Shameless: Strangers On A Train Review

The Gallaghers screw up so much this week that Mickey Milkovich should be picketing to get them better wages.

Late in tonight’s Shameless, “Strangers on a Train,” Fiona tries to comfort her little, grieving sister with sweet words. “You screwed up? That just means you’re a Gallagher.” And as every shameful person who chose to spend time with these Chicagoan folks over the Super Bowl already knows, Fiona was making the understatement of the season.

Despite being only four episodes into its fourth year, the Gallagher clan has screwed things so badly that Mickey Milkovich should be standing on the picket line trying to get them more money and better wages too. In fact, beyond that great Milkovich subplot (Mickey really needs more screen time), the whole night was about how each major Gallagher member of the family made the bad times worse.

The first is obviously Fi herself. When she told Debs at another point that she’s once been through tumultuous emotions too, she wasn’t whistling Dixie. In the very first scene of the episode, she lets Robbie, brother to sweet, good-natured boyfriend and boss Mike, stalk her in complete creeper mode onto the L train. And instead of doing what a reasonable person would by kindly asking him to fuck off and die, she sits back for a passive ride onto Robbie’s fingers. While it provided quite the entertainment for the elderly woman on the other side of the train, to paraphrase V, are you stupid, Fiona?

Last week, it became clear that Robbie got his little bro drunk so that he could seduce the girlfriend. In retrospect, Fiona should not only feel guilty for her betrayal, but disgusted by how manipulative and slimy the elder Cup moneybags turned out to be. The horror was that when he called her an addict that we knew she REALLY is Frank’s daughter. However, I at least expected her to put up some protest before relapsing again. Alas, she crashes hard in this subsequent episode, especially when she goes to confront Robbie at his apartment. She could have called. She could have texted. She could have even sent him a Facebook message (“I don’t have Facebook” she weakly explains to Robbie), but the only way she’s getting laid is in person. She escapes another close call of Mike walking in on it, but honestly I am ready for this to blow up. Fiona is so out-of-control in embracing the chaos that it will inevitably cost her a job (and her family their health care benefits), and it will most definitely happen on her birthday that Mike is so hyped about planning.

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I am of two minds about this development. On the one hand, it is almost lazy that the show will find a way to restore the impoverished status quo by having Fiona screw things up at work. This frustration is compounded by the fact that Robbie is a wholly repulsive character that feeds off his parents like a spoiled millennial vampire, and has not been introduced to have one redeeming feature.

…But then I remember that this is Fiona. Her throwing it all away for sexual excitement in her life is not only in-character, it is expected. While I liked Jimmy for the first two seasons (he only became truly grating when Season 3 became the long goodbye for the man who would be Steve), he was still bad for Fiona, and Robbie is worse. She seeks out this kind of pain, which makes the show’s exploitation of this weakness as her meal ticket back to food stamps line seem painfully appropriate.

So, as mentioned last week, that gives a new level of importance and stakes to Lip’s struggles in college. And struggle he does when he misses the mid-term because some girl stole his round on the dryer cycle. Nonetheless, the implicit issue is, “Who does laundry on the day of a midterm?” College wasn’t that long ago for me to feel total sympathy about this or many of Lip’s problems. Even the show finally takes the hardline with Lip. After it appears that he won’t get a chance to take the midterm under any circumstances, he goes on a hammer spree and attacks several nice cars right in the heart of campus. He escapes the security in hilarious John Hughes-ish fashion and seems to be in the clear even though in reality about a dozen people saw his face in broad daylight as he did this, and he should be kicked out permanently.

Instead, he winds up back in the South Side (from MIT?) very quickly to receive some tough love from Mandy and Kev. Thank the God of Shameless, St. Jameson. Lip is ready to quit once again, because he tried for a month and still screwed up. He even is back to his old standby of finding a girl who isn’t right for him and attempting to knock her up. Since Karen’s mind is on a vegetable farm these days, he settles for the one who planted her there: Mandy. But as Mandy points out, she got him into MIT, and the last thing she needs is Lip’s bastard. When mean words turn to mean hands, I realized that Shameless is turning Mandy into a new form of Karen. If their relationship is already this violent, returning to the homestead just means Lip will find his own Hurricane Monica to be engulfed in. Finish up Lip. Please.

Speaking of Hurricane Monica, her favorite whipping coast got battered pretty hard as well this week. Except now it is Hurricane Sammi. In the comic relief of the night, Frank discovers that even though he has convinced his eldest, estranged daughter that he is just a kindly VA volunteer in need of a liver (and maybe a sliver of something else), there is still the fact that he has to PAY for the surgery. And no, the ER does not handle this. So, unless he can cough up $50,000 as a down payment on a procedure that’s worth three-times that price, he will have to die on a wait list for the few doctors who do pro-bono work.

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Frank blames Obamacare, but I sat back for a minute and thought about it. If Frank signed up for ACA, which should be much easier to do in states like Illinois where the government’s not literally trying to stonewall poor folks out of health care for political gain, Frank could likely have been covered for this surgery for about $50 to $100 a month. So…wait, why am I thinking about that?! Frank paying for ANYTHING, even with a massive tax credit?!


Okay Frank, so what’s the shortcut in this? Get himself hurt and to blame Sheila for whose insurance policy would pay him a hundred grand. Makes perfect sense. So, after much coaxing, Carl agrees to break Frank’s leg, albeit sadly not on YouTube. Even more sadly for Frank, he then discovers that his blood is not compatible with Sammi. His own daughter. He has gone to all this trouble to reenact his own Game of Thrones episode with his flesh and blood, and he doesn’t get a prize?!

Frank’s so angry that he doesn’t even care that he blurts out she’s his daughter. She naturally throws him out in a huff like all of Frank’s ungrateful brats who fail to appreciate his greatness. Fortunately, she’s still a Gallagher, if not in name, and by the end of the night she’s having a good laugh at the Alibi with an estranged dad who was only dry-humping her leg a few days earlier. Ah, to live for Hallmark moments like this.

Not all of the subplots went as smoothly or ended as Shamelessly as Frank’s. I am going to be honest now: I have real, real problems with the Debbie storyline. I understand that Wells and Abbot intend to address teenage sexuality in a way that is far more blunt and unflinching than most dippy sitcoms that also touch on it as so far as holding hands. In today’s multimedia-social monstrosity 13-year-olds (think they) know everything about sex. We get it.

It does not mean that we need to watch them not only trying to have it, but then be subjected to the male gaze, which feels uncomfortably salacious in how it targets a specific demographic audience this week. Seeing Emma Kenney, who is 14-years-old in real life, take her shirt off to take “selfies” of herself to sext to her 20-year-old boyfriend (and every audience member of the millions who watch Shameless) is unnecessarily skeevy, and an attempt to have its roofied cake and eat it too.

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It does not become any better when her boyfriend pushes her away, saying that she’s too young. The writers are not going to get us to like him, because he is still a 20-year-old dude knowingly hanging out with a 13-year-old and waiting “until she’s ready.” What is that, 15 (and he’d then be 22)? This storyline may be grounded in some of the more grim parts of our reality, but it shouldn’t pander to it. Thankfully, this storyline appears to end with her accepting her young adolescence for a little longer as Fiona’s surrogate little girl. But we’ll be back at this story thread either next week or next year. Hopefully, this will be the one time where a little fear of shame might help the show to find a defter hand in the future.

It was an otherwise strong episode, but that subplot has to ding its final score by at least one star. If Shameless is anything like Lip, it will learn to be more prepared on that subject in the future.

Most Shameless Qutoes of the Week:

-FRANK: That candy striper giving me a look like I’m a fucking degenerate. Egyptian royals, the Incas, Hell, King Arthur, they all kept it in the family! We probably still would if Oedipus hadn’t ruined it for all of us. So fine, cast the first stone. But first, if we all came from Adam and Eve, well, you do the math.

-MICKEY: Well Sasha, needs to find out that my wife’s a hooker not a slave.

-MICKEY: I’m like the Abraham [of prostitutes].

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-V: You do know what happened to Lincoln in the end, right?

-MICKEY: You kidding? I could barely make it through the opening credits.

-MR. MILOVICH (to Mickey after the strike goes bad): Three things: This is my home, you do have a small dick, and you started this all because you thought your wife is worth more than a couple of bucks a lay. Let me tell you from experience, she’s not.

-SAMMI: You’re my dad? I almost put you in my mouth.

FRANK: I didn’t ask you to do that.

SAMMI: You dry-humped my thigh for half an hour yesterday.

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FRANK: Dry-humping is not incest.

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3 out of 5