Ah, finally, Carl. At the edges of the show so far, microwaving goldfish, drinking beer, locking his sister in the basement, he’s been a Dennis the Menace by way of Ted Bundy. The inarguably most pathological of the Gallagher children gets his own episode as his teachers send him home with a letter. It seems a legal guardian must show his or her face to prevent “sociopath” from showing up on Carl’s permanent record.
But, wouldn’t that just be fair warning? The family seems to shake off Carl’s behavior a bit too much. Perhaps because Carl is so self-contained in his chaos — he only kills the animals when no one else needs the microwave? — unlike Debbie, who hauls in a cast of characters to her crazy. But, this week, they can overlook it no longer.
The school letter kicks Fiona’s lion-with-her-cubs act into high gear, and by the end of the episode she and every other Gallagher will end up in school, for one reason or another. But Carl’s the initial impetus: It seems he enjoys slamming locker doors, repeatedly and ferociously, on the limbs of his classmates. But the Chicago school bureaucracy doesn’t really take notice until his autobiographical school art project (a papier-mâché pile of dung, shades of Chris Ofili) is deemed offensive. What’s hysterical is that in half the private schools in Manhattan, this would get him credited with being multilayered, if not eligible for Bravo’s Work of Art.
Fiona shows up at the school, midway between her new routine of giddy sex with Steve and paying the electricity bill late owing to the sensual distraction. But batting her eyes doesn’t work with the school officials, who insist a legal guardian must show up. This sets off a mad scramble for some adult to play one. (Bring back Aunt Ginger.) She can’t count on Frank, of course. In twenty years he’s never done the parent-teacher thing, and he’s proud of it, dismissing the school system as filled with "pangendered hermaphrodites who want to turn us in to a generation of yogurt-eaters." Frank’s rants against school this week are a highlight, as he explains what’s really going on at parent-teacher conferences: “They want you to validate them for the bad life choices they made as educators.”
Lip, too, is spending a lot of time behind wooden desks, as his SAT-stand-in business hits its seasonal peak. He’s also selling book reports, with a faultless strategy: Regardless of the book, he argues the main character’s a latent homosexual. Since most English teachers are gay, he says, they go for it, and the straight ones are too politically correct to risk arguing with the thesis.
If this didn’t already clearly establish to us that Lip is a genius, it seems his SAT scores do. ETS has sent someone to investigate the local testing sites. The University of Chicago professorial type who routs him out is sure he’s doing it by cheating. So he administers a new test to Lip and it's perfect — save for an ambiguous question he corrects. There’s an implication, as the impressed prof invites Lip to come see him, that something good might actually be happening to a Gallagher for once.
Not so for Ian, who’s helping Kash hide from Linda not only their affair but the amount of theft going on in the store. (Kash, whether through common sense or cowardice, was beaten once by the thief’s dad and now prefers to let the Gatorade go.) She hauls them both out to an empty lot for shooting practice and there’s a hint, in next week’s coming attractions, that she’s about to see Ian is more than just an employee of her husband’s.
And, Frank, well, Frank is running from two nasty guys he owes several thousand dollars to after an insurance fraud scam gone awry, but in all other respects has settled in nicely at Sheila’s, where she’s now offering oral sex and fresh baked goods, while Karen is calling him “Daddy Frank.” Using a menu of motivators, the two talk him into attending Karen’s parent-teacher conference.
So, all of the above (save housebound housefrau Sheila, who’s now trying virtual reality headgear to get up her courage to open the front door) eventually end up at school. Fiona seeks to present a thriving family unit — all the kids in clean shirts — to the principal, but fails miserably. With weary and insightful expertise, he suggests that the sooner Carl is in some sort of prison, the safer the world will be, predicting otherwise he’ll end up in a clock tower with a sniper rifle. Steve shows up and basically offers to marry Fiona and adopt Carl but nothing works until, noticing the Grateful Dead totem on the principal’s desk, he privately swaps him Grade-A weed at “a teacher’s discount.” (Steve keeps saving the day, doesn’t he? So how come we can’t shake the edge of “creep.”) The clan leaves happily until they spot Frank, suited up and meeting with Karen’s teachers. It’s a heartbreaking, deflating moment. The two halves of the show meet successfully, here, but most of the time Macy seems to be in a comedy, and the others, a tragedy.
Back home, Fiona et al. make Carl promise to try to be a nicer little boy. Seconds later, though, a beefy school-athlete client of Lip’s bursts in. Furious that his test score is being invalidated, he dangles Lip from a window, threatening worse. Carl grabs the bat and, even after Lip is out of danger, opts to crack it into the boy’s leg.
In a weird copy of the Old El Paso taco shells commercial, the crowd lifts Carl on their shoulders and jostles him in the air, delightedly. Talk about positive reinforcement.
We’re with the principal.