Shameless Season 8 Episode 8 Review: Frank’s Northern Southern Express
Fiona discovers how complicated her life is while Frank goes North, young man, in the final Shameless episode of 2017.
This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 8 Episode 8
Fiona doesn’t like being called complicated. She says as much tonight to her bemused and unsympathetic family members after Ford gave her the brutal shutdown in a hard-to-swallow scene. Still, he has a point, as every sibling points out when they note the various times she has kicked them out of the house or went to jail, or almost married a heroin addict. She certainly has her issues… as does everyone on this wacky and oft wonderful show.
This is also might be why Emmy Rossum was able to make the episode her second one behind the camera as director. Focusing more on the characters in some admitted downtime—as well as digging a bit deeper into Fi’s “complications”—tonight’s final Shameless episode of 2017 decided to take things easy and leave the debauchery for viewers presumably after the hour concludes. As such it was a pretty lighthearted episode filled with nice moments if not much narrative momentum, or even too much depraved humor beyond Frank’s latest and greatest get-rich quick scheme. Hence why that is also a good place to begin.
Frank has gone from aspiring middle class dad to Canadian drug runner/illegal immigrant guide. This storyline is the antithesis of complicated; it’s just simply weird enough to ask us to laugh along as Muslim immigrants fearing deportation from the Orange Fuhrer also are still naïve enough to believe that they’ll each get their own Maple tree and a selfie with Justin Bieber upon crossing the border. Interestingly, the fairly subversive superhero movie Logan also had Mexican immigrants crossing the border into Canada to escape corporatized tyranny in the U.S. earlier this year. While Shameless doesn’t quite search for the same cynical critique—as it really makes no effort to sympathize with its immigrants who are all played for laughs—the episode still calls out its main target: This is an act of capitalization and defiance of the “Tweeter-in-Chief.”
It is thus once again Shameless benefitting from the perverse times we are living in. But other than trying to have its cake and eat it too by making gentle critiques of all parties involved in these perilous days (Frank cuts off a clearly restrictive Burka on a put-upon woman), the show just treats these scenes as a running gag. Admittedly, it’s a pretty funny one too, but hardly a storyline I see the show being able to continue to mine for William H. Macy’s talents for more than another week or so.
The other narratives that saw the characters going through amiable motions included a highlight of Ian and Trevor staring down a gay conversion therapy minister/sanctimonious douchebag. After discovering that one of their runaways almost committed suicide after being prayed for and preyed upon by this monster, Ian and Trevor sit in on one of the therapies long enough to decide to read up on a lot of Bible passages. It’s totally in-keeping with the character of Ian Gallagher to memorize scripture just to instigate a fight with a pit preacher, however the sequence still rings somewhat false as it’s obvious wish fulfillment that the self-righteous scumbag would commit to having a Bible verse-off with a clearly non-believing, gay skeptic. Members of hateful authority have decades of built up systems meant to deflect or distract, all while avoiding someone pointing out the obvious: The Bible is full of contradictions for almost any argument, especially if you pit the New Testament against the Old.
So Ian being able to win this argument and then threaten an abusive father does not so much cause one to cheer as to smile at the sheer fantasy of the situation. Still, maybe doing that can save some of these kids from being stuck in this self-denial Hell, in which case Ian going full-bore Gallagher on those proceedings was not only an authentic moment for the character, but a graceful one that really is helping the next generation.
Speaking of needing to help the next generation, Debbie and Carl are both in differing conundrums of good humor. If Fi were not so angry at the newest coolest stoic guy who neg’d her, she could take some small satisfaction in Debs finally seeing things from her perspective. While Debbie can never view Frannie as a mistake—she will and should always love her daughter—the younger Gallagher sister has also rarely been the most responsible or selfless of the siblings, and she’s now freaking out at the idea of having a second child. Despite four pregnancy tests confirming she is in fact the opposite of preggers, poor Debbie has lost her even-footing and provides the beginning of the episode with its best non-Frank gag. Her fear and self-loathing at becoming a mother again will obviously be a running thread that the series can definitely play with.
Meanwhile Carl is also headed into his own kind of abyss as his new girlfriend is everything her father warned him about. After last week’s episode, I had hoped he was self-aware enough to know that he was playing with fire when he muttered “fuck.” Instead he appears to have completely gone into such an f’ed up direction, considering he is falling into the classic television tropes of being oblivious as to why his girlfriend wants him to run after her every time she causes a scene. The drama she instigated, however, was perfectly Shameless, as she first gave Carl a handjob while driving one Uber customer and then completely freaked out on another. In reality she wouldn’t have just cost him his fare; she might’ve cost him his Uber job as you can bet there will be a one-star rating and a fiery phone call that would’ve ended his quick influx of cash. Nevertheless, young Carl falling into the subplot of having a high maintenance girlfriend destroying his life feels a little too pat and sitcom-y for this show.
That also goes for Fiona being caught by Ford dancing by herself. In a sequence that has played out in a million rom-coms, Shameless’ one wrinkle to the moment is to have Fiona be spotted doing the full Hugh Grant while in her underwear. Hardly an original idea, the sequence mostly works because Rossum is so good at playing Fiona at this point that she directs herself effortlessly as a 28-year-old woman who for the first time in several seasons is allowed to enjoy her privacy. Not since Shawn was around did she have a moment alone that wasn’t work related, and even then, Fi never really just spent a happy, peaceful time with herself… no boyfriends required.
It’s such a pleasant sequence that Ford showing up at the most inopportune time is predictably silly. However, his inviting her for an architect’s trip around town, a la Hannah and Her Sisters, is not. Their date is a great excuse to allow the series to showcase some of the hidden architectural gems in Chicago’s South Side, as well as to celebrate actually filming in Chi-Town during summertime. It’s such a good scene that it’s a shame it is all in service for “twist” where Ford is shocked (shocked, he says!) that a woman he invites on a date after seeing her in her underwear, and then persuades to lie on his bed, would think he had anything approaching romance on his mind.
Having a male character reject Fiona because of her messy life is actually a smart narrative twist that could put Fi in some ever needed soul-searching. However, this stoic man’s man, who in one scene feigns ignorance to the very concept of seduction and then in the next reveals he has about a half-dozen children and had no issue with fathering the babes of a lesbian couple upstairs, is as believable a persona as Frank trying on the hat of “St. Francis” for a week.
If this is going to be Fi’s love interest for the foreseeable future, the writing around him and this subplot will have to pick up in a big way.
In many respects, this might apply to this episode of Shameless as a whole. Ms. Rossum did a fine job directing it, and all the cast was very game, but even though this was scripted over half a year ago, it very much feels like the writers’ room was already off for the holidays. Here’s to hoping their efforts are more refreshed in the New Year.
Most Shameless Quote of the Week
“I want you to know just because you look like terrorists doesn’t mean you should be treated like them.” – Frank.