Episode three of Shamless‘s latest season is where the show finally figures out how to work its many new story arcs into something special – and all it took for us to get to this point was to have a few Gallaghers link together in various scenarios. Fiona’s feud with Debbie continued, Ian’s new job at Lip’s school gave them an opportunity to bond again, and Frank’s more accommodating look at life pulls him away from his own nonsense and into the family’s central issue at hand. All of these plots work around similar themes like change and acceptance, and the substance behind each one easily carries the episode past some eye-rolling frustrations.
For the second week in a row, the world continued to test Fiona to her emotional limits. By spilling her guts out to Debbie about her pregnancy, and taking the high road with her failed marriage with Gus, it almost seemed as though the Gallagher matriarch would finally be able to see some shade of sun amidst the flurry of bad news and emotional struggles. But then the exact opposite occurred, and in a matter of minutes in-between we saw Debbie labeling Fiona as a hypocrite (which I firmly predicted), and upon visiting one of his local gigs we heard Gus’s viscerally spiteful song “The F Word” proudly labeling her as a slut. So much about who she is and has grown up to be are highlighted in these terrifically judgmental instances. Despite appearing more distraught than ever before, Debbie’s absolutely right for calling out her older sister, in a reaction that sort of speaks to the type of irresponsible behavior Fiona has occasionally presented in years prior. Gus’s song defines the pain of blindly falling in love and seeing it wither away as abruptly as it did; the root cause of Fiona’s lack of mutual respect under intimate pretenses. In addition – he’s got a right to shit on Fiona here. He’s not the perfect guy, but he never did anything to deserve her walking out on him so selfishly.
It sucks to see Fiona have to put up with such callousness, but at the end of the day she deserves a whole lot of it. Who is she to go out and tell someone else what to do with their body when she herself is incapable of properly protecting her own? And how did she not expect even a smidgen of abhorrence from Gus, especially when she was really just popping up to give back his grandmother’s ring? Despite how easy or difficult it is to forgive Fiona’s recent decision-making, these scenes perfectly make an example of how badly she’s fucked up.
Amazingly enough, the best part about this half of “The F Word” (the episode, not the song), is how Fiona responds to all the hatred. She puts her foot down on aborting her baby (or, as Liam now sees it: “Getting some cells vacuumed out”), and threatens to condemn Debbie should she choose to have hers. The series’s latest season-defining kitchen moment happens here, with Emily Rossum and Emma Kenney absolutely perpetuating the animosity swirling around their respective characters’ points of view. It’s a scene I could watch ten times over and feel a million different ways about, because it completely opens these sisters up to the reality of their individual plights. Debbie now has a better idea of just how wrong this pregnancy is for her right now (thanks to Fiona pointing out how Frank is her main source of support). On the other hand, Fiona seems perfectly content with breaking off all ties with her younger sibling, refusing to allow her to make an example of teen pregnancy under her roof. This comes as a shock to me since Fiona’s practically been the mother of this rambunctious family, and considering the week she has had you would expect her to crack and accept the potential chaos coming around the corner; she has preserved through worse. It’s tough for one to put his or her foot down in this scenario, but it’s definitely the right move; all signs leading up to where we are suggests that Debbie will fail miserably as a mother right now.
Furthermore, this sternness shows how Fiona’s willing to bark back at animosity, and affirm her position at the head of the Gallagher household. The episode has her prove these traits in tons of different ways, whether it’s through her denouncing Debbie, or shutting down any opportunity for Sean to criticize her decision to have an abortion. She’s realizing how important it is to stand her ground and toughen up when it matters most, while at the same time facing the emotional consequences that come with this demeanor. There’s no easy answer for Fiona right now – there never is – but she doesn’t lead an easy life, and there’s still a family that depends on her steering the metaphorical ship from crashing asunder. She has to move on from her past mistakes, look out for her own well-being, and do what’s best for everyone as a whole. It would be difficult to conjure up these opinions without the level of depth Rossum brings to the table: her delicate balance of authoritative, moody (Fiona’s hormonal streak a fitting excuse for the varying emotions on tap this week), and defeated – those crying cues are just perfect – coming together to form one of the greatest individual efforts I’ve ever seen on television.
I was over the moon when I found out that Ian’s new job landed him on Lip’s college campus; the new development finally gives him an interesting story of his own. Their reunion at Lip’s dorm room was the most exciting instance of the season for me thus far, and I couldn’t help but circle back all the memories of them fucking shit up back at home. Unfortunately for these two brothers, things aren’t as simple as they were back then, and this week beautifully places them on opposite sides of the social spectrum. Ian’s current situation involving his education is brought to the forefront, as both his dropping out of high school and time spent in the military are both notably referenced. Lip’s evolution into a more mature, focused human being has been a welcome change the series has excelled at, and you can easily spot the disconnect between the two brothers as their circumstances have severed their relationship.
Even Ian’s bipolar behavior plays a part in all of this, as he misconceives Lip’s interactions with Joaquin and his denial to have him stay over for an extended period of time. I can’t blame Lip for not letting him get too comfortable; he’s been doing a whole lot better keeping his family at a distance, and the only way he can advance is if things stay that way. The problem – at least for Ian – is that Ian himself saw his new janitorial gig as an opportunity to relive the past with Lip, and that can’t happen if his older brother’s too busy trying to forge out an honest future. The little taste of the college life Lip shows Ian is the only time we get to see them bond like we were accustomed to seeing in the past – but, just like in the real world, you can only have so much fun before it’s back to reality. Lip sees this, which is why he rejects Ian’s insistence to live every day like a drunken frat party – Ian just assumes his older brother is simply patronizing him.
Having Ian’s current mental illness define the struggle between the brothers is an excellent choice because it gives us an idea of what Monica was like as a mother before she dipped and ran away – even worse is that we know, unlike his mother, he has the potential to succeed in life. Time will tell if Lip will ever forgive him for busting his lip (no pun intended, folks!) and bailing on the new line of work Professor Youens offered him, but even still Lip is concerned about where he’s headed because he’s seen Ian’s best days. Hopefully, that strange final scene where Ian rescues/gets rescued leads to a sort of wake-up call that keeps the juices in his story arc flowing.
I’m going to bookend the rest of this week’s proceedings by briefly noting them:
- I don’t like the Carl subplot at all, whatsoever. It’s totally devoid of laughs, and the fact that every teacher in his school was fine with him selling (simply because he could supply them with a weapon of their choice for self-defense purposes) is beyond implausible. However, I did find the scene where everyone draws their guns at lunch a bit amusing for some reason.
- Shameless is slowly ruining Debbie this season. Her contradictory behavior towards Fiona’s pregnancy scare came off far too cynical, and the crack she makes to that paraplegic in the bathroom is the most disgustingly ignorant thing I’ve seen this show pull off in a long time.
- Speaking of disgustingly ignorant: Why is the show stuffing this Yanis guy down our throats so bad? I hate how much time we had to spend watching Kevin maneuver around the truth that he was responsible for Yanis’s injury, and I just wished he’d told him so that I didn’t have to hear all of that ridiculous bigotry. I’m glad Veronica called him an asshole.
- Frank was thrust into the Fiona/Debbie quarrel, and…I was relatively pleased! He was really funny here, promoting “Inter-bortions” and passionately informing Debbie of the joys (Monica reluctantly experiences) of maternity and parenthood. He had a discernible impact on the main story arc this week, and despite how much of a scumbag he still is I like that he’s finally involved in situations I actually care about.
- This was a sad – very sad – episode of Shameless for one reason and one reason only: no Svetlana. She’s such an awesome supporting character, and the Alibi such a great forum of ridiculousness, that it’s impossible to ignore the omission of both.
“The F Word” doesn’t push the needle forward so much as it puts the Gallaghers’ lives into deeper perspective. Fiona and Lip’s story arcs were rightfully grounded this week, as we saw both of them come into terms with the plights of their younger counterparts, while Frank’s involvement in the “Great Gallagher pregnancy debate” opened Debbie’s eyes to the egregiousness of her recent actions. Thanks to some incredible material for Emmy Rossum, and a multi-faceted look at the differences between Lip and Ian, the episode soared with what it had to offer – getting the ball rolling for the rest of season six while providing a glimpse into a family that’s slowly falling apart.
+ Fiona’s whole shitty week
+ Lip/Ian material thought-provoking, moving
+ Frank budding into the family woes again
– Debbie’s becoming way too cynical, unlikable
– No more Yanis, please
– Everything about Carl’s subplot