This Shameless review contains spoilers.
For a few episodes every season, Shameless has a knack for providing Emmy Rossum with a showcase hour or two that lets her display a long, tumultuous range of emotions while Fiona is put through the Southside ringer (or worse when prison sentences are concerned). But this is always a shrewd decision since Rossum is a tremendous talent, and sure enough it paid off in dividends in tonight’s episode, “The F Word.”
Indeed, because beyond the fucking implications of a title like that, for Shameless fans the real “f word” is “Fi,” and Fiona had one hell of a tough time in what was among this episode’s strongest moments. There were some weaker parts as well, but whenever the hour transitioned to one more blow to and defeat of Fiona’s no-nonsense demeanor, “The F Word” was as satisfying as telling off an ex with an expletive-ridden song.
Also most notably, it’s because this epsiode answered the hanging question from last week: is Fiona a good parent?
While she has made many, many mistakes, other than the rather tragic one involving baby Liam from season 4, I’d say she has still been a positive influence on her siblings. Sure, she let’s them get away with far too much because she is far more focused on being a provider and cool big sister (as opposed to mother) to them, but I imagine that they’d probably end up in much worse places without Fi’s influence—and they’re still trying their damndest to get there at the moment too.
Thus, with the prospect of actual motherhood on the horizon for Fi, she is starting to finally act like an experienced one in “The F Word.” Of course, I have no idea if she can do anything to influence Carl to not “act like a criminal” (her words) at this point, but she certainly can still try to sink into Debbie’s head that she is acting like a mentally unbalanced brat. And the best way of doing that is not by wrestling Debbie to the front lawn in a fistfight, but rather speaking in calm, measured and unsparing words.
First, she tries to talk to Debs like an adult early in the episode, telling her little sister that she is pregnant too; now, they both can learn from this mistake and each get an abortion together—motherhood can be there for them 10 years down the road. Debs responds by saying, “You are the one who sleeps around Fiona, not me. God you are disgusting.” At this point, one should give credit to Emma Kenney for playing Debbie in such a way that we still care for her well-being while withholding the impulse to send her flying to the other side of Lake Michigan.
And Fiona controls her temper too without losing it or demeaning the child as she lets Debs have her below-the-belt insult. She also lets Debbie get away with breaking Fi’s confidence by telling Frank, Ian, and just about anyone that will listen that Fi is likewise knocked up. Fiona even ignores Debs joining forces with Frank to plan an “inter-bortion” where the two of them, plus Frank’s new backyard pals, try to tell Fi that she is committing a sin (and keep in mind that Frank has been involved in the manslaughter deaths of at least two women, including one just last week!).
But when Debbie inevitably comes begging for moral support, Fiona says what likely every viewer has been saying the whole night: your only cheerleader for having a baby at 15-years-old is Frank. That should scare the shit out of you. Wake up, kid. And Fi does not give in now to the child’s groveling, allowing her younger siblings to run wild as she has for the past four seasons; she puts her foot down in a way that really, truly let’s me believe it might finally sink in. Debbie has this infuriating daydream of going to school while Fiona takes care of her kid. But Fi says she will not take care of the child, and Debs will be on the streets.
Honestly, I don’t believe in this threat. While Fiona threw Lip out for almost not going to college, she regretted it and Lip could take care of himself. Debs lives in complete fantasy land half of the time, and on no planet would Fiona abandon her and a niece to a life on the streets that probably involves drugs (or worse) and probably ultimately foster care. But the fear of that fate should rip away any false comfort Debbie has…
Nonetheless, I have a certain theory about what could happen that would truly infuriate and isolate Debbie from Fiona. If Debs ever wises up and decides not to commit personal suicide during her adolescent years, she will be angry for a long time, but eventually would grow up enough to see that Fiona is correct. However, if Fi ends up keeping her own baby, Debbie would go way off the deep end. And we’ve seen what Debbie does to people she dislikes in the past…
Yet the seeds are sown in Rossum’s truly best scene of the week: she tells Sean about the pregnancy. After being sent through the ringer again when (shock!) Gus didn’t want to talk to her ever again after she cheated on him with multiple men, Fi is at a new early low for season 6. And to be fair, Gus was wholly justified in his fury at Fiona, though slut shaming her in a room full of a hundred strangers is a cowardly move that makes him every bit the bastard in my eyes. We, and Veronica, can have an opinion (usually involving laughter) about Fiona not knowing which of three men is the father of her baby. But a hundred bar patrons? Not so much.
Still, when the time came to break down and tell Sean, there is no laughter, and the sequence is not played with a tongue in its cheek. It’s simply a monologue that allows Rossum to lay out all the anguish and the big ball of tangled pride and self-hate that Fi keeps at bay most episodes with a smile or a deflecting dirty joke. Here, Fi empties it in total on the table for Sean, who doesn’t say a word, save to invite her with him to go do a chore. That kind of poignant acting from Rossum, as well as an excellent Dermot Mulroney, and un-ironic writing from John Wells and company, is what makes Shameless so endearingly good as a drama, even if it is ostensibly a comedy.
Luckily, there were some lighter beats. Personally, I am always thrilled to see Ian and Lip play off of each other. The two older Gallagher brothers had a terrific rapport in the early Shameless seasons but understandably have drifted apart narratively due to one of the characters going to college. So it’s good seeing that finally addressed here, especially with Ian reacting so unreasonably to Fiona for needing him to be a better brother to Debs and a better employee at the diner she got him a gig at.
Instead, he predictably bites off Lip’s head too, even though he had another job (admittedly the unglamorous role of a janitor) handed to him from the connection. Unaware as to why his brother would want to have privacy in his own room, Ian continues to use his bipolar disorder as an excuse not to finish high school, which makes as little sense as Ian not exploiting the connections he had from working in that gay dance club a few seasons ago where he was running with any number of affluent men.
Nonetheless, it sets Ian up for another pity party and one of the better jokes of the night where in a nigh It’s a Wonderful Life moment: Ian’s empty suicidal thoughts are interrupted by a car accident that finally allows him to be the hero he always imagines in his head. For his reward, he is awakened Ariel-style by a strapping firefighter. Immediately, I assume this very well is setting up a new love interest for Ian’s life since Mickey is not getting out of prison for the foreseeable future. However, I also hope that it is setting Ian on a new path toward perhaps doing something he can love: like becoming a firefighter.
Of course to do that, Ian is going to have to finish school first and be able to demonstrate he can stay on his medication…
The episode’s most overt comedy, for the record, was a scattershot collection of almost successes. Frank following Fiona to Planned Parenthood and whispering in her ear that she is going to Hell is great comic relief; Kev and V trying to convince their paralyzed neighbor not to commit murder is O.K. comic relief; but Carl selling guns to everyone in his school was a bridge too far. One teacher buying a gun? Maybe. But them all having guns, subsequently pointing them at each other, and then still not having Carl arrested verges over the line toward a Saturday Night Live parody of right wing wet dreams about a world with zero gun control. While perhaps politically salient, it crossed the line toward an R-rated sitcom.
Yet, I don’t think anyone is supposed to have time to laugh too hard. Not with gentrification finally joining the rest of the “A” storylines since Fiona got an eviction notice slapped on her front door. That is never a good harbinger. But we’ll find out how that will effect the Gallagher clan as Fi and Debs’ Cold War inches closer to the nuclear option next week on Shameless.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week:
“It’s just your hormones. You leak down your face until the babies are born, then you start leaking out your titties.” – Veronica
“It’s like bring your daughter to work day!” – Frank on teaching Debbie how to scam for welfare assistance.
“I get that she is 15 and by definition that makes her a bitch…” – Fi