Since this season of Shameless began, I’ve been wondering if and when Monica would saunter back in to throw the Gallaghers into a state of disarray as only she can. There’s a point in every season of this show where the wacky hijinks take a temporary backseat to the show’s more sober, emotional side, and that tonal shift is typically brought in by Monica’s reappearance. I didn’t necessarily want Monica to come back, though I love the character, and Chloe Webb is an absolute beast in it, but having never seen the show do it before, I wondered how it would deliver Gallagher pathos without her.
“A Long Way From Home” pulled off a rather impressive feat by delivering a powerful, character-driven Shameless without relying on an auxiliary character like Monica or Nana Gallagher to nudge the episode in that direction. Better still, the episode played with the idea of Frank’s character in a way we haven’t seen since the first season. It flicked at the question of why Frank remains in the Gallagher orbit, which is a vitally important question for this show to examine.
I’d prefer that the writers not explicitly present a theory for why Frank doesn’t split the way Monica did, but a manipulator and con man of Frank’s talents doesn’t need to mooch exclusively off his family. He has worked his deceptive magic on plenty of non-blood relatives, and usually has an easier time doing so. The Gallaghers love Frank, but prefer him at a distance because of how much havoc he creates, and he doesn’t much care for them, so keeping him integrated into the show in an organic way is a challenge the writers have met with mixed results.
But this episode represented something of a Frank apologia, toying with the audience’s perception of him and how he fits into the family. Really, the entire episode examined the idea of parental choice and the dialectical tension created by the desire to serve such a crucial role in someone’s life and the feeling of crushing, all-consuming obligation that comes with it.
Fiona has been in full firefighter mode since the kids were taken away, and that continues this week after hearing Frank’s call to DFS steels her resolve to get full custody of the kids and banish Frank from their lives once and for all. Last week I quibbled about the show’s reliance on the This time, Frank went too far! story, since it never seems to get Shameless past its status quo. This take on it was different though, because it required Fiona to make another examination of her role in her siblings’ lives and whether it’s one she really wants versus a duty placed on her that she never realized she could shirk if she so chose.
It’s typical of Shameless to show Fiona going to extreme lengths to keep her family safe and taken care of, but “A Long Way Home” was fascinating in how it showed both Frank and Fiona doing whatever it took to stake their claim over the kids. While Fiona was chopping off a dead woman’s toe and forging Monica’s signature on a custody release form, Frank was badgering a priest into writing him a character reference and participating in—gasp!—an intervention, all with the aim of getting a hold of Jody’s sobriety chips.
Their two paths were presented as this show tends to present them, as Fiona doing the noble thing to provide for the kids, while Frank plumbs new depths of selfishness. But when it came time for them to do battle in court, the war between Frank and Fiona didn’t feel like a clearly delineated war between good and evil. William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum both got stunning monologues to work with and delivered them as deftly as they typically do. But Macy got the biggest opportunity here, getting to sell the idea that Frank’s fatherhood is important to him, even as every action he takes suggests otherwise. The judge listens and declares Frank a pathological liar—and he isn’t wrong—but there was plenty of nuance in Frank’s courtroom speech. It’s a performance, to be sure, but it’s underpinned by the fact that the Gallagher kids are all Frank has to show for his life, and he wouldn’t know who he was if his parental rights were taken away.
Naturally, Fiona doesn’t see it this way, particularly after hearing Frank’s call to DFS. But Fiona is so adamant about getting custody of the kids so they don’t have to be subjected to Frank’s shit anymore, she never takes a moment to think about what that choice means for her own life. Jimmy is understandably frustrated, as Fiona made the decision without discussing it with him at all, but there’s only so upset he can be, given that Fiona didn’t even discuss the decision with herself. It was only until the judge called her into his chambers and asked if she was sure guardianship over the children was what she wanted that Fiona remembered that there was a choice to be made. She chose the kids, of course, but while for most people maturing requires accepting more responsibility, for Fiona it will ultimately mean figuring out that it’s valid to consider her own interests.
Sheila had similar choices to make this week, as she decided to return Hymie to Timmy Wong and his mother because Jody’s sexual addiction has made the house an unhealthy environment for the baby. Her rationale doesn’t quite pass the smell test, as Hymie is not yet at an age where Jody’s hedonism is going to affect him in any real way. Sheila has been struggling with new motherhood since the season began, but much like Fiona, Sheila never considered that she could choose not to raise Hymie, especially after choosing to keep him meant losing her daughter. But as soon as she gave up one child, she regained another as Karen came home, looking weary, sounding apologetic, and seeming ready to make nice.
When we last saw Karen, I was very clear about never wanting to see the character again. That said, I wasn’t terribly annoyed by seeing her back. Maybe it’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten how distasteful I found her, or maybe it’s because she does seem genuinely contrite, but I’m not revolting against the return of Karen quite yet. I’m curious to see how her return upends the Lip and Mandy dynamic more than anything. Or maybe Karen and Frank will decide that their webcast tryst was more than a fling and decide to give a real relationship a try. Stranger things have happened on Shameless.
- Joan Cusack had another incredible week here, showing once again how Sheila’s unique blend of quirky and sad really makes her a pillar of the show, even as she exists outside of the Gallagher story most of the time.
- Hymie is a huge Neal Diamond fan.
- Mickey isn't ready to talk about what happened with his dad just yet. Y'know, understandably.
- Jimmy’s situation with Estefania is getting more and more complicated, and while I wish he would stop having sex with Este, I understand why he doesn’t. Not only because she’s hot, but because I can understand why his increasingly utilitarian role in Fiona’s life is frustrating him.
- Sounds like Cousin Patrick is about to reenter the picture to battle for the deed to Aunt Ginger’s house. Will he be this season’s Monica?
- Sheila, at Jody’s intervention: “Jody, when you tried to get me to be intimate with you and three of your friends, it made me feel sad and overextended.”
- Some choice Frank lines in this one: “This is why white kids are flocking to Allah!” and on Hymie’s connection to his homeland, “Must be a sense memory thing with the lead paint.”