And there it is. For the last several weeks, I have been dreading that the Gallaghers tolerating Sammi’s nutjob antagonism was Shameless stalling for the most contrived, melodramatic villainy one can have in this series without orchestrating a hit-and-run. Now, it has happened. Fiona, Lip, Ian, Debbs, and Mickey sat apprehensively on their asses while a proven snitch and traitor in their midst was allowed to wreak havoc on their lives. Unlike Carl, however, this latest betrayal is one that could have been prevented. Also unlike Carl, it no longer feels like earned drama.
Long before “South Side Rules,” the fifth season of Shameless has attempted to return to the amusing crassness of the first two seasons, which had increasingly been buried by the more dramatic beats of recent years. However, the show in the last few episodes has drifted from its unapologetic namesake into being fairly labored for its “shocking” twists—like Lip somehow being able to convincingly sneak a nearly 40-year-old drug dealer onto his hall without housing or any of the other RAs in his building noticing. But even when said drug dealer starts sleeping with the college girls in such a blatant way that he becomes a campus celebrity, I tended to let it slide since it played like a joke, though a perverse one at Kev’s apparent mid-life crisis creepin’ expense.
But after Sammi snitched on Carl and then beat him up while in custody, she was to the Gallaghers what Adriana La Cerva became to the Soprano family. The only difference is that Tony didn’t wait around for several weeks after learning the truth before sending Adriana to the meadowlands—and even as an actual FBI snitch, we liked Adriana better as a human being. Sympathy for Sammi’s predicament aside, she has been a thorn in everyone’s side for a whole season—to the point that only Sheila Jackson is rude enough to take direct action, which strains credibility unto itself.
Yet here we are in Shameless’ “South Side Rules,” a filler of an episode that twiddled its thumbs until Sammi repeated a plot point from two weeks ago to more operatic effect. It could also be argued that it was to soap operatic effect too, and it is a plot twist that feels beneath Shameless (as peculiar as that is to type).
I sensed that the episode was off to a shaky start when the Gallaghers awakened to discover that the refrigerator was empty and the water bill is unpaid. It was of course a harbinger of doom that Sammi was still being Sammi and had chosen to shirk her “den mother” duties. However, I was stunned that they all seemed cool to give her the time to find an apartment. After Frank returned from Mexico and made a stink about taking Fiona’s bedroom, they kicked the bum out. But here is the reason that Carl is spending a year in juvenile hall. Further, Fiona has been distracted for all of season five, but she moved back into the Gallagher home two weeks ago after her marriage collapsed in typical Fiona fashion.
Since then, the family has been in crisis mode in relation to Ian’s medical condition and then Carl’s impending incarceration. That Fiona has not been to the grocery store in that time or had a moment to tend to the responsibilities she desperately coveted in season three again feels like the characterization of the Gallaghers bending to this Sammi tripe. Fi is married now and has her own mess, but as Boss Sean accurately pointed out in this hour, Fiona loves worrying about other peoples’ messes, because it keeps her from thinking about her own.
With her marriage basically over—which was confirmed again when Fi kissed Sean, because Gus was late in getting to a computer appointment—Fiona has plenty of time to switch gears back into parent mode. And when it is convenient to the plot, such as Debbs’ latest terrible idea (we’ll get there in a minute), Fiona is acting like the Fi we knew from the first three seasons. But to allow the insidiousness of the Sammi storyline to fester, she is back to being as oblivious as she was to a pack of cocaine left on the living room table.
These inconsistencies carry over to plot lines that I liked last week, as well. Frank is now attempting to woo Bianca as a potential lover, which is not entirely out of the blue for him. Granted, I misconstrued last week that he considered Bianca to be like a daughter to him rather than an apparent soulmate, but what seems to again bend credibility is that we are supposed to root for Frank. When he visits the Alibi for advice, V seems surprised but believing that this girl has left a real impression on South Side’s poster drunkard; he then leaves a beer untouched in the bar when he moves on to his next strategy of romance, supposedly proving to the audience that this is a real thing…for Frank, anyway.
Perhaps, I am a bit discouraged since Frank did so well last week at being a surprisingly good person to see him try to bed a woman younger than his oldest daughter, but it seems stranger still that we’re meant to root for a Romeo who screwed “Butterface” out of a heart and life. Like the Gallaghers tolerating Sammi’s presence post-Carl sentencing, this is an unlikely calm before a dramatic storm that will inevitably occur in the last two episodes of the season.
At the very least, one tsunami of familial destruction that Debbie just sailed into with a goofy grin is her decision that she wants to be Juno’d. As soon as she listened to her new boyfriend’s “sister” about “choosing your family,” it made too much scary sense what the girl who lost her virginity through date raping a male friend was about to do in the ultimate stupid decision: she is going to try to get pregnant so that he can never leave her. Hence, her lying about not needing a condom since she is on the pill (which won’t kick in for another 36 hours). Fi took her to Planned Parenthood for the first time tonight, and now she is going to have to take her again for another reason by the time the season finale rolls around. I will give this impending dramatic development credit, however, since it is a terrifyingly believable action taken by the youngest Gallagher girl.
Still, the most authentic moment tonight came from the sole storyline that hit every right note: Mickey and Ian. Somewhat unexpectedly given the heat that Emmy Rossum and Justin Chatwin radiated for all of the first three seasons, the couple of Shameless is without a doubt this Gallagher-Milkovich union. Even in the face of mental illness, Mickey has (mostly) stayed by Ian and given him exactly what he needs to get through this—a punch to the face. Hey, it works for them.
But just because they have proven to be the strongest and most enjoyable couple on the show, it does not mean it will not get rung through the Shameless treatment, which is exactly what happened when Sammi reported that AWOL Ian was living in that home in Chicago.
I have to admit that I didn’t see her latest assault on the Gallaghers looking like this. I had no idea why we spent time on Sammi nursing Ian’s hand other than it was a softer moment for Sammi post-vindictive lash-outs. But I knew eventually that the Gallaghers inexplicably keeping a proverbial bag of cocaine in the living room would blow up in their faces again, and it did when Sammi doubled down on revenge she already had when she sent Carl up the river. This was a low, low, low thing to do. But the worst aspect is that it should never have happened if the characters were behaving with the modicum of common sense they had in the first three seasons.
There are of course other questions raised by that ending: such as does the U.S. military still think Ian Gallagher’s name is Phillip Gallagher? And if we are revisiting this can of worms, will the punishment be as severe when they learn Ian was underage and should not have been over there in the first place?
It’s a lot of questions left to answer, but the most pertinent for the time being is how come Mickey Milkovich isn’t assembling his brothers right now to escort Sammi out of this neighborhood? After all, that is the nicest possible outcome that Mickey would pursue after this. Unless the writers continue to play fast and loose with the plotting in hopes of turning Shameless into Ridiculous.
Most Shameless Quote of the Week:
“The one day I’ve got to shower all year, and the water runs out.” – Frank
“Ah great: cockblocking Laura Bush.” – Frank
“Bartender, can you serve this melon-head some IQ points?” – Sean