Shameless Season Premiere Recap: Carl Gets Cornrows

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Cameron Monaghan as Ian, Ethan Cutkosky as Carl, Brandon/Brenden Sims as Liam, William H. Macy as Frank. Photo: Cliff Lipson
Shameless
Show
Shameless
Episode Title
I Only Miss Her When I'm Breathing
Season
6
Episode
1
Editor’s Rating
4/5

Watching Shameless often feels like sitting in the crowd while an amateur magician saws his pretty assistant in half. It requires two things: A suspension of disbelief, and a nuanced understanding of the forces that rule the Gallagher clan's turbulent South Side universe.

The strongest of those forces is usually Murphy's Law, which is doled out in roiling portions — in season four's "There's the Rub," for example, baby Liam gets into Fiona's coke stash, which sends him to ICU and Fiona to the big house. Sometimes, however, the chaos is served in relatively manageable nibbles. I'm thinking of the season five finale, "Love Songs (in the Key of Gallagher)" in which Debbie pees on a stick, Carl enters juvenile detention, Lip screws his professor, Fiona vacillates between lovers, and Ian refuses to take his lithium. And lest we forget, Frank's emotional young lover Bianca commits suicide to extinguish her battle with cancer.

At the open of season six, the anxiety wrapped around Debbie and Carl has been realized into our worst fears, yet it's somehow still dampered by reality. Debbie is pregnant. Carl, now 14, has just spent a year in juvenile for drug trafficking. Of course, there are other things going on "I Only Miss Her When I'm Breathing" — which we'll get to soon — but the most interesting plotlines converge in the Gallagher teens' struggles to leap directly from childhood to adulthood. In both Debbie and Carl's cases, adolescence truly is a construct they have chosen to forgo.

Debbie

Since her multi-season run as the Gallaghers' most compassionate and endearing character, Debbie has grown caustic. She is a teenager with a burgeoning baby bump, but it still feels like she's playing dress up with Wet & Wild lipstick. Perpetually swimming amid the wake of family drama, Debbie has always desperately longed for something to care for, a piece of the crazy universe she can call her own. Though I never saw Debbie skyrocketing to college like Lip, or falling madly (mutually) in love like Ian, I didn't imagine that she would slide into irrational mediocrity so quickly.

Shameless never has a problem with driving action when it's  needed, but Debbie's downfall seems hasty and strange, especially when her boyfriend Derek is shipped out to Florida and Debbie adamantly refuses Fiona's guidance. I'm interested to see whether she'll come to her senses or if her pregnancy will go awry. I have a difficult time imagining Debbie becoming a mother, but then again, I had a difficult time imagining Debbie craving such strange chaos.

Carl

The most disturbing set-up for season six arrives with Carl's reintroduction to the free world. He's a mere 14 years old, yet his "White Carl" swagger is that of a full-grown gangster, rendered even scarier by the fact that he's less a caricature than an embodiment of the culture he embraced in juvie. The episode shirks any detail about his experiences behind bars, barely glancing at his inferred rivalry with the swastika-emblazoned Chuckie. But even if Shameless refuses to look at Carl's year in jail, its weight is clear when see how Fiona reacts upon his arrival home.

In a subtly wrenching scene played between Emmy Rossum and Ethan Cutkosky, it's clear that Carl has fully shed his baby-bully status and is now a full-blown sociopath. (I want to believe Carl is simply ambivalent by nature of his upbringing, but his determination to march toward the dark side leads me to believe otherwise.) The realization that he has settled into his darkness, complete with cornrows and an N-word peppered vernacular, hits Fiona right in the gut, and she restrains herself to keep moving forward.

Also: Shameless has jettisoned several characters (Sheila, Sammi, Bianca, Gus, Steve/Jimmy/Jack), but Carl's large black friend seems primed as a point of conflict at Chez Gallagher.

Fiona

I guess Fiona did away with the adorable Gus? Though Sean seems like a nice enough guy and he really wants to see Fiona do well — just like all of her oddly tolerant men — he's a bit vanilla. Maybe that's what Fiona needs, considering the only charismatic guy she dabbled with (Robbie) left her sloshed at a gas station in Sheboygan. However, Sean has a checkered past with addiction, and if those issues ever reappear, I suspect Fiona won't be able to resist wanting to fix him.

After five seasons of blasé boyfriends, I just want Fiona to be partnered with someone equally dynamic and complex. Maybe the sixth season is the charm?

Lip

Teacher-candy since season one, Lip now garners the admiration of professorial types left and right. He amorously snaps photos of his professor, Helene, and then finger-bangs her to the tune of Neo-Marxist philosophy, which is both incredibly sexy and totally doomed to catastrophic failure. That failure arrives in the form of Lip punching Helene's son, who he assumes is another student lover.

We could see this coming from a mile away, yet the quickly-falling Lip is blinded by love. On the bright side, he's found a knack for teaching, encouraged by the tipsy Professor Youens, who stands in as a less heinous, much more brilliant Frank. Lip seems destined to continue his two-steps-back, one-step-forward dance, but sometimes I worry for him more than I worry for Fiona, Debbie, or Ian. His stakes — on paper, anyway — have only gotten higher.

Frank (ugh)

I don't want to address Frank, but I will. I can't quite comprehend why Bianca meant so much more to him than anyone else — perhaps her youth and purity was reminiscent of the daughters he lost long ago? — but her suicide seems to have hit him quite hard. He seeks comfort in a montage of religious figures, which felt insincere, thin, and cheap. (As all things Frank do.)

After his brush with death in season four, I hoped to see the depths of Frank's addiction portrayed in some meaningful way, but his character is endlessly disappointing. The plot point wherein Frank masturbates on Bianca's grave does not deserve the time it takes to type this sentence.

Shameful Observations

  • More Ian and Mickey, please. Their brief interaction at the prison is simutaneously painful, sweet, and disappointing. I root for their love story above all else, if only because it's responsible for some of the show's most genuine moments.
  • Helene wears Uggs as part of her college-girl-in-a-dorm disguise.
  • "I love you my little brown banana," Frank says to Liam.
  • The hipster scene at Alibi is painful, yet rang partially true to someone who can't afford rent in New York.
  • Frank wearing Bianca's clothes is actually funny. Much more so than the above-mentioned scene, which I'll not mention again.
  • Mickey gives himself a misspelled prison tattoo. ADORBS.
  • Why is Helene sleeping in Lip's dorm? It seems strange she would choose to shack up in an RA's twin bed. They could just as easily sleep at her house with her gladly cuckolded husband.
  • Kev is trying to raise Venus and Serena. I can't tell if I like this plotline or if it's totally distasteful; such is attempting to judge the world of Shameless using real-world perspective.