Steve Kazee, Emmy Rossum

Shameless throws out a lot of plot elements, and it’s always surprising to see which ones stick and which ones pop up once, then never again. Frank’s broken leg, the latest entry on his resume as a professional plaintiff, is a season four event easily forgotten among Frank’s many shady schemes. But it pops back up in “A Night To Remem—Wait, What?” which takes its title from Frank’s race to piece together a night of drunken, buzzed revelry lost to amnesia.

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Frank is always a narrative problem in search of a solution, and while Sheila frequently seemed like she didn’t have her hands full enough to remain a regular character on the show, she served the function of keeping Frank occupied. With Frank back in good health and on the outs with just about all the Gallaghers, except for loyal Carl of course, he’s a free agent once again. As ever, nothing Frank does seems worthy of attention.

At the very least, Frank doesn’t seem worthy of as much attention as he’s given in “A Night,” during which he retraces the steps in which he blew through his $121,000 insurance settlement. For fans of Frank’s scuzzy humor, all of this was probably fine, if a little familiar. But for those less enamored of Frank, the story felt like a waste of time. It also produced one of those Shameless moments where an attempt at off-color humor doesn’t land, and rather than being funny is simply unpleasant. I can see how someone would find it funny to watch Frank try to wrest a little girl‘s prosthetic limb away from her, but it made me frown.

But the most important news: Ladies and gentlemen, Shameless presents Mr. and Mrs. Gus Pfender. Impulsivity runs in the Gallagher family, so there’s internal logic behind the idea that Fiona would marry a guy she barely knows after a little over a week of upright folk and horizontal mambo. But would Fiona marry Gus? Right now? Under her current set of circumstances? Something about it feels off, and not in the way all whimsical elopements seem insane until time acquits them.

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In a world in which Jimmy-Jack-Steve was actually dead, Fiona’s marriage to Gus would open up some interesting possibilities for Shameless. Fiona has spent the entirety of the show trying to temper her desire for chaos, and in Gus, she’s finally found someone with whom equilibrium feels healthy rather than stifling. Watching her explore a marriage to Gus would be a fascinating direction for Fiona, given how unclear her motivation is. Yes, the marriage was impulsive, but that doesn’t mean it exists in a bubble. Is Fiona trying to assuage her guilt over breaking Mike’s heart? Is she trying to prove Sean was wrong about her? Has she finally learned to be content with mundane happiness?

Shameless isn’t in a position to properly explore those questions, based on Dichen Lachman’s repeated appearances in Patsy’s Pies to remind the audience that JJS is lurking nearby, waiting to waltz back into Fiona’s life. That’s the problem with Mr. and Mrs. Pfender. The marriage comes off not as an earnest attempt to explore Fiona’s psychology, but as a contrivance intended to complicate Fiona’s romantic life when JJS springs out from the shadows. With Sean’s resolve crumbling, Fiona’s lovelife is complicated enough, and Gus’ presence feels unnecessary, which is a shame because Steve Kazee is adorable and has terrific chemistry with Emmy Rossum.

Fiona’s wedding is the story with the most impact in “A Night To Remem—Wait, What?” but it never feels like more than a glancing blow. Speaking of blows, Debbie puts herself in a position to rebound from the Matty incident with Derek, a boxer who rescues her from a group assault from Holly and Ellie’s crew. Debbie’s interest in Derek and in training could return her to being one of the show’s best characters, following a season defined by her icky relationship with Matty.

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The remainder of “A Night” is a grab bag of scenes, none of which are particularly fascinating on their own. Lip heads to Miami to spend time with Amanda and her family, and as he often does, Lip charms Amanda’s father with a modesty that belies his intellectual gifts. Veronica has an orgasm on the dance floor after weeks of being ignored by the increasingly maternal Kev, then tells him immediately. And of course, there are more indications of Ian’s declining mental condition, this time with Ian swiping enough luggage from the airport to turn the Milkovich Estate into a hoarder’s den.

Those elements lead to rewards down the line, but as it stands now, Shameless season five is coming together pretty slowly to be at the one-third mark already. I still don’t consider JJS a welcome presence, but whatever the show is building to, hopefully it’ll get there soon.

Stray observations:

  • In the “Previously on” segment: Debbie: “Here’s what went down last week on Shameless.” Carl: “Me. A lot.”
  • Gus and Fiona’s ER binge-watch was a cute touch.
  • I assumed Sheila’s departure last week would mean more Sammi not less, but she went missing.

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