Last week’s episode of Shameless ended on a pivotal emotional moment: Lip, realizing that the best path forward for his family is moving to Milwaukee, breaks the news to his siblings that he intends to leave Illinois. It’s a scene that promises a difficult aftermath: even if we are practically-oriented as viewers and presume that Lip won’t go through with it because that would disrupt the now official eleventh (and final) season of the show, even the thought of it should have complicated the Gallagher family dynamics.
So, naturally, Shameless inexplicably jumps forward a month and skips over every single one of these emotional reactions.
“Location, Location, Location,” quite simply, made me angry. It made me angry when it first revealed that somehow an entire month has passed since the previous episode, and it kept making me angry with nearly every decision the writers made. The stories within range from a complete waste of time to fundamental missed opportunities, and across those stories some characters act as though they’ve never communicated with each other offscreen while others have apparently built profound friendships while we haven’t been paying attention. The episode reaches past the point of a lack of continuity to a fundamental disinterest in logic, delivering a penultimate episode that destroys any momentum from last week’s cliffhanger and generates no momentum of its own.
It is, quite simply, a bad episode of television.
The truly dire parts are too bad to spend any time on. Frank’s story takes up too much space with literally no payoff: somehow Faye’s house has no security of any kind, and then Frank finds out he’s sharing space with her gardener, and then they smoke crystal meth? All trash, every bit of it. Debbie’s story reaches an entirely logical conclusion that the show tries to pass off as a commentary on rich people problems, which isn’t entirely untrue. The problem, though, is that Debbie is a bad person, and the show can’t use her as an empty vessel for telling these kinds of observational stories. They need to actually invest in who she is and what she wants, and nothing about this story has accomplished that, especially with an ending that’s basically just Debbie hooking up with Chekhov’s Lesbian Milkovich. The same problem applies to Carl, who is just being pushed around by the plot with no particular characterization, revealing the corruption of the public service workers of Chicago because it’s a way to kill time, I guess? And speaking of killing time, I love how the episode circles back to Kev’s very first story in the season (his retirement from basketball and his lack of purpose in life) and pretends that was a continuous story just because they included the rich asshole from the auction, basically admitting that everything else they did was fundamentally disposable.
I said last week that I was only going to rant about these stories in the Stray Observations, but it’s important to acknowledge just how much of this episode was dead in the water. None of the setup for these stories was working, and none of the “payoff” delivered in this episode resonated. What does any of this tell us about these characters? What kind of long-term storytelling is being established? Will anyone—viewers, but also the characters themselves—even remember any of this by the time next season rolls around? Certain characters—Kev and Vee, Frank—have often channeled disposable sitcom storytelling, but this season pretty much every character other than Lip and Ian has been trapped in stories that were narrative dead ends as soon as they started, and I am profoundly confused why anyone believed that was a productive path for the show. The idea that this writer’s room is not going to have to pivot to finding a way to “end” the show seems impossible, because everything they’ve done this season has shattered the idea that they are actually telling one long story for all but a handful of their characters (Ian and Lip).
And even on that front, “Location, Location, Location” is a struggle. The new problem is the month-long gap, which only exists to justify Frank’s release from the rehab facility and creates a cascading effect on every other storyline, which more or less seem like they should be taking place days later instead. In the case of Ian’s story, the idea that Terry is just hearing about the engagement now doesn’t really make sense, like there’s an episode missing where they were trying to keep it from him. Similarly, the idea that Ian and Mickey had not discussed much wedding planning over the course of the previous month is absurd, especially given that the whole premise of the story is “Mickey as Groomzilla.” The same goes for Lip, who seems to still be barely communicating with Tami despite the fact they’re living in a confined space together. Lip’s story here is one that requires careful articulation: if his doubts have been growing in the month since he made the decision to move to Milwaukee, we needed to see those doubts, and we needed to better understand why he allowed Tami to quit her job if he was even secretly intending to try to stay in Chicago. If the show wanted to jump forward a month, it needed to at least produce a montage to help fill in gaps that would have made the stories in the episode much more effective (and explained, for example, how the hell Carl is so familiar with Sandy Milkovich having never interacted with her before).
But, there’s another problem related to this, which is that Lip and Ian’s stories still don’t feel like true long-form storytelling. Lip’s reasons for staying home do involve Liam’s growing complex that everyone in his family is leaving him behind, but the show never addresses Liam’s guardianship (or Carl’s, for that matter), missing a key opportunity to think about Lip’s sense of responsibility to his family in greater detail. And while framing the story as Lip wanting to stay in Chicago versus actually feeling like he needs to could work, the show isn’t interested in any of the character’s past experiences or his striving for upward mobility. From the conveniently appearing house nearby (which he’s apparently renting instead of buying, which completely defeats the purpose of a fixer-upper, but let’s not get distracted) to Tami’s “bridge burning” at work, the story just feels deeply contrived, and is swallowing up the characters involved instead of giving them room to breathe. It’s a better story than most of what Shameless has had to offer this season, but it’s still flawed, and nothing in this episode helped the story find its footing in the show’s past.
And then we come to Gallavich. This is a sweet story, and it’s touching to see Mickey using wedding planning as an outlet for his anger at his father’s homophobia, but it’s frustrating to see that the show has no interest in making the connections between this reaction and the characters’ pasts. Mickey already had a wedding, of course, and it’s easy for us to read that fact into the way he’s throwing himself into this wedding in such a direct way. But the show would be enriched by actually sketching in this history itself: if the story is going to erase all the conflict with an acoustic performance of “Livin’ on a Prayer” anyway, why not have Ian and Mickey work through their feelings on their past? Why not go classic bottle episode and lock them in a room together, creating space to dive into their relationship instead of just cramming it into a sitcom setup where a Chicago florist blatantly breaks anti-discrimination laws for a gag, basically? How were a set of completely pointless scenes of Frank being spooked in Faye’s house—just have him run into the gardener, we know the house isn’t actually haunted—worth losing the chance to articulate this important relationship more carefully?
But in its current iteration, Shameless isn’t interested in articulating anything, and its relationships are weakening with each passing episode that shows no investment in building them. A penultimate episode is supposed to create anticipation, but nothing about “Location, Location, Location” inspires anything other than dread and pessimism. Every bit of the episode feels compromised by a season full of bad choices, and raised questions that the now final eleventh season will struggle to answer successfully. There are still remnants of the good show that Shameless once was here, but they’re growing more difficult to sort out from the trash, which dominates this hour.
- How did Liam learn about Faye? The show kind of hand-waves that off, so I guess there’s a missing episode of Liam doing detective work trying to find Frank. (And a missing scene from this episode where the school tells him it’s been a month, so that the passage of time is more consistent across storylines).
- Carl has been working with the garbage men for a month, and he’s just now asking what’s going on with the real estate situation? (I promise not all of these will be complaints about the wonky timeline).
- Wasn’t Debbie going to become Claudia’s personal assistant or something? Did that happen over the course of the past month? Did it not? What else was Debbie doing with herself over that time? How did her blackmail situation remain completely unchanged over that period? (Okay, they might all be about the wonky timeline).
- It is my personal opinion that a show about poverty should not be as cavalier about money as it’s being with Ian and Mickey’s wedding, which involves caterers and venues. Even if we presume they have no intention of paying them, the fact that there isn’t even a conversation about money is wild to me. (At least Kev and Vee discuss startup costs for a potential new business, even if that conversation is extremely dull).
- So we’re just not talking about Kev and Vee running an insurance scam to allow out-of-state patients to get abortions, huh? And Vee’s in no way concerned about her relationship to her blackness? And Liam in no way is thinking about his own connection to his culture in the wake of his family continuing to neglect him? Got it.
- Debbie went from not being able to tie a blowtie to being able to tie one while running? (And yes, she is going all that running without one of her toes, but the show 100% does not remember this).