As we’ve come to expect from its first few seasons, Shameless often reaches its peak when it’s most difficult to watch. After things began looking up for some of the Gallaghers recently, this week’s “There’s the Rub” brought their world crashing down around them in a gut-wrenching episode.
Fiona drives to a motel to meet Robbie, but this time, instead of the encounter leading to sex, Fiona calmly tells Robbie she now hates herself enough that this must stop. She drives away, leaving him standing there. Meanwhile, Lip studies at college when two members of the military police show up and question him about Ian. One of them lets it slip that Ian tried stealing a helicopter and ran off. Frank and Sammi continue to bond while trying to get Frank his disability money, as Carl feels pushed away from his father now that Sammi’s around to take care of him.
Construction starts outside The Alibi and will last about seven weeks, driving away customers and causing more headaches for Kev, who is forced to act quickly in his business partnership with Mickey. Sheila resumes dating Roger Running Tree in a storyline I have no logical predictions for. Despite Kev’s awesome speech about having to do illegal things to live the American dream, this episode was at its best when dealing with the Gallaghers.
It was particularly refreshing to see Lip and Debbie spend so much time together, searching for Ian after finding out from his past lover (Jimmy’s dad) that he was staying with Monica. Lip and Debbie are two Gallaghers who haven’t interacted much in the past, at least not on this level, and their scenes together were among the best of the episode. Even though Lip’s much older and finds Debbie’s problems somewhat amusing, he cares. Besides, giving advice to his younger siblings might become a more regular role for Lip, considering everything else that has happened.
Even though it was good to see Ian’s face again at first, his on-screen return to this season turned out to be a lot more depressing than I had expected after hearing he stole a helicopter. Ian had been gone the last few episodes, and for Lip and Debbie to see Ian clearly drugged up and talking nonsense, not at all himself, was a tough way to see a likable character brought back—especially because he was staying with Monica and arguably showed signs of being bipolar like his mother. Side note: did you love this week’s “Mickey still cares about Ian” moment as much as I did? Lip asks Mickey if he’s seen Ian, and Mickey tries to play it off like he doesn’t care at all, but after Lip hints at knowing about the two of them, Mickey lets his guard down a bit and asks if Ian’s in trouble. Noel Fisher deserves a lot of credit for his work as Mickey, who started out as such a hated character and has really grown as we’ve seen his more vulnerable side when he chooses to put the tough guy act on hold.
Frank, another often unlikable character, had one of those moments in “There’s the Rub” that remind you he’s still a real person who cares about others … sometimes. When Sammi probes about Frank’s reason for tracking her down, he delivers a sincere response, telling her she didn’t treat him like a rat on a sinking ship by running away. You can see that he means it, and you can see it means a lot to Sammi. Later, Carl hears his father say “Sammi’s my last chance to get it right.” I imagine this will lead Carl down a dark path rather soon now that he feels unwanted.
In the end, though, this episode really sets the stage for Fiona and Lip, whose respective actors, Emmy Rossum and Jeremy Allen White, steal the show. As the fight breaks out between Mike and Robbie, and Robbie spills the beans about him and Fiona, Lip sees Ian struggling and Debbie needing advice, and all of this culminates in the big moment where Liam gets into the cocaine that Fiona had left out on the kitchen counter. The same cocaine Robbie brought with him and left there after Fiona chased him off with a bat. These two talented actors say so much with just their expressions, and Lip’s expression in the hospital as he looked at Fiona said it all. He wasn’t on her side this time. He was disgusted with her for being just like their parents—irresponsible.
With Fiona’s custody of the kids and possibly her job at risk, Lip might feel like he has to quit college to come back home and straighten the family out before it falls apart any more than it already has. Or, Sammi might attempt to step into a bigger role, since she showed interest in getting to know her brothers and sisters.
Either way, this was the kind of shake-up episode this season of Shameless was overdue for, whether we knew it or not. The last few episodes were great, but this was special, as stellar performances and incredibly powerful moments made this a stand-out episode, the kind that makes you wish you were behind on the show and could just watch the rest of the season in one sitting tonight.
Carlo Sobral is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Paste.