There were lots of issues with Fiona Gallagher’s parade of love interests: it limited the character’s world to her romantic life, it isolated her from the rest of her family, and its repetitiveness heightened the stagnation that comes with any show that’s moving toward the end of its run. However, the biggest issue might have been how it removed the stakes from Fiona’s storytelling, trapping her in a loop where any consequences from one storyline were immediately erased by the next. There were aftershocks from those relationships—Jimmy’s return, Gus’s song—but Fiona’s story never felt as cumulative as her siblings’ stories, and that robs the character of dramatic purpose.
That has changed this season, although it’s almost jarring how quickly it happened. Although the show hasn’t really delved into the inciting incident—the aborted wedding—to explore the psychology as much as they might have, they’re using it as a generative act for a very different Fiona. It’s a Fiona who is looking for every opportunity, spinning her temporary management of Patsy’s into what she imagines as a business empire, beginning with the laundromat across the street. She has big plans, and with big plans comes the sense of stakes she hasn’t had since the show’s early seasons: in order to focus on herself, Fiona is neglecting and in some cases outright endangering her family’s livelihood.
I appreciate the conflicted feelings I have about this storyline. On the one hand, I’m glad that Fiona has been reoriented to think about her future, and to focus on self-improvement is a natural state for a character who was denied a natural transition into adulthood (and, notably, the type of self-realization space that Lip had in college before he threw it away). However, on the other hand, it’s been infuriating to see how casually Fiona has failed to understand the way her actions are being perceived by her siblings. Debbie might be making a series of bad choices, but Fiona is incredibly naïve if she thought that her threats of kicking her out of the house weren’t going to be taken seriously. Similarly, the fact that she would so casually collateral the house to get a loan to buy half the laundromat is incredibly callous, given that she had just given them all a lecture about how they were all responsible and needed to chip in.
Dramatically, I appreciate the stakes that this has added to Fiona’s storyline, although I struggle with just how reckless she’s being without understanding it to be reckless. Actually, I’m struggling with both Fiona and Lip in this regard, and I’m reaching the point where I’m fighting the show’s argument for their behavior. It’s not that their behavior is “unrealistic”: not only is this a television show (not to mention a show with a loose grasp on reality at times), but I also think it’s fair to say that Fiona and Lip are both prideful people who can be blinded to the truth of their actions. And so there’s logic to the fact that Fiona would be ignoring the principle of her guardianship in how she cares for her siblings, or that Lip would be willing to risk imprisonment to “screw over corporations” and slip further back into drinking in the process. But I am having a hard time thinking that Lip would be so reckless and dumb that he thinks a single day of not being noticed justifies stealing ten times as much, or that he would be so stupid as to start awkwardly quizzing the cyber security guy about if there were any breaches. Similarly, I wish I better understood the underpinnings of Fiona’s decision-making—with her friendship with Vee disintegrated, Fiona has no one to talk to, but that denies us a better understanding of her thought process, and that’s becoming more of a strain on the story as it spirals out of control one loan at a time.
Shameless is getting great drama out of Lip and Fiona’s struggle. The tension between them is tremendous fuel, adding depth to simple interactions—like their debrief about Debbie while Fiona enjoys her new window A/C—and creating more explosive blowups like their fight at Patsy’s when Lip learns about the loan. And while I worry the characters are being sold out in order to create it, it has retained the close focus on family dynamics that has provided a bedrock for the season, as demonstrated here by a really great scene as Fiona, Ian, and Lip swap stories about their respective situations. Fiona lays out her vision for a hipster laundromat, Lip regales them with tales of female ejaculation, and Ian educates his siblings on transgender issues while working through his feelings for Trevor, and it feels like one of the first times these three have ever come together like this as adults. It reminds us what’s at stake as Lip and Fiona fight over the future, which we also see as Lip and Fiona show up to Carl’s “goodbye party” to find no party, and a brother unsure of if he wants to go through with it. Quickly, they spring into action: they might not agree on a path forward, but they know what it means to be a Gallagher, and that remains a central thesis for the season, anchoring all of this around something I actually care about.
I wish “The Defenestration of Frank” was better structured to take advantage of this. While not a bad episode, continuing a solid run for the show, it suffers from some really odd pacing issues. Some stories are moving too fast: while it’s sort of the point that Debbie is rushing into marriage way too quickly with Neil, the idea that she became his virtual wife between episodes is a bit odd. I get why it happens, as it both creates tension with Fiona and activates Lip’s anxiety over his relationship with Sierra moving too fast, but compare it to Fiona’s purchase of the laundromat, which I had actually thought had already happened last episode before this episode suggested otherwise. It’s odd to have some parts of the episode—see: Frank’s homeless shelter scam—seem like a good few weeks has past, but then have Fiona and Carl’s storylines basically make it seem like barely a day has passed. It creates an episode I found disorienting, pushing and pulling without necessarily finding an even rhythm between its stories.
Some of this has to do with the relative isolation of those stories. While adding Svetlana makes it easier for Kev and Vee’s storyline to stand on its own, the more convergent nature of the Gallagher storylines this season is making the siloing of their story more debilitating. I know many in the comments called that Svetlana’s “father” was maybe not actually her father, and it’s not exactly a bad story development—I just also don’t really care about it, as there isn’t the same type of thematic core to this story as there is to the Gallagher siblings’ stories right now. The throuple is an easy way to generate comic stories with these characters, which can be useful, but I’m finding that the story isn’t providing enough comic energy to seem like as meaningful a use of time. I’d rather see more of stories that I think have more purpose—Ian’s story here feels incredibly rushed, with a too-brief flash drive exchange and a dashed-off patient death, where more substantive storytelling might have amplified the effectiveness of the “I’m a top/So am I” anti-climax.
This is the curse of the show having a more effective storytelling season in terms of its main threads: as I find myself drawn more into Fiona and Lip’s struggle, it’s only making the more tangential threads seem like a larger waste of time. Last week, a number of people noted that they were fast-forwarding through Frank’s storyline, and nothing in its implosion this week did anything to make this seem like a bad strategy. William H. Macy is a gifted actor, and I’ve loved the word “defenestration” ever since I learned it in my Western Civilization class, but why should I care about Frank Gallagher ripping off some homeless people for his own benefit? Wouldn’t the show be better if the only times we saw Frank in this episode were when he interacted with Carl and Debbie, offering their “fatherly advice” on their respective next stages of adulthood? What does the show gain from seeing more of Frank’s willingness to exploit others for his own gain? What has the show done to make Frank’s life meaningful outside of his relationship to his children?
“The Defenestration of Frank” ends with Carl at military school. It remains unclear if we’re actually going to follow him: this may be a way to write him out for part of the season, similar to Ian’s trip to basic training, or it may be as short a stay as Lip and Fiona predict after he gets on the bus. Carl’s story sort of escalated into military school out of nowhere—including inventing a Native American heritage to justify a scholarship—but his exit at least hits on the idea of how each respective Gallagher understands the concept of “future.” The show has been on much stronger thematic ground this season, but a byproduct of this is that I find myself wishing that the show was able to focus more on those themes, and not have to serve as many masters as it has chosen to. This particular hour ended up having a little too much going on to tap into what the season is doing best, but it’s still there, and will hopefully become a proper focus as the season wears on.
- There’s something fitting in Lip’s get-rich-quick Robin Hood scheme getting cut off before it could even start, but is that really all the consequences the show intends to explore? That FBI raid just erased everything? The episode leaves that in a weird spot, and it can’t just be a random dog that comes out of it, right?
- While we’re talking about “Wait, will this story have consequences or no?”: will some of June Squibb’s family members emerge from the woodwork to sue Fiona for taking advantage of her reduced mental capacity? Or was that just a brief moment for Fiona to question how far she’s willing to go?
- “I never knew the word rape could fill me with so much relief”—I realize that a lot of my relative disinterest in Kev and Vee’s storyline has to do with my staunch belief that Shameless is a drama and not a comedy, as I think some of my frustration is that they never really allowed the reveal of Ivan being Svetlana’s husband feel as dramatic as it could have been. It’s always undercut with comedy, which serves the show’s sense of balance, if you want it to be balanced, which I do not.
- The character assassination on Dominique is the worst I’ve seen since what Lynn Johnston did to Paul in the later years of For Better Or For Worse.
- I mention it above, but Ian’s random medical incident really never registered for me: we jumped into the scene so quick, and missed so much of Ian’s reaction to her death (beyond his absence at the party). Felt like a scene or two was missing.
- Product Placement Alert: The White Castle seemed pretty obvious, but I wonder if they’re also getting paid to showcase Apple’s text-to-speech capacity? Or maybe other people do speech-to-text way more often than I would in a similar circumstance?
- I was going to say that I had no idea Dr. Duke’s lecture about the Defenestration of Prague was going to stick with me, but that’s a lie: I started referencing it constantly almost immediately.
- I know Lip is more educated than his siblings, but I still thought that “moderate republicans are a myth” joke felt out of character. When has he—or the show—ever even acknowledged politics in such a fashion?