Now that’s more like it, Shameless. As my reviews and their accompanying grades have indicated, I was underwhelmed with the start of this season, and concerned by what seemed like a lackadaisical pace, a dearth of engaging threads, and of course, the Frank Problem. But I adopted a wait-and-see attitude because it’s nearly impossible to tell from one episode to the next whether Shameless is building up to something or the writers are just doing playful riffs on the Gallagher world that are intended to stand alone.
It’s safe to say that Shameless presents a heightened reality. As much as it seems like the intent is for the show to represent a fairly realistic depiction of a no-collar Chicago family, it’s at best a funhouse-mirror reflection of what that life is like, made fun for television. All that’s fine, but on Shameless, “pregnant Chinese immigrant comes to live with the Gallaghers” exists in the same space as “Ian, a teenager struggling with his sexuality dreams of going to West Point,” and I don’t always feel like I can confidently identify which of those stories is going to take root, and which will never be mentioned again. This is to say that I was delighted by “I’ll Light A Candle For You Every Day” both as an episode and as a reminder that, sometimes, the writers of Shameless are moving pieces even when it seems like they’re just playing in the Gallagher sandbox.
Thematically, “Candle” was as strong an episode of Shameless as there’s been. It’s understandable how someone who has to fight and claw to ensure their basic needs are met can become selfish, or at least a bit myopic, as they flout the rules of polite society that it seems only the warm, wealthy and well-fed have time to consider. From the pilot, we’ve seen that the Gallaghers are willing to lie, cheat and steal to maintain the family’s lifestyle. But we’ve never seen a rumination on how the Gallaghers feel about doing the things they do, or what the family policy is regarding such things. Past episodes have always indicated that there are no boundaries on property crime—judging from the comments, the meat truck robbery in “Frank Gallagher: Loving Husband, Devoted Father” was enough to turn off at least a few people. (Understandable, considering many of the scenes that involve the Gallaghers stealing or scamming something suggest they are just as drawn in by the thrill of the grift as they are by the actual take.) Fiona had to consider the question this week, in a story that pulled off the deft trick of bringing Fiona back to the foreground, while making Frank’s effort to steal Dottie’s pension feel like it’s part of the same show.
Fiona is engaged in a torrid text affair with Craig Heisner, the high-school crush Jasmine cyber-stalked on Fiona’s behalf next week. It’s almost a shame that Jasmine wasn’t around this week to observe the result of her meddling, as Fiona can be a bit high-and-mighty in her assessment of infidelity and the no-good men who commit it. Not surprisingly, the rules got relaxed when it came to the ruggedly handsome, but also very married Craig, who Fiona carries on with playfully, as if she genuinely doesn’t know where the flirtation will lead. After a coffee date with him, Fiona finds a Louis Vuitton bag on the El with $526 in cash tucked inside. Naturally, it’s early Christmas for the Gallagher clan, as Fiona buys everyone gifts and treats them to the finest casual dining. But she decides to at least return the pricey bag to its owner, Kim Furtado (“Some rich bitch,” says Veronica), only to find that Kim is a fellow Southside dirty girl living in a basement unit with noisy children. She insists on replacing the money, after finding out that it was Kim’s rent, leading to a sparkling “Frank drops in” scene in which he reminds us why the Gallaghers are the way they are. “Finders keepers, losers weepers. That’s the Gallagher credo,” says Frank.
Frank, meanwhile, is off living the Gallagher credo with poor, but-her-faced, weak-hearted Dottie Coronis, still trying to horn in on Dottie’s pension in a story that has lived up to the series title perhaps more than any before. Using a stolen engagement ring that Jody intended for Karen, he proposes to Dottie, in a scene that somehow managed to be sort of poignant, which is amazing considering the particulars of the situation. As was obviously the case when The Pager That Will Go Off When Frank Is There To Hear It was introduced, Dottie’s pager went off and Frank was there to hear it. The writers have rendered Frank as a superlative slimeball, but I thought that when the pager went off and he was presented with the choice, he wouldn’t literally contribute to a woman’s death so he could steal her hard-earned pension. But that is, in fact, what Frank does, calling back and informing the hospital that Dottie passed already, so they won’t be needing that rare, compatible heart after all.
It’s despicable, sure, but much in the same way we saw Frank grappling with Karen’s seduction last season, he’s equally conflicted about his latest moral transgression. Frank goes down to The Alibi Room and gets plastered, while railing against the very concept of organ transplantation, and rationalizing his actions by convincing himself that Dottie was greedy to want the transplant to begin with. I don’t mind Frank being horrible, as long as sometimes I get to see him working out the math that allows him to look himself in the mirror after doing the horrible things he does. (Particularly when the argument is as weirdly hilarious as the organ transplant rant.) There’s a thimble-full of conscience buried somewhere in Frank’s walking id, and it allows him to retain some humanity even as he wreaks havoc around him. When Dottie finds out she didn’t get a compatible heart that became available, she decides she’s ready to go on her own terms, rather than trying to wait for another shot. She’s already left the pension to her next-of-kin—foiled again, Frank!—but she agrees to give him a couple grand and a flat-screen to literally fuck the life out of her. It’s probably the most distasteful scene the show has done, but it worked for me because there’s at least five percent of Frank that agreed to do it as a kindness to Dottie, even though as always, Frank’s primary concern was Frank.
When Fiona tries to prove how far from Frank’s tree her apple has fallen by returning Kim’s money, Kim is furious after having a few days to stew and speculate about her missing rent money, and the two wind up yelling obscenities at each other, as opposed to the warm embrace of relief Fiona was anticipating. Later, as she’s fucking a yelping Craig in the back of a minivan filled with kid accoutrements, Fiona has to face the sad reality that doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing both have their ways of sucking. Back on the El, she calls Steve to exchange pleasantries while he’s getting a blow job in Costa Rica. I’m not entirely sure how to feel about that last scene. I was always a bit indifferent towards the character, as well as his relationship with Fiona, and at no point in the first two episodes did I feel his absence from the show. But I like what Steve’s appearance represents for Shameless, and that’s narrative momentum.
- Kev wants to buy The Alibi Room from its senile owner but can’t figure out a way to get the down-payment money, which I assume means those bags of weed will be dug up soon.
- I loved Debbie’s scenes this week, especially her rendition of Garbage’s “#1 Crush.”
- So this Jody and Karen thing is really happening, huh?
- Lip’s new credit card fraud scheme can’t possibly end well.
- My boyfriend, who used to work at Louis Vuitton, says Kim's bag costs $1800. In case anyone was wondering.
- “Does everything have to be an ass shake with you?” “Sometimes it’s a boob shake.”
- “I work with a guy from Michigan, only spoke English. Got a liver transplant from a Mexican, suddenly he speaks perfect Spanish.”
- “Maybe there’s someone needier or more deserving…like a black woman. Those people have gotten a bum rap in our society. From now on, only black ladies should get the organ transplants.”