Well, it’s official: The Gallaghers are moving on from their original living quarters. After over a couple dozen years of rambunctious parties, unusual family gatherings, physical encounters between siblings and nonexistent leadership from the former clan heads, the place they used to call home is no longer theirs. With the auction war going for naught, and the bank practically “shoo-ing” them out onto the streets along with their furniture, the Gallaghers find themselves facing a reality they never thought they’d succumb to – and also one they’re not truly prepared for.
“Refugees” highlights the weight of this shocking new life twist in one of the most emotionally touching scenes Shameless has ever constructed. Fiona and Lip are sitting on the front porch, conversing over the best response to their current situation. Lip basically advises that Fiona accept the cards she’s been dealt with this family, especially when he suggests she let Debbie go run off on her own accord. Fiona feels bad enough to have indirectly put any form of burden on her brother’s load, so she insists that he stay focused on schooling over comforting to the family’s needs – whatever those needs may be. Then Fiona takes a minute to breath in the memories the house helped put together since the day the Gallaghers first moved in.
Contextually, this moment in the episode goes a long way towards capturing both the immersion and the captivating feeling of realism needed for these particular scenes to stand out. The talk between the siblings is predictably grounded, which allows both Fiona and Lip’s take on the eviction feel true to their respective growths in character – while also providing a proper sense of closure in some ways and worry in others. It’s also just a great talk, and a lot of that is aided by the natural relationship these two have formed over the years.
When Fiona gazes around the living room one last time, it becomes very hard for longtime viewers not to catch some modicum of feelings. The smashed walls, the height measurement markings, various forms of depreciation, and the slightly faded shot of the kitchen all speak to the innocence, evolution, and nostalgia the Gallaghers have and now carry with them. But Fiona’s expressions are what truly elevate this scene. The fighting of tears when she sees that there’s no height measurement on the corner of the wall for her is among the saddest facial acknowledgements in the series yet. But in a deeper sense, it also does an excellent job revealing that Fiona never got a chance to watch herself grow up because her parents’ lack of supervision never allowed her to be a kid the way Debbie and Carl were blessed enough to. In addition: by not shrouding this scene with flashbacks, we can take our own look back on the Gallagher’s history in the household (or at least what we all remember from those moments within the previous five seasons), and that makes seeing the house emptied like it was a vision similar to witnessing a great character lying dead right in front of us.
Assuredly, this new outlook for Shameless suggests that the Gallaghers will indeed be fending for themselves individually, as opposed to holding on together as a unit. Like I said a week ago, the show has to readily convince us that this is a move it could handle, especially since it’s biggest strength has always been its family dynamic. This matter of concern is where “Refugees” struggles. With everyone out on their own separate endeavors, Shameless constantly feels like it’s trying to cater to a bunch of varied, mostly uninterested audiences. Carl’s venture with Nick in pursuit of an apartment fails to land any real laughs, and that brilliant rapport from a week ago is put on the wayside just for Carl to go off on a cringe-worthy display of hood talk. I’ve been bothered by this approach to the character ever since its inception, and this week was the epitome of all my annoyances towards this shift in personality. At least Veronica made him realize how much of an ignorant fool he looks – and sounds – like nowadays.
Debbie and Frank’s new living situation gained some traction by fleshing out Tyler’s wife and molding an unexpected sexual tension between her and Frank, but this is still largely a subplot that needs to die quickly. The way Frank keeps pimping Debbie out for his own advances has depleted any potential his arc may have had when he started interfering a few weeks back, and Debbie’s apparent lust for Tyler is too awkward (and familiar) to criticize positively in any light. I also can’t shake off the parameters of this whole charade. I know last week laid it out on the table already, but we’re watching two individuals try to take advantage of a frustrated man while his wife is willingly dying from cancer. It’s a thought that races in the back of my mind and restrains me from enjoying this at all. And sure, we did find out that Tyler’s wife is tired of fighting and prepared to bite the dust, but what kind of message does that leave cancer-stricken individuals in real life, let alone those who watch Shameless?
Ian’s sudden affection for Caleb is becoming an insult to those who rooted for him and Mickey to work out. Not only is Shameless working off the same beats as it was with them (that fight during the baseball game rings bells all over the place), but Caleb himself is so shallowly developed he only comes off as a cleaner, more mature version of Mickey. Even worse is how Ian couldn’t decipher exactly what Caleb wants out of their engagements, even though Mickey blatantly offered to and frequently did take him out on dates himself last season. I’m also now questioning Ian’s mental state, as he’s been keener than he was at the end of last season yet I can’t remember the last time he took any of his subscription pills. I’m no expert in how bipolar disorder is treated so I can’t draw too many assumptions on my own – but it sure as hell seems like Ian’s just magically gotten a bit more sane lately.
The Lip stuff over at school was so, so poorly written this week. As much as he deserved the public humiliation he received from Amanda leaking his naked photo of Helene, the before, during and after of it all is steeped in ridiculous, unrealistic bullshit. Why wouldn’t Lip take his phone with him to the shower when Amanda was alone in his dorm snapping pictures? (and so what if he had a passcode – Amanda dated him long enough to have had access to it.) There’s also no real shot all those students got Helene’s photo that fast, unless Amanda hacked the school’s social media outlets or something. It’s amazing how quickly Lip just shrugged it off with Youens, too – apparently, grabbing some drinks is the universal cure to finding out an entire college campus including faculty knows you’re having an affair with one of its professors.
On top of everything else: Didn’t Helene call off her interactions with Lip last week? And now she’s just fucking him silly like nothing’s happened? On a lesser related topic: am I the only one who remembers when she half-jokingly suggested he’d kill Theo so that they’d be together? Is the show doing anything with that, or was that just a tease? This whole ordeal is turning into such a hot mess right now.
Here are a few more things I’d like to touch on before I conclude:
- Besides some mutual disagreement at the start of the episode, Fiona had no trouble at all moving in with Sean this week, which is sad because that probably means his troubled past where he killed a man while high will be swept right under the rug without becoming so much as an ice breaker.
- Svetlana’s speech to Fiona about social status was just perfect, and it’s pretty amazing how blunt and honest it was. People may have forgotten that Svetlana takes on all those handjobs and dirty side gigs mostly because she has a kid of her own who needs to be taken care of.
- Chuckie has served absolutely no purpose since returning from prison, and I’m beginning to wonder if he ever will. And what was the show’s intentions for having him unknowingly walk back to the old house after the Gallaghers rid of all their stuff? I hope it wasn’t humor.
- Lastly: Quick shout out to Veronica this week. She’s come quite a ways since she gave birth to her little girls, and I loved the assertiveness she displayed at times. She’ll be a great mother figure for those delinquent, civil war refugees – especially that little girl who pretended to be one of the boys.
“Refugees” is an occasionally powerful, sporadically inconsequential, and consistently frustrating episode of Shameless. It takes a stab at life with the Gallaghers officially divided, and ultimately fails to prove that the series is ready to flip the script this drastically. There also seems to be too many separate subplots being worked in at once, which is alarming because none of them are particularly well-written at this juncture. This week’s installment still had its moments, but not enough to cloud my suspicions that this season – and this series – may be facing serious decline.
+ Fiona’s goodbye to the house
+ Veronica flexing her motherly muscles a bit
– Debbie/Frank stuff, again
– Caleb’s just a more mature version of Mickey
– Amanda’s revenge very poorly written
– Lip and Helene affair needs to go