Shameless: "Hope Springs Paternal"
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Shameless: "Hope Springs Paternal"

Season four of Shameless has chronicled Fiona Gallagher’s fall from grace, her journey from being a Southside girl who was more responsible, resilient and resourceful than the world would give her credit for to being that girl who went to jail for letting her baby brother snort cocaine. Falls from grace are usually portrayed more dramatically, with people plummeting from the highest rungs of society to the lowest, but what is happening to Fiona feels much more tragic. The less you have to lose, the more painful it is to lose it.

In “Hope Springs Paternal,” Fiona is at her lowest point, which is awful considering how bright things looked at the beginning of the season. It was tough to watch Fiona screw things up with Mike and jeopardize the first rewarding job she’s ever had, but those losses essentially put her back at square one. But after the fallout from Liam’s cocaine overdose, Fiona has lost the one thing she had grown to take for granted, the respect of her family. Instead of being what arrests Fiona’s downward spiral, losing her status within the family only seems to accelerate it.

Considering how much drama and desperation is swirling around Gallagher Manor at any given point, the last thing a Gallagher wants to be is a liability. Whatever surplus of time, patience and emotional energy any of the Gallagher had has been sucked up by Frank and Monica, and there’s literally nothing left to give—hence the chilly reception to Sammi. So it’s an especially difficult position for Fiona to be in: unable to even leave the house, much less contribute to it, forcing the rest of the house to change their lifestyles to accommodate her screw-up, and still struggling to win back Lip’s trust. Fiona, once the tape and glue holding the Gallaghers together, is now a liability.

It all takes a toll on Fiona, who can’t sleep through the night and continues making bad choices, even as the consequences from past mistakes pile up. Her cabin fever finally gets the best of her, especially after a visit from her new parole officer reminds her that she might as well still be in prison, and she invites V over to get hammered. Thankfully, this time the casualty of Fiona’s altered-state absent-mindedness is only a pan of macaroni and cheese rather than a precious little boy. But it’s still enough to send Lip over the edge, as I can imagine it would do to anyone. Lip already has so much on his plate, and his rage is completely justified since Fiona picked the most inopportune moment imaginable to have a complete meltdown.

By the end of “Hope Springs Paternal,” the episode lives up to its title, with Lip bringing Liam home and reluctantly embracing Fiona. It would be an exaggeration to say that Lip has completely forgiven Fiona, but he does seem to realize that as much as Fiona has screwed up, taking the kids away when she’s already in such a fragile emotional state will compound the problem more than it relieves it.

The other big news of “Hope Springs Eternal” is... Ian’s back! After Svetlana made it abundantly clear that Ian is not welcome at the Milkovich Estate, Ian breezes back in as if no time has passed. But clearly something is a bit off about Ian, and it doesn’t take Fiona long to pick up on it. There’s been some comment-thread speculation about whether Ian is manic depressive or just has a mean coke habit, but it’s becoming clear that while both appear to be true, we’re seeing the effects of the former more than the latter. Ian is in a flight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the inevitable crash and burn by the end of the season.

But Ian’s in a relatively good place for now, and “Hope Springs Paternal” is the episode Ian and Mickey ‘shippers have been waiting an eternity for. I really like the subtlety of how this season has depicted Mickey becoming, very slowly but surely, more comfortable in his own skin. Even as someone who never quite warmed to Ian and Mickey’s dysfunction, their kiss in the gay bar was satisfying after so much time spent watching Mickey perform his indifference to the guy he clearly loves. And later, Mickey actually confesses that he and Ian are together, and though he said so to another gay man, even that represents major progress for Mickey. If Ian’s depressive phase is coming as quickly as I suspect it is, that will be the true test of their solidifying relationship.

I also want to talk a bit about Kev and V, whose multiple pregnancy story this season has felt stuck in neutral for a while, but is finally starting to pay dividends now. For such a minor element of the season, the writers have done an impressive job of taking those small puzzle pieces and assembling them into an affecting portrayal of new parent anxiety. Kevin started out the season over the moon about his new family, but has started to crumble between the Alibi Room’s dire financial condition, the rapidly dwindling size of his family, and the general concern anyone has about bringing a baby into a seriously fucked-up world.

Shameless, much like its characters, sure manages to do a lot with a little.

Random observations:

  • I don’t have that much to say about Carl’s continued slide into full-blown psychopathy.
  • Emily Bergl is kind of killing it, no? I wouldn’t mind her being upped to regular next season. But Sammi’s real estate scheme at Sheila’s place is bound to end badly.
  • Speaking of Sheila, is Joan Cusack shooting a movie or something? I really didn’t expect her to be gone this long.
  • I’m going to go ahead and assume we’ll be seeing plenty more of Regina King.
  • I really, really wish Lip hadn’t fooled around with his roommate’s girlfriend. Granted, she was totally the aggressor, but given how awesome Lip’s roommate has been, I would have liked to see him put up a bit more of a fight. 
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