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A poorly calibrated sibling rivalry has Shameless in a bad place

Photo: Chuck Hodes/Showtime
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We need to talk about Ian Gallagher.

Ian’s character arc has always been focused on stability: first through his sexuality, and then through his bipolar diagnosis, Ian’s character has faced the challenge of growing up while simultaneously trying to refit his life to each stage of his personal journey. The more Ian’s life changes, the more that he struggles to grasp the ramifications of those changes. It’s one reason why, regardless of the behind-the-scenes reasons why Mickey was written out of the show, there is something productive in the way Ian struggled to sustain the support felt within that relationship. The way the show tried to write it off as the relationship with Mickey being destructive was bullshit, but the idea that Ian struggled to fit Mickey into his changing life strikes me as a natural extension of the character’s larger narrative.


But the actions Ian takes during the early stages of “Occupy Fiona” are the opposite of natural. It is one thing for Ian to be angry with Fiona, and to feel on a principled level that she is selling out to gentrification and—directly in the case of the church, but indirectly through her other actions—screwing over the shelter kids he’s grown to care about. When this story was first introduced, I was excited about the show connecting this exploration of gentrification into the family dynamic, and was looking forward to the show playing out the subtle distinctions in their points of view. What I was not expecting—but was foreshadowed when Ian suggesting murdering his sister last week—was a story in which Ian delivers an absurd mix of juvenile pranks and aggressive name calling that operates independent of any decency.

Photo: Chuck Hodes/Showtime

The episode seems inherently unbalanced. How does Ian escalate from throwing ice water on Fiona to actively calling her a “Thundercunt?” Why does he need to call then fire inspector to cause potentially significant financial harm to his sister when his occupy encampment is already threatening her ability to rent the vacant apartment? As the episode continued, I became more and more incredulous at what exactly Ian’s deal was here, and asking myself the question that Fiona eventually asks: is Ian off his meds?


Ian acts like this is an offensive question, and it’s true that just presuming that someone is off their meds when they do something that seems out of character is jumping to conclusions. However, Ian’s argument would make sense if Fiona was arguing that he was off his meds if he had simply set up a peaceful tent city as a form of protest, and if instead of threatening to kill Fiona he had been working to convince her to do more to help the community. If Ian had approached this in a civilized manner but had done so without clear motivation, it would have been offensive for Fiona to suggest that it was because he was off his meds. When he is acting this unhinged, to the point where even Trevor—who runs the shelter—thinks Ian is going too far, it is not offensive for Fiona or me as an audience member to wonder if he’s off his meds.

Photo: Paul Sarkis/Showtime

I hate how “Occupy Fiona” deals with the aftermath of this. I hate that it turns “Is Ian off his meds” into a mystery, and makes us speculate over what is going on with Ian that he won’t tell Fiona about but is causing him to do heinous and awful things. If he really is off his meds, I’m frustrated that the show is raising his bipolar diagnosis only as a solution to wild mood swings, rather than exploring the nuances of managing the disease, something the show has glossed over for the sake of efficiency for the past few seasons. And if he’s not off his meds, I hate the show for judging Fiona and the audience for wondering about it, given how poorly the writers calibrated Ian’s actions to create the red herring. A story that began from a compelling philosophical position has devolved into a bunch of name-calling and needless escalation, derailing both Ian and Fiona’s stories and making me hate a character in a way that will either be sloppily rewritten by his disorder or glossed over like it never happened, neither of which strikes me as productive.

Unfortunately, the rest of “Occupy Fiona” is not much better. Lip’s storyline remains the most resonant, but watching him trying to herd cats with Youens and Brad before the former’s trial never really went anywhere. The central story here—Lip working through his own sobriety while trying to find faith in the sobriety of those who have helped him along the way—is good, and Jeremy Allen White acts the hell out of what he’s given to work with. But I legitimately don’t understand Youens’ decision here: I thought that he was self-sabotaging by getting drunk during the trial in order to remove himself as a burden on Lip, but the way he talked to Lip didn’t underline that like I expected him to, meaning this might just be intended as a lesson that not every drunk can be cured? The story felt muddled, and while we got another glimpse of Sierra observing Lip’s new disposition, that still isn’t taking the story where it needs to go to fully connect.

Photo: Erica Parise/Showtime

Everything else gets a big “Who cares?” for me right now. It’s not uncommon mid-way through a season, but it’s a reminder that the show is now isolating characters that I’m still not invested in enough for them to carry a story of their own. Debbie doing battle with Dr. Dick at the parking garage? A silly story that glosses over a single mother losing her job to highlight a raging (and deeply overacted) asshole. One of Carl’s kidnapping victims turning his life upside down with a ransom plot? A deeply random detour with a character that feels wildly undefined, and a situation that is too disconnected from anything else happening for me to care about it (and which has too willfully accepted he is just plain kidnapping multiple people in the family basement). Kev working his way toward being able to dominate Vee as she wants? Some fun moments for Steve Howey, but so disconnected that Vee doesn’t even really talk to Fiona about it when she meets her at the apartment complex to drop off coffee. Throw in an Irish guy who’s restoring a pocket door for free and Frank turning back to his life of crime to smuggle supplies across the Canadian border, and you have a giant collection of storylines that were nowhere close to being entertaining enough to justify how little I care about them.


When I posted a complaint about Ian’s actions in this episode while I was watching it live, someone who just started watching the show tweeted wondering when the show “jumps the shark.” And while I think “Occupy Fiona” is a mess of an episode, the show has showed in the past that it has the ability to course correct, and like any good soap opera reboot some of its stories and find more fertile ground. But whereas I can say that the show’s bad directions with Carl or Debbie’s stories are going to have a fairly minimal impact on the future of the show, what bothers me about the Ian storyline is how high the stakes are for how they choose to resolve this story arc. Is Ian working through his grief with Monica? Is he actually off his meds? Is he sick (perhaps HIV positive?) and struggling to grasp it? I don’t know what story they think is enough to justify the way he treats Fiona in this episode, but I do know that their choice will forever shape my understanding of his arc, and maybe even my opinion of the show as a whole.

Stray observations

  • Fiona’s escalation is also poorly calibrated, to be fair: using pizza and money to get the kids off the lot is one thing, but she paid people to throw away all of the gear they would use to stay alive on the streets? The whole point of this story needed to be that all of them should be acting in the best interest of those kids and the future of the community, but Fiona’s choice there was deeply heartless, and the show never really circles back to it.
  • Fiona was also weirdly dumb about the pocket door: there was really nothing on her message boards about how original charm like a working original pocket door could help with her hipster bait strategy? If this was intended to be a meet cute, I hope he refuses on the grounds that she wanted to rip out that pocket door.
  • “Really quick french fry”—again, Steve Howey good, Kev and Vee storyline bad.
  • “Come upstairs please”—see above.
  • Frank’s continued fastforwarding through the death of the American Dream has some good spots, but the transition to an unfinished Canadian smuggling storyline is really bizarre to me, and feels unfinished. Does he even have a passport? I have many questions.
  • I also have many questions about why Lip gave a statement without even being asked a question while testifying during a jury trial, just FYI, but all of my knowledge of legal procedure comes from TV shows so I’m not going to claim they’re fully informed questions.
  • Speaking of which: what was the show trying to say with the Latina judge? Were they trying to say that Youens was screwed because the woman whose house he drove through was also Latina? Or was it just to seed the drunk “Hola?” And wasn’t it a dick move for her to speak in Spanish to the woman, knowing that some in the courtroom couldn’t understand what she was saying? I return to my “I have so many questions” position.

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About the author

Myles McNutt

Contributor, A.V. Club, and Assistant Professor of Communication at Old Dominion University.