This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 9 Episode 10
When we build homes, even those as broken and dysfunctional as the Gallagher one at the center of Shameless, we are attempting to shield ourselves from reality. It might be bad outside, but inside is sanctuary. An ugly one that is apparently at risk of blowing up at any moment, at least according to Debbie this week, but a sanctuary nonetheless. Yet it wasn’t Debs’ fear of termites that really brought the house crashing down. Tonight’s episode saw most of the running storylines’ cozy security blanket of cynicism get ripped away. And reality seeped back into Shameless’ version of the South Side. At least enough to shatter the lives of some of our favorite characters. It’s about time.
I do not write that because I wish to see the Gallaghers, particularly Fiona Gallagher, suffer. But too often a glib one-liner or a downbeat plot twist is used to write the characters out of facing the totality of their mistakes, just as often as the writers of the series attempt to sabotage any Gallagher’s prospects of a budding middle class future. But in times like these, despair is a fair instinct. As Kev apologizes to Santiago and his family, you’ve caught us at a bad moment. One where optimism seems naïve and narrative shortcuts a little too convenient. Tonight Shameless considered going the long way on all subplots not involving Frank; the consequences were dreadful but in their own perverse way cathartic.
With that said, I had no desire to see the almost bad news at the top of the hour fall on Fiona. It begins in a familiar way; a drunk Fi makes another careless mistake by leaving money out on the counter while she’s in the back. But it was worse than a near robbery Fiona faced. There was an implicit air of sexual violence when three sketchy guys crowded around the intoxicated diner manager, who they assumed was working alone. Luckily her cook came out with the biggest of butcher knives, but not so luckily these kind of late night wolves really do prowl. It seems unlikely that Fi would allow herself to be alone at a 24-hour diner like this without any other waiting staff, but then Fi has been making all sorts of sloppy mistakes as of late.
This harrowing bit of seediness at the beginning successfully gets audiences on her side for electing to close Patsy’s Pies earlier than its 24-hour sign promises. Yet it is the one prudent and justified “mistake” she’s made after months of careless ones. For as we’ve watched in the previous weeks, Fiona has been drunk, rude, and disorderly every day she’s been at Patsy’s post-Ford. Hearing that the diner was closed during some of the early morning breakfast rush hour shift was apparently the last straw for the owner who once viewed Fi as a quasi-apprentice. Previously handing Fi a small fortune for a drab laundromat, she now hands Fi a pink slip.
This is an exceeding low point for Fiona, who has been on a quest to dig her grave ever deeper than just six-feet. Yet the likely instinct viewers feel of taking her side may be misplaced. Surely she should be given a warning and at least a week to get her shit together, right? Except her boss has never once showed an ounce of empathy in the past, and Patsy’s isn’t a sympathetic nonprofit. All of the previous weeks of Fi squandering time and embarrassing herself in front of customers while having mini-meltdowns turned out to have actual consequences. The whispers made their way upstairs, including from her own employees who, like Fi, have largely been ex-convicts. Unlike Fi, they didn’t give her a second chance and instead, her one smart choice (close the restaurant before the Date Rapist Trio returns) caused Fi to blow off any final goodwill she didn’t know was expiring.
So Fi is out of a job and is falling deeper into a bottle when she hears from Liam that he was racially profiled by some new yuppie transplant. Clearly taking issue with Liam and several other black teenagers selling lemonade outside of her house, she called the cops on them. Like a headline ripped from a Starbucks newsletter, this thinly veiled racism felt sadly realistic. But in uncharacteristic fashion for Shameless, so did the response that came afterward. Fiona, justifiably outraged that Liam was profiled as a threat and as undesirable, riles up a block party protest.
It’s a great scene for Rossum where she coldly condescends to the hipster hypocrite before turning on the heat. She points out that the South Side never minded young kids hustling lemonade—which is far better than other hustles in this neighborhood—no matter the skin color, but the more gentrified it becomes, the more anyone of little means is pushed further to the sidelines. Rossum is all friendly smile below the eyes, yet her gaze never loses its menace. Fiona then does something that in nine out of every 10 other Shameless episodes would be written off with a scoff: she punches out the white bitch. Unlike those other episodes, however, consequences come, as Fiona once surmised, like cascading failures.
Compare this sequence to the mid-season finale from only a few months ago. Debbie, in response to Ford being an asshat, literally assaults him, placing the cad inside of a stockade, which has to count as some kind of attempted kidnapping. She then in plain sight keeps him there for what appears to be the better part of an hour while Fiona in view of dozens of witnesses shoots him in the ass with a paintball gun. There are no cops in sight. It is cathartic and hilarious, but operates in a reality that is anything but its namesake. Tonight, Fi just punches a smug white racist in an attack that is a little too self-serving for to be motivated by something pure… and she is then promptly arrested.
Already in the system due to her similar spiral in season 4, I fear Fiona’s exit on Shameless will be much the same as Ian Gallagher’s where she goes to prison for years. Except she won’t have a long lost love to meet her on the other side. It’s a bitter outcome for the heart of the series, but it is looking increasingly inevitable, which given how shameless everyone on this series has lived, might be the point?
Similar cold water hit Lip this week. He and Tami’s romance continued to go through sweet if familiar motions. In this hour, she took Lip to a nursing home where he met several seniors who are in genuine ecstasy simply from Lip washing their hair. This is plays up the “naughty grandma” gag that can be a crutch in sitcom storytelling, but there’s a sincere sadness here. These are people who society has discarded, and Tami is getting Lip to help with a kindness, even if Shameless must be ever so crude about it.
However, the return of Sam into Lip’s life was not so expected and by the numbers. It is hardly a surprise that a deadbeat, junkie parent turned out to still be a deadbeat junkie after wanting her daughter back. When she convinced Lip that Sam would be happier with her, because that is who Sam wanted to be with, it seemed like a convenient out of a subplot that Lip Gallagher was becoming trapped in. As her non-legal guardian, there was no way for Lip to be able to fully help this kid but he desperately wanted to. Then came a narrative deus ex machina wherein the mother returned, and Sam preferred her anyway.
Life doesn’t have such quick fixes though. The mother’s bailed again and now the child is homeless. She turns up on Lip’s door with horror stories about a truck stop and the insidious implication she might’ve been molested or worse. Tami seems to think that isn’t fully the case after talking with the child girl-to-girl, but I remain skeptical that there aren’t more horrors awaiting us as Sam’s new storyline unspools. It is also an open question whether Lip still wants to play the hero now that he has a sense of perspective outside of his obsessive bubble from months before?
Other reality checks took humorous forms this week. As it turns out, Ingrid’s hovering ex-husband and (incompetent) fertility doctor wouldn’t just let her commit suicide by hiding out in an easily traceable location. One came rushing back when he found out Ingrid was pregnant and the other surprisingly came without the cops in a bid to save her medical license. This was contrasted by Santiago proving he really was too good for us. I predicted in the first episode of 2019 we’d lose his sweet optimistic outlook, and sure enough he knew it was time to get the hell out of here.
He and his sister will follow their deported father back to Guatemala, because as it turns out, the American dream isn’t alive and well. This is underscored by the amusing fact that Kev and V’s daughters are bigoted against Santiago (using the term “racism” opens its own can of worms), and there is much amusement in that happening in no small part due to how ineffectual Kev is as a parent. Nonetheless, they are the product of a current culture that discriminates against immigrants and those with less, which is ironic coming from characters living in Shameless’ version of the South Side. Then again, there is something apt with those lower on the economic ladder, even children, learning to dislike those further down.
Luckily, there is some lighthearted comedy that kept the show on happier brand. Luis Guzmán is always a winning presence in whatever movie or TV show he turns up in. As Frank’s rival for the Hobo Loco branded king, he made tonight Frank’s best subplot in 2019. We could spend a whole episode just watching Frank and Mikey trying to out-hobo one another, be it “dumpster diving” or dumpster caging. When trying to figure out whose life was a bigger tragedy, Mikey is an instant winner by pronouncing he worked for Blockbuster and was born in Flint. We hope he’s born to compete with Frank in more episodes to come.
There is something bitterly snide about marketers supposedly making homeless people eat cockroach-infested sushi or smirk about a “Hobo Dragon Challenge” while apparently at least one or more Hobo Loco contestants are sent to the morgue. But hey, we’re in a world where a Showtime competitor had to talk fans out of blindfolding themselves because of a mediocre Sandra Bullock Netflix original. We’re already living in this reality, and that’s where Shameless snark lands.
That landing of gallows humor mixed with actual trips to the metaphorical gallows for Fiona made tonight the best episode we’ve had among 2019’s early batch. It portends bad things to come, but it’s good to know that that’s where Shameless thrives.
P.S. Frank confusing Shameless with Homeland at the beginning is pure gold.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“We’re going to make the American Hobo as famous as Joe Camel.” – Marketer.
“Bitch if you don’t come to my office right now, I will go North Korean and reach into your vagina and rip those embryos out of your goddamn uterus.” – Ingrid’s doctor.
“I thought you were supposed to be the greatest country in the world.” / “You caught us at a bad time.” – Santiago’s sister and Kev.