Shameless Season 9 Episode 3 Review: Weirdo Gallagher Vortex

Shameless gets political in the most shameless of ways. So in other words, it is befitting of our times!

This Shameless review contains spoilers.

Shameless Season 9 Episode 3

Last week, we considered just exactly what kind of patrons the Alibi has when, despite being on the South Side, there is apparently not one non-white person present on V’s day off—or even after knowing Frank Gallagher for decades they’d still put bread in his jar and actually believe they were funding a real political campaign. It would seem the Shameless writers embraced this paradox head on in the “Weirdo Gallagher Vortex,” suggesting the Gallaghers aren’t the only weird ones on the series’ version of Chi-town’s inner-city.

Tonight it makes more sense that the Alibi’s clientele would unanimously chant “Mo White” (and not be referring the pedophilic politician’s name either) when we discover the Alibi is considered the “rapiest” bar on the South Side, as per an online blog. This kind of worthless listicle is as much an amusing dig at millennial era journalism (gulp) as it is the Alibi we know and kind of, sort of love. And it hits Kev hard, because he loves the bar so much he never stopped to notice the entire décor screams “do not enter without pepper spray and an exit strategy.”

Upon noticing that despite being in a multicultural neighborhood, all of Kev’s patrons are old bitter white guys who by the end of the episode will forgive a self-admitted pedophile, Kev has the impetus to try to make the Alibi less rapey. But Kev being Kev, these ideas stem from the bad (having all patrons sign a contract before ordering a drink) to the terrible (he ends the episode by placing a sign that says your vagina will be safe). This, like many Kev and V storylines, is one of the amusing B-plots of the night, a comical release after ostensibly more (melo)dramatic turns elsewhere. But it also feels like a course correction on the series’ part.

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When Shameless began its U.S. run about eight years ago, its eponymous vulgarity and unapologetic political incorrectness was the comedy du jour of the hour. In the day of #MeToo, it is impolite to crack jokes about much of Shameless’ bread and butter, to put it mildly. And that isn’t a bad thing. While the series should never lose its bite due to potential social media outrage, the series has had a lot of fun with the sexual cruelty exhibited by its big and small players, so maybe it’s time to talk about who they are?

They’re the same old-timers who would whip it out at Kev and V’s bar because of a particularly busty decoration, and maybe their crassness would scare away all other groups, especially some extra sensitive bloggers who probably one year before #MeToo were hanging out at the Alibi to wallow in the Insta glory of faux-slumming it selfies.

Still, I do wonder if V’s antipathy toward Kev’s patrons and amusing “duh” reaction to him realizing the Alibi is kind of a cesspool will not give way to her in later episodes becoming more aware of its many, many shortcomings. For this storyline feeds into Frank’s larger plot this week where he once again stumps at the Alibi (multiple times actually) and convinces the patrons to support a pedophile, because Frank’s too dumb to do a modicum of research on whoever’s gravy train he’s attached attached his wagon.

V repeatedly bristles at “15-years-old,” and as we see her also get into “politics” to retrieve Carl his scholarship (and stop him from trying to save poor doomed doggies), this could and should be a point of narrative contention in the very near future. Especially if Frank turns her place of business into political headquarters for the neighborhood’s very own Humbert Humbert.

On the path in that direction, we see Frank show up at the Alibi the first time and go after the gay Hispanic candidate for Congress by saying, “That’s an unusual name” and adding “I’d like to see his birth certificate.” This of course is lifted verbatim from the conspiracy theory-laden racism that propelled Donald Trump to be the darling of the far-right in 2011—his first bid in national politics. If almost any other character just repeated Trump’s bigotry so blatantly, I might accuse it of lazy writing. However, it seems fitting for Frank. He is lazy by default and wouldn’t put any more creativity in his fearmongering than ripping off the President of the United States. And why not? Trump clearly lied and race-baited and was not held accountable by voters. Who’s to think Mo White will be? At least in the Alibi…

So it is that Frank and Mo go stumping around the block, and at first glance it seems that Frank actually stumbled onto a real find for political exploitation. Frank dwells in nativism for white South Siders, talking about South Side pride, but Mo White has the canniness to not write-off anyone who isn’t white (after all, that’s most of the South Side). And instead of just leaning into the intended racism of “South Side Pride,” Mo astutely notes that all South Siders should have pride, and the fact that neither major political party candidate lives in the neighborhood is a shocking failure on both sides. (One would think they’d each at least rent an apartment on one of the more gentrified streets to be able to avoid this criticism…)

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In any event, Mo seems like he’d actually have a shot at upsetting the establishment; he sweet talks a black woman into at least considering him and rolls up his sleeves more than one would expect from a cog in Frank’s moneymaking schemes… that is until we find out Shameless is also mining Roy Moore territory for its political humor. As it turns out, Mo cannot campaign near a school because he is a convicted sex offender who preyed on a child for five years beginning at the age of 15.

One should know that is the end of Mo’s political career. Imagine what will happen when his opponents find out and, unlike Roy Moore, he isn’t already backed by a major political party? Hell, they could demand the next debate be in a school. But that would assume Frank is in it to win it. Rather he’s in it to binge it, and sure enough is soon making excuses at the watering hole when Mo let’s slip—at the Alibi—that he’s a convicted pedophile. But Frank convinces the patrons, “like O.J.,” that Mo deserves a second chance. He persuades the rabble, which given they’re all old white men, isn’t necessarily a shock. It was more than just men who voted for Roy Moore in Alabama, where he barely lost the race for U.S. Senate. Still, it’s a certain type that can rationalize that.

Good luck with protecting those “vaginal enterprises,” Kev.

These elements were the strongest of tonight’s episode, which makes it an above par hour of Shameless. Yet strangely the rest of the Gallagher drama had varying degrees of problems.

For starters, it is a bit too early to say for sure, but I am considering if Shameless will be easing us out of the Fiona drama. She simply could’ve taken a backseat to Frank this week, which would be fine, however this is Emmy Rossum’s last year. As such, it might be prudent to get us more invested in non-Fi drama.

Which might explain why her storyline moved so incrementally. Ford, who is again one of the lamer of her boyfriends, is jealous of Fi meeting with her new gentrifying douchebag business partner for reasons that feel contrived and vaguely undefined. He does raise the intriguing possibility though that we considered last week of her business partner setting Fi up to be left holding some kind of bag. Ford thinks her investing $100,000 is a bad call, but I’m more concerned that she’ll be framed in some white collar crime where the actual criminals never get busted when the lights flip on.

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Still, I will admit his kiss-and-makeup being a trail of condoms is something special. Clearly Ford knows the way to Fi’s heart. Most girls love roses, but Fi desires nothing more than a nice bargain, and that will take care of them for many months to come.

It was likewise nice to see Lip and Ian share a scene early on in the episode. These two’s warm and understated relationship was one of the focal points of Shameless’ earliest and best seasons, yet is only ever a passing favor in these later years. Still, it’s one I appreciated. Debbie and Ian also had their conversation that we all knew was coming regarding sexual fluidity.

Surprisingly, Ian acted more like the dismissive big brother than Gay Jesus™, the superhero. In some ways, it’s probably truer to character. While he is entirely open-minded of others’ sexual experiences, even referring to God as a “Shim,” he is still a big brother and gets defensive with Debbie seemingly moving into his territory when she posits she might be bi. While I understand it is a thing in the LGBTQ community of too many hetero cis-people claiming to be bisexual when they are not, one would think Ian would be open to hear about Debs’ experimentation when one of the two great loves of his life thus far has been a transgender man.

Debs is right to call him out on not being really Gay Jesus-like, nor is he quite Gay Ché. And the truth is also in Debs’ mind when she said he’s a bipolar Gallagher off his medication. What I think is really at stake is while being a religious martyr against gay conversion therapy camps last season, his manic episode is now giving way to the early stages of depression.

How they choose to characterize that in this episode, however, leaves something to be desired. Pulling a Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters, Ian wanders the city considering one major religion after the other. It’s also a bit tedious considering that I recall Shameless doing something similar with Frank a few seasons ago when he was more concerned with his mortality. This is slightly different because Ian is responding to his clear delusion and narcissism to believe God was speaking directly to him in jail, yet it all has a been-there, done-that vibe. And if he really converts to Catholicism, or even becomes a doctrinaire Christian after fighting (an admittedly more evangelical) virulent strand of it last season, it could become… a delicate balancing act.

Just like Lip’s bordering on truly unhealthy concern for Xan. He’s passed the point of being a good guy to making the kind of mistake that, well, we’d expect out of Ian when he was off his medication. Upon realizing that he has no way to lie his way out of not being her guardian when Xan breaks her arm on a jungle gym, Lip’s solution is to cause an emergency and sneak his pseudo-daughter out the back.

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This is in some way in-keeping with Lip’s self-destructive habits from previous seasons, but most of those terrible mistakes occurred when he was on the sauce. This tendency has manifested in other ways, such as when he attempted to not finish high school, and technically he is doing a good deed in watching this girl who was abandoned by her mother. But Lip is still not her father, and the limitations of his situation should have been crystallized when she broke her arm and there was no way for him to sign off on her medical procedures or check her out of the hospital. This is a ticking time bomb. Meanwhile, there are actual Gallagher concerns he should be stepping up for.

Since Shameless wants us to forget that Liam should still be in a private school, I’ll let it lie after this week, but it is still messy writing. Frank bent over backwards to get Liam in that school. And while it is fitting that he would move onto his next scheme, Lip and Fiona both would make time to go to bat for the kid. No school should be able to expel him for the sins of his father, least of all with only three weeks left in the semester. While seeing Liam navigate the same nonsense that drowned Debs and Carl—and do so much more astutely than any of his Gallagher kin thus far—is fine unto itself, Lip should be going down swinging for this kid instead of playing martyr on another self-made cross.

The second half of this review might seem as if it veered toward the negative, but this was still a very enjoyable episode of Shameless. The “comic relief” storylines were terrific tonight and added some self-reflection and scrutiny of the otherwise glib worldview the series inhabits. The more dramatic storylines are all showing a few cracks in their foundations, but I’ve made my peace and am comfortable seeing where they develop next.

It wasn’t Shameless’ finest hour, and for the sake of the season, I hope many of the plots start complementing each other better, as the series always works best when Gallaghers are all on the frontlines together, holding hands as they disappear into that titular vortex’s goodnight. But it is still one episode I’m happy to drink with… just maybe not at the Alibi while Frank and Mo White are buying.

 Most Shameless Quotes of the Week

“No one’s ever raped anyone in here! At least not on the inside, on the outside in the alleyway, maybe.” – Kev

 “Dude, I’m married now. I just got my shit together. No way I’m getting sucked into your weirdo Gallagher vortex.” – Brad

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“Democracy never sleeps.” – Frank / “Unless it’s with a 15-year-old.” – V

Find all your Shameless news right here.

David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.


3.5 out of 5