This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 9 Episode 2
Last week, I sadly missed the opportunity to review the season 9 premiere of Shameless. This is due to being in Toronto for TIFF (which you can read the first wave of our coverage for here), but it doesn’t ease the sting of not sharing with you fine, fellow Alibi lifers the joy of Frank’s delirious group therapy session with the parents at Liam’s prep school, or enjoying with every one of us the revelation that Gay Jesus has turned into Gay Jesus-Spartacus on the inside of Chi-Town’s most open-minded correctional facility. Yet here we are, ready to catch up on the next 13 weeks of Gallagher goodness, as well as to prepare for what cannot be anything less than a bitter sendoff of Fiona in the weeks ahead. Thus enters “Mo White.”
The second episode of season 9 is not quite as strong as the premiere, but it still comes out of the gate swinging and by maintaining last week’s strongest element: Frank Gallagher’s incorrigible awfulness as a human being. Since losing both his bedroom disciples on the PTA, as well as their silverware cabinets to pay for his drinking, Frank has wound up in the worst place imaginable—sober. Too poor to even buy a single beer at the Alibi, Frank comes upon the realization that an easy get-sloshed-quick scheme involves going into politics.
This is not the first time that Frank has flirted with activism to underwrite his passions, but whereas he once was the face to fight gentrification on a grassroots level, he has since come to the realization the better money is in working behind the scenes at the same racket as the greatest con artist in American history: the one who made America “great” again. Or as Frank aptly re-appropriates it, “Make America White Again.”
It’s an amusing subplot that plays to Macy’s strengths as Frank, if for no other reason than Frank is at his most bleakly amusing when he’s at his most detestable. Last week, there was something vaguely reassuring about the Frank Gallagher who brought couples together by admitting their WASPy marriages were shams. But as a character, there’s something more truthful about his nasty aggrievement at a system he only thinks about when trying to exploit it. After playing both sides of what must be a Democratic primary (a strong black woman vs. a gay Hispanic man campaigning with rainbow signs), Frank recognizes the campaign manager holds most of the purse strings, so he engineers a political campaign at the Alibi.
By parroting all of Trump America’s supposed slights—white people are being “pushed out”—Frank convinces the white patrons at the Alibi they should support Mo White, a man who will likely only go a few yards at keeping Frank Gallagher as his “campaign manager.” In the meantime, he’ll get richer. Still, it’s interesting Shameless draws attention, whether intentionally or not, at one of its largest criticisms. Despite being set on Chicago’s South Side, almost all the major characters are white. Admittedly, there is a strong Irish-American population in the Windy City, and most of the show’s cast are related to one another, yet the entire Alibi clientele is white? Kev and V might need to start thinking about expanding their efforts beyond either hipsters in previous seasons or the sad sack alcoholics from the rest of the series.
If Frank is going to try to become the Trump (or at least Steve Bannon) of the South Side, the whiteness of the show should be addressed, but time will tell in that regard.
Elsewhere, Fiona’s storyline continues to be less about being “shameless” and more about climbing the ladder. Which is fine by me. If this is going to be the last season with Fiona, her continued trajectory as the only Gallagher who won’t settle for diminished expectations is A-OK by us. While Ford continues to be the blandest non-entity of her boyfriends, he raises an interesting point: Should Fiona go into commercial real estate?
Suggesting she has too much of a soul (and not enough of a silver spoon) to succeed in the world of douchebag business, all he does is cause Fi to wear an extra layer of determination that insulates her from the super-slick fratboy she’s forced to negotiate with. She also is tending to think less and less like a Gallagher and more like the upper-middle class she’s breaking into since she uses Liam as a hilarious prop during these meetings. With the lad maybe a little too capable at rattling off the perfect phrase to cover his sister’s power play—“You have a dinner we’re already late for”—the duo make an impressive pair.
With that said, this storyline also underscores one of the aspects of Shameless’ smug cynicism that doesn’t land as well as others. While the show can get a lot of mileage out of breaking credulity in order to service a good joke for a supporting character—such as Kassidi seemingly being killed off in the premiere, which ties off a dead end storyline even though in real life her teenage husband would immediately be targeted for investigation by her rich parents—it plays less well for main characters. Even if Fi is now focused on getting rich quick, she is still Liam’s legal guardian and usually the most concerned about her siblings’ educational prospects. Liam hit the golden ticket by going to that private school, which is also a point of pride (and exploitation) for Frank.
In no reality would an elementary school, even an elitist one trying to temper the anger of a few well-connected parents, expel a child without speaking to his legal guardians, which is, in this case, Fi. And both Fiona and Frank would go to the mattresses to get Liam back in that school, even if it was a doomed battle. To see Fiona not even consider trying and shrug off he might be doomed to the same crappy public school education that failed her rings incredibly false.
Still, I enjoy the direction Fi’s storyline is going and wonder if it will be quite so rosy as she imagines. If this is to be Fiona’s last season, I would hope the show wouldn’t do what the UK series did with a much less developed version of Fi after only a year, which is have her run off with Jimmy (or nowadays Ford). Nor do I necessarily see her breaking out of poverty for good, as that isn’t apiece with the whole aesthetic of the series. One has to wonder if the rich fish Fiona thinks she caught with his upcoming gentrification project isn’t setting her up? He’s already convinced her to invest $50,000 in a partnership she doesn’t have, and part of me worries if this is the first step in an ethical slippery slope where she becomes the patsy for some white collar crimes? Just some idle speculation at the moment.
It isn’t like the Gallaghers don’t have a history of imprisonment issues considering where Gay Jesus has landed these days. After proving his ego-trip, complete with a lack of medication, is his destiny for at least the next season, Ian is in no danger of having his dream job of an EMT coming back. In fact, he seemed quite happy in jail officiating a humorous group of marriages that the state of Illinois totally did not invest him with the power to consecrate. Instead though he discovers his Gay Jesus militant powers have already been coopted by capitalism as a bunch of at-risk teens want to turn him into a national hero. So of course in a panic, he sneaks out the window.
I’m mostly at a loss where Ian’s storyline is going these days, however that seems to be the point. After staying on his meds for a few seasons, his stability seemed to bore him (or his writers), and so he’s completely off the rails again. As someone who hasn’t followed all the behind-the-scenes reports, I wonder if we won’t see Trevor anymore, and if so that’s a shame. But at this point, Ian wouldn’t be too amiss if he ran off to Mexico to find Mickey, because I don’t see him being able to keep the even keel and staying as Gay Jesus™ indefinitely.
I don’t think this storyline is done, I just am unsure how much dramatic heft they’ll continue to pull from it this season. Maybe Ian can simply help mentor Debbie in gender fluidity? Indeed, after coming to the realization she makes less than her male co-workers as a welder, Debbie has gone hard into feminism, which is great, albeit I still wish she’d realize there were larger concerns in the world before having Fanny. Oh well. At least it’s allowed her to meet the only other female welder in the neighborhood. Interestingly though, it’s one who is in disguise.
Debs seems open to a romantic relationship with a woman, or at least a date with one. And why not? Her baby daddy is a real POS. Hopefully, this allows for some scenes between Debs and Ian as they discuss all the possibilities of experimentation. The two characters have never had a lot of scenes together, and this could do what the show does best: align the Gallagher kids in interesting ways.
I also would like to see other characters react to Carl’s own predicaments in the house. After being the most reasonable MVP Gallagher last season, Carl continues to grow by setting his sights on West Point. Certainly a lofty target, particularly for an ex-juvie jailbird, it presents plenty of comical rich soils. If you say “volunteer” to a Gallagher, of course they’ll respond, “I don’t suppose any of these pay?”
Finding out the only volunteer work he’s suited for is a center for euthanizing dogs is much more befitting Shameless’ dark sense of humor. As someone who doesn’t bat an eye at Frank accidentally causing the death of sexual partners, hearing canines whimper to agonizing death on the other side of a closed door is nightmare-inducing. The chuckle that follows my horror is almost a concession to Shameless living up to its title. Carl is completely right to not want to murder dogs, but his plan to wait for these pooches to die naturally is as doomed as his Kassdi marriage. Finding out next week how the other Gallaghers react to dogs peeing in the basement should be comedy gold, especially as it’s Lip.
Yep, Lip has so centered in his sobriety this week that his storyline seems to be changing for the better. I suspect he is headed for heartache with Sam, as the young kid is just one mouth he cannot afford to feed. She’s essentially another sibling. At the same time, it is in keeping with Lip to do the right thing when it also adds unwanted strain on his life. On a certain subconscious level, he is a masochist with a heart of gold and playing big brother to one more is right in line with his hero complex. Also, given that we were introduced to the Gallaghers happily taking stuff that has “fallen off a truck” (that they unloaded), one must consider if Lip is upset Sam stole from that woman in the park or that she got caught?
Yet even though Lip is forced to consider that he is what his wedding date accused him of being last week (a bit of sad sack, not the “bad at sex” thing), it is nice to see him channel his energy in positive ways. Witnessing him as a sponsor and as the last paternal figure of the Gallagher household is worthwhile considering if the show is to continue post-Fiona. In a few months, he’ll be the only sane Gallagher left with any authority over Liam, and for that lad’s sake, I hope we continue to see the more responsible Lip blossom.
Of course this is Shameless, so it falling apart next week is just as likely. Which, in the end, is the appeal. Other than Fi, each character seems to go two steps forward and two steps back. Some might accuse this of being repetitive, but if you accept the series’ nihilistic nature, it is just the show’s perception of reality. And in a real world where facts are constantly being challenged, and Frank’s rhetoric for higher office (payrolls) is in keeping with the highest office of the land, it feels like we’re all living in the Gallaghers’ grim world these days. So let’s at least have as much fun as the non-Lip ones with a raised glass.
So ends my belated welcome back to these old neighborhood friends. It’s good to be stomping along these old haunts once more.
Most Shameless Quote of the Week
“Look at a history book, we used to be the leading men. Now we’re marginalized.” – Frank.