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Shameless Review: "Strangers on a Train" (Episode 4.04)

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<i>Shameless</i> Review: "Strangers on a Train" (Episode 4.04)

In many shows or movies, when a character does something that we strongly oppose, we tend to dislike them more and lose sympathy for them. Sure, genres like fantasy and sci-fi have plenty of likable villains, but that’s because those characters are usually far from anyone you’d ever encounter in your life and their level of badass often surpasses the terrible things they’ve done. Shameless, being a show in a present-day setting that tries to be as realistic and believable as possible, faces challenges many other shows don’t. It forces you to watch these characters make bad decisions and hurt people around them while managing to make you keep caring about them as if they were people you knew in person. Every character in Shameless has many flaws, but as a viewer, you can’t stop hoping things work out for the Gallaghers.

This week’s episode, more than any other this season, made that clear to me. Fiona, despite what she tells herself, continues to go after Mike’s brother, Robbie. Lip, in a fit of anger after not being allowed to write a test he was six minutes late for, smashes a bunch of random car windows on campus. Carl drugs his father and breaks his leg while he’s out. Sammi, after finding out Frank is her father, tells him, “you dry-humped my thigh for half an hour yesterday!” to which he replies, “dry-humping is not incest.” Despite how funny that last one is, none of these traits are ones people look for in friends. These aren’t redeemable qualities. Still, by the end of the episode, these characters have each gone some way in redeeming themselves for their past errors.

Even though I don’t like seeing Fiona go back to Robbie, I’m glad the writers have Veronica step in and push Fiona to admit her problems. This helps her image a bit this week after she lets Robbie have his way with her on the train, but this still probably won’t end well for her. If she really stops seeing Robbie, won’t he just threaten to tell Mike?

Just as Veronica plays parent to Fiona here, Kev has some great moments with Lip trying to convince him to go back to college after Lip starts telling everyone he’s going to drop out. This was the best episode this season for Lip’s college storyline. His arc had been heading towards a breakdown, and this week we saw it. After smashing the car windows and coming home, Lip sees Mandy again, and after they have sex he tells her he wouldn’t mind if she got pregnant. Furious, Mandy says she worked hard to get him into college and, after a fight, Lip ends up at The Alibi. Kev throws down some heavy words of wisdom for Lip, telling him to “grow a pair.” I liked his whole bit about Lip being the best at beating the system, and Kev asking Lip if he really wanted to end up like him, with kids on the way and struggling to pay bills. Kev and Veronica have had their own storylines with V’s mom and the babies going on lately, and this episode reminded us just how important those two characters are to the Gallaghers.

That’s not it for Kev. He also hires some Mexicans to do cheap work around The Alibi and accepts Mickey’s proposal to run a Russian whore operation out of The Alibi to bring them both more customers. The Alibi sees a lot of action in this episode, and I’m excited to see more of Kev and Mickey’s business partnership in the coming weeks.

Even Sammi turns up at The Alibi in “Strangers on a Train,” after finding out Frank is her father. She comes back to reconcile with him and let him know things are okay, and even though Frank had lost his cool on her earlier about her liver not being a match due to her white blood cells attacking his (“Why the fuck did they do that?!”), you can see Frank’s actually remorseful when he apologizes to her for not telling her sooner. Ultimately, this storyline had the makings of one that could’ve spanned multiple episodes, and the Shameless writers made a good choice to have it come out this soon rather than drag it on. Now it’ll be interesting to see what sort of role Sammi plays in the future, especially if she meets the other Gallaghers.

As for Carl, his destructive side sees him trying to help Frank again, whether it’s by breaking his leg to get him insurance money or wheeling him up to Sammi’s trailer to drop him off. Carl has grown up a lot thanks to having to care for his dad, and since Sammi’s liver won’t work for Frank, Carl will probably be helping Frank closely for a while. Debbie, too, finds herself facing challenges of growing up, saying to Fiona, “I just wish I could skip the part where I don’t know what to do, and get to the part where I do.” It remains unclear what Matty’s intentions are, but for now, “Strangers on a Train” made him seem less creepy than before, as he deleted the fake nude photo Debbie sent him and told her she probably wasn’t ready yet. Still, is he really into Debbie and he’s just waiting a few years, or is there something more to him?

Although things started to look up for Lip at the end of this week, I can’t imagine him staying away at college for a long time. Don’t forget, Ian has Lip’s I.D. which he used to enlist, so don’t be surprised if that comes into play soon and forces Lip to leave college.

While the first three episodes of the season had a lot of individual storylines going on, “Strangers on a Train” brought some people closer together. Veronica and Kev stood in as parental figures for Fiona and Lip. Kev and Mickey now have a business going together at The Alibi. Debbie finally opened up to Fiona after shutting her out the last few weeks. Lip got to see Mandy again after coming home to visit.

Season 4 of Shameless continues to gather steam in another strong episode which moves quickly and ends on a happier note, with Lip getting to re-take the test as Frank and Sammi patch things up at The Alibi. Seeing where some of the main characters are, those happy moments should be much rarer in coming weeks.

Carlo Sobral is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Paste.

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