(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)
Shameless is one of those shows that always takes a while to get the ball rolling. When I began started watching it, it didn’t fully catch my attention until about midway through the first season, and the following two seasons have proved to follow similar patterns. The beginning is weak, but the seasons always hit their peak in the middle—the meat—of the season. There are a lot of pins to set up before the writers start knocking them down. “The Sins of My Caretaker” didn’t reach the heights of last week’s excellent entry, but the episode hit all of the right emotional beats while setting up a potential arc to take the Gallaghers through the rest of the third season.
“The Helpful Gallaghers” felt off-kilter, in a good way, if only because it didn’t follow the usual beats of a Shameless episode. Maybe that’s why “The Sins of My Caretaker” felt a touch out of sequence. The events of Lloyd’s drunken shenanigans wore heavy on the episode, but “The Helpful Gallaghers” succeeded because it felt so different, so singular to the series, gleefully ignoring potential arcs in favor of beginning new ones. That’s possibly why “The Sins of My Caretaker” felt like it was on a different timeline because it was heavily rooted within the show’s history, so it's only fitting that Frank (and subsequently the rest of the Gallaghers) preoccupies himself throughout the episode with digging up the skeletons in his backyard.
Lip and Fiona's parallels were particularly fun to watch this episode. Both are reeling from abandonment issues that tend to screw with their current romantic partnerships. Lip pulls away from clinger Mandy, who has blissfully found a ghetto spouse to call her own. But he can’t accept it because of Karen. Karen was an increasingly problematic character, especially as the second season wore on, lacking the sweet, gooey insides that make even Frank palatable at his worst. I’d be lying if I didn’t say her absence wasn’t welcome come season three, but I’m glad we finally see the ripple effects of Karen’s departure on Lip. “You… ” Lip sputters into a phone message to Karen he very well knows might never be heard, “…We all owe you a huge fucking favor.” Even on a phone message, he can’t bring himself to singularly open up about his own pain. It has to be shared by the group; it cannot be his own. It’s wonderful watching Lip’s facade crack. While Fiona always has a harried look in her eye, Lip has a tougher exterior. But when he breaks, it’s messy.
Fiona clings so tightly to her family that it negates any sympathy she might have toward Jimmy constantly seeing the image of his dad’s dick in Ian’s mouth. At first, I didn’t like Fiona’s reaction to Jimmy’s final blow-up. It felt out of sync for her to be so maternal to everyone else, yet so uninterested in the problems of her live-in significant other. But Fiona’s largely been ignorant of the shitstorm Jimmy has been living since Estefania’s dad made his priorities clear in person. Fiona’s allowing herself to be selfish—taking money from the squirrel fund to book her own night, accepting Jimmy’s financial help and then demanding it when it's not readily available—while also further engaging in her own issues—dealing with coworkers who are no longer so friendly, digging up her dead aunt from the yard—that Jimmy’s problems seem insignificant compared to her own. In one of my favorite moments of the episode, Fiona comforts a distraught Debbie (Emma Kenney had a stellar episode), by saying they just need to keep digging. Fiona, of course, means it literally, but she’s so used to digging through the shit, that Jimmy’s obsession over something he can’t change or do anything about seems like a waste of energy. Especially when there are dead aunts to be dug up from the backyard.
As the most functional relationship of the bunch, Kevin and Veronica do what the Gallaghers are too damaged to do: They keep fighting. It was largely superfluous to return the clinic (Gilmore Girls cameo number one, with Rose Abdoo/Gypsy as the straight talking doctor) just to reiterate that Veronica was childless, and it felt like overkill to reintroduce her mother. But Veronica's monologue to Kevin explaining why surrendering is not an option was powerful without being overwrought or maudlin. Veronica’s ever-evolving sense of maternity is one of her character’s greatest strengths, constantly growing as her life changes. As with most arc beginnings on Shameless, I’m not sure how I feel about Veronica essentially having a sibling-child as a means to circumvent paying for surrogacy, but I’m hoping the constant repetition of Veronica’s very slim chance of conception don’t lead to some Father of the Bride Part II-style tomfoolery.
Because of the emotional beats “The Sins of the Caretaker” hit so well, the supporting plots seemed like they were just taking up space, especially the Sheila-Jody sex toy storyline that started out so strong last episode, although that was largely due to Frank's coaching. It felt tacked on to give Sheila something to do this episode, although Joan Cusack’s confession to the silent nun, and her eventual realization that the nun is blogging, were excellent. Similarly, Ian abetting in a requested robbery of Lloyd’s house was simply in service of adding to the chaos of the overall final scene without feeling significant at any point, in contrast with Debbie’s tussle with the developed girls at the pool. Gilmore Girls-related cameo number two came in the form of Keiko Agena as a child protective services employee who will surely throw the Gallagher household into more chaos, if only it can stay intact.
- I officially dislike the Molly-girl penis storyline and hope that Fiona’s rather blunt words are the end of it, although I totally giggled when she/he said, “It hides my girl penis. Mom says it’s impolite to show off my bulge.”
- “I need to know where the gay wieners go.” New mantra, anyone?
- I had forgotten about the Ian-Mandy beard relationship until Ian brought it up to Lip. They had been best friends throughout the first two seasons, but Mandy’s time has been so consumed by Lip that the friendship between Ian and Mandy was largely lost. For some reason, this moment also got me thinking about how different Mandy might be if Jane Levy hadn’t left for Subugatory.
Nota Bene: I mistakenly gave this grade a B originally, but meant to give it a B+. Fixed made.