Maybe it’s just me, but it felt like a lot happened on Shameless last week. The show seemed to be building momentum for its final few episodes, with plots tightening and characters moving toward logical climaxes for what has been a decidedly uneven third season. I hesitate to call last night’s episode a step back because we are still moving that way. But, in at least a few cases, the roads to completion left much to be desired.
Still basking in the afterglow of a night on the town away from the chaos of five children and crippling poverty, Jimmy’s considering a return to medical school. Whether he’ll wind up Doctor Jimmy or Mister Jim remains to be seen. What he hasn’t told Fiona yet, though, is that he’ll need to decamp to Michigan to finish his studies. There’s still the matter, too, of Estefania and his sham marriage for immigration purposes, too, his South American shadow, Beto, reminds him. For all the work the show’s been doing over the last few weeks tying up loose ends and bringing plots together for the endgame, this one remains as annoyingly unresolved as Estefania is…well…annoying.
In some well-played scenes from Justin Chatwin, it becomes clear that he’s not entirely thinking of school solely as an escape or convenient excuse to dump Fiona and the children. It seems like he is more invested in the family than he’s probably ever been before; his forlorn looks at the camera in past weeks seem to be forgotten. The justifications are mounting—Debbie needs braces, the family needs the stability of a real career, and Jimmy needs a change of scenery. But for Fiona, though, his intended departure just feels like yet another abandonment. It’s understandable on her end, but I was left ultimately believing in Chatwin’s motives.
Bradley Whitford’s Abraham is back, holding a press conference for Frank, the cleaned-up new face of gay rights. Frank’s in full-on demagogue mode at his kind-of-charming, indiscriminately irreverent best. His act seems not to be flying as well at a high school, but even there he’s engendering support. We learn that being the voice of a movement comes with free room and board, but Frank (the Plumber)’s pushing for plummer digs.
After Mandy’s hit-and-run, Karen is in a medically-induced coma, Lip is devastated and Mandy is left asking why. Though obviously her actions were despicable, her jealousy over Lip’s devotion to Karen in spite of their troubled past is understandable, I guess, in Shameless’s world. Debbie smacks Lip over the head with the fact that he’s been taking Mandy for granted all along, but his heroic tendencies leave him unable to recognize it.
At her telemarketing job, Fiona’s boss, Mike, and the rest of the workers introduce her to K-Cup caffeine. She’s in overdrive, speeding through her work but realizing her time there is still technically temporary. Even so, she’s taking a more active role in the office culture, joining the softball team and palling around some more with her boss.
Back at The Alibi, Frank is confronted by Alistair Huddleston, a conversion therapist who tries to convince Frank to undergo sexual therapy. Frank doesn’t seem all that interested, but the perks he’s offering are better, so Frank, whose loyalties and services have always been for sale, takes him up on his offer. Last week, Frank was left sleeping on the street—now he’s the subject of a bidding war for his services, ducking Abraham’s calls and watching medicinal pornography and preparing for the clinical fornication stage. Huddleston brings a “formerly” lesbian woman with him to convert Frank.
While last week I was behind Frank’s promotion to gay rights icon, as the plot has progressed, it has quickly lost steam. It’s not all that funny, and to some extent it feels like a swing-and-a-miss when the show usually scores a solid base hit. “Conversion therapy” is so absurd that it, itself, seems like it’d easily inhabit the Shameless world. You’d expect it to do better with something that, somehow, remains a real-world conversation; the show is pretty great at calling attention to the ludicrous and lampooning it. This time, though, it was lacking.
Kevin and Veronica are left waiting for her mother’s period to find out if their off-the-wall attempts at copulation have ultimately been successful. Veronica’s tense—the reality of the absurdity of her situation is beginning to dawn on her. Eventually, she finds her mother, bringing her a pregnancy test to see where they stand. She runs to The Alibi brandishing the positive test, and, for her, it all feels worth it as she announces to the room that Kevin will be a father. As the bar erupts in glee around them, it’s another great moment for Kevin and Veronica—two of the often-overlooked rocks on the show.
After seeing Karen, Lip is still rattled and returns to the hospital again the next day.
As Lip and Sheila sit over Karen’s body, Sheila mentions the text message Karen received from Lip’s phone, and Lip begins to put the pieces together and realize the horror of what’s actually happened. He sits shell-shocked on the bus, heading home to confront Mandy. Jody’s left alone with Karen and, for once, his sex addiction comes in handy—as his hand works its way up Karen’s leg, she stirs. As he moves on to heavier petting, she “comes” to.
After their softball game, Fiona is celebrating the win with her co-workers when Jimmy shows up. He needs a change, he says; he’s been stuck all season and he’s finally recognizing it. Her plaintive “Please don’t be the guy who lies” line is really well-delivered, containing within it the disappointment and frustration of someone who knows all too well what that feels like. Jimmy’s still trying, though, to convince her their relationship can last long-distance. It’s something that never seemed like an option before now, but, again, Chatwin’s conviction is pretty believable.
A gay hotel staffer, disappointed to learn Frank isn’t the advocate he hoped for, sees Frank’s female paramour return for another round, calling Abraham who catches Frank in the act. Frank tries to switch sides again, but this time Abraham tells him to prove it with a pair of men who disrobe as Frank looks on apprehensively.
After the show seemed to be building serious momentum last week, things feel like they’ve stalled a little here because, honestly, not that much happens. It was surprising, really—I can’t recall feeling like a show’s done less with its 50-or-so allotted minutes in some time. Unfortunately, in what has been an unfortunate theme all season, the show’s only consistent thread has been its inconsistency.
Some puzzle pieces are still moving into place—I’m expecting big things from the Lip/Mandy face-off next week—but after another stop-start, I’m hoping for a restart for the season’s penultimate episode next week.