If I didn’t know any better, Shameless peaked quite a long time ago – about around the end of season four, to be exact. For a series just now approaching its seventh season, it’s gotten much too comfortable with the basic traits of its central cast, allowing the Gallagher clan to fall down, pick themselves up and repeat over and over again – all without much in the way of tangible character development. It’s a sad reality because, at the conclusion of season four, we saw this family gear up and strive for great change in their lives; it just never materialized at all these last couple of years.
“Hiraeth” finds the new season at just about the same place every other season has started at, and for better or worse that very tone is what sets up Shameless‘s latest tabling of episodes. As expected, we see the Gallaghers moving on with what they have (Debbie and her baby, Franny; Carl’s latest relationship with Dominique; Ian and his own relationship with Caleb) and what they have lost (Fiona after her wedding fiasco; Lip after his ordeal with Helene, Frank after being Frank for another season). And as expected, we spend the entire hour catching up with where they’re at, with the results varying on the show’s ability to expunge compelling story arcs for upcoming installments, and the average viewer’s remaining interest in the characters themselves.
Where this premiere episode succeeds is in giving us a whiff of what keeping the promise this series made three years ago looks like in practice: that great change season four’s conclusion hinted at. Lip’s experiencing his change through rehab, and the habits he’s picked up since returning home leave his future as a pertinent topic of discussion. Like last season, his excess drinking and screwing around left many (myself included) with the impression that he is heading down the same road as Frank, and despite moderating his alcohol intake with rehab chips and physically testing himself on the street, he’s still micro-managing in the same sort of ways his dirtbag father did not so long ago. Lip’s post-rehab plan is obviously going to spiral out of control, but the significance of that potentially colossal forest fire is ever-present. On top of that, his unusually calm demeanor and eagerness to make a living without a college education speaks to the years of settling for less that he’s been content with; an especially sad truth that the character has expressed since the show’s very first episode. With all this put into consideration, is it truly possible for Lip to find true happiness for the rest of his life? He seems certain of it, but all we see as viewers is pure regression: the already planted seeds growing modestly into something far less than expected.
Fiona’s change revolves squarely around independence, and it’ll be very interesting to see just how long she could go about her business without the influence of sex or intimate relationships with men. Like Lip (somewhat), I’m both very glad and very heartbroken to see her settle for the cards she’s recently been dealt with. As much as she hates managing the diner in the wake of Sean’s falling out, she lacks the experience or the knowledge to appeal for either a better position or a wage that’s higher than an extra dollar an hour. Fiona prefers to return to setting up tables and serving the customers, but doesn’t think to consider how that would only stump her career path even more than it has been. Even still, I like her new “warrior” mentality, if only because it could make her more focused on achieving her own happiness going forward. It would have been nice to have gotten a clearer understanding of what kind of hold she has on the house and the rest of the Gallaghers, however.
Debbie and Carl’s respective story arcs are already off to better starts this season than they were a year ago, and there’s a fair bit of social commentary to collect from them as well. Debbie’s illegal money-making activities and spending habits vividly remind us of the expansive intelligence she has that was missing throughout most of season six, while also poking fun at the recklessness in decision-making that comes with underaged individuals who carry large sums of money (or, in this case, credit cards) in hostile living environments. Of all the Gallaghers, Debbie is definitely making the most of her new lifestyle – but that’s mostly because she’s literally profiting off of it. Carl, on the other hand, is blinded by love – and instant gratification, and he’s making the least out of his new lifestyle by needlessly investing in his sex drive. (The social commentary here is firmer and more necessary, since plenty of minors in this day and age are more susceptible to – and aware of – the vices of lust and intimacy than those of previous generations.) It appears as though Carl still has plenty to learn about growing up, but what I like so much about his situation here is that it’s a way more plausible storyline for him than his drug/gangster phase from last season; Carl’s social background shamelessly invites and promotes sex, and he’s at a stage in his life where he should be overly curious about his body.
Ian’s suspicions over Caleb and Frank’s return from the dead mark the low points of “Hiraeth”, as both storylines might as well live and die on a different show entirely. Ian has been done such a terrible disservice since Mickey was written off that any indication of a future breakup with his new boyfriend would be a victory for fans of the character – so, in a sense, Caleb cheating on him (with a woman, no less) might lead to better things for him later on in the season. Unfortunately, this is probably going to drag for a few more episodes; just like Frank barging back into his children’s lives. I think it’s amusing how every Gallagher (including little Liam!) walks over him and pays him no mind at all, but that’s just about the most enjoyment I collect out of his presence nowadays. I honestly wished the show would’ve let him drown in that ocean of water they dumped him in last season.
Here are some extra notes from this week’s season premiere:
- Don’t think for a second that I forgot about the “throuple” of Kev, Veronica, and Svetlana. I still love how insanely efficient their joint marriage is, on top of Kev’s heightened enthusiasm (“Family Meeting? What, is that what we’re calling sex now?”). It’s also no surprise that Svetlana opened Kev and V’s eyes to the long list financial shortcomings they’ve accrued over the years.
- Things we need to see more of: dialogue between Lip and Fiona, Fiona throwing Frank out of the house, and Kev complaining about breastfeeding the babies.
- Professor Youens is a class act for staying by Lip’s side through thick and thin, and I continue to enjoy their father/son dynamic. It’s heartbreaking, though, that Lip still views him as nothing more than an enabler of jobs.
- Fiona fixing Debbie’s room just to leave it the same way she saw it is one of my proudest moments as a longtime fan of this series. I love that it reassures us of how much Fiona still remains in disgust over Debbie going through with the pregnancy.
More setup than anything else, “Hiraeth” is a promising start to Shameless‘s seventh season, as we see the Gallaghers be more like themselves for the first time in quite a while. It’s also a refreshing look into the future of this family, with everyone branching out into different paths that are thematically tied in ways that speak more to who they are as individuals, and less to what the writers want them to become. This absolutely needs to be the year that the change these Gallaghers yearn for come into fruition, and for the moment Shamless‘s heart (and direction) is firmly in the right place.
+ Lip post-rehab
+ Fiona post-men
+ Debbie and Carl given much stronger, true-to-character material
– Frank just existing at this point
– Ian/Caleb story arc