“But At Last Came a Knock” isn’t perfect by any means, and there were elements of it I didn’t think worked at all. But, and maybe this constitutes grading on a curve, we’ve spent so many weeks watching interesting, curious, and often funny shards of story that didn’t feel like they’d ever quite add up to anything. At a certain point, it didn’t feel like they were supposed to add up to anything. After “It’s Time to Kill the Turtle,” I concluded that this was kind of what Shameless was, an off-kilter slice-of-life that would usually have some kind of episodic adventure, but beyond that wouldn’t coalesce. Suddenly in episode nine, we have something resembling actual momentum.
I’m not inclined to think this was “on purpose,” in the traditional sense, but bravo anyway to the writers for taking many tiny threads and braiding them together in a way that made me think just maybe they have this whole thing figured out. The whereabouts of the Gallaghers’ estranged mother was obviously a floating question mark from the beginning (only during Frank’s monologue in “Frank the Plank” did we get any sense of her relation to the story), but I figured that would be a season two arc, perhaps. But dropping Monica in now serves the dual purpose of addressing a key component of the show’s mythology and placing its already in extremis characters into a further heightened state of stress.
Granted, the way Monica was introduced was just a little clumsy. Suddenly Frank gets a call from his lawyer (played by Alex Borstein, who also handled writing duties) who informs him that his part-time duties as professional plaintiff have finally born fruit. But for reasons I’m not clear on, Monica is listed as a co-complainant and in order to get the check, she’ll have to sign some paperwork before witnesses. Beside the fact that I don’t know quite how this makes sense legally (what would she have to do with him getting his foot caught in subway doors?), this is exactly the type of pickle we’ve seen the Gallaghers deal with using some kind of hilarious and convoluted ruse for weeks now. It doesn’t quite track that when there's money on the line and some kind of obstacle to getting it, Frank would choose to actually lure the real Monica into town to sign the paper work as opposed to, say, borrowing another senile woman from Veronica’s job.
Still, having Monica back in the picture led to some brilliant, explosive scenes as we saw all the characters recalibrate as best they could. It helped that once she was back and saw the kid (with her butch black girlfriend in tow), she decided that maybe there was still hope for her to connect with Liam, the one of her children who doesn’t know how much of a screw-up she is. All of the scenes that dealt with Monica’s return, from Debbie’s rejection, to the rest of the family’s shock, to Fiona’s confrontation, went to stark, serious emotional places we haven’t seen in the show. And it reinforced a parenting pointer so cogent it has become a cliché: Showing up is half the battle. Frank is selfish, destructive, abusive garbage, but at least he didn’t leave, and that makes him way better than Monica. Emmy Rossum, who was largely absent in this episode, made up for in quality what she lacked in quantity. Her showdown with Monica was fantastic.
I was equally impressed with Emma Kenney’s performance, even though I didn’t quite get Debbie’s motivations. I loved the Harriet the Spy-vibe of her investigation of Steve, and their tete-a-tete outside his mother’s house was a highlight of the episode, if not the season. But given who Debbie is, it doesn’t stand to reason that she could be bribed quite so easily. It’s not as though Steve explained, even broadly, why he wasn’t being forthcoming about his identity. He showed Debbie the house he’d bought for Fiona, but this isn’t the first extravagant gift he’s bought for the family, and it doesn’t make sense to me that Debbie wouldn’t have pressed him to tell Fiona the truth. I also didn’t get why Debbie, emotionally zapped by Monica’s drop-in, would blurt out the secret about the house but wouldn’t expose that Steve wasn’t who he said he was, even in the midst of dealing with the hurt of someone you love turning out less than advertised.
While there are aspects of Ian’s storyline I’ve liked, just as a portrait of a confused kid trying to piece together his sexual identity, the way the writers have advanced the story hasn’t always worked. I don’t necessarily need there to be consequences or shocking moments from Ian’s story, but the writers seem to feel differently and will do anything to get to some kind of confrontation. Last time, it was the clunky way Ian and Kash’s affair was revealed to Linda, and now, it’s the clunky way Kash finds out about Ian and Mickey. While I liked the fact that his emotions surrounding Monica sent Ian into the arms of the emotionally distant Mickey, rather than the limp, manipulative Kash, I didn’t buy that they would have sex in the store, which has cameras and which, y’know, Kash owns and has a key to. The Kash ‘n’ Grab’s biggest problem isn’t Mickey’s shoplifting; it’s the fact that it’s not open for business nearly as much as it’s closed for fucking. Then Mickey comes back to mock Kash, for some reason, and Kash shoots him. None of it was rewarding, but there was enough in the episode to make up for one weak story.
- I enjoy the image of a bottle of orange soda exploding as a visual orgasm metaphor. I suspect I wouldn’t enjoy it as much if the soda wasn’t orange, for whatever reason.
- Emmy/Fiona looked just beautiful in the scene at the club.
- I'm curious as to where they're going with Karen and her dad.
- “Does it hurt?” “Sexual relations or childbirth?” “Both.” “Yes.”
- The DCFS agent was broad, in a sort of Mad TV kind of way, but I laughed all the same.
- Borstein is now guest starring in addition to writing. Can Mike O’Malley be far behind?
- “So he’s not pushing it into you?”
- “Frank, I certainly hope you’re not pooping in there. It’s a closet.”