Season four of Shameless is both my favorite season and the one I most want to be over as soon as possible. As much as I’m enjoying this season, with all of its darkness and cynicism, I am not exactly relishing it either. It’s the television equivalent of eating a deviled egg. It’s awesome, but the awesomeness is so extreme, so rich, such a frontal assault, you can’t really sit there and eat an entire plate of deviled eggs. (By “you,” I mean “person who shares my values with regard to deviled egg moderation.”)
“Restraint” and “discipline” are not words I have often used to describe Shameless, the show that led to me typing the phrase “mother-daughter sex Oreo,” so I have been pleasantly surprised by the ample amounts of both that we’ve seen in the telling of Fiona’s story. I admire the writers’ choice to stay trained on Fiona, and proceed carefully and thoughtfully in depicting her nosedive. But it’s so tough to watch. I had braced for the crash, but now it’s the skidding, the sparks, the shorn wings. The way it’s been paced, I feel like I’m walking through the process with Fiona as she starts to understand the ramifications of her recent bad choices. It was “Fiona’s in deep shit,” then it was “Oh wait, Fiona’s actually neck-deep in shit,” and by this week, it’s like “Can someone please hand that girl a snorkel?”
“The Legend Of Bonnie And Carl” isn’t a fantastic episode of Shameless. It sets up some dominoes for the final three episodes, but there’s not a ton of joy in it. I think my main issue with the episode was tonal; with the unbelievable mess Fiona has created for herself and Frank passed out against death’s door, the leavening humor becomes especially important, and I didn’t find much of “Bonnie And Carl” funny. It’s a weird complaint for me to make, given how I’ve criticized the show in the past for trying to play too many scenes for laughs, but this season, Shameless has become the kind of show that requires a good number of tension breakers.
In “Bonnie And Carl” some of the jokes were off-putting to me, even as they were faithful to the show’s voice. I’m thinking specifically of the hospital worker who examines Frank and tells a sobbing Sammi, who agrees to pleasure him in exchange for his work, “I can still cum if you’re crying,” as well as Mickey’s “Tell him you have AIDS” retort outside Ian’s job. They bear a passing resemblance to lines of dialogue from this show that have made me burst into laughter, then feel awful about myself, but they lacked the same punch and effervescence.
Without ample punchlines, “Bonnie and Carl” was grim viewing. Not a character among the extended Gallagher clan is in a good place right now, and it seems things will get worse before they get better. Fiona continues to sink deeper into the patch of quicksand that is her life. The interview for the sales job was unflinching, showing how narrow Fiona’s options have become in a very short period of time. Her encounter with the neighbor whose kid she used to watch during the Gallagher Daycare days was even worse, as she was forced to understand that when you do something like let your baby brother snort coke, regardless of the particulars, you become a “them.” Sometimes, it’s by people who have no business making you a “them,” but they’ll do it anyway. Mike’s sister, though? She has a pretty good perch from which to judge Fiona, and she certainly took advantage, dressing down Fiona in front of her former colleagues.
Lip has become quite interesting this season, and this episode indicated that, even as it puts Lip through paces that seem goofy on their own. Lip and Fiona share the flaw of confusing comfort with duty, so that instead of making the choice to do something challenging or traditional, they convince themselves that they have no other choice but to remain in their comfort zones because everyone needs them there. Fiona does that all the time, but Lip has taken the torch following Fiona’s enthusiastic embrace of selfishness. I thought Lip would have less trepidations about being away at college once he got a handle on the academic expectations, but despite getting over that hump, Lip is still considering quitting school to support the family. Lip doesn’t have to take a bullet for the Gallaghers to survive—the Gallaghers always figure something out—but the circumstances are such that if Lip wants to give himself an easy out of the college life, the current reality of his family situation makes a hell of a case for self-sacrifice.
The pieces of Lip’s story don’t work as well as the pieces of Fiona’s, or even the pieces of Frank’s do. The onslaught of Amanda is weird-and-not-good-weird, and it seems like an oddly goofy element to toss in if it’s not making the show a little funnier, and it doesn’t. The stuff with Mandy’s boyfriend seemed abrupt and weird. Granted, they’ve been hinting at some awkwardness around Lip’s presence, but the chase through the campus still felt sudden, and Amanda’s deranged calendar made for a bumpy ride through it. A box that says “Microeconomics” directs Mandy’s boyfriend straight to Lip? College campuses are labyrinths... but anyway.
Despite the episode’s ramshackle nature, it did include a couple of amazing moments. Frank’s scenes with Sammi were pretty incredible, and Frank’s reaction to a recreation of the Alibi Room—complete with anti-Obama rhetoric—in Sheila’s living room is among William H. Macy’s all-time greatest Shameless scenes. I also sort of liked the stuff with Carl, at least how Ethan Cutkosky played Carl in love. I’m so worried about that kid.
- I’m equally worried about Mickey and Ian, with Ian clearly in the throes of a manic flight, while Mickey is getting close to the edge of his fraying rope as Svetlana threatens to tell Terry that Mickey and Ian are a couple again.
- Debbie Gallagher. Get a hold of yourself. Matty is not that hot. Teenage crushes are the pits.
- I’m not quite sure how to feel about the Carl and Bonnie plot. “Carl in love” is an amazing idea, but the execution feels like an adrenalized, live-action version of “Bart’s Girlfriend,” with the bad boy finding himself over his head with a girl way more twisted than he is. That said, given what we’ve seen out of Carl, it is nice to know he observes limits, even if a cute girl can talk him into crashing through them.
- Sheila wants to marry Frank so she can adopt Roger Running Tree’s kids or something? I don’t like this.