Kevin and Veronica are crucial parts of Shameless. They’ve been there from the beginning, representative of the way that the Gallagher family is part of a larger ecosystem in their south side neighborhood. When you live in a community like that one, your neighbors can become like family, and so the idea that Fiona would rely on her friends and neighbors to keep things afloat was a nice way of bringing “it takes a village” to life. They were also big characters, and nicely connected various worlds—they were around at the house, but the Alibi provided another chance to weave them into the show’s storytelling.

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Over time, though, Kevin and Veronica have become a bigger part of Shameless—if they were one of a few ways to tell stories outside of the Gallagher family in early seasons, they became the show’s primary one after Sheila’s exit, and it created something of a problem. Kev and Veronica have never stopped being fun characters, but the narrative burden being placed on them has become a challenge for the show to navigate. On one level, there’s too much Kev and Vee for them to remain as fun supporting characters, such that major arcs like the “throuple” start to feel played out as they’re asked to do more to hold the fabric of the season together. On another level, though, there’s not enough Kev and Vee for that throuple storyline to tap into the emotional dynamics therein. It’s a story that you knew would never move to the center of the narrative, and thus one that lacked the same dynamism of the Gallaghers themselves. I’ve barely covered the storyline in these reviews less because it’s terrible and more because it’s always felt like an afterthought, the type of story that “stray observations” are designed to cover.

“You Sold Me A Laundromat, Remember?” is the first episode in a while that makes the throuple storyline feel like more than a comic sideshow, and it’s refreshing. In the parlance of today’s youth, this is the episode where Kev wakes up, realizing that there is something wrong with this picture. The character—and the show—has been coasting through the throuple storyline because it’s fun, and sexy, and a little crazy, and those are all things that seem like a good idea in the moment, and support the show’s central thesis. But Kev starts to realize the degree to which Vee has lost the plot, accepting some pretty wild moves from Svetlana less because she thinks they’re okay, and more because she doesn’t want to disrupt their increasingly comfortable life. Steve Howey does a really nice job of walking through the admittedly “slow” Kev’s realization, delayed but ultimately driven by a very real sense of concern over the state of their lives, and so he turns to Fiona in order to have someone to talk it over with.

It’s an important conversation, for a number of reasons. First, it unites two characters who are having communication problems, as Kev struggles to get through to Veronica and Fiona remains at odds with Lip and unable to ask him or anyone else for help as the laundromat repairs continues to escalate. I appreciate how Fiona considers the weight of her statements to Kev very carefully: she knows that she is going to speak honestly about her distrust of Svetlana, and also knows that if Kev were to reunite with the couple that this would only further alienate her from her friends. We finally get to see Fiona working through some of her own emotions, explaining the weight of her separation from Vee and how she regrets not having been able to get through to her before everything went to shit. They come together to fix the laundromat—with the help of the Alibi regulars—but the scene is mostly about the show finally reckoning with how the throuple was throwing off the balance of Kev and Veronica’s place in the narrative, and bringing the weight of that into the picture. The show has mostly been eliding the emotional weight of the storyline in favor of using it as comic relief, but it was handled well here.

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Beyond those communication issues, the episode’s other major thread was about understanding Frank’s impact on his children. It comes up as Fiona goes through her feelings on Svetlana, acknowledging that she was “raised by a con artist.” That could frankly be either Frank or Monica, but we hear another story about their parenting when Ian testifies about Lip’s search for his brother’s missing G.I. Joe at the disciplinary hearing, where Lip expressly puts his struggles in terms of his father. He is the son of a brilliant man who dropped out, became an alcoholic, and screwed up his children—Lip knows he is similar, but he wants something better, and he wants to be around the type of people who can bring that out in him.

Lip’s hearing is one of those classic moments where a character is given a glimpse of everything he wants before it’s ripped away in one fell swoop. Lip wasn’t even thinking about going back to school, but then Youens got him a hearing, and Sierra encouraged him, and he showed up and heard what Youens and Ian said about him, and he started to be able to put into words what being in school actually meant to him. And when the appeal is rejected, the way he reacts is similar to his previous meltdown—he gets drunk, lashes out at Sierra’s baby daddy—but tinged with a very clear sense of what he’s lost. When Ian tries to calm Lip down, telling him some variation on “you don’t need them,” Lip doesn’t get calm—he gets angry, telling Ian that he has no idea what he’s talking about. Lip does need them, and he knows it now more than ever, and that deepens his anger and rage in ways that offer new dangers. When Sierra turns him away, she’s sending him into the kind of space that led to Frank’s descent, and it’s a bleak turn that I appreciate from a story direction regardless of the unpleasantness for a character I still care about.

Notably, though, the episode is also interested in Fiona’s relationship with Frank, although in a less direct fashion. Frank spends this episode “playing house,” to use Elliot’s term: buoyed by his success at getting Liam into private school, Frank uses his experience with his fake family as practice for the real thing, and works around the house to put things in order. It’s a reminder that while Frank is fundamentally driven by self-interest, and thus rarely directs his intelligence in the service of helping others, he is reliably capable in such circumstances. Sure, his attempt to fix the washing machine fails (requiring him to steal the one from the homeless shelter instead), but that he tried to fix it at all is frankly more effort than you’d expect, and he even shows up—albeit with the promise of free drinks—to help Fiona with the diner. It’s a nice look for Frank: yes, it may all be motivated from wanting a warm bed to sleep in as winter grows closer in Chicago, but it results in a more pleasant character, and more easily integrates him into the rest of the family.

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But as Frank congratulates Fiona on purchasing the laundromat, calling it a good investment, I was struck by the question: is Fiona aware of how much she’s channeling her father here? As Etta’s QVC purchases with her newfound disposable income start showing up, Fiona does exactly what Frank would have done, purchasing new floor tiles and ceiling tiles with her credit card. While Frank definitely wouldn’t have subsequently canceled the card to keep Etta from overspending, Fiona is still turning to fraud for her own self-interest, but I don’t know if she’d ever understand it in that way. The episode ends with the laundromat being magically revived through Kevin’s generosity, and Fiona sits smiling at what she “owns,” but the path there has been messy, and complicated, and I’m hopeful the show isn’t going to forget that and let her just scrappily succeed (especially since we didn’t return to that envelope of money she took from Patsy’s last week).

That’s my biggest fear in every season of Shameless. When it sets up storylines, there’s always the question of whether this is something that could become part of the fabric of the show, or something that will just be erased after a certain period of time, never to be mentioned again. We’re now at a crucial turning point for the throuple, and I’ll be curious to see how the last act of the season deals with it: is this a storyline that is about to be dissolved, or rather one that is going to mutate and continue in potential future seasons? I’m not sure where they’ll land on that, but I appreciate the shift toward emotional resonance we see here.

Stray observations

  • I honestly could have dealt with Debbie in the main body of the review, but do you know what? Debbie doesn’t deserve that. Debbie is just one big, walking dumb decision, and the fact that she didn’t see Derek’s family’s plan from a mile away is one more embarrassment to add to the list. That she follows it up by LOUDLY THREATENING TO KILL SOMEONE ON CAMERA is not entirely absurd—her baby was just kidnapped, she’s very emotional—but it’s the cherry on top for a descent into some terrible decision making for a character who used to be much smarter than this. The idea that this Debbie sailed through the GED is one of the show’s worst fictions—she sailed through the GED but has no idea what “Abuela” means? C’mon now.
  • We’re glossing over a lot of things from last week—in addition to no clarity regarding the money Fiona took from the diner, there’s also no real case for why Liam was given a scholarship. Was Frank just that persuasive? Or are we going to circle back to explore some type of larger diversity plot? I have questions, show, and you better be answering them.
  • Ever since someone in the comments pointed out that Chet Haze is playing Sierra’s baby daddy I have been very distracted by it. If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Haze, do some Googling. He’s managed quite a cultural footprint.
  • I appreciate that Kev pointed out that that van has been part of his life for a long time—it brings us back to the roots of Kev’s relationship with the Gallagher kids, and the idea that Svetlana would see it as just a tool speaks to her lack of connection to that past.
  • “Ask my fucking opinion”—I got the sense Lip was sort of instinctively thinking about Fiona as a character reference in addition to his boss when he walked into that laundromat, but his anger over her decision to buy it boiled over, and he went to Ian instead. Anyone else feel that way?

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