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Three episodes into its ninth season, Shameless is disposable in a way it's never been before

Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)
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Ian spends the entirety of “Weirdo Gallagher Vortex” searching for answers, waiting for “Shim” to speak to him like they did when he was in prison.

Funnily enough, I also spent the entirety of “Weirdo Gallagher Vortex” searching for answers, waiting for Shameless to shed light on why any of this is happening.


Weirdly, after it was such a low point last week, I almost appreciated Frank’s storyline in this episode because I know exactly what’s going on. Is it still uncomfortable to see a white politician visit an African American woman on her doorstep, presume she supports the African American candidate exclusively because she wants to support her own race, but then convince her to support an old white dude instead because of some potholes on her street? Absolutely. But the stakes of the story are readily apparent: Frank is using Mo White’s ability to stoke the fires of working class racism to line his own pockets, but is being hamstrung by the fact his former congressman candidate resigned amidst a pedopheila scandal. Sure, I have questions about how Frank funded the production of all that campaign material in the span of a few days, and I still think the whole situation is an ideological minefield that risks convincing people that diversity in politics is itself corrupt, but I understand why everyone involved is doing what they’re doing.

I wish I could say the same for the rest of the show. My central frustration with the season so far is that while I don’t think any of the Gallaghers are acting out of character, I don’t understand why they’re doing what they’re doing within their specific situations. Let’s take Debbie as an example. The show has glossed over what kind of employment Debbie has gotten as a welder in order to pivot into the gender equality storyline, completing ignoring the toddler she’s caring for at the same time. Then, she finds herself attracted to another female welder who had been posing as a man, and is able to spend long nights welding metal dicks onto cars at the local strip club, even mass producing them with a suddenly emerging cabal of female welders, apparently unafraid of the attention that the dicks would get and the potential charges that could be laid against them. I understand what the story wants to do, as we see when Debbie ponders her sexuality with a skeptical Ian who’s convinced she’s just going through a phase. But why is this what Debbie is focused on? Has the show just decided that “single mother tries to make ends meet and care for her child while advancing in her career” is solved?

That kind of selective storytelling is not new for Shameless, but it feels particularly apparent right now. Carl has a clear motivation—getting into West Point—but there remain no after effects from Kassidi’s off-screen death, and I don’t understand how you square that with Carl’s empathy to the dogs that he’s rescuing from a makeshift gas chamber to let them die at their own pace. I’m glad that Carl has more empathy than he did when he was younger, but what is his plan, exactly? And if Veronica was just going to step in and force the congressman who happened to be her former S&M client to write Carl a letter, what was the goal of the dog storyline to begin with? I mean, look, I am not going to argue with a storyline that injects more dogs into the show, but it’s another reminder of the lack of precision that defines the show’s approach to telling stories at this stage in its life.

Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)

This is particularly true in the case of Lip. I understand why Lip would have wanted to help Xan initially, as he is an inherently good person, and the Gallagher who is most invested in the idea of taking care of his family ever since Fiona’s basically given up being her siblings’ guardian. But I feel the show needs to do considerably more to justify the lengths Lip is willing to go to continue caring for Xan after she ends up in the hospital with a broken arm. Brad wasn’t wrong when he showed up: it’s crazy to pull him in to pose as Xan’s father, just like it’s crazy for Lip to endanger another patient’s life to create a distraction to break Xan out. What is motivating Lip to do this? The show seems to be operating as though he is just doing what you do, but why is he risking his progress for Xan? What is creating such an intense responsibility for this particular child, who he has shown no particular relationship with? Is it bringing up bad memories of being worried for his siblings growing up? Does he need a distraction amidst his recovery? Does he just really not want to sponsor the single father? I don’t hate this storyline, but I hate that the show doesn’t seem to realize that answering these questions is necessary for the story to resonate in any way.


A similar problem is afflicting Fiona’s storyline right now, which is frankly just confusing. I honestly still have no idea what I’m supposed to take away from her fight with Ford over her investment. The gist of it is that Ford has been naysaying Fiona’s investment opportunities with what, from my perspective, seem like legitimate concerns regarding the integrity of the commercial real estate broker. While Fiona may not be being reckless, she is moving very quickly, and Ford’s past experiences with the douchebag give him reason to be skeptical of his tactics. But when Fiona shows up at the Alibi to talk to Veronica (which I appreciate, we so rarely get scenes with the two of them), the conclusion is that Ford is just jealous, and that’s reinforced by the fact we don’t actually see the contract signing meeting (implying there is no cause for concern), and Fiona returns home to condoms leading to her bedroom where Ford awaits naked in apology. The message being sent is that Ford was just being a jerk because Fiona was refusing to define the relationship, this despite the fact that their conflict last season was over his unwillingness to do the same thing. And apparently Fiona’s investment is actually totally fine, as all of Ford’s rational concerns were in fact irrational behavior.

Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)

What’s the point of that? Where are the stakes in that story? I am not even close to being invested enough in Fiona and Ford’s relationship for this story to hinge entirely on their coupling, and that isn’t going to change if this is the kind of story they have in mind for their future. And that’s the problem: nothing happening right now is gaining any traction. Ian floating through different religions is something the show explored with Frank in the past, and reveals no new insights, and mostly ignores the fact that Ian is out on bail and awaiting trial, and recently ran away from a rabid group of supporters who surely would have looked for him at his place of residence but seem to be totally cool with him just taking some time to himself all of a sudden.

While a “Weirdo Gallagher Vortex” can be destructive, at least it’s dynamic: right now, there’s almost nothing happening on this show, and everything that is happening lacks the weight and resonance necessary for the show to sustain itself. The show is too inert to make its political storyline anything but a distraction, and the attempt to tell a “Time’s Up” storyline in the Alibi carries no consequences given it’s focused on the barflies at the Alibi who, while a fine comic presence, have no actual purpose in this story. And I say story in the singular because Shameless is supposed to be the story about the Gallagher family and their immediate circle, and right now there’s nothing to unite their stories in any meaningful way. It’s just a mishmash of ideas, disposable in ways that the show has never been before.


Stray observations

  • I understand why television shows avoid telling stories about actual political parties—no one wants to alienate part of your audience in an intensely partisan system. However, telling a story about a Congressional race without any sense of party politics is crazy. Presuming that both Ruiz and Wyman are democrats, this is a primary election: was Mo White a democrat? If Ruiz and Wyman are the Democratic and Republican nominees, is Mo White running as a third party candidate? These details may not “matter,” but if they’re going to have him go door-to-door, the idea that none of these issues came up is crazy, especially given the African American woman’s mind being changed in just a few minutes. It’s just a mess of a storyline, and yet as noted it was a beacon of clarity in this particular hour.
  • I get that they aged up Liam so they could give him stories, but his trip to public school was a fundamental waste of time. He could have just told one of his siblings how his day went, and it would have had just as much impact on the rest of the episode, and saved some time to boot.
  • I was very perplexed when Fiona suggested to Vee that the real estate dude she was meeting with was “extremely hot.” I mean, I don’t know if I’m the best judge, but they did not cast the world’s most attractive man, and he seems downright sleazy to me.
  • The other weird part about that scene was how Vee was like “it’s a long story” when Fiona asked about her Dominatrix outfit, instead of telling her that it involved Fiona’s own brother. Why wouldn’t she tell her it was for Carl? What must Fiona’s life be so separate from her siblings? Why would it be, when she is his legal guardian?
  • You know the show has kept the siblings apart too much that getting a brief scene of Ian razzing Lip about packing lunches is a highlight in the episode.
  • Frank left the bar with the realization that Mo White needed a campaign song, but yet we don’t get any payoff. May I suggest “Great Balls of Fire?” Too on-the-nose?

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About the author

Myles McNutt

Contributor, A.V. Club, and Assistant Professor of Communication at Old Dominion University.