A single day with the Gallaghers can feel like a year. They exist in another screwed dimension, where deadbeat fathers feed on cancer patients’ grief, 14-year-old boys traffic in handguns, and sisters nearly a decade apart get pregnant simultaneously. Welcome back to the South Side, friends.
“#AbortionRules” revolves around Fiona and Debbie, who differ sharply on the issue of Debbie’s pregnancy and what should be done about it. It’s a storyline that actually braids the Gallaghers together in a way that we haven’t seen in a while, requiring their orbits to intersect after meandering apart for so many months.
It also reveals a lot about the ways each family member’s makes decisions. For instance, Ian. Ever-reactionary and annoyed with Fiona’s mothering — so much so that he quits Patsy’s Pies — Ian places himself in Debbie’s camp, but only because it suits him for the moment. Lip, trying to take the intellectually correct path, makes the trip back from college (and his totally bizarre student-professor tryst) to sway Debbie away from her future at Costco as an underpaid mother. Understandably, he wants what he’s gained for his baby sister. Frank is off on a grief-stricken adventure for the moment, but he’ll surely pop back into the frame soon, eager to somehow cash in on Debbie’s turmoil. And Carl … well, Carl is doing other things.
As usual, it is Fiona who leads the charge with tough love. After Fi declares her staunch opposition over breakfast, Debbie rebels. She dresses a sack of flour in a onesie, then forces grown men to give up their train seats for her “baby.” If she can force the rest of the world to comply with her tableau, she believes her desire to become a mother will be validated. Sadly, it’s all reminiscent of a scene from the first season, in which a still-innocent, nine-year-old Debbie swaddles a sack of potatoes and rolls it around in a stroller salvaged from some neighbor’s trash heap. Her earnestness has morphed into defiance and denial.
This episode is an extremely tragic one for Debbie. Though she can’t digest it, she’s presented with the possibility that her desire to give birth is not altruistic, but rather selfish and forceful. As we’ve seen before, Debbie’s isolation can lead her to bad decisions, which are often fueled by an obligation to fulfill social mores — sex, partying, pregnancy — instead of a true wish for the results. By having a child, Debbie believes that her status in the world will be elevated and her purpose in life will be more clear. Moreover, her views on sexuality are the strange, skewed inverse of usual teenage shenanigans. Sex is a means to an end, sure, but it’s an end that saddles her with responsibility and obligation.
Meanwhile, the oldest Gallagher child is dealing with the chaos of her own riotous little galaxy. In the course of 24 hours, she becomes assistant manager at Patsy’s, fires her brother, learns that she’s pregnant, tackles Debbie on the front lawn, and discovers that Sean had a heroin relapse. And somehow, she manages to have angry-yogic-sex twice. In short, she’s a high-functioning emotional wreck. She is certain, however, that she will not be having a baby.
It’s difficult to know what Fiona wants. This is probably because Fiona doesn’t know what she wants for herself, aside from wanting her family to be okay. The only time she went off the rails to explore her lost adolescence was disastrous, so her grip has grown tighter to keep the household as stable as possible — but it will never be stable. By choosing Sean, a recovering addict and her boss, she encourages the instability, leaving open a possibility for the other shoe to drop. As for Sean himself, I can’t quite figure out whether he’s in this for the long haul, or if he’ll become another disappointment along Fiona’s troubled way.
With a title like “#AbortionRules,” levity is necessary. And it arrives in an unexpected place: Carl, newly released into the wilds of the South Side, is actually shaping up to be a benevolent gangster. After fully appropriating a black identity, complete with his patricidal henchman Nick, Carl holds court in the school bathroom, selling guns to aid the causes he deems worthy. (Kid who wants to scare his jerk brother? No. Nerd terrified of school violence? YES.)
He’s also found a love interest in the standoffish, but very cute and curly Dominique, whom he’s deemed his “angel.” The humor in Carl’s situation comes not from his aping — that would be decidedly unfunny — but rather from the self-serious demeanor he adopted during that pivotal year when he figured out how to fit in, make allies, and survive the Chicago penal system. Left with any other actor, Carl’s role could easily dissolve into caricature, but Ethan Cutkosky’s thoughtful seriousness is truly odd work in the most interesting way.
Still operating within the gravitational pull of the Alibi Room and its irrational influence, Frank continues on his spiritual journey. And now, he’s following secondhand advice from a shaman: Burn Bianca’s things. This is a charming plotline, especially for a character like Frank, who is usually too wasted to see beyond his next drink.
Unfortunately, the charm is mostly ruined with his despicable endeavor to find a rebound cancer patient. Incredibly, this results in Frank’s inadvertently killing of a terminally-ill woman near the railroad tracks, whom he then leaves to rot. It’s all very morbid in a very unfun way.
- Kevin and Veronica’s noise issues with Yanis are relatively benign compared to heroin, double-pregnancy, student-teacher sex, and guns at school.
- That said, some of the most delightful moments in “#AbortionRules” happen when Kevin hits the porch in a leopard-print thong and that fabulous bathrobe.
- I’m perpetually worried about Ian. His storyline is simmering in the background. What happens when it hits a boiling point? I hope it’s less dramatic than the kidnapping and psych ward incident from last season.
- The funniest lines of the episode come when Carl tries to call out the teacher for kicking Nick out of class. Carl: “Because he’s black?” Teacher: “No, because he looks 35.” Carl: “He’s an old soul.”
- I hate the button-up Fiona now sports for work. That hatred may have something to do with the similarly drab shirt I used to wear when I worked in a restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was itchy and horrible. I feel for her.
- Sean and Fiona’s angry-sad sex scenes are the only thing convincing me that they have chemistry. I want to see this strange, volatile energy carry over into their daytime lives.