“Milk Of The Gods” isn’t in an easy position as the premiere of the season following the one that is inarguably Shameless’ high-water mark. It’s also the episode following “Lazarus,” a mostly excellent finale with an appearance from the presumed-dead Jimmy-Jack-Steve, which was a groaner even for those who didn’t find it irritating enough to sour their impression of the entire episode. As is the case with most Shameless premieres, “Milk Of The Gods” allows the Gallaghers to sort through last season’s rubble and does a bit of table setting for what’s to come, but it doesn’t exactly demand attention, nor does it inspire confidence season five will continue the show’s upward trajectory.
In fact, it’s quite possible season five will prove to be the show’s most frustrating yet. The Gallaghers get under your skin, and I’m so deeply invested in these characters, it’s hard to imagine parting with them any time soon. But “Milk Of The Gods” simply lacks the urgency of “Simple Pleasures.” This time last year, Fiona was moving forward with her life despite never getting closure from Steve. She was gainfully employed, and navigating, though clumsily, her new relationship with Mike. Lip was starting his bumpy transition to collegiate life, while Frank was struggling with his rapidly deteriorating health. Ian was still nowhere to be found, having borrowed Lip’s identity to enlist in the military. Everything was in a state of flux for the Gallaghers, and there was no shortage of compelling reasons to take the journey with them.
The irony of the “Milk Of The Gods” is that it’s difficult to see the path forward because so much of the dust has settled, not because there’s so much of it in the air. Fiona and Frank have settled into their respective new normals. Fiona is incredibly healthy, which is a joy to behold, and she’s not just acclimating to her new circumstances, she’s embracing them. She’s become a clutch player in her waitress job at Patsy’s Pies, and she’s now a stickler for punctuality, having learned her lesson from going off the grid with her ankle monitor last season. Meanwhile, Frank is recuperating at Sheila’s, interacting with his family to a greater degree than usual and fulfilling his dream of creating a super high-alcohol beer that combines the two most desirable beer flavors: wood and bacon.
Fiona’s in a position not terribly different from the one she was in when season four began, with the obvious exception of the round-the-clock GPS monitoring. She’s gainfully employed and navigating a complicated relationship with her boss, this time with Sean, the Dermot Mulroney character replacing Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s short-lived character from “Lazarus.” Promisingly, Sean isn’t quick to respond to Fiona’s overt flirtation, and he makes clear he’s not going to take any shit from her. When he notices she failed to ring up the pie from Lip’s welcome-home dinner, he calls her on the carpet and demands she straighten up. It’s a potential love interest even more intriguing than Mike was last season, because Mike’s unfailing politeness and accommodation left him marked for death early on. Sean seems a better match for Fiona who can smell a guy with no backbone from three blocks away.
But it’s hard to invest in that relationship with the looming specter of Jimmy-Jack-Steve. If Justin Chatwin had to be brought back, I’d have much preferred JJS to simply show up one day on Fiona’s doorstep so whatever will come of his return can happen as quickly as possible. Instead “Milk Of The Gods” teases, sending Angela into Patsy’s Pies on a reconnaissance mission to remind us that the character is returning, though who knows to what end. I’m not clear at this point how I’m even supposed to view Fiona and JJS’ relationship at this point. After finding him initially off-putting, I warmed to him as his presence in the Gallaghers’ lives became less about his savior complex and more about making a genuine investment in Fiona’s life. But I wasn’t sad to see him go, and it’s irritating to see the slow reveal of a character about which I feel indifferent at my most generous. I’m also not sure he’s good for Fiona right now. The mess she made is one she needs to clean up herself, and standing back and letting Fiona take care of herself is not something JJS knows how to do.
Frank has been Shameless’ most difficult character to write for since somewhere around season two, when his antics became as repetitive as his habitual abuses of his children’s trust. Frank’s brush with death was invigorating for the character, and William H. Macy played it so well, it got to the point that even I felt like I didn’t want to see Frank die, even though he’s often the worst part of the show. “Milk” takes its title from Frank’s “secret project,” later revealed to be the revolting home brew, which effectively returns Frank to the role of bawdy comic relief. He couldn’t care less about Sammy, even after she put so much into taking care of him, and she’s so desperate to win his attention back, she’s resorted to having sex in front of him hoping he’ll think she’s been naughty. Clearly Frank is not out of the woods yet, with his continued weight loss and aversion to doing what will make him well, but I have no interest in watching Frank rededicate his life to alcohol abuse.
The most interesting developments are with Ian and Lip. Ian has taken up residence at the Milkovich Estate, and even has the blessing of Svetlana, who is keeping her promise not to meddle with Ian and Mickey’s relationship so long as he helps take care of the baby. But he’s brushing off his depression as a one-time cocaine crash and refusing to accept what seems obvious to everyone else. It’ll be fascinating to see how Mickey handles the situation, as Ian’s compulsive sexual trysts indicate he’s launching into yet another manic flight. And Lip gets the most observant story of all as he’s challenged to acclimate to life on the southside after working so hard to adjust to his new life on campus. It seems inevitable he’ll rekindle his emotional entanglement with Mandy, whenever she turns up.
Shameless frequently gets off to a slow start, so it’s far too soon to cast too critical an eye towards the season. But it feels like the momentum is gone, even if the thrill isn’t.
- Debbie is in a doll-stabbing funk because Holly and Ellie are giving her the cold shoulder. I much prefer that to be Debbie’s biggest problem rather than the reluctance of a 20-something David Lynch superfan to take her virginity.
- Kev and Veronica are going through major changes as new parents. I never thought I’d see the day those two wouldn’t be able to knock out an afternoon quickie.
- I can’t watch anymore of the Sheila vs. Sammy rivalry. I just can’t. It was irritating last season, and it’s a waste of two amazing actresses.
- Fiona’s co-worker: “He only gave you the tip? He didn’t stick the whole thing in?”
- The neighborhood is about to be gentrified. I hope the Gallaghers will at least see what Jamba Juice has to offer before they write it off.