One of the strengths of Shameless is its ability to rely on so many different characters for powerful scenes. This week, most of the cast was involved in something deeply emotional, and there were fewer laughs to be had. It might not have been on the same level as, say, the Thanksgiving episode with Monica from season two, but “Emily” still had plenty to leave viewers feeling down.
As Fiona begins her 90 days in jail for violating probation, Frank’s sleeping body rests next to the hospital bed of a dying girl, Emily, who’s in need of a heart transplant. Once Carl does what nobody else could (or thought to) do and awakes his dad with a low blow, Frank shows immediate signs of postoperative delirium. Watching his scenes unfold with little Emily as he thinks she’s a young Fiona was heartbreaking. We’ve seen so much of Frank mistreating his children since the series premiere, and it’s rare to catch a glimpse of Frank admitting to mistakes or realizing how badly he screwed up. Here, he confesses to “Fiona” (Emily) that he once left her and Lip outside in the freezing cold while he and Monica went to get high.
Meanwhile, the actual Fiona struggles to feel comfortable around other criminals in jail, especially when they think she’s attractive or tell her they’re in jail for stabbing a pregnant woman in the stomach. Each time Fiona was shown, she looked out of place, even though she knows she is a criminal and this was her fault. Earlier this season, she told her defense lawyer she couldn’t go to jail. Initially, she lucked out and was only placed on house arrest. She took that for granted and is now paying the price by being exactly where she belongs, even if it’s the last place she wants to be.
The scenes in the hospital with Frank and Emily were effective in showing that even though Fiona does deserve to face consequences for her actions, she was not set up to succeed. As we watch her suffer, we’re forced to remember the kind of parents Frank and Monica were. Even if Frank only realizes it now, he ruined Fiona’s childhood and forced her to become an adult before she was done being a kid. Now, they’re both paying for it.
Debbie, too, pays a price in “Emily,” for starting this war with Matty’s girlfriend, Seema. The whole set-up with Henry was cruel, but a convenient way to get Matty back into the picture without making him look worse. I’ve had issues with Debbie’s storyline this season more than any other character, and this episode added to that a bit. Would a nursing student in her twenties really risk her reputation to embarrass a 13-year-old? Also, I’m still not sure what Matty’s end game is here, now that he asked Debbie to go to the dance with him. So, is he okay with her being a lot younger than him now? The age gap is just so big that it still doesn’t add up.
It isn’t all bad for the Gallaghers, though. Carl’s relationship with Bonnie continues to grow, as they spend more time together, and Carl even brings Bonnie’s siblings over to the house … since living in a van can get cold and crowded. Of course, this means Lip is responsible for them, and although it initially appears to be a curse when the social worker shows up, Lip later sees that the social worker appreciates his sympathy for looking after all those kids and informs him of the day and time of her next “surprise” visit. This all takes place as Lip waits for Amanda to arrive for dinner with her parents as a way of proving to her that he is, in fact, a man of his word.
I’ve been patient with Shameless for its reliance on deus ex machinas in the past, such as with Frank’s liver, but it does not always work. In certain circumstances, it is expected that the show simply requires, or at least benefits from, some sort of resolution that would seem otherwise unlikely. Frank moving up the waiting list to get a liver seemed hard to believe, but we all knew Frank wasn’t going to die this season, and however they chose to resolve his liver situation, it would inevitably be something a little contrived. As for the situation with Amanda’s parents offering Lip money to stop dating her, I have to say it felt too unrealistic, especially considering Amanda told him they had done this in the past for other boyfriends of hers. Do parents like that really exist, parents who not only are rich enough to make that kind of offer, but also naive enough to think their daughter will actually stop seeing the guy?
Either way, I can’t complain about too much about this episode, because with Ian and Mickey we got some of the season’s best moments. This relationship has been building since the show’s first season, and I’ve written in past reviews about how far Mickey has come since the beginning of the series. Noel Fisher has often stolen the show as Mickey lately, and “Emily” stands out as his finest performance to date. After being confronted by Ian for not being free at the after-party for his son’s baptism, Mickey tries to settle Ian down and brush him off, telling him they’ll meet up and talk later. Ian, tired of being a “mistress,” tells Mickey to essentially grow some balls or they are done, as he heads for the exit.
And just like that, Mickey sees the one thing he truly cares about on the verge of walking out of his life, and decides to finally do something—come out publicly as being gay in front of everyone at The Alibi, including his wife and, most notably, his dad, who just got out of jail in time for the baptism. It was obvious how much it meant to Ian, who himself has gone from keeping secrets to having his younger, previously oblivious brother, Carl, asking about why Mickey sleeps in Ian’s bed. Also, at The Alibi, Kev could clearly see Ian affected by Mickey ignoring him and refusing to take a stand. Now that more people know about Ian, he feels like Mickey should be willing to take steps in the same direction, and watching Mickey yell “I’m f@#$ing gay!” was awesome to see. Plus, we got to see Ian and Mickey both fight Mickey’s dad, and rub it in his face outside after he was arrested. Perfect.
Although I had a few small complaints, “Emily” had some incredibly powerful character moments and accomplished a lot in terms of plot, giving Shameless viewers plenty to think about heading into next week’s season finale.
Carlo Sobral is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Paste.