Shameless was a meandering slice-of-life for most of its first three years on air, and during that period, it was a consistently fun, usually solid show. In its fourth season, Shameless became a great show by giving nearly all of its characters a newfound sense of purpose. Fiona struggled to rebuild after the worst screw-up of her life. Lip acclimated to the world of academia. Frank fought for his life. Ian and Mickey solidified their relationship. With all of those incredibly rich elements simmering at once, Shameless hit its peak. Season five has been a downshift, but it isn’t as though Shameless has gone from good to bad. It has, however, gone from being excellent back to being usually solid.
The “usually” is key because of how inconsistent Shameless can be when there’s not a potent purpose driving the characters or interesting idea behind the story. “Rites Of Passage” represents the show at its most aimless. The episode feels especially scattered as it builds up to the long-awaited return of Jimmy-Jack-Steve. I’ve gone to no effort to mask my exasperation with JJS and my annoyance with the character’s return, but even I couldn’t wait for him to reappear, given the season has felt like its emergency brake is on. As an injection of new energy goes, JJS is not ideal, but at least the writers are now moving ahead with whatever the plan is for him.
JJS shows himself literally seconds after Gus gets his first opportunity to prove his worth as a husband. Fiona is in an emotional state after Jackie’s overdose, and she needs some comfort after being reminded how quickly life can take a violent left turn. Gus knocks it out of the park, reminding Fiona that even if they decide their wedding was a huge mistake, they’ll make the most of it in the meantime and cross that bridge later. But Angela’s back at Patsy’s Pies, this time accompanied by JJS, who is apparently spurred to action upon finding out Fiona got married.
The question now becomes, what’s the plan for Gus? What’s the plan for Sean? With the return of JJS, there are now way too many potential suitors circling Fiona. It’s weird to refer to Fiona’s husband as a “potential suitor,” but he was never given a chance to develop into anything more with JJS waiting in the wings. Gus exists solely as a foil for JJS, and he represents the order to JJS’ chaos. More than that, the way the show presents his reappearance, it’s clear either the writers think JJS and Fiona are meant to be, or they think the audience sees them that way. Gus has been the also-ran since his introduction, with Fiona using him to make Davis jealous, then impulsively marrying the guy. Now that JJS is back, the poor dude doesn’t stand a chance.
Even if Gus can stand up to the pressure from JJS, he can’t withstand Sean’s opposition too. Granted, Sean made clear a few weeks ago he’s trying to avoid Fiona because she’s the type of girl that always gets him into trouble. But I suspect Dermot Mulroney was hired to do more to glower from the kitchen and make bitchy comments about Fiona’s relationship. Perhaps Sean will be the last man standing once Gus and JJS square off, but there’s a problem if I’m spending more time trying to imagine what could happen in future episodes than enjoying the current one.
The Frank plot, as usual, made it hardest to appreciate “Rites” because it was just ridiculous. Now that Sheila’s off getting to the bottom of how the man burns, Frank finds himself without a place to live and winds up at the doorstep of Wade and Laura, the couple whose son provided Frank’s liver. Apparently Frank’s decision to drink wine at their dinner table didn’t spoil the relationship, as Wade is now convinced Frank absorbed their son’s spirit. Laura is horrified, then later decides she wants to have sex with Frank because Wade hasn’t been attending to her needs. To be really honest, there’s not that much I care to say about the story beyond describing it. It’s not my speed, and is beyond contrived—I could maybe understand if Frank had gotten the kid’s heart—but as with all Frank plots, mileage varies greatly.
- The Ian-Mickey plot is getting some more movement as well. Ian flees from the Milkovich Estate with Mickey and Svetlana’s baby in tow, still bearing the brunt of his latest manic flight. Oh, and he did a porno.
- Cameron Monaghan nails his final scene. His lack of affect is terrifying and effective.
- Lip is headed back to college early after coming dangerously close to being arrested with a warm assault rifle.
- Debbie is now straight pummeling her enemies, and Fiona’s reaction to it is great television, but less-than-great parenting.
- The title comes from one of the episode’s highlights, a scene between Debbie and Sammi in which Debbie explains to her half-sister the perils of trusting Frank. Debbie is definitely the best person to have this conversation with .