Considering what Shameless put us through last week, I expected less intensity from “Iron City” and more focus on the aftermath of the big events. I didn’t expect this week’s installment to exceed last week’s “There’s the Rub,” but “Iron City”, despite being almost entirely an aftermath episode, did just that.
Once again, Fiona, Lip and Frank all played big roles here and their respective actors delivered outstanding performances.
We follow Fiona through the various stages of the prison system, watch Lip deal with the most pressure and responsibility he’s ever been faced with, and witness Frank hear the words, “You know you’re dying, right?” from his doctor. These are the main characters of Shameless, and this is the lowest they’ve been in a while.
Emmy Rossum, as Fiona, conveys so many emotions without speaking a word – disappointment, sadness, anger, desperation, fear … just to name a few. As much as Fiona has been played up to be a character to root for over the first few seasons, the show continues to taint that image this season and push Fiona in a direction we’ve never seen her before.
Same goes for Lip, who, with Fiona in jail and Frank hospitalized, instantly becomes the most competent, responsible Gallagher, even in the eyes of the law. Lip sees Liam strapped down to his hospital bed and receives the bad news from the doctor—despite Liam’s recovery, the cocaine overdose caused seizures which could lead to problems with brain function in the future. Seeing his brother like this for the first time made him even angrier with Fiona, and that was evident in their phone call. Lip hesitates to answer, and bleakly states the consequences of her thoughtless actions. Still, he spends the majority of the episode on-edge, hearing about his brother, listening to Kev’s persistent remarks about Fiona not being at fault, having Deb ask him why they won’t try to get $10,000 to bail Fiona out, and meeting Matt for the first time. His only moment of brief happiness before Liam’s release arrives when his college roommate shows up at the hospital with his marked essay. Jeremy Allen White sells the look of satisfaction here as well as he sells everything else in “Iron City,” truly sharing the spotlight with Emmy Rossum.
Even William H. Macy, who has less to do in this episode, still serves up something we’ve never seen from Frank before. Initially, it’s just the Frank we know, shrugging off the doctor’s bleak news by saying he’s got a good ten years left. Part of Frank’s problem has always been that he can’t see the consequences of his actions and feels he’s immune to the dangers of alcohol. When Sammi takes Frank to a hospice to scope out a place for him to spend his final hours, only then does Frank realize the gravity of the situation. He doesn’t want to die in a place like that, and a couple minutes in the hospice is more than enough to make him freak out and demand to leave.
Is Frank really going to die soon? The doctor, played excellently by Scott Grimes, seemed pretty sure his time was up, but I can’t imagine Shameless without Frank, so I’m expecting some sort of miracle in the upcoming weeks.
Even though this one was, again, all about the Gallaghers, special mention must be made for Joan Cusack as Sheila, who might now be gone for some time (hopefully not for good) as she follows Roger Running Tree and his sister’s kids off to the reservation. I’m glad they didn’t phase her out completely after Karen and Jody left. She’s been great in the show from season one, and if this is the last we see of her, this ends her story on a high note.
The last few minutes of “Iron City” hammered it all home. Fiona hits rock bottom all episode before Mike (who made it clear he never wants to see her again) bails her out, and she arrives home to an empty house while the rest of the family, including a drugged-up, unaware Frank, celebrates Liam’s release at the hospital.
Will Fiona still be treated as a member of the family? Or will Lip’s view of her rub off on the rest of the Gallaghers? What about custody of the children? What about Lip’s college days? And what about Ian? Lip was so busy he didn’t even check on Ian, even though he knows where he has been.
Season 4 has really picked up steam the last few weeks, and “Iron City” triumphs as its strongest installment so far, pulling off an intense aftermath episode that leaves even more questions on the table for the future.
The Gallaghers might stand divided when they need each other most.
Carlo Sobral is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Paste.