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Shameless: “Milk of the Gods” Review *SPOILERS*

13 Jan
Shameless: “Milk of the Gods” Review *SPOILERS*

Last season, the two heads of the Gallagher household – father Frank and daughter Fiona – nearly traded their lives and their freedom away for a precariously wild ride of sex, lies, drugs, and debauchery. The brunt of their woes hung heavily on the rest of the Gallaghers, and drastically changed the complexion of the entire family. Yet somehow they made it through all the hardship, and wound up sticking together as a family (minus Frank, of course) even after the dust settled. Last night’s season premiere, “Milk of the Gods” was all about how those events changed the Gallaghers as a whole. More importantly, it demonstrated exactly why having Shameless back is one helluva relief.

While a lot changed last season, a lot as happened in the following months leading to this episode as well. Lip’s finished his first year of college; Carl’s yet to finish the sixth grade; Debby’s supposedly moved on from Matt and her old girlfriends (but don’t quote me on that Matt thing just yet, though); Ian’s still bipolar, and still has yet to see it; Fiona’s no longer a crazed drug addict; and Frank’s taking enough pills on a daily basis to clear off the shelves of any local CVS pharmaceutical. The only one who hasn’t gone through any significant changes is Liam. And for obvious reasons, that’s perfectly fine.

But again, “Milk of the Gods” filled us in on how this ensemble cast has transitioned from their prior situations. Due to a steady dose of over-the-counter medication, Frank is down to one beer a day, and is showing a shocking amount of care for both Shiela and her feelings. He’s not the same man who blatantly foulmouthed Jesus’s Lord and Savior after surviving his fatal lung disease last season. This Frank is more focused, more active, and apparently more criticizing of his children (note his jabs at Fiona at the diner over last season’s cocaine incident involving Liam). However, he’s still Frank, and it’s not like his decreasing alcohol tolerance is ever going to stop him from enjoying the devil’s nectar. It all makes it so appropriate that he would take advantage of his relatively more sober state to design a brand-new alcoholic beverage in the hopes that it leaves a legacy behind the life he has lived. Mixed with the oh-so desirable ingredients of wood chunks and bacon, Frank’s “Milk of the Gods” is as ambitious as it is terrible. Fermented in Shiela’s basement as a secret project, Frank seems willing to find a buyer before making it public. Ironically, Frank himself is the only one who can’t get enough of it. The final scene of “Milk” has him waking up butt naked from his test-drinking binge, as he appears to have returned to his old ways while others admire it as art. Is this the show’s way of (literally and figuratively) painting a picture for who Frank’s destined to be the rest of his life? Probably. He did hint that he only has but a handful of years left to live. His drink is meant to be a reminder of who he was. All the signs point to him staying the same, despite how much of a contrast sober Frank presented throughout the episode. All in all, it’s a fascinating new story arc, one fitting for someone who defied God and tested the limits of modern medical treatment not too long ago.

Fiona’s enjoying her new job at the diner, and is using her flirtatious demeanor to get glaringly generous tips. Suffice to say, she’s holding it down on her end for the first time in a while. But that doesn’t mean she won’t make things interesting anytime soon. Diner boss Sean Pierce (Dermot Mulroney) has caught her interests, and Fiona can’t wait for him to start reaching for her panties. This scenario should sound a bit familiar, considering the relationship Fiona found herself involved in with Mike a year ago. However, this episode portrays this one differently. First of all, Sean is not Mike: he won’t put up with any of Fiona’s in-house BS. When she neglected to bill the cherry pie offered to Carl, Sean did not hesitate to confront her (and I gotta say, he did quite a good job getting his message across). There’s definitely sexual tension here, though. I noticed it when they were fixing the pool at Fiona’s, and in a couple of instances at the diner. However, Sean has already made it very clear that he won’t allow her to take advantage. He’s the perfect guy for Fiona, specifically because he keeps her in check. He understands there’s baggage and the risk that comes with getting emotionally engaged with her, and refuses to let the wool go over his eyes. Mulroney could have just played it straight as the hot boss with an eye for his new waitress, but instead he runs with the script, especially when he’s calling out Fiona’s craftiness. Him and Emily Rossum also share an immediately engaging chemistry that’s more formidable than that of many others the series has displayed. So, just like Frank’s “Milk” scheme, I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this new dynamic plays out during the course of the season.

Last season was eye-opening for those who were curious about Ian, because all the signs that he had attributed Monica’s unpredictable behavior were present. In “Milk,” his actions confirmed that, like his mother, he’ll eventually need help. However, Ian’s confident that his depression swing in “Lazarus” was just a one-time thing, and his reluctance to see a doctor about it this week undoubtedly disturbs Fiona. This adds plenty more weight to the frequent sex lapses he experiences, as he doesn’t even realize that they are a direct effect of his bipolar disorder. Shameless continues to handle this situation wonderfully, and this little twist makes me that much more concerned for Ian if or when he does come to his senses.

To no one’s surprise, Mickey also remains reluctant to believe in the true nature of Ian’s condition. It may be silly trying to see the reasoning behind him keeping this problem in-house, but he’s convinced that there’s nothing to worry about. This is his way of caring for the one he loves, but sad as it is, Mickey’s ignorance is bound to hurt Ian in the long run. This week’s season premiere seems to be gearing us up for that.

Nonetheless, Mickey himself has come a long way from where we last saw him a season ago. He’s finally getting along with Svetlana and his rub-and-tug gals, and is using his usual tough-guy attitude to protect them. That first scene at the Milkovich household was very telling that regard. So was his late-night beatdown of the guy who supposedly abused one of his employees (Side-note: great job by Shameless showing Mickey talking to Fiona and Lip about Ian’s condition, batter his employee’s violent client to death, and then casually return to his conversation with them). Even though his means of acquiring money are still illegal, Mickey has established a healthy balance between caretaker and extortionist. He’s even become the man of the house, which is logical considering his newfound ability to provide and look out for his family (as well as the fact that his two brothers are insanely moronic). These were all the same great things about the British series’s interpretation of Mickey, and I’m glad that the American version decided to develop him the same way. Although I’m curious about where Mandy has gone, considering the fact that she was waitress-ing one of the local diners in last season’s finale. With nearly the entire cast being explored here, though, I can understand her being left out of this episode.

Lip’s return from college provided the exact kind of personal struggle I expected. He’s got a whole summer now to reflect on his relationship with Amanda, and the changed man we saw glimpses of when he was away from home. That train ride back home on the El almost felt like a guessing game, where both we the viewers and Lip himself were trying to figure out which person getting on or off would be the same person Lip will manage to become. Those old friends from across the street may have just been a mere plot device, but Lip ducking their insistence to raid the neighborhood and take drugs suggests that he’s grown out of the old days of voluntary delinquency. Lastly, his eagerness to find an honest job shows us that he truly wants to make an honest living. The question now is if he indeed has the ambition to use his smarts and grow out of the Southside lifestyle entirely.

Kev and Veronica haven’t fully figured out parenthood yet, and “Milk” makes a lot of fun out of that. From Veronica’s poor attempts at breast-feeding, to Kev’s use of online paternity chat rooms, there was plenty of great comic relief here, However, the episode reminds us how volatile it can be to their marriage. There appears to be a growing possibility that Veronica seeks to give up caring for the twin babies, as she worries about her sex life with Kev dwindling. On the other hand, Kev absolutely loves waking up to his newborns, and couldn’t imagine a life without them. You can’t help but wonder if the show aims to approach yet another dark avenue and turn their differences into an eventual divorce – or something similar. Either way, I’m happy the show has brought back this kind of conflict; their struggle to retain custody of Ethel in season one was perhaps their best story arc in the entire series.

I think Shameless made a mistake taking Runningtree’s children away from Sheila last season, and I’m not very pleased with the role it places her in now. Although her marriage to Frank creates the potential for some great material down the stretch, I’m not a big fan of her clash with Sammi (who technically moved in by parking her trailer in Sheila’s driveway) or how it’s being handled. Although Sammi has rightfully returned to her sloppily promiscuous ways, it’s kind of a weak excuse for it to just pop back up again simply because she’s begging for Frank to become a father figure in her life. Having it fuel her rivalry with Sheila is almost reason enough for the show to try something else with the character.

But going back to Sheila; I don’t get why we would get to watch her branch out over the years just so she could be given so little to do. She let Karen go, and had nothing and no one else to really care about. Her genuine love for Runningtree’s kids last season was heartwarming, and it once again gave her purpose. With all of that gone, I’m not confident Shameless will ever make Sheila a relevant character again. Something’s gotta give, or the writers should just let her go.

Adolescence is a topic Shameless should be excelling at, but “Milk” suggests that the writers remain timid to explore it. I get that Carl’s designated himself as a juvenile delinquent, but this episode fails to add anything to it. This kid is still a Gallagher, but you wouldn’t know it because after four full seasons now, nothing about him is special. It’s a real shame to see how underdeveloped Carl has become, and a real disappointment in my opinion – especially since he grew into an important member of the family in the British version of Shameless. Ditto for Debbie, who’s latest issue is keeping her friendships alive. This series has done such a fantastic job introducing and evolving the majority of its ensemble cast, so having it still fall short with these two valuable members of the Gallagher family is frustrating.

The Verdict:
There couldn’t have been a better time for Shameless to come back, and “Milk of the Gods” was a great place for the new season to start. The fallout from “Lazarus” was heavy, and this week’s episode wasted no time getting us up to speed on where it’s left everyone. It also set a lot in motion, like Frank’s “divine” beverage, to the timetable for Ian’s next depression phase. The lack of character development in some fronts continues to become a glaring problem, but season 5 has so much else going for it already, the “highs” of its season premiere easily crumple its “lows”.

Rating: 8.7
+ Frank’s “secret project”
+ Mulroney’s Sean is a fantastic new love interest for Fiona
+ Mickey’s evolution
+ Lip contemplating his future
– Carrying Shiela and Sammi’s rivalry over from last season was a poor decision
– Debbie and Carl still woefully underdeveloped

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