This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 9 Episode 12
After last week’s genuinely devastating cliffhanger, in which Lip commanded Fiona to leave the house, my interest was so piqued by Gallagher drama—probably for the first time in the season 9 back-half—that I went back and rewatched some of the very first season on Netflix. I don’t know how many years it’s been since I watched those early Shameless adventures, but the experience was bittersweet. While the show must go on (literally), it seems inevitable that it’ll be a different beast after Emmy Rossum makes her exit, so going back to where it began was obviously a shot of nostalgia to the bloodstream. However, it was also a few more things too: Like a reminder of how much tighter the writing was in the early seasons, as well as a strong snapshot of how much Fiona Gallagher has done for her family.
I thought it worthy of mentioning after tonight’s episode since Lip has seemingly and almost entirely forgotten those times—and also because other than when dealing with Lip and Fiona’s competing dramas, “You’ll Know the Bottom When You Hit It” really didn’t offer a whole lot in the way of what should feel like a rising crisis in the Gallagher family. In fact, Shameless broke its own golden rule by refusing to put family first for really any of the Gallaghers except, strangely, Frank. Otherwise Debbie and Carl went about their horrendous love triangle subplot that no one cares about, as if nothing that happened to Fiona mattered, Liam was AWOL, and Franny was a prop. Altogether, that feeling of camaraderie amongst the siblings in season 1 was much more tangibly, and painfully, gone by the contrast. As was my interest in Debs and Carl.
At the beginning of the episode, Shameless continued the strange tactical error of assuming we were as invested in Xan as Lip is. I understood Lip’s fury last week, even as viewers were allowed to realize that he was letting it blind him to extenuating circumstances. However, Xan wordlessly being dragged off by DFCS lacks the entire emotional component the writers’ room clearly thinks it has. Continually nigh mute, Xan doesn’t even seem that phased about losing Lip. If not for the fact she made him a bracelet, I’d have assumed she wanted to leave given how blankly the scene is written and played. And yet, we’re supposed to feel Lip’s justified wrath as he gathers Fiona’s clothes (and that antique chair Ford convinced her to buy, which is a nice touch) and throws them on the curb like garbage.
Debs watches him do this and shrugs it off. Fiona, the big sister who really acted like her mother, is being tossed from the home and none of the Gallaghers are involved in this drama, or really even trauma. Debbie doesn’t even have a conversation with Lip about how maybe she would agree that Fi should go because she fears for the health and safety of Franny. Nay, we’ve seen too many episodes of Debs being oblivious to Franny’s health; tonight, she even only registers the fact that Lip might be a dad soon because it would give Franny a playmate.
It is believable that younger siblings will take for granted their older one, just as teenagers (and Debs, it is easy to forget, is still a teenager) by and large forget the sacrifices of their parents. However, what should be the thematic crux of the episode—what to do about Fiona—is treated as just a distraction by half of the characters, including those who have the most narrative skin in the game to either defend Fi or justify why they agree with Lip. Instead they can’t be bothered, so neither can I in talking about Debs and Carl’s crap for the rest of this review.
As for Lip and Fiona, their conflict feels much more authentic. As the two oldest siblings who are always alternating in a seesaw for dominant responsibility, and perhaps more accurately power, they’ve constantly been harder on each other than they are on “the kids.” And while the show has failed to make me care about Xan—I even forgot her name when she reappeared a few weeks ago—or Jason, both acting as flashpoints for Lip seems accurate. So the evolution of their dissolution tonight felt depressingly apt. Already obsessing over Xan and the fact she will not call him back, Lip’s in a bad place before he learned that he’s freaking Tami out by demanding “a vote” in the fate of her pregnancy.
While as a viewer, and a human being, I can totally understand Lip’s abject confusion over the fact Tami has soft-ghosted him, and that her friends are now threatening him, just as I totally understand Brad getting the hell out of that room when they’ve cornered the poor bastard. With that said, Tami is more than in the right to say she gets 99 votes to Lip’s one vote about the embryo’s destiny. This will be something she has to live with for the rest of her life, a life she points out may be cut as abruptly as that of her mother’s, and Lip is still not necessarily in a great place to be a parent. While he moans about Fiona ruining his shot with DFCS, the DFCS inspector did point out tonight there is an old man sleeping on their stoop (hi, Frank.) The house is still a shit show, and his need to over-invest can backfire, just as it has with a number of relationships from the romantic (Professor Runyon) to the personal (Professor Youens), to the paternal (Xan).
I believe Lip will be there for the child no matter what, and one day he might be a good father, but the man still lives like a boy trying to be an adult in that Gallagher chaos, and his rage is blinding. Tami should not rely on Lip until she must, and right now is the perfect time to analyze the pros and cons of that, no matter how often he shows up to her place of business.
In any event, that is not the Lip-related drama that most people will be talking about. Instead I imagine it will be his tough love solution to Fiona that seems dubious at best. For Fi is falling into the dangerous world where Frank could start going by “Dad” again due to all the awful life lessons he’s bestowing. Following up on that killer final shot last week of Fiona slowly realizing she is mimicking Frank’s oblivious debauchery, this week finds Fi ready to say screw it: Let’s go all-in with Frank-tanic.
It occurs when she blows her last Patsy’s paycheck on a morning vodka at the Alibi when the power goes out all over Chicago due to a massive brownout. In great comic timing, the ensuing panic of no electricity in the height of 90-plus degree summer summons Frank out of his stupor like a dog alerted by the sound of a UPS truck. There is trouble afoot. But does Frank have a strategy on the backburner to make a profit? Of course Frank has a strategy! It involves a glorified lemonade stand that sells ice, ice cream, and anything else a remote electric generator can offer. But this time he has a secret weapon: Fiona Gallagher.
Even drunk with uncombed hair and bloodshot-eye makeup, Fiona still looks like Emmy Rossum, and therefore will certainly sell more melted ice cream cones than William H. Macy. So he recruits Fi as his boozy sidekick, and it pains me to admit that they make a terrifyingly effective team. Macy and Rossum have always had superb chemistry as a father and daughter, but they’re also a father and daughter always at war. Being able to flip that to her not only aiding but enhancing his hijinks as they run off with some poor kid’s baby swimming pool is unsettlingly natural. Fiona has slipped into Frank’s bum bemusements like it was her destiny. Which might be the grim point of this subplot.
Frank also pegs Fiona well in some of his intoxicated logic: She’s a bad drunk. Whereas Frank (thinks) everyone loves his shenanigans at the bottom of a bottle, Fiona, with vodka in hand, becomes embittered at Lip, angry at Patsy’s, and finally pissed off about a lifetime in society’s gutter. The last bit is the fairest bone to pick, so she ruins Kev’s barbecue by suggesting that they march on the North Side upon learning that all of Chicago has gotten their power back except the South Side. To be fair, that is an ugly but realistic revelation: the poorest neighborhoods are treated as the smallest priority, because no one there pays enough taxes (or campaign donations) for the politicians to care about. South Side is treated as the butt of Chicago. Yet while she rolls her eyes at Kev calling it a good day, he and the community do see this crudely half-drunk glass as still half-full. Delusional? Maybe, but still better than Fi asking a strangely mostly white crowd of South Siders to march with her in search of a fight. Stranger still, Kev with an entire bag of ice melting on his shattered ball, goes along for a miles-long march in this heat.
When it inevitably ends after the power comes back on, Fi’s enraged, but she has more immediate concerns. It seems everyone in her life has agreed that she needs to spend at least a few nights on the street before she can be helped. While I’ve never been to an AA meeting, this rings as incredibly false to me and a poor way to wring out melodrama from her death spiral. It begins when Fiona confronts Lip about her crap being on the street. The house is in her name and she nearly rips her brother’s head off to make that point. Still, he’s unimpressed and practically threatens her in return.
You know you’ve hit bottom as a family unit, however, when Frank is the voice of reason. While he mocks Lip for his AA self-righteousness, he is right when he says raising six kids as a single parent is difficult. While almost none of the Gallaghers have exactly turned out to be well-adjusted (holding out hope, Liam!), Fi did pretty well for a teenager on her own. Frank shamelessly tries to claim her credit, but the point remains that if not for Fi, Lip would’ve never finished high school and probably wound up sitting next to Frank as a permanent resident of the Alibi long before Fiona’s flirted with it this season.
Because Lip has been here. He once entertained being Frank’s drinking buddy not that long ago, and Fi didn’t disown him. So his insistence that not only will he exclude Fiona from the family home with Liam and Franny in the house—yet strangely not Frank—but also demand Veronica likewise abandon her friend as a form of tough love, plays like phony self-righteousness. His pettiness at Fiona is not out of a place of love but vindictiveness. He’s seen her spiraling for weeks, maybe even months, but he never tried to help her go to AA. He only recommends it as a commandment after already throwing her out the door, so of course she’ll only spit it back in his face. He’s not trying to help her; he’s trying to punish her.
That makes V believing his BS all the more shockingly contrived. Veronica has not had much at all to do with Fiona as she’s spiraled out of control during the back-half of season 9. I was thrilled when Rossum and Shanola Hampton finally shared a scene together early in the episode, but V never actually tried to reach out and help Fi. She just wearily judged Fiona’s obvious bad choices, but then offered her a place to stay. Given she does have young daughters, V could’ve asked for some conditions for Fiona to stay with them: Don’t come home wasted, or as long as you’re under this roof, go to AA each day. But she lets Lip convince her that the only way for Fiona to stop drinking is if they make her homeless.
The show seems to confirm Lip is right given after she wakes up in her old apartment building—which is ridiculously abandoned, a near impossibility given most of the units were full when she sold it and could not be vacated in the span of a month—she realizes she’s at rock bottom. She’s sleeping in her past glories and failures without a home, puking on herself, with Frank right next to her. It’s a nice scene for Rossum and Jeremy Allen White when she stumbles into an AA meeting, humiliated and head bowed. It also is false.
I don’t believe Lip is ready to forgive Fiona yet, because this treatment seems to be borne from a resentment that stems beyond her drinking beers in front of him. Nor do I think it will. Last week, I speculated the show was finally adjusting to Rossum’s exit, but perhaps I was mistaken. Tonight’s episode seems to have been written in a way that could’ve gone either way. It could be the culmination of Fiona’s bad mistakes, ending with her atoning and seeing the light before the finale. It would seem that the writers were still hedging their bets, not knowing yet whether Rossum would stay or go. My guess is next week will have another sharp turn, because either Fi will have to sink further to necessitate an exit, or she’ll sober up enough to realize she has a reason to be pissed off at her ungrateful siblings. I hope it’s the latter.
With the exception of Liam, who is nowhere to be seen, all of her younger siblings have completely and totally failed the woman who raised them, and even more incredulously, V threw Fi out before she even spent a single night at their house. This is forced and contorted melodrama, but given we’ve bent in that direction, I’m taking Fiona’s side. She needs a better group of friends and family than the ones she gave everything to, and who then turned their backs on her at her darkest hour. With any luck, the next two episodes end with Fi thanking them for their ingratitude by throwing away the bottle and getting the hell out of town. Lip and Debbie want to play house in the home she saved for them? Have at it. Right now though, the show is doing no favors in making us want to watch that house after Rossum’s gone, which is a bizarre choice.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“Look at me, I’ve always been the most fun member of this family? Why because I get it: sobriety is a fool’s game.” – Frank.
“It’s tough raising six kids by yourself. I couldn’t have done it without her.” – Frank.
“We brought this on ourselves, you know? Global warming. Nothing to be done though, too late. What am I going to do, turn my A/C off? If I’m a dead man walking, I want to be comfortable.” – Frank.