Photo: Paul Sarkis/Showtime

The penultimate episode is always a difficult one to review. More than any other episode, the effectiveness of this hour of television depends on what happens in next week’s finale. There is always the possibility that you could critique a show like Shameless for not doing something, and then the finale reveals that not doing the thing was all part of its plan. You’re rarely more at risk of looking dumb than when writing a review for an episode like “A Gallagher Pedicure.”

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That being said, regardless of what may or may not happen next week, I feel confident saying that “A Gallagher Pedicure” is an hour of television that frustrated me immensely. After weeks where Lip’s story was the only one progressing without significant deficiencies, this episode fails to resolve any of those issues, while simultaneously muddying Lip’s storyline in the process. Rather than looking forward to how these stories will resolve next week, I will be tuning in wondering if they will ever get around to justifying the existence of about 90 percent of what the show has been doing in the back half of this season.

Let’s take Carl and Kassidi’s marriage as our first example. What I’ve been waiting for ever since the character’s introduction was for this story to tell us anything meaningful at all about Carl, and on paper this episode is on the verge of something. Kassidi, wanting to know more about her new husband, requests that he take her on a tour of all the places where his life of poverty brought him when he was growing up. Kassidi is a vessel for the show to explore distinctions of class, given her privileged upbringing, and this is the first time the show has narrowed in on that so specifically. And as Kassidi goes around Snapchatting dead bodies and taking selfies after drive-by shootings, there’s a story unfolding of Carl realizing that this girl has no respect for what he’s gone through, and why it’s so important to him that he’s found a way to move beyond that world through military school.

Photo: Paul Sarkis/Showtime

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But that’s not how the story ends here. The story ends with what feels like the umpteenth time that Carl brings up military school, Kassidi freaks out, and Carl capitulates to her pathetic whining. Is it still possible that the show will do something with Kassidi’s poverty tourism next week when—I hope to god—this story resolves and Kassidi is never heard from again? Of course. But that doesn’t excuse repeating the same story beat and providing no justification for suffering through Kassidi’s poorly articulated insanity for so many weeks. In last week’s comments, there was a thread discussing that Kassidi is meant to be an echo of Monica in Carl’s story, which is an interesting thought that I refuse to give the show credit for, given how little it’s managed to do with this storyline.

At least there are some bread crumbs in Carl’s story this week. I have no idea what the show is trying to do with Debbie’s amputated toes, which gives the episode its title and confirms that, yes, Debbie somehow never learned to wear steel-toed boots in welding school. The event gives the show lots of “Gallagher Moments”—Debbie bringing Liam into her plan, Debbie trying to do it herself, a drunk Frank casually completing the surgery—but does absolutely nothing to invest me in Debbie’s storyline. What is the point of all of this? Who was taking care of her daughter all this time? What was the point of the drug-sniffing dog interlude? Debbie’s story this season has added up to literally nothing. She is just a tool the show uses to tell thematically relevant stories that don’t work because the show hasn’t realized how much I (and some of you, I know) hold Debbie accountable for her actions and have no sympathy toward her struggles.

Photo: Paul Sarkis/Showtime

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Fiona is one of two characters on the show that I still significantly care about, but this apartment story has fallen off a cliff. Ford’s value to this storyline is exclusively in his access to power tools: He brings nothing else of value to her battle with the occupying tenants, beyond someone for her to have sex with when the rush of the efforts to flush them out get Fiona hot and bothered. I was perplexed by how this episode handled the stakes of this storyline. It is established through conversations with numerous people that Fiona could be liable (as the only one with insurance) and that she could end up paying out upwards of $5 million. But the show—drawing a parallel to Debbie’s bypassing of the medical system—has Fiona revert to Gallagher mode, trapping the family in the apartment, cutting off their water, and drilling a hole into their closet to rescue her dog (and pretty much kicking the woman’s face in in the process). And while we don’t know if Fiona’s plan gets them to drop the lawsuit, how can it not when the stakes were set so high? The show could no longer exist if Fiona was liable for that much money—they should have lowered the number so that there was at least some threat that she would find her life ripped away from her, even if I’m less invested in that life than I was when the season began.

That isn’t the case with Lip, but I struggled with the way this episode leaned into his relationship with Sierra. The story comes out of nowhere: She becomes the damsel in distress, albeit understandably, given what she witnessed when her recently paroled father killed her mother in front of her and her brother. Lip gets to play white knight, first by taking Sierra and Lucas in, and then by using Eddie’s niece to incite Sierra’s father to violence and get him thrown back in jail, and that’s totally in character for him. However, it felt weird to leave the episode without any kind of comment on whether or not this is healthy—Eddie comments that Lip is once more caught up in “the fucking drama,” but Lip never internalizes that. As someone who doesn’t think that this is healthy, I wanted that to be something this episode grappled with, rather than something it either never addresses (which is a problem) or brings up next week (which is still a mistake, narratively).

It’s the kind of moment that the show gave Ian back when he had his blowup with Fiona, which at the time I took as a potential sign the show was going to explore the possibility that his actions were a byproduct of his bipolar disorder. Over the past few weeks, though, the show has largely ignored that implication, which is something that I’ve struggled with. The issue, to be clear, is not that the show is ignoring the “fact” that Ian is currently out of balance—I am not operating with the understanding it is the only explanation for his behavior, or that one can so easily “blame” bipolar disorder for such actions. However, the problem is that the show has just flat ignored the implication it made, never circling back to how those in his life are tracking his actions—in this case an embrace of his status as a cult religious figure, apparently while simultaneously holding down his full-time job—relative to that possibility. Trevor doesn’t even factor into this episode, Fiona seems unconcerned about Ian’s further investment in his new project, and none of them are present when Ian’s lieutenant firebombs a van in his efforts to stop a father from kidnapping his runaway teenage son.

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Photo: Paul Sarkis/Showtime

I’m struggling to get a read on this Ian story, especially given how it ends. The teenager’s father comes to Ian after his followers stop their “rescue” efforts, and explains that this situation is more complex than he realizes. He tells Ian that he does not have a problem with his son being gay, but is concerned that he’s using drugs, selling his body, and living on the streets. But he also raises the idea that the teen is mentally ill, something that seems to give Ian pause—he talks to the boy, who insists that his father sent him to a therapist and a church that seemed to judge him based on his sexuality, and then… Ian blows up the father’s van. It’s a sudden escalation, and despite the show having shelved the discussion of Ian’s bipolar disorder, part of me wonders if Ian doesn’t take this step because of the implication that the teenager’s problems are tied to a mental illness (seemingly without any clear evidence). How else do you justify that level of escalation, given the clear and obvious legal ramifications? But the show weirdly doesn’t even comment on it—are we supposed to be rooting for Ian to destroy the van, given that we are given no reason to necessarily believe the father to be evil? Or are we supposed to be so on-Ian’s-side that we embrace this reckless action, presuming the father is lying?

I just don’t have my bearings with Shameless this season. I don’t understand where these stories are headed, I don’t understand why many of these stories exist, and I have zero clue how any of this is building to a climax. You will have seen a preview for next week’s finale by the time you read this (it isn’t included with screeners), but I honestly have zero idea what it could include. The idea that there is anything that could save this season of Shameless from itself just seems inconceivable at this moment in time.

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Stray observations

  • No, seriously, what is even happening in Kev and Vee’s storyline? Svetlana’s obsession with this random former prostitute came out of nowhere, suddenly got all three of them on the same page despite their various conflicts, and now we’re back to them casually working together to pimp out Svetlana, who then ends up with a woman in a bodybag in the mid-credits scene? Their stories might as well be happening in another show, and I’ve been given no reason to want to watch it. I’d be fast-forwarding if I wasn’t reviewing the show.
  • The show continues to find some interesting beats in Frank confronting the American dream, but it hasn’t amounted to much. I presume he’s going to try to rob Liam’s friend’s house while they’re in the Caribbean, but so far Frank’s story has been more interesting in theory than in practice since they abandoned his “legit” career earlier in the season. I enjoyed the montage of Frank’s failed Social Security ploys, and then his hat-in-hand use of his own Social Security card—I think if you cut out the dumb Canada storyline, Frank’s story has been thematically strong all year, even if the plottier bits have been rough.
  • Surely someone on the set should have known that if they wrote dialogue for Kassidi about Snapchat Stories, then they shouldn’t have had her shooting every single one of her photos in landscape mode, which would never crop properly into Snapchat, right? I realize it’s a small detail, but when you have a character that’s already that annoying, the little mistakes are that much more frustrating.
  • Fiona’s offer before she switches to trying to force them out: rent-free for a year, paying his hospital expenses, and buying them groceries. Does this mean the deal is still on the table? Unclear. I have no idea what the woman’s goals are—Stacey Oristano had little to do here beyond getting kicked in the face—so it’s hard to handicap.
  • So, I get that Carl would have lived away from the home at various stages before the show began, but did anyone else get the feeling he was exaggerating some of what happened? Obviously he would have dealt with some significant challenges, but at times it seemed like he was playing into how excited she was.
  • “I don’t think there’s any skin left on my dick”—anyone else think it was weird there was no mention of Carl’s circumcision in this scene? (It is objectively weird that we know so much about this teenager’s penis.)
  • Foghat? Really, Ford? Okay, then.

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