Shameless: Uncle Carl Review

Carl is digging himself a deep hole in tonight's episode of Shameless. But so is Sammi. We discuss that and what being a "Gallagher" means.

Late in tonight’s episode of Shameless, “Uncle Carl,” the eldest Gallagher siblings are gathered around a police precinct’s waiting room, savoring the taste of stale coffee and ever diminished expectations. Sammi is there too, but she sits a few dozen chairs apart because she is the one who put the young sibling Carl in handcuffs (after he got her son Chucky sent up the river at only the sweet young age of 13).

As they simmer there with a failed marriage, a bipolar disorder diagnosis, and what probably amounts to a lifetime of credit card debt between the three of them over the last 72 hours, Ian bemoans just one word: “Gallaghers.”

Lip responds, “It’s a kind of diagnosis though, right?” Yes it is Lip; yes it is. In fact, that may be the mission statement of a series that is still somehow defying the chance of an expected slowdown in its fifth season. Like its title, Shameless chugs along with no sense of propriety, just as hilarious and painful as it’s almost always been (at least after the strongest first season). And both facets were in good supply again tonight, even if Carl’s fledgling drug business is not.

The character who seems to be suffering the most, even if he pretends to not be feeling bad at all, is Ian. Only several days since he kidnapped his boyfriend’s baby and took the wee lad on a road trip to Orlando, he has been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder and some unpleasant sounding psychotic tendencies. His clinic doesn’t think it will be too bad for him if he can just stay on his medication for two weeks, but when someone refuses to accept that they even have a mental disorder, this is a herculean struggle in the making.

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To Shameless’ credit, Ian’s slow descent gives new sympathy to mental illness as well as to a specific character: Monica. When Monica was on the show, I had trouble ever attempting to pity her since she abandoned her family twice, and one time helped Frank send her children practically into foster care when they stole the kids’ savings to go on a daylong bender. However, seeing fresh-faced and likable Ian start down the same path is chilling and vicariously defensive of poor Monica’s fate. It also has no laughs at all—save for at the expense of those gentrifying lesbians and their obsession with a community garden.

Yet, I remain hopeful that Ian is not going to be another Monica anymore than Fiona will not be another Frank (again: I hope). The reason for this is simple; he can withstand his problems by sitting next to his family that cares. His troubles has even gotten Lip involved, who has drifted away from his younger brother since going to college last year.

Plus, there’s Mickey. The Milkovich boy might have the initially understandable reaction to wallow in self-pity when he discovers the truth about his lover, but Noel Fisher and the writers continue to find authenticity about the South Side regular that is never quite what you expect. He is ready to stand (or at least sleep) by Ian by the end of the episode. It may not be enough for when another bad storm hits, but it’s more than Frank would ever give to Monica.

Lip meanwhile is going through his own problems, which came to a head this week. First, it was rather nice of Lip to get Kev out the door and to experience college, which for him of course meant selling drugs, playing beer pong, and sleeping with co-eds (more on that in a moment). Still, it really is in Lip’s noblest effort to stay in school.

All season, I’ve felt like Lip has been drifting from his family and the South Side with a longing for an ivory tower sanctuary. But in what feels like a major moment for the character’s series-long arc, and Jeremy Allen White’s finest moment thus far in season five, he confesses to his counselor why he needs to stay in school this semester, even if he only currently has about three-quarters of his tuition in hand.

If he goes back to his family for a whole six months, he will fall into that world again, and there will be no climbing out. If he wants to truly help Ian, Debbie, Carl, and Liam, he needs to get that degree. The altruism in the confession actually caught me by surprise, but it seems like Lip has finally accepted the mantle that Mandy and Fiona forced upon him all those episodes ago.

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Which is why I imagine selling drugs on campus is such a danger to it. I am just waiting for the shoe to drop in that subplot, not to mention with Kev cheating on V. Earlier in the episode, Kev’s new tenant also providing her “wifely duties” to Veronica appeared to have found a humorous workaround his most recent infidelity since they both had been given a hand (or more) by the new nanny. Yet, when Veronica finally realized that there is more to her marriage than she thought, and gives “Eddie Murphy” the quick adios, Kev drunkenly banged a girl with so many evident daddy issues we might as well call her Karen Jackson.

I still standby, as selfish as it might be, that Fiona is right: they’re Kev and V. They have their own lives, but if they ever collapse, what does that mean for the Gallaghers? Kevin and Veronica are the rock; if they sink, the entire conceit of this being a “comedy” series might go down with them.

Indeed, another storyline that lacked much in the way of laughs was Fiona’s plotline. I know that some fans were peeved that the Jimmy plot ended with a whimper, yet I maintain that it was why it worked so well. Jimmy already had the dramatic exit when he seemed to die in season three, and for her to make the choice of ending things like an adult is refreshing. Fi has always been the “mature one” and the parent of her siblings, except in the matters of her romantic life. While she and Jimmy have inescapable and explosive chemistry, it is also that chemistry that proves Fi has always made poor choices since Jimmy has been lying to her about everything, including his name, for years.

For her to end things like an adult was a refreshing move, and besides, I still do not believe Jimmy is gone. As this episode proved, Gus is already to the wind. By the end of the season, she’ll be single again. By the end of the series, Jimmy will also return.

But first there is the Gus matter. She finally did the smart thing by admitting her mistake to him, but her marriage was already over when he told her not to join her on the road. Marriages that start after nine days of crazy sex never seem like they have the strongest foundations. She may have been the one to detonate the bomb, but this was always a matrimonial sandcastle built right next to high tide.

Besides, Fi has more pressing issues on her mind: such as the show’s only comedic quality this week. And yes, it is rare that a 13-year-old getting busted for heroin is considered funny, but hey, it’s Shameless.

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I don’t know what makes “Uncle Carl” seem dumber: that he thinks Chucky is his niece instead of nephew or that he continues to take advice from Frank. I’m sure the drug-dealing racket has plenty of pressure, and Carl is displaying a healthy work ethic by jumping into his inevitable evocation early. But telling Frank that he is using Chucky as his mule is well, a very Carl thing to do. Just as Frank calling in a drug bust on his grandson to spite Sammi is a very Frank thing to do.

From Frank acting like a battered wife by his daughter’s side at the hospital clinic to Sammi raining hellfire down on Carl in the aftermath, this is a subplot that recaptures some of the series’ earliest dysfunctional glee.

With all this said, there is absolutely no way that Sammi and Chucky should be staying in the Gallagher home. They honestly should have been on the street last week after Lip saw Sammi pull a gun on Frank. I realize that his first priority is to make sure he goes to school, but his next should be to stop a clearly deranged woman, who is unafraid to shoot her dad in cold blood, from watching his siblings. Fi screwed up once with cocaine, Sammi is a ticking time bomb for every evening dinner.

But now what should really set it over the edge is that this week, Sammi called the cops on Carl. Granted, Carl got her son pinched with heroin, but none of the other Gallaghers even like Chucky. With Gus on the road, Fiona is coming back as den mother and her first priority should likely be evicting Sammi faster than you can say Sheila Jackson. And quite frankly, it should be fun having a lighter storyline curtailing us into the final third of season five with Fiona versus Sammi, because things have gotten dark as of late (though that has not been a bad thing). These kind of dysfunctional family squabbles is what made the first two seasons of Shameless so enjoyable. Well, maybe not for Fi, but let’s just say that next week the knives best be out.

As for now, it was a solid hour where Carl’s obliviousness put it over the top for me, which is rare. Here’s hoping that he took his siblings’ advice about saying nothing. Then again, he could just tell the fuzz the truth about his situation: “Gallaghers.”

Most Shameless Quotes of the Week:

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“Fatherhood comes with responsibilities that involve more than shooting sperm in a V-hole.” – Sammi

“I’m coming down off some heavy lithium right now. But maybe in an hour or two [I can move the pool].” – Ian

“I want a fucking lawyer, motherfucker.” – Carl



4 out of 5