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Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)
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Early in “Now Leaving Illinois,” Liam is called into the office at school: he’s been flagged as a potential residency fraud case, and they need proof that he lives where he lives and isn’t try to fake his way into a terrible public school. This means that he needs Frank to come to school and sign some forms, or else the family runs the risk of a visit from Child Protective Services.

It’s been a while since the show has used the threat of CPS, as the writers have mostly been uninterested in dissecting the actual guardianship of the family. Only Liam and Carl are still minors, and after Fiona became everyone’s legal guardian there wasn’t the same uncertainties as when Frank was in charge. It’s been so long that the writers—not surprisingly, given the general disinterest in continuity—even forgot that Fiona should be listed as Liam’s guardian (and I refuse to believe that Fiona, in choosing to leave, legally passed off guardianship back to Frank). Yet the writers are going to this well because they are interested in the Gallaghers as a family unit, because the ostensible leader of that family is moving to Milwaukee.


Well, Lip’s planning on moving to Milwaukee. Lip and Tami’s narrative here is an example of a story development that I just don’t trust, for a few reasons. It’s not a bad story idea on its face: Lip and Tami are struggling to make ends meet, and they’ve been gifted a tremendous opportunity (a mortgage-free house) to stabilize their lives and give their son a more secure life that just happens to be in a different city. My biggest complaint about this storyline has been how Lip has been robbed of any kind of history or characterization, and the idea of forcing him to choose between what is clearly the better path for his partner and son and staying with his family should theoretically force the show to address his understanding of his past and his goals for the future. However, the writers have been so resistant to have Lip put his life into perspective that I just don’t know if they’re interested in considering the impact this would have on his family, and on his relationship with that family. Is he going to work through his feelings about Fiona ostensibly abandoning them for similar “selfish” reasons? Is he going to think about the life he would have led if he had stayed in college? Is this grasp at social mobility through ostensible charity going to unearth his uneasy feelings about that very concept?


The answer is probably no. It’s been no for a few seasons, and the chances of this changing are about as good as Lip and Tami actually moving to Milwaukee. Barring the general rule that two series regulars don’t move two hours away, and the show just lost a major character, and there’s a general sense that there’s going to be at least another season of the show, the show hasn’t really had Lip and Tami think this one through. Would both of them be able to find new places to work? They’re going to visit Chicago on weekends with what gas money? The lack of a mortgage doesn’t really save them any money, given that they aren’t paying a mortgage right now, so how is losing their jobs going to make their lives easier? The characters haven’t thought this one through, but I sense that the writers haven’t either; I’ll gladly eat crow if it turns into something meaningful, but at this point it just feels like a red herring to manufacture tension heading into the final episodes of the season.

Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)

By comparison, of course, Ian and Mickey’s storyline is designed to resolve tension. In truth, there was never really any tension: Byron was never a threat, Cole is a joke the second he’s introduced at the Alibi, and nothing in the writing of their breakup ever suggested it was anything but a bump in the road. It’s a story driven by separation, and by the way they look at each other when they’re apart. Even before the brawl that eventually reunites them and leads to a formal engagement, the concert is full of stolen glances and knowing looks that feel tailor-made for GIFs. There’s been no suspense in this story, and I imagine that Gallavich fans would have liked to see it be a more significant part of this episode, but I thought the return to the violence where their relationship began was a nice way to resolve this particular squabble and capture their chaotic form of romantic bliss.

It’s a big meaningful moment for these characters, but I can’t help but feel it doesn’t register as a meaningful moment for the show as a whole, which speaks to the siloing of the storylines and the reluctance to treat them as the emotional core of the show in Fiona’s absence. I know that Gallavich fans could write a fully essay about what this proposal means, but in taking the show as a whole into account it just doesn’t carry the same weight. I don’t envy the writers the challenge of balancing Ian and Mickey with the rest of the show: fans have turned Ian and Mickey’s relationship into something larger than life, revisited in fanvids and GIF sets and turned into its own canon of sorts, which the rest of the show was always going to struggle to live up to. From perusing the tweets from fans and the comments here on my reviews, the writers have focused on serving this canon effectively, throwing in nods to the past that I quite frankly would never have recognized. I don’t resent the show for this fan service—as I’ve written about here at the site, y’all have been through it with this situation—but rather wish it felt like the show as a whole was as invested in this level of detail. Rather than the show building on Ian and Mickey’s connection to explore the emotional depth of each of its characters, this season has mostly used them as a crutch to generate emotional connection without having to do the work of finding the same in the other stories.

Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)

The family meeting at the end of “Now Leaving Illinois” creates a clear cliffhanger about the future of the Gallagher family, but Shameless as a whole has struggled to articulate what that family unit constitutes. Is Lip financially supporting the family in any way that would challenge their stability? Are they seriously dependent on Frank as their guardian, placing Liam and Carl’s future in jeopardy? Is Carl even still in school, or is the show arguing he is now 18 and graduated from the military equivalent to high school? As I discussed last week, the writers have committed to giving every character their own story, but in the process their place within the family unit has been somewhat of a mystery. This ending seems to suggest this will be changing heading into the finale, which is good, but as with Lip’s situation I’m not convinced the show is actually recognizing its shortcomings and prepared to course correct enough to get the season back on track.


Stray observations

  • As I noted on Twitter, I’m limiting myself to a single stray observations on dumb stories that aren’t worth my time, which in this case was…nearly everything.
  • Debbie’s mother-daughter lust triangle is messy, but in ways that she should have seen coming, and in ways that aren’t very interesting. I was confused why Debbie was surprised the daughter would try to blackmail her into going to homecoming, and equally confused why Debbie doesn’t just play the “Your mother will think you’re lying to hurt her” card, and I just don’t care about any of it. It doesn’t actually help build Debbie’s character: it’s just a thing she’s going through, with no takeaway.
  • Faye got Frank arrested. Frank sweet-talked his way into a fancy behavioral rehab instead of jail time because he’s a cockroach. He helps get a kid in rehab high. We’re supposed to care about any of this why?
  • The reveal that Carl was spying on sanitation on behalf of the city was welcomed, because otherwise I had no idea what the hell those scenes were trying to accomplish. That said, are the corrupt sanitation workers so dumb that they would willingly let a young kid randomly introduced to the crew be so close to their corruption? Wouldn’t they be suspicious? (I also legitimately don’t understand why they were shaking down the realtor? Was I supposed to get that?)
  • The show really needs to figure out how dumb Kevin is supposed to be. He’s slow enough to not know what an acronym is, but he uses phrases like “dense foliage” two seconds later? And he was seriously about to tell a room of rich parents that they were giving out abortions? These are only a few questions I have about a “Rich Parents Treating Kev and Vee as Poverty Porn” story that says nothing about either character, is predicated on magical “financial aid” that is never explained, and features no resolution to articulate its meaning or impact on those involved.
  • Anytime a show has a story about slinging trash I think about MTV’s Buckwild and the rather tragic accidental death of its star, trash-slinging Shain, who talks about his trash-slinging in the trailer I show in my TV class every semester.
  • I really don’t understand why Lip was so resistant to going to a family meeting? Or why he was so nervous about it? The show has never really articulated why Lip would be so vulnerable about Tami’s family, or really anything about his emotional state. It’s a big missed opportunity.
  • I appreciate the use of Airpods as a symbol of the perks of Debbie’s wealthy new sugar mommy, given that I was recently accosted by a youth who complimented them and was like “I’d like some, but I’m not rich” and then walked away.
  • What are Ian and Mickey doing for work now? Or money? Are we just not discussing that, or what?
  • I promise I’ll try to write about the entirety of Ian and Mickey’s journey when we get to the wedding.

Contributor, A.V. Club, and Assistant Professor of Communication at Old Dominion University.

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