The saying goes that living well is the best revenge, and I'd guess that for a television show, the best revenge is delivering a terrific episode right when people are starting to think things are going off track. "Can I Have A Mother" left me cold, and a little leery of the back half of Shameless season two, but it was an episode designed to take the story from point A to point B, the type of episode that divides an audience into those who find it a welcome scenic detour and those who find it a waste of time. Another bum episode would have really concerned me, but "A Bottle Of Jean Nate" was a major relief, and a knockout episode that made up for the flaws of last week's outing.
My issues with "Mother" stemmed from how awkwardly Steve and Nana Gallagher were reintroduced to the story. But of course, now that both characters are back in the picture, it's what the writers do with them that ultimately counts, and I like the direction things are headed. After feeling like last week's episode was an unwanted double dose of Gallagher grime, Peggy and Frank are in a different place, and it's making both characters work. Frank has never met a responsibility he couldn't shirk, but he's still a mama's boy, and Peggy is one of the very few obligations he can't manage to wriggle out of. Granted, Frank spends the entire episode trying to pawn Peggy off on anyone else who will have her, but he has more respect for Peggy than he does for anyone else, and that side of Frank is a welcome respite from his usual antics. Peggy, meanwhile, is continuing to vacillate between making up for her mistakes and making some new ones while she still has time. We knew Peggy was sick, but we didn't know quite how sick. She has advanced-stage pancreatic cancer, and her medical furlough from prison demonstrates just how dire the situation is: It isn't that Peggy Gallagher isn't a threat to the public; it's that she won't be for too much longer.
Peggy hasn't suddenly turned into a wonderful person since last episode, seeing as how she's endangering Carl by making him the Jesse to her Walt (though it's difficult to endanger Carl any more than he endangers himself). But now that the unpleasant business with Noah is concluded, Peggy's settling into her family role comfortably. She quickly diagnoses and treats the issue between Lip and Ian, an issue Fiona couldn't untangle in spite of knowing both boys better than Nana Gallagher ever will. It's a textbook case of sibling rivalry, she tells them. Fight it out, and they'll feel better. And just like that, the war brewing between the two elder Gallagher boys is laid to rest. There were enough little payoffs like that to make up for the execution of Peggy's return, particularly as Frank and Fiona teamed up to figure out how to get her out of their lives. What I love about the Frank and Fiona dynamic this year is that more often than not, Fiona is in a space of acceptance, rather than the constant state of (totally valid) resentment we saw in season one. Parents are who they are, and it's a relationship you opt out of to your own detriment, even if the parent is Frank or Peggy, and it was nice to watch Frank and Fiona work through that together. The storyline accomplishes the double feat of humanizing Frank and folding him back into the Gallagher family, such that he doesn't feel so detached from the show.
I'm still having trouble finding the silver lining around Steve, and the wrinkle of having him return with Estefania as his wife still feels like too much of a contrivance. The fact that Steve had lied about his true identity, even as he insisted that Fiona show him all of her warts, was enough of a speed bump to their reconciliation. It would give the Steve and Fiona saga real traction if this was the point at which we got some more background on Jimmy, his family situation, and how he started living his felonious double life. Apparently, that's a story the writers want to roll out more slowly, so instead, the complication for the relationship is Steve's convenience wife who doesn't speak a word of English. Steve tells Fiona he would leave Estefania to be with her, and she's totally grossed out about it. I'm not quite sure why the writers have given the audience all the permission in the world not to give a shit about the super-hot cipher Estefania, though: She's completely aloof, can't communicate for herself, and has absolutely no identity. In any event, Fiona is fed up with Steve's self-centeredness and delivers a crushing blow at the end of the episode. "I love you," he says. "Don't," she spits back. It was a great moment of strength for Fiona, but it would have resonated more powerfully had Steve been single, and Fiona's only consideration was her willingness to forgive his deception.
Steve did serve to begin to bring the Jasmine situation to a boil. I've been slow to warm to the Jasmine character, and the way she's written hasn't made it easy. But when Jasmine came onto Fiona at the yacht party, I was suddenly glad that the character had been so thinly sketched up to this point. What makes Jasmine grating is that we know she has some kind of ulterior motive for insinuating herself into Fiona's life, but no one ever just comes out and says what it is. Everyone is suspicious of her except for Fiona, and at some point I figured a reason for that would have emerged by now. However, in the excellently played scene on the boat, and when Jasmine berated Fiona when Fiona wouldn't let her crash with them, there was a really effective creepiness about it all, specifically because Jasmine is such a question mark. Her desperation and clinginess (and, y'know, the whole tongue in the ear thing) made Jasmine seem genuinely threatening, like a character who has plans to do more than just hang out and encourage Fiona to be wild and loose.
Now that I think about it, "Jean Nate" was chock full of breakups. Fiona's with Steve (sort of), Hal's with Jasmine, and Karen's with Jody. This outcome for the Karen and Jody relationship was telegraphed from the moment he appeared on screen, but it works because it’s easy to believe that Karen wouldn't think things could go sour. Karen is the pregnant neighborhood tramp, and when she meets strong-and-sensitive Jody, who wants her for more than just her body, she's awestruck that someone like him would be into her, she doesn't stop to think about whether she's into him. The honeymoon is over, so to speak, and now Jody is not the wonderful guy who agreed to accept damaged goods; he's the guy who has weeping orgasms after having sex while listening to "Kiss From a Rose." It seems like there were a couple beats missing in the Karen and Lip reconciliation, since it seems like just moments ago she was bitch-slapping him for asking her to abort their baby. All's well that ends well, I suppose, even though Lip wants to drop out of high school to support his new family.
This was a deeply sad episode, and there was plenty of misery to go around, but it didn't feel miserable. It was a bittersweet end to another crazy Gallagher summer.
- Though I didn’t discuss it in detail, I really enjoyed the Kevin and Veronica stuff this week. Particularly Veronica’s command to their new rabbit: “Don’t you hop away from us you dumb, fucking whore!”
- Emmy Rossum is absolutely killing it this season.
- I never want to see Steve in that swimsuit again.
- Jody to Karen: “We should try to get on Take The Money And Run after you have the baby. We could totally win.” God Jody, you’re the worst.