This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 8 Episode 5
It’s amazing how much an episode’s value can change in a single moment or, even more precisely, on a sole line of dialogue. But “So find another fucking church” had exactly that effect on the fifth episode of this year’s Shameless. Two weeks ago, I remarked how nice it is to have scenes where the Gallaghers are forced to work together. Well tonight’s hour very skillfully and satisfyingly went in the opposite direction by placing Fiona and Ian Gallagher on a collision course, and in the process they created an interesting dilemma intended to divide fans the same way they divide local residents of any neighborhood. Gentrification versus community outreach, property values versus decency. And is either being really that selfless of an advocate?
It’s a curious conundrum that divided the episode into a slow-motion wreck. But, you know, in a good way.
The drama is layered early when Ian and Carl go on a run. Once again, Shameless is at its most satisfying when it’s about Gallagher siblings being together, as opposed to in their own worlds. Watching Ian “train” Carl for his sophomore year of military school on a jog is as enjoyable as any debauched stunt that might be executed at the Alibi on a given night. They even stop as Ian finds the answer to his problem: a desolate church filled with bums and drug users.
It is around this time that it also becomes clear Fiona also has an interest in the property, because it is right down the street from her new investment in an apartment tenement. The value of her apartments would go way up if there weren’t junkies sleeping down the street, and she proves to be the most proactive of neighbors since she clears up all the needles and much of the garbage around the dilapidated church without seeing any financial gain in it. Of course the gain for Fiona is all pending, because a neighborhood with a nice ritzy art gallery in it will inevitably be more inviting for the “right” kind of tenants (non-South Sider hipsters and yuppies) than homeless kids in a shelter. One will renovate, one will reinforce negative stereotypes about Fi’s community.
It is an actual problem facing the South Side of Chicago and all other major neighborhoods in “transition” in major cities, including my own in New York. Is it better to strip a neighborhood of its identity (and more precisely its lower income inhabitants) than it is to keep its character? And what if it is not even about residents, but homeless kids. These shelters have to go somewhere, but no one wants it to be in their neighborhood.
Granted, Ian is not wholly on the level about this either. The reason he is looking for a home for these kids, at least at first, is because he is still trying to get into Trevor’s good graces. Plus, his pants. Nonetheless, Ian took to Trevor’s challenge to find these kids a home seriously and became fixated on this structure, even letting his favorite semi-wards search around the premises to pick out bedrooms from where the undoubtedly inebriated priests used to pass out. His motivations are also given a nobler context when Trevor and Ian rekindle their romance by the river, thereby giving Ian an out to not take it personally when Trevor says that a pair of brothers looking to install an art gallery have regained interest in the church.
Ian goes to lurid bat when he fumblingly tries to blackmail Trevor’s married patron… a man who likes pulling turtle necks up during a good blow job at the Fairy Tail gay bar Ian worked at as an underage teen… but that goes into perfectly Shameless territory with the couple being the one percent equivalent of the Milkoviches. Hubby is bluntly open with his wife about his gay dalliances, and if Ian wants the $30,000 charity write-off, he is going to have to swing both ways for a night.
So in the end, Ian is more genuinely selfless than Fiona, even if it initially came from a point of his own personal interest. While it is a bit contrived that Ian would fixate on the same property in Fiona’s way in the same couple of weeks, this makes for perfect family drama. Because other than when Ian was at his lowest point of suffering from Bipolar disorder, he and Fiona seem the most at peace and put together. Hence why when shit hits the fan, they’re usually much more simpatico than Fi is with any of her other siblings.
It seems like that for now, Fiona won this battle, and for her it was a very necessary victory. A homeless shelter for at risk teens would mean her property value would always have a very looming ceiling on it. However, she is becoming the type of “bougie” person Lip also mocked in the episode this week. Her calling desperate teenagers without homes “the risk” is another example of why these kids are actually at risk. Society wants to discard them, like Fiona just did. The fact that a decrepit church in a crappy neighborhood seems like a godsend to them, and that Fi would take it away, is why so many of their lives are an uphill struggle that’s at least as insurmountable as Fiona’s own.
So I am definitely siding with Ian on this, but it appears he already lost. So what this will do to the Gallagher household in the coming weeks is what makes this episode so good.
The rest of the hour was more standard Shameless fare. Some of that was disappointing (Lip has another disappearing father figure again, and is getting too involved with a woman who isn’t as in love with him again), but most of it was not. Frank coming clean and admitting that the whole concerned PTA dad act is about getting laid is as surprising as when Frank goes on a new bender. Still, I am loathed to admit I already miss St. Francis, as he has dropped the nickname already.
He is using his status as a concerned parent for Liam to convince a woman to follow him to his place of business and to ride him like he is a Greyhound Express into the South Side. “Quick tell me how much money you made last year before taxes?” Apparently two grand and he doesn’t pay taxes. That’s all the more impressive considering he didn’t have a job last year, and much of that money came from selling Monica’s meth. But it is but an aphrodisiac to her liberal guilt. And Frank is teaching Liam to make a killing with that.
These aren’t great lessons for Liam, but at least Frank is showing some concern, right? Because hilariously, none of the other Gallaghers care a whit that Carl is keeping an abducted addict in their basement. Treating him as both a kidnapped hostage and a punching bag for Carl to live out his hazing fantasies for next year, this dude is literally being tortured, but apparently they’re just happy it isn’t another dead bald eagle in the household. It also offers a novel solution to Carl’s problem, as actor Ethan Cutkosky has at least another year of high school after this that he’ll wish to attend off-screen. Thus Carl is able to get out of his financial aid predicament by discovering his “detox” program of starving and harassing rich drug addicts can be its own kind of lucrative therapy.
Hey Carl, there might be something to this! Maybe after your own education is finished, you should open a small business of survival that will put the Gallaghers on the map for the influx of South Side yuppies with a problem?
It couldn’t hurt, as everyone else seems to be in a bind. Debbie finally has some healthy and encouraging friends in her life beyond the fam, but she can’t enjoy things too much since her baby daddy is back in town and is asking to see her child. Personally, the fact he ran (and maybe got recast?) is reason enough for her to walk away… but the free child care means this will be an ongoing issue. (So will her parenting skills if she keeps leaving Frannie in cars.)
Conversely, Veronica gave up over 10 percent of the Alibi’s income because it turns out she really is the weaker one of the pair who will never be over Svetlana. Steve Howie has been off relishing all the whacky outfits they have put poor dim Kev in this week as he struggles to figure out the difference between Southern and Western attire. In the meantime, his wife is being seduced to go upstairs by Svetlana, whose face when left alone with V is so good that we didn’t even need the after credits stinger to explicitly state what happened to the Alibi’s profit sharing plan.
It was all all reliably entertaining Shameless shenanigans. But the impending war between Fiona and Ian, and what it represents for such communities as Fi’s neighborhood, is what put tonight’s episode over the top. The gentrification battle lines have been long drawn, but tonight featured the first real shots of it being fired in the Gallagher household, and as it turns out, Fiona switched sides before pulling the trigger.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“Most of those moms haven’t been boned properly since their junior year abroad. You can tell by the way they walk.” – Frank.
“His eyes are so soulful, like he’s begging me not to shoot him.” – Kev admiring the deer he slaughtered with a rifle.
“I set him free. He’s going to return the purple heart and is headed back to Juilliard in the fall.” – Carl about his good deed of enhanced interrogation techniques.