“There’s The Rub” is awfully tough to watch. I’ll say this though: After watching it, I’ll never watch the local news the same way again.
On so many local newscasts, on so many nights, there is a story much like the gut-punch ending of “There’s The Rub.” A kid takes a weapon to school, or accidentally swallows pills. Maybe the kid falls off the roof or cranks up the Subaru, at age 11, and parks it in a neighbor’s breakfast nook. I see these kinds of stories, and I say “It’s a shame any moron can have a kid,” and shake my head mournfully. I shouldn’t do that, but that’s what I do. We all know we’re not supposed to judge, but we’re also not supposed to insert cotton swabs into our ear canals. It just feels so good.
If I saw a news segment about a woman who had been taken into police custody after letting her 3-year-old brother snort cocaine, I would think it was horrible and sad, and I’d be glad that irresponsible woman was going to jail. All of those things are mostly true about my reaction to Fiona’s story in “There’s The Rub,” but man, my feelings about it aren’t nearly as crystallized as I’d expected. It’s horrible and sad that Liam is nearly dead because Fiona had a lapse of judgment, and going to jail is what happens to the girl in that situation. It’s sad, though, to see the snowball form in slow motion, and to wish something different had happened even as I wonder if there was any other outcome.
With the introduction of Robbie, this season of Shameless has been playing with the idea of Fiona being much as much of an addict as Frank or Monica, with her addiction manifesting in ways that make her a more functional person than either of her parents, but not necessarily a more successful person. If Fiona is an addict, “There’s The Rub” has to represent her rock bottom. In one episode, she reduces Mike’s heart to dust and rubble, endangers her family’s livelihood—and Liam’s life—and winds up sobbing in the back of a cop car... on her birthday. It’s safe to say there’s nowhere to go but up.
The glass-half-full take on this episode is that now at least Fiona’s secret is out, and she no longer has to deal with the stress of Robbie holding their indiscretions over her head. She’s still a valued member of the Worldwide Cup team, though she’ll have to put up with Mike staring daggers at her from across the office, or worse, avoiding eye contact altogether. But all that is cold comfort to Fiona as she gets booked, unclear at this point if her little brother is going to be okay. I knew Fiona was on a slippery slope, but I had no idea it was quite this steep.
There was enough coke-fueled sadness to go around in “There’s The Rub,” with Ian being reintroduced in a most unfortunate way. Stealing Lip’s identity in order to join up was bound to catch up to Ian sooner than later, but by the time Lip and Debbie catch up to him, he’s already plummeted quite a ways. Ian has bounced from place to place, crashing with Ned for a while, then tracking down Monica for a place to stay. He’s prettied-up and sequin-clad while tending bar in Boys’ Town—and he’s managed to pick up a coke habit of his own along the way. I was glad to see Ian’s face after this many weeks off, but it wasn’t the pick-me-up I’d hoped for.
As heartbreaking as Fiona and Ian’s stories are, they represent Shameless at its best. This is a show that is unafraid of dumping a pile of bricks on its characters and watching them wriggle their way out of it. Fiona’s speech to Mike about her self-sabotage was so clear-eyed and vulnerable, and it shows that Fiona is making a real effort to learn from her mistakes. As she sobs in the back of the cop car, I felt awful for Fiona, but also hopeful that she’ll work the situation out. Not because this is a television show and that’s what happens, but because Shameless has sold me on Fiona’s character, her goodness and her pluck, even when she’s making the most godawful decisions one can imagine.
The stuff around the fringes of this episode was nice too, though I can help but feel like the goings on at the Alibi Room make Kev and V any less bound for disaster. With Kev officially turning Stan’s old apartment into a Russian brothel with Mickey as its manager, Kev and V are as destined to fly off the rails as Fiona and Ian (who apparently... stole a helicopter?!); they’re just maintaining a relatively safer speed at the moment. I’m mostly enjoying the Kev and V stuff, though it still feels like that plot is lurching forward and hasn’t yet taken on a life of its own. There’s an element of urgency missing, which shouldn’t be the case for a story about a practically insolvent couple figuring out how they are going to support four children.
The Frank and Sammi scenes worked quite well this week, particularly Carl’s frustration with Sammi’s new role in Frank’s life. It has to be devastating for Carl, who has had Frank’s back since the pilot, but still represents the part of the Gallagher family that hates Frank and wants nothing to do with him. Frank has even lost Debbie, who has barely so much as mentioned his name all season, so Carl is the last Gallagher kid whose love for Frank is more than theoretical at this point. But Sammi, because she’s had less time to be disappointed by Frank, is even more unblemished than Carl is. I fear the effect this will have on Carl, seeing as how he’s already on the Advanced Serial Killer track.
- There was a lot of A-worthy material in this episode, but the Sheila stuff is still not jelling.
- Debbie is single again, thank God. The scene between her and Lip on the El Train was darling.
- Ned had a Ian lookalike of his own. That kid apparently knows his way around a man’s ass.
- “Mike is a tater tot.”