While Fiona grapples with the reality of her situation and Frank sinks further towards the grim end, Lip seems to be the only one able to climb right now. A depressed Debbie cuts herself after being dumped by Matty (again), Carl deals with being made fun of at school for having a “cocaine baby brother,” and Ian’s still drugged up and working at nightclubs.
Not long ago, Lip was smashing car windows and trying to get Mandy pregnant. Now, he’s the only thing keeping the Gallaghers together as he cooks for the family, “buys” them groceries, takes his three-year-old brother to school, and, above all, makes sure Fiona realizes what she has done and what she has to do to regain the family’s trust. Jeremy Allen White deserves a lot of credit for his work in these last few episodes in particular, playing a similar character for three and a half seasons before undergoing a change like this. Lip even takes a time-out from parenting his older sister to kick Frank and Sammi (along with Chucky, of course) out of the house after finding Frank passed out from doing heroine, thanks to Sammi.
Picking up after last week’s episode, “A Jailbird, Invalid, Martyr, Cutter, Retard, and Parasitic Twin” did its best work with Lip, Fiona and Frank. As Lip tries to adjust to his new life, Fiona wishes for her old one back, asking, “I turned my back for like … two seconds, and now my life is ruined? How is that fair?” We’ve seen Fiona make bad decisions in the past, but never have the consequences been so drastic. I found it difficult to watch her struggle to accept that she’s guilty and will lose most of her rights while being on probation for three years.
On top of that, we see Lip take Liam from her, telling her to sort out her shit. Emmy Rossum delivered another strong performance here. No surprise. She has been doing it since the first season, and as the role gets more complicated and demanding, she continues to raise the bar.
As does William H. Macy, who has more on his plate this season as Frank Gallagher than going on alcohol-fueled, nonsensical rants. Bed-ridden, Frank writes about his life and is upset with Sammi and the rest of his kids because they won’t let him get high in the house. Again, we see Frank react angrily to the thought of nearing the end of his life, when Sammi tells him she wants to get to know him better since they have limited time. We also see Frank’s manipulative side again, as he tells Sammi she’s just like the others and throws it in her face until she caves and gives him a “special present”—a heroine kit—to ease the tension and get on his good side, for which Lip calls her out when he tells her and Frank to leave.
The Frank/Sammi relationship has played out much better than I initially expected when Samantha was brought into the mix. They work well together because everything fits—Sammi grew up without a dad and will do anything to get approval from one now. Meanwhile, Frank has been manipulating his children all his life and knows he can control Sammi in that way. It’s tough to blame him when he reveals that his parents used to be the same way. It’s a scary but sobering reality that the current Gallagher children could end up the same way.
Even with Sheila gone, Shameless succeeds in having fantastic storylines involving secondary characters who aren’t part of the Gallagher family. Again, Kev and Mickey provide some of the episode’s best moments, both together and separately. Their conversation about business and pubes at Mickey’s house was hilarious, as were Kev’s scenes with Veronica about her lack of sex drive leading to the discovery that one of her three babies was essentially consumed by the other two. And how about those damn “hole-standers” outside The Alibi?
This was arguably Mickey’s finest episode in the series to date. We’ve gradually seen him let his guard down, and having Mandy tell him to make something his problem and go find Ian was great. I don’t think anyone on this show has the same level of persistence as Mickey, and it’s difficult to imagine another scenario where Ian could be pulled away from his terrible funk without it involving Mickey.
One of the most powerful moments in “A Jailbird…” comes as Mickey sits staring at Ian passed out on his bed, when Svetlana walks in and sees the look on his face. As is so often the case with Shameless, neither actor says a word, yet their expressions say more than any line of dialogue could ever convey.
This, perhaps more than anything, has been the most noticeable change in this season of Shameless. The first three seasons had the Gallaghers and company face all sorts of problems, but not every character felt like they were changing over time.
Season four has put every single character in an unfamiliar situation, and the entire cast has risen to the occasion. Just past the season’s halfway point now, Shameless keeps on rolling with another hard-hitting, emotional episode.
Carlo Sobral is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Paste.