This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 9 Episode 4
So Shameless got political tonight. Or at least more so than usual, as the congressional election for Chicago’s Southside was apparently held in roughly late May/early June (the school year still isn’t over), and Mo White went back to Congress and back to being the creepy pervert. This is America.
It’s a bleak message, but fitting for the show and perhaps fitting for our times as Mo White’s ascension is meant to parallel beat by beat Donald Trump’s surprise electoral college victory (albeit with no Russian interference, here). And given the last week and likely destiny of our Supreme Court, the success of predatory white aggrievement seems inescapable. But why revel in the pessimism? Most of “Do Right, Vote White!” was a darkly hilarious affair, so let’s get to wrapping our arms around it like a Supreme Court nominee doing a keg stand.
Frank had shocking success this week by engineering Mo White’s big day in no small part by reteaming with the Milkovich family. It wasn’t fan favorite Mickey who made a return, but Mickey’s old man turned out to be the perfect vessel for Frank’s vision of runoff wedge issue: white supremacists standing at the polls in a low-key bid for voter suppression.
This central plot mostly worked because of how bitterly nihilistic it is, even by Frank Gallagher standards. Frank begins the episode by learning that Mo White isn’t campaigning on a given morning because he’s too busy leering at Catholic school girls waiting for the bus. If that isn’t enough to make your skin crawl, then just wait until Mo tries to seduce a few tweens into becoming interns. At a moment where Frank should be doing more soul-searching regarding Jesus than Ian he’s instead baiting white supremacists to battle lesbian muscle at a voting place.
Indeed, in typical Gallagher flippancy, the show’s dalliance with political norms in 2018 ends in a brawl so ridiculous that even level-headed Fiona gets involved. In fact, I quite liked how much of Fi’s narrative was handled tonight. Last week, I speculated if Fiona was getting put on the backburner in the third episode of the year because of Rossum’s imminent departure. However, I have since discovered that it wasn’t until the last few episodes of season 9 that John Wells became aware that she is definitely leaving. What appears to be naturally happening, however, is Fi’s slow but steady marginalization from her Gallagher roots.
It is quite amusing that the big sister who had to fight, lie, blackmail, and sue to raise her children and keep their house has gone “small business” conservative. Consider that in a happy surprise, the show is not entirely forgetting that she still manages Patsy’s Pies, which had been strangely absent this season until tonight. Yet even though all her staff are wearing Wyman buttons, Fi is furious because she is supporting Ruiz’s candidacy. What has driven the largely apolitical Fi to become a concerned citizen? The prospect of rent control causing her to lose money on her investment in owning the apartment building that’s become her pride and joy.
Ignoring that rent control is a local issue and this is apparently a U.S. congressional seat, the revelation that Fiona is flirting with the dark (or red) side of politics is an amusing development. Fi has fought and scrapped her way to the middle class over the last eight seasons, but she also has a habit of only seeing things from her narrow vantage. Her being the working class girl who made good, and then became a conservative over tax and regulatory issues, is entirely in keeping with her personality. As we’ll get to later in the review, Lip is a bleeding heart and one imagines if he hadn’t blown his University of Chicago opportunity, he’d be destined to be a blue state intellectual. But Fi fights for what’s hers like, well, a South Side girl knee deep in Great Aunt Ginger’s grave.
Her sudden selfishness also gives Ford his first genuinely likable moment of the night where he basically shames Fiona into voting for Wyman, and not because she’s a woman. He convinces Fi because they both know her new political allegiances will make life tougher for her family and those like her if Ruiz and the “business” minded politicians continue to have their way with this country. Still, it is another not-so-subtle sign that Fi is changing. One whiff of upward mobility and she’s switched from a virtue of her community to a “I’ve got mine” mentality real quick. It also makes her destiny of leaving the neighborhood at the end of the season appear more naturally unavoidable.
Not that in the political prism of this episode it matters a whole lot. In a mocking recreation of election night 2016, Mo White is unexpectedly elected back to Congress even though he is on record of being a sexual predator. As the show keeps hammering home, so was Trump. By showing crying and disbelieving minorities on the news, Shameless is practically laughing at a sensitive wound for its most liberal viewers.
Yet it creates an interesting dynamic that I sadly suspect the show will not take full advantage of. There is an amusing stinger at the end where Frank sees Mo White sworn into Congress, complete with a child who should make viewers feel their stomachs churn. However, if Frank was the campaign manager of a successful dirtbag’s return to politics… shouldn’t he get a job out of it? Even if Mo White is smart enough to know not to take Frank to D.C., you’d think he’d have Frank running a home office in the district so that Frank could take advantage of what Mo will be doing in the capital: nothing and getting well-compensated for it.
It would create a new problem for the ethos of the series if Frank is doing well for himself. Obviously we want to see Frank splashing around as degenerate and not become respectable. But there are plenty of ways to see his political fortunes capsize. In any event, it will be intriguing to see what they give Frank to do next besides haunt the Alibi.
Indeed, the Alibi runs the risk of becoming something it’s never been before: decent. In a bizarre twist, Kev’s PR campaign to turn things around actually worked. By inviting the blogger who first discredited the Alibi into his reformed establishment, one must only assume that she didn’t see the board in which Kev and V recorded how their most consistent patrons all have a “Harvey Weinstein,” “Louis C.K.,” “Woody Allen,” or at least “Aziz Ansari” skeleton in their closet. As an aside, I imagine the writers felt especially giddy over that dig at Disney’s expense regarding John Lasseter.
Yet I suspect this politicking is meant to soon backfire on all the characters, save for the privileged white guy (Frank). Kev and V start agreeing to low-key sell their services around the South Side to make other establishments “less rapey.” But when Woke Twitter finds out they’ve monetized politically correct décor? Well, one imagines it might work out as well as their attempt to make the Alibi a hipster paradise.
Buyer’s remorse also appears to be a theme of the night. Ian Gallagher has second thoughts about being Gay Jesus when a bunch of bigots attempt to crucify him. And as we further learn, the political activists that paid for his bail also want him to refuse any plea deals with prosecutors and drag this whole process out for months in the publicity-seeking courtrooms. Of course this means he might be going away to prison for 10 or 15 years, and Ian is finally realizing the martyr aspect of the Christ story that his followers expect him to replicate. While this is the show attempting to do a 180 on another storyline introduced last season, this turnaround feels quite a bit more organic than Liam—who is now apparently a public school super genius after one year of private tutelage!—as Ian is by his very nature bipolar.
Ian can go entire seasons as very rational and centered, such as when he fought for and succeeded in becoming a paramedic. Yet the longer he is off his pills the more rapidly his mood can swing. While last season, it was a thrill and even therapeutic to become the most militant of gay rights activists, the mania has given way to, if not depression, a definite melancholy. Being a gay pastor in jail might have been fun for a month or two, but now the reality is sinking in that 2,000 years after Christ was killed, humans rarely act Christ-like.
The coming of his break with political action feels as organic as Debs discovering that just because she’s experimenting doesn’t mean she’s gay. To be fair, I gave her more room to fool around in previous episodes than Ian did. Perhaps she was bisexual (if you needed to put a label on it)? However, Debs a little too gleefully starts announcing to Carl and anybody who’ll listen that she’s a lesbian. And now she wants to move in with her new girlfriend of exactly two or three dates. It is not a shock that she considers lesbian sex to be closer to masturbation than the fun she has with men in the bedroom, but it also is a pretty callous thing to say to someone you’re supposedly contemplating spending a lifetime with.
Debs in many ways has become the flake of the Gallagher family. She is more well-adjusted than Ian during one of his manic episodes, and she is more responsible than Frank (then again so are the dogs Carl is keeping in the basement), but she always makes the flighty choice. Having Franny in high school turned out not be a learning experience; it was the first sign of a pattern. She’ll try anything once, consequences be damned.
This makes for an interesting contrast with Lip, who thinks about everything he does to an unhealthy degree—and then often still makes the wrong choice. Xan’s mother came back this week, and she wanted her daughter. As a child of an abusive home himself, Lip sees the signs that Xan’s mother is bad news, yet she is her mother (and who Xan wants to be reunited with). But Ian still tries to bargain with her to let him have guardianship of Xan. Just like his relationship with a professor—either of them—Lip takes a right or wrong thing to his furthest possible extreme.
As with trying to save a drunkard from himself, this was a noble goal. Lip was doing better by Xan than anyone in her life had ever attempted at this point. However, he has a pretty lousy job and at least two siblings he is required to keep an eye on as Fiona continues to edge ever closer to a bougie flight. Adding another mouth to feed to his responsibilities is the unwise move… but it is the humane choice, even if it is for the wrong reason.
It would seem Shameless wishes to suggest that Lip’s addiction just isn’t to alcohol like his father or even self-destruction. It is to the desire to always be putting himself against the eight-ball; to put himself against the world. If Xan hadn’t followed him out, he would be a responsible parent, for all intents and purposes, toward Xan. But because she did, he has now lost a little sister in a way that completely shredded his heart. Lip destroys himself time and again by chasing drama not (only) because he’s messy, but because he finds order in the chaos.
It would seem tonight took Xan away from him as this outlet. I am very curious where he’ll go next in search of stress that will leave a lasting impact… because eventually one of these disasters are going to make a mark worse than just being expelled from college.
Overall, it was a glib and cynical night of Shameless. Or just another Sunday. It also was a return to form in that dark humor, because it did more than just hold up a mirror to viewers; it dug past just surface level reflections of Fi, Lip, and Ian. And that’s more of what we want to see.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“Just like her mother, ready to spread her legs for any guy with a wallet chain and a flaming skull tattoo.” – Frank about his daughter.
“Fuck it, I’m going to go over to Chuck E. Cheese and watch the girls jump into the foam pit.” – Mo White.
“No, no, these proud men and women of European extraction are just exercising their right of free expression.” – Frank .
“That’s the beauty of being in Congress; you don’t have to do a goddamned thing.” – Mo White.