At this point it shouldn’t surprise me that “Order Room Service” is the best episode of the season. Shameless has followed the same formula every year, a formula in which the penultimate episode of the season is the event. Then there’s a season finale that may resolve one or two low-priority threads or sprinkle in some ideas for next season, but is mostly a weird coda that feels like it’s dangling from an otherwise complete season. “Order Room Service” is that penultimate episode, and it brings together the threads we’ve been following in the back half of the season so deftly, it compensates for the season’s occasional wobbliness.
It’s hard to know where to jump into an episode crammed so full of stuff, but it’s always good to start out with Fiona, who does an admirable job of trying to hammer out an arrangement with Jimmy. One of the interesting things the writers have done with this season is have coupled characters in disarray one episode, then they’ve reconciled or at least settled down when next we see them. But Fiona and Jimmy’s confrontation on the softball diamond exposes the limitations of their relationship in a way that is very real, very final, and not easily reparable. So it makes it quite heartbreaking to see the same technique used this time with Fiona’s evolution on the idea of Jimmy going away for medical school. I thought for sure she’d be figuring out how to get along with Jimmy, but instead, Fiona is trying to figure out a way to iron out the kinks.
I have never made an effort of hiding my ambivalence regarding Fiona and Jimmy’s relationship, but I am finally at a point that I care for Fiona, and I care about the relationship as much as I care about her, so I’m invested enough in the outcome. And it’s so wrenching to see Fiona trying to hold on to a relationship and a partner who is clearly slipping away from her in a way that’s not as reversible as she seems to think. After spending all that time pushing Jimmy to his breaking point, and eventually growing to believe maybe there wasn’t a button she could press to get rid of him, he’s finally pulling back and she doesn’t want to accept it. Fiona and Jimmy’s argument is as raw and as honest and we’ve seen them get with each other, because Jimmy has largely let Fiona play the tune while he does the dance. This time, he’s really tallied up his gripes, and he showers them over Fiona all at once in a punchy, affecting scene.
After leaving things with Jimmy up in the air once she confronts him with knowing about his studio apartment in Michigan, Fiona takes Debbie and Liam to the Worldwide Cup Family Picnic & Woodland Bacchanal where a day of drinking and carousing leads to heavy petting in Mike’s tent. There’s a sweet moment that follows, with Fiona panicking about Jimmy, and Mike admitting that they both might not be in the best state of mind for what they’re about to do. And then, Fiona is even going the step further of accepting Jimmy going away without her and the kids. Fiona has spent all this time trying to push Jimmy away, but it took so long that now she’s past the point of being able to wash her hands of him and move on. It’s a terrible position to be in.
It remains to be seen whether Fiona’s concessions will be enough to satisfy Jimmy, and at this point, Jimmy has much bigger fish to fry anyway. Nando has returned to inform Jimmy that due to his negligence, Estefania is up for deportation, and now there is a score to settle. How that will be resolved, I’m not sure, but I do know that I’ll be glad if we’re done with the Estefania element in season four. The character is an odd distraction, an element that is easy to forget entirely until it abruptly introduces itself without adding much of anything. At this point in the game, I’d love to know where Jimmy would land on the med-school consideration and future with Fiona without having the Estefania element complicating matters.
Meanwhile, the Milkovich madness boils over in this episode, with Lip completely at a loss as to what to do about Mandy, and Ian on a downward spiral over Mickey’s marriage to Svetlana. I’ll start with Lip, since that story contains is a fun, interesting firework in the sudden emergence of Psycho Mandy. Now, obviously, it’s a stretch to call the appearance of a psychotic Mandy Milkovich “sudden.” But at least in respect to her relationship with Lip, Mandy has been normal-ish and pure of intention. Sure, there was the unpleasantness with the short-eyed schoolteacher, but that was less to do with Lip as the fact that Mandy has little patience for sexual predators. She’s been a mostly positive character for Lip, and meant well, despite being a bit clingy and unstable emotionally. Even the assault on Karen felt, at first, like it was a disgusting gesture done out of some kind of contaminated love, like serving him a homemade dinner of fish she’d caught from a toxic lake. But the Mandy we see in “Order Room Service”—stalking Lip, managing him right down to his microexpressions, forcing herself on him to get the validation she craves—is creepy and manipulative in a way we haven’t seen before.
Karen is being quite different with Lip too, because after coming home from the hospital, her frontal-lobe damage is significant enough to leave her with some pretty intense cognitive difficulties. I’ll admit I thought Karen is faking, or being manipulative, because that’s what Karen does. But when Lip tries to talk to her like she’s the old Karen, as convinced as I was that the Karen he knew was rattling around in there, I realized that this really is the sad end for a sad character. I never liked Karen, but this is not the end I wanted for her either, reduced to juvenile patter, living out her days in the Southwest with a man she, until quite recently, loathed. So Lip’s rage at Mandy is understandable. She wants to help him, but only as a down-payment for what she wants, which is an unconditional commitment from someone not in a position to make one.
Mandy’s head is really left spinning after a disaster-drunk Ian lets it fly that he and Mickey have been carrying on all this time in the middle of Mickey and Svetlana’s wedding. Now, maybe it’s just me, but the fact that there is an actual wedding ceremony with guests, folding chairs, fancy clothes, and a banner that said “Mickey and Svetlana 4Ever” threw me for a loop. I thought the Mickey nuptials would be a bit less formal, what with the honeymoon happening before the ceremony, with the groom’s gay lover and father watching. But I’ll cut Sheila Callaghan and the writers a break. It was the only sensible way to mount this set piece of human wreckage, with Ian convinced he and Mickey can have a future, and Mickey telling Ian that being a Milkovich means certainly things, and this wedding is one of the things it means.
And for once, “Order Room Service” is an episode of Shameless that feels like the good stuff doesn’t leave much room for the bad stuff. Veronica, as much as I love her, is nowhere to be found, and the extent of Kevin’s involvement is his advising Lip on what to do about Mandy. And the Frank Problem is solved cleverly, and leads to a moment we’ve been earning from the beginning. After pairing Frank and Carl as roommates in the van, the two naturally hatch a scheme to rob the Cartoonish Gays Carl and Liam stayed with. But when the cops come to collect Carl, Frank actually steps in and takes the rap for him. A genuinely selfless moment for a man we barely knew understood the concept of selflessness. This episode of Shameless really leaves it all on the stage.
- Fiona on filling out Mike’s ex-tattoo: “Be glad her name wasn’t Ocksucker.”
- Some nice visual flourishes from director Sanaa Hamri.
- The ending is a heartbreaker, and the decision to end without music rather than smashing to some raucous grunge was a shrewd one.
- I loved the running gag of Frank and Carl not being able to get their handshake down pat.
- Cameron Monaghan’s Chicago accent gets absolutely weird and unbearable when he’s playing an upset Ian. I find it a bit distracting.