On any television show that tries to build a world bigger than just its principal characters, the 58-or-so minutes afforded to premium cable episodes run the risk of simply having too many people to check in with every week. “The Sins of My Caretakers” was a prime example of Shameless’ on-again propensity to cram too much stuff into its allotted time. What often makes this frustrating is that it becomes harder than it should be to distinguish which plots are going to be important in the grander arc of the season and which are nothing more than color for a week or two. Running scattershot through the South Side makes it difficult for any of these plots to develop deeply or connect in any real way. And while this week’s episode had its moments—particularly those contained within the strong final third—it felt more like a cobbled-together collection of scenes that lacked any real thematic unity.
Part of what made last week such a standout was that it allowed itself to focus on larger stories—Fiona’s new job at the supermarket, Lip’s rescue of Mandy’s half-sister Molly and Carl’s cancer camp—and connected them through the common theme of the family trying to help others. Now, Fiona’s feuding with the rest of the staff, Lip’s feuding with Mandy over her growing affection and Carl is told he isn’t dying after all.
Outside the Gallagher orbit, after more failures at conceiving a baby, Kevin and Veronica look to V’s mother as a surrogate, utilizing a turkey baster for a DIY-IVF solution in their living room. Their short scenes are well-executed check-ins. But Sheila, who has re-awoken sex-addicted Jody, the “Grand Poobah of depravity,” is wasted this week in a series of look-ins that go nowhere. Along with a cadre of new sex toys, Sheila takes on another hospice patient, recalling one of the poorest subplots of last season. This time it’s a dying nun who has taken a vow of silence but blogs about Sheila and Jody’s raunchy sex, serving little more purpose plot-wise than to give the episode its name.
Meanwhile, the high-stakes plot in the background this week involves the buried corpse of Auntie Ginger Gallagher, stashed away in the family’s backyard while Frank fraudulently collects her Social Security checks each month. A crew from the city will be digging in the yard to work on the sewer, which means Frank’s deception (and the rest of the family’s complicity by proxy) is likely to be unveiled unless they exhume her remains.
It comes as no surprise that as Mandy and Lip’s “ghetto marriage” intensifies, Lip is following Fiona’s lead and souring on Mandy’s affection. Throughout this season, I’ve been curious about Fiona’s quick dismissal of Mandy. Obviously she’s stretching the family meal budget even further and her choice of eveningwear is giving Carl—who spends the episode innocently trying to unpack the mechanics of gay sex—an eyeful. But it’s becoming apparent that Mandy is not Karen and her relationship with Lip is more than a pair of damaged street kids using each other for sex. In a moment of desperation, Lip calls Karen, leaving a conflicted voicemail and eventually realizing she is to blame for his fear of commitment before reconciling with Mandy.
At the city pool, older girls harass Debbie’s undeveloped body and embarrass her after she returns with a tube-sock-padded two-piece. Though she’s maturing, she’s still a vulnerable child; her sobbing conversation with Fiona through the locked door is even more fine work from a great young actress, Emma Kenney. Ian, meanwhile, enlists Mickey to help steal Jimmy’s father’s possessions from his former home. They are confronted by Jimmy’s mother wielding a shotgun, and Mickey is shot as they flee.
After learning his parents’ marriage failed because his father has been sleeping with Ian, Jimmy is listless as ever—he spends the episode recalling evidence of his father’s past deceptions. In spite of how annoying Jimmy’s whining about his father being gay becomes, the Fiona/Jimmy face-off near the episode’s climax is a welcome new direction for their relationship. Jimmy lacks perspective and calls out Fiona’s “my tragedy is bigger than your tragedy game” after she outlines the myriad of things she and her siblings face that seem “worse” than a gay dad. Tragedy can be a matter of perspective, though, and Jimmy storms off, uninterested in Fiona’s one-upsmanship. Unhappily forced to confront his privileged position, he jumps back into Estefania’s bed.
Perhaps all these chaotic check-ins were meant to lay the groundwork for the bedlam at the end of the episode—Fiona’s triumph at unearthing Ginger’s remains is cut short when she enters the kitchen to find Jimmy’s father tweezers-deep in Mickey’s rear removing a bullet fragment, Debbie exultant over almost drowning a girl at the pool and Molly’s little-boy bulge poorly covered by a two-piece. This could easily be a typical Shameless Sunday evening, but the arrival of a woman from child protective services summoned weeks ago by Frank ratchets up the stakes higher than they’ve ever been. Together, the Gallagher children beat poverty and the other difficulties of their circumstances week after week, but Frank’s callous action threatens their tenuous peace in a development that we can only hope is too significant not to give us a meatier plot in the weeks to come.