Shameless Season 9 Episode 7 Review: Down Like the Titanic
The Shameless midseason finale throws Fiona back at the bottom, but even that has its upsides.
This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 9 Episode 7
Shameless is a series in transition. Last week, we bid farewell to Ian Gallagher (my second favorite of the Gallagher clan for those counting), and tonight we have the first mid-season finale in the show’s entire run. Indeed, Showtime has made the curious choice of expanding the normal order of Shameless episodes from 12 episodes to 14, and in so doing, they have also broken it up as a fall/winter series, much akin to AMC’s format for their most popular shows. Presumably this helps with the ratings, but it rather serendipitously gave us a creative space that even the show’s producers may not have been aware of.
When season 9 finishes its run in early 2019, it will now inadvertently serve as the final farewell to Emmy Rossum as Fiona Gallagher (or at least so far as being a series regular). It is still somewhat ambiguous how long showrunner John Wells knew that departure was coming, but it was clearly not visibly on the horizon when this mid-finale was broken down. For this episode is very much about breaking Fi down in the most cynical, yet in many ways believable fashion. She has lost her apartment building, her upward mobility, and frankly her sense of purpose. Her defeat, in essence, is the only thing that truly makes this feel like a finale, and therefore our last “normal” one with Fi—one in which she seems to be set on the path of Frank once more.
If in addition to Ian reverting to his worst bipolar tendencies, season 9 becomes the season where Fi revisits her lowest point from season 4, it is perhaps understandable that Rossum sees it as time to make her exit stage left. Yet it also makes how they play her fall from grace crucial, given this finale left me a lot like the character: resigned to the destiny of being a Gallagher. Complete with its highs and lows. And to be sure, there were quite a few highs tonight.
Yep, what also marked this as a quasi-finale by Shameless standards is that Debs, of all Gallaghers, became genuinely concerned for Fiona’s absence from Ian’s sendoff last week. In and of itself, this should not be a surprise. Once upon a time, Debbie was quite invested in the trials and tribulations of the other Gallaghers. But several seasons back, beginning with her fixation of wanting to have a baby, Debbie has primarily been depicted as self-absorbed and oblivious to her siblings’ own perspectives. Maybe it’s the show indicating she’s growing out of teenage stubbornness, or just Wells seeing dynamics need to shift without Ian around, but it’s a welcome change that Debbie inexplicably wants to help Fiona out.
This likewise follows traditional Shameless finale formulae where the Gallaghers band together (how we like them best), even if in this case it is primarily just the sisters. For it’s Debbie who finds Fiona hungover and hung out to dry in her apartment with a black eye and nigh broken arm, and it is Debbie who rallies Lip to show at least passing concern for his sister. Still, this is only a mid-finale, so maybe it’s fitting he worries about his own stuff to do.
Indeed, it’s up to Debbie to plan Fiona’s revenge on Ford for being a two-timing, pretentious prick—kind of like how most audiences interpreted him last season—while Fi dealt with the detonation of her three seasons of growth. It begins with a trip to the hospital and then continues upon her finding her car in lockdown after she crashed it and then abandoned it on the side of the road. I am not sure if impounding would affect this, but if Fi’s insurance should pay for most of the car’s repairs; she’ll just have to pay a skyrocketed policy from this point forward. That is honestly more a flesh wound to her financial wounds, with the $25k acting as more the gaping cannon ball hole.
So it’s an unexpected minor lifeline that the capitalist turns out to throw. Maybe he’s not fully not to be the Devil, even if he’s clearly still beholden to the dark side? Her business partner gives off all the signals he might be thinking something scuzzy about taking Fi’s apartment complex off her hands, but instead of being a #MeToo bastard, he rather is just seizing an opportunity to financially screw Fiona as gently as possible. He’ll buy the complex without inspections that day for the price of her two mortgages, and likely sell it in a few months at a profit of nearly $200,000. In the meantime, Fi can forego the $25k she owes him for interest… which wipes her out of the deal and squanders the $50,000 she made by flipping that laundromat.
She has been tossed back to the “Start” tile on the board, and to be fair, he gave her a great deal: her credit is intact, so she in theory doesn’t have to end in complete ruin next year. Yet she is right back to where she began. This is in essence the trajectory of every storyline on Shameless. There are seasons of clawing, climbing, and crying, only for it to be rendered obsolete. Lip is expelled from the University of Chicago and then is too drunk to take advantage of any other opportunity his mentor sets up; Ian goes off his meds and nukes his healthy relationship with Trevor as well as his career as an EMT to become Gay Jesus and then an inmate; and presumably Carl will one day soon see his dream of West Point snatched away.
It is continually frustrating, but at least in this situation, it feels somewhat earned. Fiona is essentially trying to climb her way into the upper-middle class without a college degree or any connections. It is possible, but the deck is woefully stacked against her, and when she hit an iceberg, like the Titanic, she couldn’t handle the water. So whereas I was genuinely angry at how the series drove Lip into alcoholism to explain away why he must stay poor in the South Side, Fiona always was walking on a tightrope, and the agony of her slipping remained ever, and painfully, plausible.
Rossum is an excellent dramatic actress and plays Fi’s pity party well. The show mocks it a little bit with Debs cracking of “ugly crying,” but it is constructed toward Rossum’s strengths, and slowly I sense we are seeing season 4 Fiona emerge again, for better and worse. Season 4 was one of the show’s best years, if not one of our favorite for the Gallagher den mother, and when things are bad for her, she has a habit of making them worse. The hint of that despair comes when she is throwing a “Welcome Home” party for herself—now a literal pity party—that the rest of the fam is invited to watch. For the moment, they’re on her side, but I imagine if Rossum wasn’t leaving the series, a major plot element of season 10 would’ve been about hitting that wall, again. Because the show is more cyclical than it is about evolution. A cynic might say that also holds true of human nature.
Yet, lest I sound too cynical myself, I absolutely loved how this was wrapped up for at least the finale. Anticipating how much viewers would loathe Ford, the series and Debbie concocted the perfect sendoff. They built an honest-to-God stockade to place Ford in right there in the middle of the South Side. How they got that thing constructed before the police shut them down? Unknowable. Yet this fantasy revenge is delicious, and I loved that Debbie offered Fiona the chance to fire an actual crossbow at Ford’s exposed derriere. One wonders if he loves the architecture in the neighborhood now?
Fi’s giddiness and Lip coming by to enjoy the show all made this special enough to be a genuine, if truncated, finale—as was the ghost of things to come with Carl and Lip beginning to ignore Fiona’s boozing whining in the front yard… like Frank. At the very least, the last seven episodes for her should involve a hard inspection that pits her against Macy. Hell, if it wasn’t for the fact they needed Macy to keep the series going, a perfect ending for both characters might be Fiona going to prison for murdering the old bastard.
Aye, Frank wasn’t there for her, or for that matter Ian. For much of the rest of the episode felt like a typical hour of Shameless hijinks. After keeping Lip free of relationship drama for most of season 9, the writers room is ready to go back to that well with Lip shacking up with the extroverted statuesque bridesmaid who gave him the nickname “Jabby.” It’s cute except that she’s obviously an alcoholic. Which means Lip’s cycle is about to commence once more. Frank, meanwhile, is in a very similar situation as his time with Sheila in the early seasons. He’s found a meal ticket who enjoys him in the bedroom, even though her ex-husband is basically living downstairs (or on the other side of the duplex in this case). The wheels spin, as Frank drives away the ex, likely not for the mental health of the woman who might stab him if she isn’t on her medication.
Yet some of the repeats were quite amusing. I love that Kev’s that parent who cannot part with any baby gear and will very soon be a hoarder—and that he and V have a real discussion about whether they should have another kid. While putting them on the adoption circuit is in itself treading familiar territory, it is perfectly apt that Kevin would yearn for it, and Veronica would not have any desire to go through childbirth again. Hell, she barely was able to conceive the first time, so it’s a wonder Kev thinks it’d be that easy to have another kid. It’s a sweet narrative that showcases the longer these two stay away from the Gallagher vortex, the happier they are.
And Carl meanwhile discovered that Abraham Lincoln was not our first president. Honestly, here is another situation where the show will not have to try very hard to swat down a Gallagher’s dream for—though his new girlfriend going to the trouble of trying to make him an officer gives her instant endearment points. Meanwhile, at this point, Liam should just start narrating the show with his patented eyerolls.
As a whole, it was very much more of the same this week, including in the major plot twists. But that is both the appeal and the limit of Shameless after so many seasons. We love spending time with these characters as they scrap by, oh, so shamelessly from the bottom. But if they ever truly got off that ground floor, there wouldn’t be a show, at least not one that could live up to its title. In the past, that was an accepted give to the show’s take, but as the characters are starting to see a second or even third lap of this narrative begin, and the actors begin dropping away, it is a wonder if there is really another full rotation left to be made.
At least this week, the curve felt natural and a paintball to the ass is worth grading this one at least a half-star higher than it would otherwise deserve.
Most Shameless Quote of the Week
“V and Kev are dead. That’s right, I murdered them, there’s blood everywhere, and you’re next Chantelle!” – Kev.
“Get a more flattering haircut. Stop walking around like a sorry piece of shit.” – Frank to a patient.
“I think we’ve got a couple minutes before the cops come, but just quick. Paddle, paintball gun, or crossbow? If you want to Katniss Everdeen this shit.” – Debs.
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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.