John Wells picked the ideal time to write his first Shameless of season five. Besides Wells’ phenomenal talent as a television writer, he’s the man responsible for adapting Shameless to Chicago’s Southside, so it’s no surprise he’s the man with the firmest grasp of the vision and the writer best able to balance the show’s gumbo of wildly varying story elements and violent tonal shifts. Season five is the first season in which Wells didn’t write the season premiere, and even though he’s responsible for the past season premieres to lazily shuffle out of the gate, it’s difficult to resist reading too far into his absence this year. Of all the seasons, this one feels the most directionless, especially given “Crazy Love” marks the halfway point. But with Wells back at the helm, the episode captures the urgency that has been lacking throughout the season.
The episode’s title refers to its two largest elements: the long-awaited return of Jimmy-Jack-Steve (who I’ll now just call Jimmy, until I’m told otherwise) and Ian’s manic flight with Yevgeny. The latter story was Shameless at its most emotionally bruising, echoing last season’s “Iron City,” which was also written by Wells, also at the midpoint of the season. The gradual escalation of Ian’s mental illness has been simmering for years now, as the story of Ian and Mickey is the one in which Shameless most often plays the long game. The writers nudge the two along a little at a time, then land a knockout blow when its least expected. It was obvious there would be considerable weight to the moment when Mickey finally realized Ian’s problem wasn’t one within either of their control, but this was an especially bruising way for that to happen.
Ian’s manic road trip lit a fire under Shameless, introducing a ticking clock element—Svetlana vows to call the police if Yevgeny isn’t back in his crib by the time she’s finishing giving birth—as well as introducing some genuine suspense. That suspense is definitely manipulative, as imperiling a baby always is, but the story didn’t feel contrived or unearned. When Ian is on the side of the road tossing Yevgeny into the air like a medicine ball, it’s difficult not to feel terrified, even as you can hear the narrative gears turning.
The situation finally gets resolved when Ian leaves Yevgeny locked in a stuffy car on a hot day, triggering a confrontation with police in which he accused Jesus of sending them to apprehend him. It’s a harrowing moment, one Cameron Monaghan plays with gusto. Monaghan is only matched in his intensity by Noel Fisher, who has been killing it all season, but got his choicest moments in “Crazy Love” as Ian’s absence obliterates Mickey’s tough guy artifice and forces him to approach the situation as one in which the man he loves has experienced a psychotic break and has gone on the run with his baby. It’s definitely clear where the bulk of Mickey’s concern is, and it isn’t with Yevgeny. Obviously Mickey cares about Yevgeny’s health and safety, but Mickey’s focus is on Ian, if only because their fates are directly linked. If Ian is okay, reason dictates Yevgeny is okay, which makes it that much more difficult for Mickey to slowly wrap his head around how bad the situation could possibly be.
One of the most surprising aspects of Ian’s disappearance is Fiona’s distance from it. That’s by no means a condemnation of Fiona, but it does demonstrate how different the character is than the one the audience is introduced to in season one. Initially, Fiona’s hurdle in establishing a relationship with Jimmy was her reluctance to let go of her supervisory role in every aspect of the Gallaghers’ lives. Like most parents, Fiona did a superb job of teaching her kids how to be self-reliant and streetwise, but she never felt like there was a level of preparation that would allow her to step back and let the kids stumble and regain their balance the way everyone has to learn to do. But also, like most parents, Fiona has come to grips with the fact that her birds are ready to leave the nest. Debbie is no longer a virgin and is starting high school as a rock-’em-sock-’em YouTube superstar, so clearly the days of hand-holding have passed.
This new dynamic for Gallagher Manor, in which Sammi has stepped in to act as den mother in the absence of both Fiona and Sheila, is one that doesn’t bode well for Gus. Fiona has a tendency to try to exert control over the few areas in which establishing control is possible, which lends her hasty reunion with Jimmy some emotional gravity, even though the specifics don’t make even a thimbleful of sense. The story behind Jimmy’s extended absence is goofiness of the “Liam is black, but don’t worry about how” variety, as is his confounding business relationship with Angela. But Jimmy has what Gus lacks, which is history.
This isn’t terrible fair to Gus. After all, Fiona’s relationship with Jimmy only deepened as she slowly but surely parceled out trust the longer he stayed through the Gallaghers’ crazy ups and downs. There’s nothing to indicate Gus wouldn’t have the same longevity if given the chance, and he seems like a solid guy who would do the work of getting to know Fiona’s life in a non-judgmental manner, just as Jimmy did. Unfortunately, he’s just arriving to the party. Jimmy vanished into thin air for quite a while, but when he returns, all he really needs is the particulars. Wait, what happened to Liam? Half-sister? Whose kid is it? Is that Mickey on the phone? Gus can barely keep up with which brother is which, which is totally understandable, but makes him easy prey for Jimmy. Jimmy has missed a lot. Gus has missed everything.
- Lip is an RA now. Oh, and Amanda paints frescoes of Rubenesque women, apparently.
- Debbie’s YouTube fame is definitely going to equal parts blessing and curse.
- Sammi goes all Wife Swap with the new rules at Gallagher Manor.
- Kev and V are formally separated now, which is sad. I like what the show is doing with Kev and V in theory, but as usual, it feels a little too disconnected from everything and everyone else.
- That scene with the hooker and the surrogate father in the hospital waiting room was an odd scenic detour. Not an unusual choice for Shameless, but I didn’t quite understand the point of it.
- I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m about sick of being verbally harassed about missing last week’s Shameless. Especially since I didn’t even miss it! That joke has gotten really old.