I’m trying to think of a recurring character that has more of a talismanic effect on a show than Monica does on Shameless. In last season’s “But At Last Came A Knock,” Chloe Webb sauntered in and suddenly everything with Shameless just clicked into place. And so it was with “Hurricane Monica,” in which the Gallagher matriarch pops up yet again and brings out everyone’s extremes. It’s not perfect, and I always have some occasional tonal issues with Shameless even at its best, but “Monica” was a terrific start to the final third of the season.
The Monica character worked even better here than she did in season one, because this time it’s totally obvious why the Gallaghers still love her in spite of her having abandoned them, how it’s so easy for them to let her back in, and why they’re so devastated when she inevitably flees again. Last season when Monica showed up, she came with her odious girlfriend Roberta in tow and with the hopes of leaving with Liam. It was clear why the Gallaghers would feel so conflicted about her return, but to me she came off as nonchalant and entitled, someone you sympathize with because you’re a human being, not necessarily because they are. I was invested because they were, but not because I saw what the fuss was about.
“Hurricane Monica” shone some much-needed light on the Monica mystique. She’s sexy, funny, charming, mischievous, and endearingly inappropriate, which would make her the ideal “cool mom” if it wasn’t for her abiding selfishness. She picks right back up with Frank, who can't seem to stay mad at her. I fell in love with Monica during her trip with Ian to a local gay club in order to help him get over the pain of losing Mickey and help him accept himself. Monica spoke about her relationship with Roberta in a way that made the relationship seem like less of a cartoon than it did last season (a brief appearance by a subdued Roberta didn’t hurt) and humanized her in the process. Monica was also able to help Debbie in her still-baffling pursuit of Little Hank. What Debbie now has that Holly Herkimer doesn’t is a hot mom that, to let Little Hank tell it, bodes well for Debbie’s future.
As usual, no one has a harder time acclimating to Monica’s reappearing act than Fiona, who has to abruptly adjust her role in the family when Monica shows up, and knows that as usual she’ll be left on cleanup duty when Monica splits. To have Fiona find the kitchen in shambles after Monica makes everyone breakfast is a too-obvious metaphor, but it made for an effectively tense scene between the two women as they sparred over Lip’s departure and Monica convinced Fiona to let her look after Liam.
It’s heartbreaking to watch Fiona trapped in this vicious cycle, always aware that Monica’s visits will always end badly, but powerless to prevent it, and struggling with the tiny part of her that wants some of Monica’s fleeting attention too. But in the terrific scene in which Frank and Monica bring the party home from the Alibi Room, Frank reminds Fiona that she has plenty of good memories of Monica, and Debbie deserves the same thing. The revelers crank up Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September,” and Fiona is reminded once again that Monica inhabits the mother role in this family, no matter how long she steps away from it, and no amount of dedication or self-sacrifice from Fiona will change that dynamic. By the episode’s end, even Fiona has succumbed to Monica’s good-time-gal charms, as Monica thanks her for taking care of things in her absence and playfully conspires to get rid of Estefania.
But Fiona hasn’t ever been able to completely let go, and she seems to want to grab the reins even more tightly when Monica shows up. She’s never able to see it as a welcome respite from her motherly duties. So she tries to retrieve Lip, who after bouncing from couch to couch to El train car, finally winds up at Steve’s place. Even though Lip is being an idiot, it does seem like he’s slowly starting to realize it and will soon be able to embrace the idea that he has the intelligence and ability to elevate himself out of a life of poverty. I wasn’t as crazy about the Lip stuff this week though, because I continue to hate that the path to a reconciliation between Fiona and Steve is paved with stalkerish behavior, and that Lip is a willing accomplice to all of it. Fiona and Steve’s reunion is an inevitability I’ve accepted, but I’d like to eventually graduate from tolerating Steve to understanding him as a partner for Fiona even if he’s not quite my kind of people. That’s not going to happen if he wins Fiona over by ensnaring members of her family and forcing her to offer herself as ransom.
The story this week that I suspect will polarize people (because no episode of Shameless is complete without one of those) is that of how Sheila and Jody ghost-hunted their way into sexual congress. It bordered on too silly, which is unavoidable when you pair a character like Sheila with one like Jody and leave them to their own devices. But it did make me laugh, and given how genuinely awful Karen is, I like the idea of Jody and Sheila as a couple, even if the pattern of Sheila and Karen packaged as a sexual two-fer creeps me out. Apparently, Sheila is a Seal fan.
But in spite of some minor quibbles, “Hurricane Monica” was a fantastic episode that showed the mostly reunited Gallagher clan at their fun-loving, debauched finest. By giving us the chance to be charmed and seduced by Monica, the viewers are now in the same position as the Gallaghers, trying our damnedest to enjoy the moment even though we know that what’s coming probably won’t be good.
- It was a pretty great week for Frank, who got a small, devastating moment in grieving for his dead mother.
- I can’t say enough good things about Chloe Webb’s performance. She absolutely owns this character.
- Some choice moments from Jody this week: “University of River Phoenix.” “I do that with ‘buttermilk.’ Butt…ermilk.”
- The thing with Lip translating Estefania’s telephone conversation was pretty goofy. Phone sex doesn’t really need translation. I didn’t know what she was saying, but I assumed it wasn’t “I really love my new husband and am so grateful he brought me home with him.”
- Mandy’s pregnant!