Shameless: “Civil Wrongs”
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Shameless: “Civil Wrongs”

It isn’t often that I find myself looking forward to a Monday, but I’m so, so excited to read the comments about this episode of Shameless. I’m interested in seeing the reaction to “Civil Wrongs” for one reason in particular, and perhaps I’m overestimating the degree to which this moment will polarize the audience, but I look forward to finding out. I’m referring to Karen’s story, specifically how Jody’s oral attention roused her from her comatose state. But I’ll circle back to that momentarily.

First, I want to get into all the good stuff about “Civil Wrongs,” because there was as much to love about it as there is in any Mike O’Malley-penned episode of this show. I’m ready to declare O’Malley this show’s MVP. He seems to have a precise understanding of the show’s voice that elevates any episode he writes. He’s not responsible for my favorite episode of Shameless (that distinction belongs to Alex Borstein, who wrote season one’s “But At Last Came A Knock”), but there’s something about the way he integrates the show’s elements that always feels incredibly balanced and confident.

“Civil Wrongs” was pitched perfectly between the show’s shock humor and its emotional intelligence, largely because of its ability to deploy Frank effectively. This is partly because “Frank the Plumber” did so much work to set up the legend of Frank Gallagher, Unlikely Gay Rights Icon, leaving “Civil Wrongs” the enviable task of flicking the first domino. A commenter last week shrewdly compared the plot to Citizen Ruth, a very apt comparison to one of my all-time favorite movies. And what a terrific and hilarious way to frame Frank’s opportunism, as he thrives by pitting two opposing forces against each other and allowing them to bid for his services. In this case, those services include delivering rhetorical speeches with language that’s just slightly off-key, as any hetero pretender would, and having sex with a “recovering” lesbian in a swanky hotel room.

Frank stories are always hit-or-miss, and the character has as much power to save an episode of Shameless as he does to weigh it down. But for the second time this season, O’Malley has found a way to integrate Frank in a way that capitalizes on the character’s inherent comedic value without feeling strained or like a waste of time that could be better spent elsewhere. It’s also wonderful when Frank’s self-absorbed adventures are slightly leavened with what could be construed as empathy for another human being, and him helping Scottie muddle through their reparative coitus by encouraging her to think of Angelina Jolie and Rihanna was the kind of sickly sweet moment only Shameless can deliver.

This is perhaps the first episode to catch Fiona and Frank in a simultaneous upswing, with Frank lucking his way into the perfect con and Fiona landing the perfect job. In only two episodes, Worldwide Cup has been effectively shaded in. It’s that family business people wind up spending 30 years working for because even though it may not be the most exciting job in the world, it’s a workplace where people’s contributions are noticed and rewarded. And man, the K-cups. They keep the K-cups stocked. Fiona is flourishing in her new gig, a welcome relief following the nightmare at Bobby’s Blow-Job Barn and the days she’s spent wading through lakes of excrement.

There’s always a catch, though, and this time it’s the fact that Jimmy wants to go back to Michigan to finish up med school. And after agreeing to support Jimmy’s decision to go back at all, which she already had to back into, adding the Michigan layer is more than she can take. It puts Jimmy and Fiona’s relationship in a tenuous position, because as Jimmy revealed on the softball field, his choice to go to Michigan isn’t only about finishing med school without having to start earning credits from scratch. It’s also the fact that he needs a break from the constant, daily grind of life with the Gallaghers.

Admitting this is the most courageous thing Jimmy could have done, because there’s nothing more difficult than telling someone a truth you know they don’t want to hear, especially when you suspect they’ve known all along. That’s certainly the case here. Jimmy and Fiona’s dynamic is all about Fiona testing Jimmy’s limits, seeing if he will stick it out when the wheels come off. But as she has kept pushing him, she’s also slowly started to believe that Jimmy might be the genuine article in spite of his flaws, and it could not have been easy for her to find out that her prospective Prince Charming has a breaking point.

There was also heartbreak for Lip and Ian, as they continued their increasingly dysfunctional entanglements with the Milkovich heirs. Ian is continuing to reel from the news that Mickey’s own conversion therapy appears to have been a ringing success, so much so that his impending nuptials with The Russian are still on schedule. Meanwhile, Lip deals with his feelings for Karen, which only intensify as she lay in her hospital bed, potentially lost forever. Mandy’s plot couldn’t have backfired to a greater degree, as her efforts to push Karen out of the frame have instead brought her into central focus. This show doesn’t usually have the sort of barreling plot that lends itself to cliffhangers, but I seriously can’t wait to find out how Lip manages the Mandy situation now that he knows the truth. Lip needs a new girlfriend who is neither Mandy nor Karen. Haven’t any more cute-as-a-button sex offenders moved into the neighborhood?

That brings me back to the point I’m most eager to discuss, which is Karen’s miraculous recovery by way of cunnilingus. Look, Shameless has established its tendency to straddle the boundaries of taste, and I don’t begrudge it that. It’s always a high-wire act, though, and sometimes, the show takes a tumble, often with a tiny beat or episodic distraction that serves no purpose other than to be funny. So here, we have Jody figuring out that the way to bring Karen out of her coma is to perform oral sex on her. It’s a quintessential Shameless joke. Obviously, that’s the way Karen comes out of her coma on this show.

But at the same time, ewww. Ewww. EWWW. Maybe I’m still a little riled up about the Steubenville rape case, having spent the week repeatedly watching that horrible video of an unconscious girl being violated. Still, the facts are as follows. Karen is unconscious. Karen didn’t consent to being sexually stimulated. In fact, when last Karen was conscious and able to consent, she had made her peace with the fact that her husband and her mother had entered a relationship, mostly because she came to be so repulsed by Jody. Yet, after Sheila decides to release Jody back to Karen (an affecting scene tarnished by its aftermath), Jody proceeds to reanimate his estranged, non-consenting wife by “going to town” on her lifeless body. Ewww.

In addition to the absence of consent in this scenario, I don’t like the idea of the joke. I don’t like the idea that a woman could be brought out of a coma by being sexually stimulated, even when the woman is Karen, a character we’ve seen be less than judicious about her sexual exploits. I’m assuming that’s why the joke was supposed to be okay—because it’s Karen, and Karen is that kinda girl anyway, and it’s Jody, who is technically still her husband, and it got her out of the coma, so all’s well that ends well, right? No. Ewww. What a depressing way to end an episode I really enjoyed. Is it me?

Stray observations:

  • RE: Coma cunnilingus, I recall a lively discussion about the appropriateness of a similar scene in the eighth-season premiere of Weeds.
  • Kev and V are preggers! Which I assume means the “and Mommy makes threesome” love triangle is no longer a going concern. I hope.
  • Liam has become quite the little scene-stealer.
  • So apparently Karen hates Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” but is it possible she just doesn’t like that version? Because… wow, that was a terrible rendition.
  • The gays put Frank up in a motor lodge while the religious fundamentalists hook him up with a deluxe suite and all the room service he can handle? Consider my expectations upended.   

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