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Emmy Rossum’s directorial debut is a season-high for Shameless

Illustration for article titled Emmy Rossum’s directorial debut is a season-high for Shameless
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“I’m not doing it to you. I’m doing it for me.”

Does Fiona remember that she is her siblings’ legal guardian?

This is a question I’ve found myself asking as this season has progressed, with Fiona’s lack of romantic entanglements allowing for a close accounting of her relationship with her family and her future. In the middle of “I Am A Storm,” Fiona gets into a fight with Lip that is basically over how she and her brother understand the balance between those two ideas. While Lip tries to assert his job is more important because of the huge payday that could result, Fiona accuses him of using “family” as a front for his own ambition. Fiona, meanwhile, is pushing her family away, asserting to Lip that she isn’t taking over Patsy’s because she’s trying to save her family—she’s trying to better herself, something she couldn’t do while she was busy parenting her siblings.


It’s a complicated scene for many reasons, and continues the season’s smart choice to foreground the Gallagher family’s interpersonal relationships over any type of larger plot. For as much as Fiona modernizing Patsy’s or Lip’s internship at the shady sports gambling company function as story engines, their primary goal to date has been to generate opportunities for the characters to reckon with their own identities, and with their relationships with each other. I like this shift in focus, and find the show feels more grounded this year than in past seasons where the storylines were more disparate.

What’s less clear to me is whether my frustration with Fiona is a feature or a bug of this shift in perspective. Most of the time, I think it’s the former, as struggling with Fiona’s choices is natural in the case of a flawed protagonist, and feeds some of Emmy Rossum’s best work on the show. But it has been weird to me that no one around her has outright reminded her that she took legal responsibility for her siblings, and is not in a position to simply pass that off to Lip as she does here. Vee comes close by recoiling at her treatment of Debbie—with Fiona threatening to kick her out if she doesn’t contribute to the rent—but I am waiting for the reckoning that Fiona gave her siblings to result in a reckoning for Fiona. Does she forget that part of the reason she’s in the situation she’s in is that she threw the party that ended with Liam’s overdose? How can Fiona say that she has given up everything to take care of her siblings when she spent so much of season five away from the house, seemingly offering little in terms of daily support as far as we saw onscreen?

I don’t think Shameless is making the argument in “I Am A Storm” that Fiona is above reproach: far from it. However, the show has run into one of the inherent challenges facing a long-running, serialized narrative, which is that it’s very challenging to reflect that seriality onscreen without the show turning into “Fiona Gallagher: This is Your Fucked Up Life.” Instead, the show has contorted the characters and the story into a position where the conflict is simpler, less about their specific experiences over seven seasons and more about their relationship in the abstract. Taken on principle, I think Fiona is right to feel like she sacrificed her adulthood to care for her siblings, and respect her choice to prioritize herself; however, I struggle to reconcile that with specific stories the show has told, as it highlights a lack of self-awareness that is productive up until the point it feels like writers’ amnesia instead of a character’s selective memory. Fiona’s arc is walking a very fine line between these two realities, and has me on edge in ways that work for now, but could stop working at any moment.

Those writerly qualities also apply to Ian’s storyline this season, but at least after this episode there is a clearer sense of why Ian went through that odd sexual fluidity panic a few episodes ago. It ended up being an ill-advised detour, but the show clearly wanted a story that explicitly established how ignorant Ian is to contemporary discourses surrounding the LGBT—or, as noted here, LGBTIA—community that the idea of Caleb’s sexual fluidity made no sense to him. It’s true that Ian would not have grown up in an environment where this type of discourse would be prevalent or common, although I guess I wonder how in an age of easy access to the internet he wouldn’t have done at least some light reading on the topic. But the show gets easy mileage out of framing him as completely ignorant, as he stumbles across a transgender activist, Trevor (Elliot Fletcher), in his neighborhood, and stumbles his way through his complete lack of understanding of what it means to be transgender, and the diversity of experiences of queerness. By painting him as ignorant, the show can go through some valuable work in resisting broad strokes understandings of queer experience, albeit in a somewhat didactic fashion through a set of quick introductions at brunch.

I’m glad the show is using Ian’s story as a chance to explore LGBTIA communities, something that his journey thus far—while undoubtedly progressive in its own right—was less able to explore given Ian and Mickey’s relative isolation (which Ian seemed to me to allude to here, noting they were “home bodies,” although commenters note he seemed to be directly referring to Caleb). Sheila Callaghan’s script is very careful about how it approaches its inclusion of this community, but from a long term storytelling perspective I wonder whether Shameless’ storytelling rhythms serve telling this type of story. Similar to Fiona, there’s a fine line here: part of me wonders if the friends Ian is introduced to feel far too “normal” to exist in the Shameless universe, but I wouldn’t want to see the show try to tackle this storyline with its broader modes of characterization, either. The show is going to have to find a middle ground with how it approaches this relationship, and that type of balance has always been a challenge for the show based purely on its tragicomic DNA.

“I Am A Storm” is notable for having been (well-)directed by Emmy Rossum, although it notably resists the typical strategy of giving actors episodes to direct in which they are sidelined or otherwise marginalized. While Fiona attempts to disassociate herself from her family, they all end up converging on Patsy’s after their illegal prohibition party, and Rossum really captures Fiona’s complicated relationship with her family in that moment. It is not that Fiona doesn’t care about her family, but rather that Fiona is trying to reprioritize, something she’s never really learned how to do. She has no idea how to put herself first without entirely giving up her responsibility over her siblings, but the reality is there is a magnetism to the Gallagher family. Regardless of whatever distance they put between one another, and as much as I might feel like Fiona should acknowledge the issues of distance with regards to her status as their guardian, Fiona and her siblings will always end up turning to each other in one way or another, and that’s certainly in the show’s best interest.


I will also say that, while I continue to believe that Frank has outlived his usefulness when considered on a macro-level, this current Frank storyline is the most compelling the show has managed since season five, and the most successfully integrated in ages. Frank’s story has a clear sense of structure, giving us another glimpse into the gentrification of the neighborhood and accidentally putting Frank on the side of meaningful social issues regarding the homeless population displaced by rising property values. The bar patrons may throw popcorn at the TV as Frank chains himself to the shelter in the rain to protest the death of his neighborhood, knowing that it is his self-interest that motivates him rather than a concern for his fellow man, but the story really emphasizes how capable Frank is at this type of work (and how capable a father he could have been if not for his alcoholism). His plea to the neighborhood council falls on deaf ears, but it doesn’t feel half-hearted or desperate so much as it feels like an example of what he’s capable of when he puts his mind to it. The show also benefits from continuing to double down on the comparisons between Lip and Frank, as the former is effectively encouraged to become a modern day, tech savvy Robin Hood, using his access to the illegal sports gambling firm—raided by the FBI here—in order to steal from the rich and give to the poor. The argument, basically, is that a Gallagher will never actually be entirely happy if they’re “legit,” so why not rip off the people who are ripping everyone else off? And what is that if not Frank Gallagher’s raison d’etre?

This is the strongest episode of the season to date because it ends up feeling like a thesis statement on what it means to be a Gallagher, which is the unifying principle of this show and what it stands for. Not every story is working—Debbie is still the worst, I don’t know if I buy Carl’s relationship with Dominique’s dad exactly—but the ability to capture a throughline is something that has seemed absent the past few seasons. While containing some absurdist elements, there is a clear undercurrent of “reality” to this hour, something that grounds the season, its storylines, and the path forward. Just seeing Fiona and Veronica stumbling their way to the realization that their relationship is disintegrating carries an important weight that I’d like to see continues to resonate as the season continues.


Stray observations

  • So when Showtime made this episode available on its screening site, there was a note not to spoil a “certain reveal” in the episode. And so I spent the episode looking for something surprising, and when the episode ended I realized I must have missed it…but then remembered that not everyone would have seen Elliot Fletcher on Faking It or The Fosters, and thus it would have been a surprise when he revealed he was trans. I emailed Showtime, and sure enough, that was what they meant. The perils of intertextuality!
  • Sometimes by the time I get to the end of covering an episode I’ve forgotten about the “Previously on Shameless,” but this one—a crying Yevgeny, translated through subtitltes—was pretty memorable.
  • I’m still not sure where I stand on the Svetlana’s father storyline—the episode treats his dialogue about their soft mouths as a red herring here, as he gets a photo taken instead of selling them when he absconds with them, but there’s still a real concern here, right? It doesn’t just get erased when Svetlana goes through some BDSM rituals as punishment?
  • Of Rossum’s directorial decisions, the most evocative was the wide shots of Patsy’s in the pre-dawn light. They normally can’t go wide in that location since it’s on the backlot—I drove by it on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour earlier this year—but the use of night and the bright lights of the marquee made the risk worth it.
  • That said, did anyone else find there was a lot more music in the episode? Stuff like the music during Carl’s shooting gallery visit seemed a bit overdone, and it came up a few more times too.
  • Perhaps to counteract the backlot work, some very specific location shooting during the guerilla marketing montage, like the chalk art in Grant Park.
  • Seems like a lot was cut from this episode: in addition to an image of Fiona meeting up with her Nazi Tinder date (I presume at the very end of the episode), the press site also had this image of Debbie and her date, which we never actually see.