At its best, Shameless is equally poetic, disgusting, karmic, and unsettling. If you can accept that its swampy foundation of dark satire will always be woven through with threads of bubblegum and psychedelic tragedy, it can also be delightful. Hilarious, even.
This week's shudder-inducing episode is Shameless at its very best, satisfyingly in sync with the ways the Gallaghers' daily routines run in and out of one another, from Queenie's organic breakfast on the South Side, to Lip's morning erectile dysfunction at Chicago Polytechnic, or Frank's newly minted cornrows, to Carl's disavowal of drug running. It's still difficult to tell what the season is building toward, but in the meantime, it's certainly entertaining.
Frank and Queenie
While continuing on their own Southside honeymoon, Frank and Queenie have rejiggered Gallagher Central to run on quinoa and kale. Between the yucca-fry cooking and icky Renaissance fair role-playing, the two insist upon espousing wisdom to their youngers, the results of which will likely end in a hot mess of tears, semen, and flaxseed oil.
Frank, perpetually in need of cash, advises Carl to remain in the game, but while Carl "gets his head on straight," Frank decides to take on his daily rounds. In an attempt to fit in, he dons cornrows and acquires a "big, scary black man" sidekick to lurk over his victims as he robs them blind. And so, all racial stereotypes are reinforced with a montage of Frank and his black henchman pillaging neighborhood cash registers as well as a fat package of cocaine, which they end up cutting with baby laxatives before the assigned drop in Indiana. The whole sequence toes a line of self-awareness with Gareth (a.k.a. big, scary black guy) noting every time Frank references a black stereotype, and resentfully addressing him as "cracker." This oh-so-typical Frank exchange treats the South Side's racial divide in the most basic way possible, finding union in a joyous barbershop coke bender. As usual, Frank has burned all bridges by the conclusion.
The good news is that, though Frank just snorted a few grams, he's seemingly dry. For what it's worth, he probably smells better, which somehow makes the idea of his sex scenes more tolerable.
Though Lip isn't the focal point of the episode — that'd be Carl's domain — his scenes are the most unnerving, as well as the source of the episode's jarring title. Still in the throes of breakup depression, Lip's melancholy has manifested in his manhood. He simply can't get it up unless he's staring at a picture of Helene's breasts. And because he has an entire sorority at his sexual disposal, he's understandably troubled, so he heads home to Chez Gallagher for an evening of R&R. There, he meets his sort-of grandma, Queenie, who cannot help but remark upon his striking similarity to a young Frank. Clearly smitten, she offers the skeptical physics major a foot rub to prove reflexology's benefits. In a weird, semi-incestual turn, Queenie discovers a blockage in the foot pad that corresponds to his sex organ, and works it out with a pressure-point-induced orgasm. Smug with holistic triumph, she traipses off as if she hadn't just made her step-grandson come in his pants. And because this is Shameless, the moment will probably never again be addressed, but surely Queenie will wink at Lip across the dinner table for years to come.
Needless to say, Lip's impotence dissipates, and he's onto a foursome quicker than you can say "WTF."
This season is all about the Gallaghers' prodigal son, who is struggling with the discovery that he cannot un-see the things he's seen or un-know the knowledge he's gained. Quietly devastated over Nick's crime and departure, Carl has begun to retract himself from the thug life, but he realizes it's not as simple as taking a knee. A pistol whip from a superior gang member brings that reality into sharp relief, and Carl goes to V for a few stitches and some straight-up advice. Their exchange is unusual, and something I'd like to see more of. V is tough but compassionate, and should be given more opportunities to interact in substantial ways.
Post-V, Carl snaps to and fortifies the house in anticipation of blowback. When Fiona realizes what's going on, she probes Carl's fissures and allows him to break down, subtly, in her arms. Because these two rarely interact, especially on an emotional level, this entire scene is liberating. Then, lending a bit of levity to his rare display of vulnerability, Carl gets a scene with Sean, who gallantly turns over his clothes and car in order to free him of his indenture. I can see Sean taking on a badly needed father-figure role, especially if he follows through on hiring Carl as a dishwasher at the diner. (Though, when Will finds a gun — see below — it may compromise any closeness these two were developing.)
Though I do believe Carl will stay away from the game, I have a hard time imagining the game will stay away from him. Likewise, I doubt he'll continue to lay his emotions bare for Fiona, especially after she confiscates his collection of guns and tears out his cornrows. Speaking of which, it's strange to watch Ethan Cutkosky grow into his jaw and sideburns, especially within context of his faux-hood identity. I'm interested to see what Carl's personal taste will look and feel like.
Fiona and Sean
This story line is a slow burn, and it's mostly informed by Carl's influence on Sean's son, Will. In an attempt to draw Will out of his simmering distaste for her domestic relocation, Fiona makes herself vulnerable with some weird, semi-inappropriate attempts to relate over lunch. It all ends in disaster as Sean finds Will posing with a gun that he picked up from the Gallagher household, echoing Fiona's coke incident with Liam in season three. Though she's the family's most consistent mother figure, she's still not able to fully inhabit the role. This is not necessarily Fiona's fault, but I would like to see her examine her identity — mother, big sister, TBD-vocation — without a man looming to shape those definitions.
Deep into it with fireman Caleb, Ian has rediscovered the pleasure of having purpose in his life. He's studying to be an EMT, attending gay brunches with Caleb's friends (and ex), putting down his fists when someone snubs him for being gay, and staying off the booze. In a pillow-talk moment, Ian reveals that he is bipolar while Caleb admits he is HIV-positive. Both are so relieved the other is just as flawed that they get down to business without so much as blinking an eye. However, Caleb does insist that Ian get tested — he'd never considered it before — the results for which could be a complication in the perpetually downtrodden Ian's bliss. I hope this isn't the case, but it seems like whenever Ian begins to find happiness, some dark twist finds its way into his life.
Living fully under the Gallagher roof once again, Debbie's gotten her cute, independent-woman groove back. While solo-shopping for baby things, she runs into an overly interested creeper who jumps at the opportunity to take her to lunch, resulting in a weird belly-kissing scene when he drops her at her doorstep. She knows it's strange, but can't help feeling flattered and accepts a date for the next evening. But — cue up the record scratch — she catches him at Lamaze with another woman, forcing him to admit that he's a maiesiophile (a.k.a. he has a pregnancy fetish). Debbie will not stand for it. She stomps out of the class, seemingly fed up with the world's weirdos somehow sniffing her out like catnip. I hope she takes this interaction to heart and stonewalls any other crazies who attempt to leech on that sweet Debbie goodness.
- The thing I'm most looking forward to in the next episode? Seeing Carl without cornrows.
- I want to see Carl and Lip interact. Or Carl and Ian. I feel like he could use some serious older brother bonding, especially once he's shed his gangbanger identity.
- It was difficult to tell if the dialogue between Debbie and Mr. Maiesiophile was terrible or just terribly awkward. I hope this guy never sees another minute on Shameless. He made my skin crawl.
- I often wonder how William H. Macy does it. What must he think of Frank? What must he think of those cornrows? How does he get into character? What's his workout routine? So many questions.