Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)
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The pivot point of Shameless’ ninth season was Fiona’s fall from grace: on the verge of translating her investments into true financial stability, her entire future vanished after a combination of a poorly thought-out investment, an ugly breakup, a drunk driving accident, and the underlying argument that the universe was never going to allow her to escape the South Side. It was a story decision that the writers made knowing that this was possibly Emmy Rossum’s final season, but ultimately— as far as I can piece the narrative together—executed before Rossum had confirmed her exit.

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We’ve had a couple of months to sit with this story development due to the mid-season hiatus instituted by Showtime, and if I’m being honest I haven’t really thought much about Shameless during that period. The choice to split the season is driven by a variety of factors—this includes cynical ones like extending the amount of time you have to spend subscribed to see the entire season and possibly practical ones tied to the show’s production schedule. However, it’s not like the season ended on a huge cliffhanger that left us desperate to find resolution. The season just sort of stopped, setting up a bunch of stories—Lip has a girlfriend! Carl has a girlfriend! Frank has a manic lady friend! Kev and Vee have randomly decided to adopt another child!—that lack anything approaching a spark. The one exception to this is Fiona’s story, but even there the show didn’t really give us much to go on. I didn’t spend the hiatus anticipating the next chapter of Fiona’s story—I spent the hiatus questioning what narrative value they saw in punishing Fiona in such an aggressive fashion.

“The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Alibi” alludes to this question in the episode’s title. Fiona spends the episode stumbling drunkenly through her life, acting out at Patsy’s and spiraling when she learns that the sleazebag developer who bought her building sold it at a huge profit to another developer who’s razing the whole block for condos. We learn that she hasn’t been paying any of the bills, despite the fact her siblings have been giving her money. She ends the episode literally taking Frank’s stool at the Alibi, and then takes Frank’s place in the fabric of the series as Kev and Veronica deliver a passed out Fiona home for her own protection.

But what am I supposed to be getting out of seeing Fiona’s tragedy extended like this? The parallel with Frank is fine, but is that an actual story? There’s a collateral effect of Debbie having to take over the mantle of the Responsible Gallagher in order to keep the power on, but the show just does this matter-of-factly, instead of presenting it as a significant development for a character whose responsibility has been erratic at best. The episode is deeply unclear in terms of how much time has passed since Fiona’s accident (more on that below), but no one in her family seems to have flagged her behavior as a concern, and everyone seems shocked to learn she hasn’t been paying those bills, as if the warning signs weren’t in front of them the entire time. The show continues to have Fiona spiraling, but with no apparent purpose, and with no urgency to demonstrate why this was a better path than having Fiona suffer smaller setbacks or actually find some semblance of stability. I’m open to the possibility that this was the best path for Fiona, truly, but I desperately need something to go on here, and this episode has no interest in providing that.

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Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)

And I, honestly, have no interest in literally anything else happening in this episode. Am I supposed to be excited by the writers plug-and-playing the personal scooter trend into Carl’s grift cycle? Was the sudden swerve into ripped-from-the-headlines child separation immigration intended to make Kev and Vee’s sudden interest in another child feel more organic, despite seeming entirely out of left field? There’s nothing for me to analyze in either of these storylines, because everything is on the surface, with zero bearing on any long-term character arcs or larger questions raised by the series. I understand the writers’ interest in being topical, and especially their interest in exploring the cruelty of the child separation policy and the plight of asylum-seeking children, but the value of such a story is limited when filtered through the inert, untethered world of the Alibi. The show has spent years now just throwing Kevin and Veronica into topical situations without ever really grappling with the consequences—as was pointed out in the comments earlier in the season, their last (child bride) foster child Ethel allegedly made it impossible for them to adopt, but that doesn’t even come up here, because why would it? Kevin and Veronica are tools for filtering stories through more than they’re actual characters, an unfortunate but unavoidable truth late in the show’s run.

It pains me, but I really have nothing to say about the rest of this episode. The show hasn’t given us any reason to really care about Ingrid, but this storyline doesn’t even pretend to be about anything but a bunch of sperm jokes. The same goes for Lip’s new girlfriend Tami—there’s a potential story here about Lip getting a glimpse at how other people his age live in a gentrified Chicago, but there’s no real tension established in the episode even after she walks through the house judging them for all their Gallagheristic ways. But who cares about what she thinks? Why is Ingrid wanting to have Frank’s baby and ending up with Carl’s semen meaningful in any way? It’s one thing for a show to hold cards close to its chest if it has our full attention in general, but this is season nine of this television show, and between character exits and rebooted storylines the word I’d use to describe its current storytelling status is stagnant. If you’re in that position, you can’t just casually jump into a new half-season with warmed-over storylines.

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You need to give the viewer a reason to anticipate next week’s episode because they’re excited by the prospect of what’s to come, and not because they’re desperate for any reason to keep investing in the show.

SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: WHEN IN THE WORLD IS THIS EPISODE OF SHAMELESS HAPPENING?

So, how much time do YOU think has passed since Fiona’s accident? The internet informs me that a cast for a broken wrist is usually on for six to eight weeks, so it’s definitely less than that unless Fiona needed a second cast for some reason but let’s say for the sake of argument that she didn’t. But that means that the Gallaghers racked up $1700 of bills in that period, and potentially even more since Debbie seems to sweet talk her way into only paying a portion of the outstanding balance. It’s definitely still summer, since school hasn’t started yet, but it’s been long enough that Kev and Veronica have gone through the entire foster care licensing process, which the internet says takes at least three months (and that’s being optimistic). Now, it’s possible that the show is suggesting that they were fast-tracked due to the huge influx of children separated from their families, but that is never clarified through dialogue, and feels like a stretch. It’s less clear how much time has passed in Frank, Lip, and Carl’s relationships, which makes them the control group that could be just as easily read as “two weeks” or “two months.”

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Join us next week when I’ll have hopefully had time to investigate Chicago’s tenant laws to determine how much notice they would have had to give Fiona’s former tenants of their plans to demolish the building.

Stray observations

  • Ian’s only mention is a brief throwaway in a big expositional line of dialogue from Debbie when she talks about how they’re going to make ends meet. It’s creating a weird scenario in which they basically “erase” the character narratively (are they ever going to bring up visiting him?), but he remains a presence. Going to be a tough balancing act if the show moves forward, especially combined with Fiona’s exit.
  • So I had to go back and clarify this, and couldn’t find anything: did they just never explain where Liam is? I’m presuming it’s something to do with his rich school friends or something, but he doesn’t come up in the “Previously On” and they never at any point seem concerned about his absence. It’s honestly bizarre.
  • Do you know what else is bizarre? That earlier this season Carl’s girlfriend was murdered.
  • I realize that no one really wants to have this conversation, but something needs to be said: the volume of ejaculate that Carl generates in roughly thirty seconds is alarming? There was an episode of Party Down that was essentially about this, and I’m not suggesting it’s scientifically impossible, but the mechanics of the whole situation honestly broke my brain a little.
  • Yes, you may have recognized Santiago’s singing voice if you’ve recently watched Coco, as Anthony Gonzalez continues his move into live-action. If you haven’t yet watched Coco, it is on Netflix if you want to be forced to confront your emotions.
  • But seriously, Kevin and Veronica needed to go find someone who speaks Spanish? They couldn’t pull out their smartphones and use language apps to at least try some kind of basic communication with him to get things started? (I get the writers needed the translator so they could set up the asylum storyline through exposition but still.)
  • What in the world was the “Ha ha, the realtor has a giant penis” bit?
  • The only time I really even chuckled at this episode was when Frank went to bet Carl a $20 bill but pulled out a $100 bill—simple, but it made me laugh, and nothing else managed that.
  • If you have been reading this review and thought “Jeez, this douchebag doesn’t even like the show, why is he writing about it,” I’ll be honest and say that this is easily the most disillusioned I’ve been with the show. But just because our relationships with the show may be different doesn’t mean we haven’t each invested over eight seasons into the show, and I hope you’ll use the comments to reflect on why you are still enjoying the show much as I use this space to explore why I’m not.

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