This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 9 Episode 13
The real goodbye begins. While tonight’s episode of Shameless only revealed its exit strategy for Fiona Gallagher in the final moments, in which her scuzzy yet strangely forthright business partner offered her a quasi-deus ex machina (we’ll get to that), the whole episode felt like the true beginning of Shameless’ farewell to Emmy Rossum. A week ago, she and Lip were practically coming to blows, but tonight they’ve reached a level of détente and even grace as he supports his sister’s strength—a surprise given how little faith he seemed to have in her two weeks ago. It might feel expedited for the sake of narrative efficiency with only two episodes left, but it was something else—authentically Gallagher.
Indeed, with the end nigh, the characters are (mostly) behaving like their old selves. Which in a way makes Rossum’s departure worthwhile for Shameless fans if for no other reason than it allows us to see much of the Gallagher family act like a family, albeit a dysfunctional one. This is indicated by the opening sequence in which Fiona is up making coffee, if not breakfast, for her younger siblings and finally becoming aware that Debbie and Carl are suffering from a terrible subplot. And her sudden interest in it is an early sign that things are returning to something approximating normalcy for the Gallagher clan.
This is viewed most remarkably in not just Lip and Fi reconciling, but also Debs and Carl. In the latter’s case, it comes after the ill-advised love triangle runs its bitterest course. With the summer winding down, Kelly prepares to go back to school. Showing off her new military boots she needs to break in, she and Debbie have a painfully awkward jump-off together while poor neglected Franny looks on trying to mimic her mother. And then Debbie goes in for the sleeping kiss, instantly alienating Kelly and humiliating herself. The moment provides the first bit of empathy I’ve had for Debs in weeks, because there is nothing more awkward than being friend-zoned in real-time. And yet, her self-despair over rejection and the clear ending of her friendship with Kelly—because the look of deflation on Debbie’s face is not one of “we can still be friends”—is hard to entirely pity. She did try to steal her brother’s girlfriend.
So perhaps there is better kudos to be given to Carl who sees his sister in pain and actually comforts her, even if she was horrible to him. The next generation of Gallaghers bond over blaming Kelly for their own failed games, calling her a “tease.” But while humorously (or not) depicting how women are blamed for the failings of would-be suitors, it also underscores a more endearing truth: Gallaghers rally. Carl has every right to be infuriated, but his sister is in pain and this family is at its best when they circle the wagons.
Which is what Carl does, even though he’s had his own rough road this week. Unsurprisingly, Carl did not get into West Point. This is undoubtedly a partial concession to needing to keep Carl in the South Side for future seasons during seasons that aren’t perpetual summer. However, it is also a realistic outcome for a boy with a juvenile record. With any luck, he still can get into a local college and try to climb his way up better than Lip did, as he’s shown sincere self-improvement and gumption. But being an officer was always a ladder too high, though it doesn’t make his anger any less justified—or his wrath any more amusing. The sequence where some moron tries to rob a fast food joint in midafternoon is here solely to remind us that Carl has a malevolent streak, and one that we appreciate seeing indulged from time to time. Carl unwittingly risked his life for $20 in fish receipts—or rather he risked his life for the thrill of channeling that anger at West Point, Debbie, and his life on one poor, dumb bastard.
Carl resorting to default status also left him cleansed for his heart-to-heart. And that’s what tonight is about: the Gallaghers at last learning how to communicate again. There are some pretty good comedic side stories like Frank winding up in the ER for the 50th time and being abandoned on the street after surgery, and then there is the delirious sight of Kev “Jesus” Ball carrying a cross while smoking a cigarette, which might be one of the finest visualizations of Shameless’ operating intent ever put to screen. But really tonight’s about how the Gallaghers have lost each other.
This raises an interesting question then: Why is Liam not wanting to be found? As perhaps the first Gallagher to realize his odds are better outside of that house than in it, Liam’s apparent disappearance over the last several episodes has been answered within the narrative: He’s staying at a friend’s house and will not answer his phone for anybody. It is again an indication that Old Fiona is back when she is the first to realize Liam is nowhere to be seen, but it is classic Gallagher shenanigans that they’re all too busy to care. With that said, it rings somewhat false that Lip could obsess over the well-being of Xan to the point of turning on Fiona, and yet not care more than a single text about finding where his own baby brother is spending the night.
Then again, Lip had his own troubles tonight including the abortion scare raised by Brad speculating a little too freely about a situation he allegedly wants to stay out of. Tami is still debating whether she wants a child or not, and fairly is letting the possibility she might die by the time she’s 50 influence that choice. In the end, she takes Lip with her to the medical clinic after another misunderstanding. The show is spinning the wheels a little too much here, waiting until next week to reveal her decision, but her genuine terror, as well as being perhaps the only character on Shameless right now to call Lip out on his obsessive tendencies, has warmed me to her in the last few weeks over back when she was just his millennial transplant friend with benefits.
Still, Lip had other relationships to improve too. While the show suggests he was right to throw Fi out, it also needs to adjust our understanding of that tension. In their first scene together, they make zero eye-contact and resort to small talk. There is a guilt at how low she fell, as well as perhaps some on Lip’s part with how he treated her. Perhaps Frank’s words about “thanking her” are reverberating in Philip’s ear? Additionally, there is still a suspicion; he not only wants her to go to AA, but expects her to. When he first sees her, he immediately is curious why she did not go and wants to know if she went to another meeting.
And in Fiona’s case, the AA meeting she went to was very therapeutic for the character and audience. She’s been spiraling for so long, it’s nice to see her admit she hit bottom all on her own. She also is given some interesting advice. Rather than strictly working with Alcoholics Anonymous, she might be better suited for Al-Anon given the chaos in her life. This appears more apt, because long before they turned Fiona into a bad drunk in season 9, she’s long been attracted to disaster and the adrenaline of her life falling apart. It cost her dearly in season 4 and is still perhaps the root cause of her woes, having grown up the daughter of two junkies who left her with a home in turmoil.
This reminder of Fiona’s true inheritance from Frank will likely be crucial next week. As with everyone else in the Gallagher house, her birthright has been a mantle of a peculiar dysfunction. Lip inherited Frank’s genetic attraction to substance abuse; Ian, Monica’s mental illness; Debbie, the desire to build a makeshift and poorly planned nest after growing up without a secure one as a child. Fiona’s need to self-destruct in order to feel whole is a reminder of the cycle she has to break—and perhaps with a new lease on life, it might be why she makes some startling changes. For most of tonight’s episode, she isn’t sure she can crack it. Lip finally gives her support when he sees she’s trying, but she doesn’t think she can start over again. Not after seeming to lose everything she’s built over the last five seasons and now, about 30, she’s struggling to stay out of jail and working nights at a gas station.
Indeed, I had a queasy feeling that the frivolity of Carl’s attempted robbery would be juxtaposed with Fiona being given a sudden and brutal exit in a more realistic, nightmarish scenario at her new job. Instead the skies open up and an unlikely salvation occurs. The man she once duped into thinking she was a savvy businesswoman comes in to buy some cigarettes and sees his former business associate on the other side of bulletproof glass. Hardly a sign of the best of times. Then, almost inexplicably, he takes pity on her.
As he tells it, the $100,000 she invested in the senior center is still invested, and the building is going ahead and being constructed next year. He also is willing to buy her out right now for the hundred gs she’s already put in. This would obviously be a deal to his advantage, as he’d have a larger share of the center when they sold it in the next year or two, but in the meantime, it’d give her enough money to where she isn’t at ground zero. She could invest in herself, or at least somewhere outside of the South Side.
That appears to be where Fiona is headed next week, and I’ll admit I did not see this coming. Not least of all because, correct me if I’m wrong, part of the deal he made by buying Fiona’s apartment building double mortgage was he also was buying her out of the senior center that she did not have the capital to pay additional regulatory fees for. I was under the impression she had been cut out of that deal entirely, but more real estate savvy commenters can correct me if I’m wrong. Either way, it is a surprising Hail Mary that came out of nowhere, but I’ll take it. Whether it is out of pity or attraction, this guy still views Fiona as in the club of entrepreneurs, and as such it’s not entirely unbelievable he’d be more forgiving in lending a helping hand than to those outside of it. Fiona is getting a third chance, and I’m happy for it.
As convenient as this unexpected door opening is, it’s been more than earned by the Gallagher matriarch. Next week we’ll have to watch her walk through it, which will be bittersweet, but at least as she does so it is forcing all the Gallaghers to take stock in her and themselves… reminding us why we watch this show in the first place. Hopefully, that’ll include a real final heart-to-heart with Veronica, Lip, Ian, Debbie, and even Frank. Assuming of course he’s still not sleeping in the street.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“Unemployment is under four percent, we’re hiring janitors without hands.” – Hospital administrator.
“Only two things will be left roaming the earth after the next apocalypse: cockroaches and Frank Gallagher.” – Doctors without sympathy.