house without giving her a warning—proper asshole behavior—and then begs she meet him in a restaurant. Given that Sean lied about his drug use up until their wedding day, he must be a piece of work Fiona should avoid at all costs. And as Fi has wisely avoided any super serious longterm relationships since Sean broke her heart, it’s as inevitable as Lip reaching for the first pretty girl at his work that Fiona would feel compelled to make the bad decision about the ex and meet Sean at that diner.
However, as Fiona talks herself into considering a second chance with Sean, the old bastard reveals he’s already married. This is part of his rehab and recovery. He’ll try to buy Fiona’s forgiveness. While I still roll my eyes a bit at the heel turn Sean had in the season 6 finale, it is so perfectly that guy to be uber self-righteous and attempt to buy absolution from an ex he royally screwed over. Granted, it is hard to imagine he wouldn’t lead with the fact that he’s a married man so as to not create the wrong impression about his return. An arbitrary choice to invert expectations of this being another Jimmy/Mickey reunion, it at least leads to Fiona and the audience having a genuine moment of cognitive dissonance.
“Am I fucking step in your rehab?” Yes you are, Fi. To go from tangible vulnerability and anguished regrets to insulted fury plays to Emmy Rossum’s strengths and she slays in the scene, throwing Sean’s money on the table with such anger that it might’ve shaken your television screen. It is such a great moment, in point of fact, that it makes up for Fi committing a rather uninspired sitcom styled mistake where she chews out the wrong wife at the motel about her husband’s sins while Sean and the new Mrs. are standing on the other side of the parking lot.
The denouement of the subplot, like much this week, left something to be desired. But everything before that moment worked, including watching Fiona relapse into jilted lover rage. “She stole my life!” Fiona hisses while writing down all the reasons Sean is a POS. If this episode is anything to go by, Fi is going to hit Tinder herself or some other rebound outlet hard next week. Maybe after keying Sean’s car, of course.
Overall, it was a perfectly serviceable episode of Shameless with a few really inspired moments involving St. Francis in a PTA meeting or V worrying that the rednecks have decapitated poor, dim Kev. It was also inevitable the episode would be a comedown after last week, let’s just hope that next Sunday it comes back up a with a little more Gallagher swagger.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“You have to meet Uncle Travis, he just finished up skinning a coon.” –Aunt Ronnie. / “… You meant raccoon.” – Relieved V.
“What the fuck is a neighborhood watch?” – Lip. / “A bunch of George Zimmerman type of pussies who aren’t trained for military action.” – Carl.
“A fella doesn’t get too many chances to get it right, and I’ve blown it five times. You’re sort of my bonus round, son.” – Frank to poor, doomed to be disappointed Liam.
“We are a generation of lost masculinity, and we have to start getting it back, no matter if you’re straight or gay. And some of you are pretty gay. No matter if you stick it in the front or in the rear, for the love of our sons, we have to stick it in there like a man.” – St. Francis.