Frank Gallagher may be a drunk, but as far as the neighborhood and much of his family is concerned, he’s their drunk. We get an insight into this curious, perhaps misbegotten loyalty in an episode in which William H. Macy's Frank goes missing. He’s gone the morning after he has smacked son Ian in the nose, right after someone has similarly head-butted him, in an incident of trickle-down abuse. (Interestingly, it occurs to neither of them to wash the blood off their faces.)
Normally, the family wouldn’t care as much, or even notice, but he’s missing on the day he gets his disability check, a day he normally stalks the mailman in anticipation. So even his bartender knows something is wrong.
In a telling scene, every one of Frank's kids, plus the next-door neighbor, is in the Gallagher living room dialing hospitals, bars, and friends. It’s played for laughs, but it’s queasy-sad that the little girl, Debbie, is used to worrying about Pop and wondering if he’s ever going to come home. It’s even sadder when, in a grisly scene, they go to a park to roll over the body of a dead drunk and the kids are thrilled that it’s not Frank. Still, it’s clear they need the money more than the man.
Frank wakes up on a park bench in, of all places, Toronto. Macy is soon delivering a funny monologue on the various failures of our Northern neighbor nation to the Mountie who has pulled him into a cell to sleep it off. (Frank, a sports fan, is still bitter about Vancouver’s failure to light the Olympic torch.) It turns out that Fiona’s beau, Steve, in a well-meaning but incredibly manipulative move, has dumped Frank across the border in Canada on his way to delivering a stolen car. Fiona can’t abide this, especially as Frank’s disappearance has terrified Debbie, and Steve is bounced out of her life and bed (or, rather, bounced off the sink, since that seems to be their chosen place of hooking up). She orders him to get Frank back and he does, a little too swiftly to be believable, with a friend who has an RV with a smuggling compartment. A decent-size crowd awaits in front of the house, waving Canadian flags. He seems beloved, though we’re still confused as to why.
But Frank has figured out what happened: He knows it was Steve who dumped him across the border from the scent of his bad cologne. He tells Fiona, but she’s still madder at him than she is at Steve and orders him never to touch one of “her kids” again. (At 24, Emmy Rossum is a few years older than her character is supposed to be, which is a problem for the show; Fiona’s situation is sadder than even Rossum's skillfull, heartfelt performance can capture.)
With his dad home, Lip tries to talk some sense into him. Riding behind him on a bike he’s stolen just for the occasion, he explains to Frank about the economics of the household: The coupon-clipping Gallaghers spend $120 a week on food, while Frank spends $700 a month on booze. Frank sees nothing wrong with the math. Nonetheless, he does grok there is a need for more cash.
So, he’s off to gentleman-call on Joan Cusack’s character, who, according to her ex-husband, loves sex, cooking shows, and ripping off the government for disability benefits. That’s Frank’s kind of gal. Selfish to the core, he’s spent money on a bouquet of flowers. In a funny scene set in her neat-as-a-pin living room, his spoon clinks in a cup of tea loudly and plastic on the sofa creaks and he talks about how much he loves his kids. Cusack’s character, a bright-eyed ferocious rabbit of a woman, is nothing if not efficient, and he’s soon handcuffed to her bed, negotiating a safe word. (It’s “stop.”) She ignores it, but thoughtfully gives him Tylenol, a soft cushion for his bum, and a good meal of Bavarian pork chops afterward. The two of them are terrific together, both as characters and actors, and a hellish but apparently well-seasoned alliance is born.
Meanwhile, Steve tries to get back into Fiona’s good graces by pulling up with a van full of red roses. Since he’s a man of big gestures, his gift is the van, not the roses. She’s having none of it, none of being “saved” by him.
As the episode ends, one couple seems ended (for now) and another begun. Frank, now clearly ensconced in Joan Cusack’s home, sits down to a family meal with her horrified daughter. He’s found a new home.