“A Jailbird, Invalid, Martyr, Cutter, Retard And Parasitic Twin” has to be granted a wide berth. There’s no other way to appreciate it for what it is. It’s the episode that came after the most emotionally devastating hour Shameless has ever done. There’s got to be a morning after, and “Jailbird” gets the thankless task of cleaning up the balled-up tissues “Iron City” left behind. It’s the kind of episode that gets to be wobbly and ungainly because it’s functioning as both a piece-mover and a palate cleanser, and that’s a tricky balance to strike.
All that said, I’d be lying if I said I wished “Jailbird” had a bit more spring in its step. Season four is keeping a lot of plot threads in play, and given how Fiona-centric the last two episodes have been, I get the importance of an episode that mostly gives the characters a moment to decompress and nudges each of the ancillary plots forward a bit. But “Jailbird” is an especially gawky episode of television that scoots the plot forward, but in the most workmanlike fashion.
Still, there are a few knockout scenes buried in “Jailbird’s” grab bag, mostly related to Fiona’s bumpy transition back into life at Gallagher Manor. The Liam incident represents the biggest sea change the audience has seen in the fundamental Gallagher family dynamic. Fiona is always the family’s anchor. Even when Monica breezes into town, there’s a short burst of chaos before everything reverts back to the status quo, with Fiona at the center of the Gallagher universe. But now, Fiona has forfeited the right to play mother bear with one irresponsible moment that could have permanent consequences for Liam and her role within her family.
It was heartbreaking to watch Fiona grapple with the reality that, yes, one single moment of irresponsible behavior can ruin your whole life. Or someone else’s whole life. Or many whole lives. It’s one thing to know that intellectually while you’re watching a public service announcement about texting while driving. But no one would be able to get anything done if we gave much thought to how much time we spend on the brink of disaster every single day. Even Fiona, who has gotten the shit end of every stick, forgot all of those bad breaks long enough to think she could just have fun and zone out on her birthday without the sky crumbling.
But it isn’t the unfairness of the situation alone that gets to Fiona, it’s also the fear of having to reconstitute an entire identity that has been built on responsibility and self-sacrifice. Who is Fiona Gallagher if she’s not the tough, loyal, unsinkable girl who supported her family after her deadbeat parents skipped out? Who is the Fiona Gallagher who allowed her little brother to overdose on coke? What would she do with her time if she didn’t have to think about everyone else’s needs?
Fiona can’t stand the thought of returning to jail not only because they treat you like cattle and you can’t relieve yourself in public, but also because she knows life would go on without her, and the Gallaghers would adjust and survive just as they did when Monica and Frank left. Fiona has always struggled with the idea that the family might not need her quite as much as she’d like to think they do, and with Liam still recovering, now she’s having to grapple with the idea that the family might even be better off without her. Lip certainly seems to think so, to such a degree that he thinks Liam would be better off with his roommate’s girlfriend watching him rather than their sister.
At least by the episode’s end, Fiona agrees to plead guilty and accept responsibility, but she’s left with the sobering reality that her life is never going to be what it once was. She’s a convicted felon. She can’t vote, and most jobs are now closed to her. Mike has been weirdly compassionate toward Fiona so far, but between the sleeping with the boss’ brother and the felony record, I can’t imagine the Worldwide Cup gig lasting much longer. And she still has a long way to go to repair her relationship with Lip.
The rest of the episode is all fringe. Kev gets held up at the Alibi Room and V finds out two of her babies went halfsies on the third. Mickey retrieves a coked-up Ian from the gay-strip-club franchise he works for. Frank’s condition deteriorates and Sammi’s refusal to stop enabling his habit gets them kicked out of Gallagher Manor. Matt breaks up with Debbie, a long-awaited confirmation that Matt isn’t totally awful.
I wish there was another way to write about “Jailbird” besides listing all the things that happen in it, but it was that kind of episode. Wonder what Sheila’s up to?
- I’m glad Carl showed relative restraint with the bullies who were tormenting him about Liam. I thought this might be the episode where Carl’s storyline turns into Rob Zombie’s Halloween.
- Debbie’s short-lived “cutting” phase was pretty funny.
- Lip: “What’s in a dorm?” Liam: “Hipsters.”