The Gallagher family is built on a foundation of survival: Most of the actions they’ve taken—however illegal or unethical or immoral—have been made because they haven’t had a choice in the matter.

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But in more recent seasons, the family has not necessarily been struggling to make ends meet—they are still poor, of course, but Fiona isn’t having to teach Liam how to shoplift from Target in order to get school supplies, and there’s not a weight hanging over their head. Even Debbie, the Gallagher under the most pressure thanks to the DCFS investigation, passes the GED without blinking an eye, and has Neil to help support her. Every Gallagher has more agency over their lives at this moment than ever before, and it’s creating a new conflict: What are they going to do now that they have choices to make?

This works most naturally in Ian’s storyline, which takes a simple problem—Ian and Trevor are both tops—and plays it out without much in terms of drama. I’m not sure that I necessarily buy that Ian never bottomed in his days as a go-go boy (especially given how unstable he was during that period), but the conflict gives both Ian and Trevor a safe space in which to be willing to make the choice. While both have defaulted to the other position in the past, they’re willing to make the sacrifice in order to give the other what they want, and in the process seem to find some pleasure in the process. It shows the potential benefits of making a difficult choice: They chose to compromise, and they found pleasure and connectivity in the process. I had concerns the show would filter this story through the Shameless tone in troubling ways, but for the most part it’s been played in a way that retains a sense of humor while remaining sensitive to the subjects at hand.

It helps, in this case, that the stakes for Ian and Trevor are fairly low: It’s a tough choice, but it’s more of a mental barrier than anything else. The stakes are higher for Fiona, who is quickly in over her head with the laundromat as any reasonable person would assume. Fiona is caught up on the idea that she will make money by investing in the laundromat, but she has zero idea how to actually run one, and did no research into the question. She didn’t know that industrial washers cost more money? She didn’t see the fact that many of the machines were broken or eating money and think that there might be some challenges here? Fiona’s impulsiveness here is also recklessness, as she may be stable enough to make a choice like this one, but her first days on the job remind her that there are stakes here she hadn’t properly considered. As she’s about to steal $1700 from the diner to fix a gas leak, she runs into Margo, who basically tells her that buying a small business is a terrible idea, and Fiona does the first smart thing she’s done all episode: She rips up the cheque for the laundromat, which was never cashed because Etta is an absent-minded, cat food-eating mess.

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And then the next morning, Fiona wakes up and tapes the cheque together and deposits it in Etta’s account, and I’m deeply conflicted over it. We know Fiona is stubborn, but this is a whole other level, as her refusal to accept defeat also guarantees it. It’s a weird story because I am sort of rooting against Fiona right now, as I would be more annoyed if the Laundromat succeeded in this circumstance than if it failed. As much as I want Fiona to be successful, I don’t want Shameless to have her success be miraculous, as though she is some kind of laundry savant. Her success with the diner shows an aptitude for turning things around, but that was a business she knew—this is a different story, and I don’t want to see Fiona’s fundamentally bad choice be rewarded.

We see Fiona’s choice here, but I’m not sure we really see Lip’s. With his internship exploded, Lip is more or less rudderless, but then he’s washing dishes at the diner when Youens comes in with news: The university has granted his appeal, which Youens submitted on Lip’s behalf. It forces a set of tough discussions for Lip and Sierra, who doesn’t understand why Lip might not want to go back, and who starts to get a sense for Lip’s potential drinking problem as they enjoy a night out. Going back to school would mean Lip returning to the environment that led to his collapse, and addressing a failure—he would be choosing to return to that space, a choice he didn’t know he would have, and a choice he might not want for the pressure it puts on him. Sierra can’t understand why he would be so casual about having been to college, and so disinterested in returning, but Lip has his own complexities, even if he’s more balanced than her son’s father, who abandons him with a neighbor.

The choice Lip makes here is to commit to Sierra, his observance of the baby daddy’s behavior activating a chivalrous side, and perhaps some daddy issues of his own. However, how does that impact his choice regarding college? Would that encourage him to try to go back, believing he could become a source of support for these other people? Would it discourage him, as he needs to focus his energy in spaces that are less likely to trigger his alcoholism (which he still doesn’t think of as alcoholism)? That’s less clear, and the show has done a better job of giving us insight into Lip’s decision-making—when he does make a decision, we’ve seen the evidence he’s working with, whereas Fiona has no one to talk to and is making decisions that I’m struggling to understand.

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The same goes for Debbie, who has more choice than most in her situation. She has a fiancé, albeit a new one, and she comfortably passes the GED without even studying for it, an indictment of how dumb she’s been acting for about two seasons now. Debbie was once smart and engaged, but she’s gone down a rabbit hole for no reason, starting with purposefully tricking her boyfriend into getting her pregnant, and then having the baby despite no support structure. It’s her own fault that she’s in this situation with DCFS, because she chose to panhandle on the street on Frank’s advice instead of continuing to look for a job, and chose to alienate and push away Fiona instead of acknowledging what choices had led them to that point. But when she gets to a parenting reeducation group, Debbie decides that her situation is just like the drug addicts who struggle to give up their addiction while raising their kids, and that the only reason she’s there is because of Derek’s sister recording her. She is not a victim in this situation: She is making herself out to be a victim, and it’s doing little to draw sympathy, and makes me wish that she and Neil could take a lengthy honeymoon to put focus on characters who drive me a little less crazy.

Choice echoes in Frank’s story, too, which I should note is heading in a better direction. Pairing him with Liam is a bit odd—and requires Fiona being derelict enough to not see the letter that Liam’s school was closed—but it allows them a new angle on the gentrification storyline. I have no idea why the school would be so desperate to put Liam on scholarship (optics, I suppose, but the episode never explains), and I have zero interest in Frank having sex with the principal (which is totally gonna happen), but I don’t mind the idea of Liam getting a better education, and exploring the intersection of choice and class in the context of private schools is not a bad direction to take.

None of this is a “bad direction.” Shameless is in solid shape right now, and nothing here necessarily undoes that, but where the show goes depends on the choices the writers have the characters make, and thus there’s a lot riding on these next few episodes.

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Stray observations

  • Did Svetlana choose to kill Ivan? That’s unclear, but also honestly unimportant—the siloing of their story from the Gallaghers has made it tougher for me to connect with it, and I’m going to need Fiona and Vee to reconnect as soon as possible if they’re not going to completely lose me.
  • That said, “GHOST COCK GHOST COCK GHOST COCK” made me chuckle. I think I want an edit that’s just “whatever funny thing Kev says.”
  • I am not particularly convinced that Ian is intimately familiar with the DMX discography. Carl? Yes. Ian? Not so much.
  • Interesting that the show chose to use sound to show Ian’s first experience with Trevor—the show has depicted sex in other contexts before, obviously, so the choice not to feature any visual component strikes me as a bit of a double standard. Not even a facial expression? Would that have played too much like comedy? It was a choice I’d be curious to hear more about.
  • Liam is definitely getting more dialogue, and those twins are definitely not really able to sell it as natural in the least—which isn’t to say that they should, necessarily, but I’ll be curious how they balance that as Liam becomes chattier.
  • I realize that there are logistical challenges related to real fire on set, especially on locations, but I’m finding that TV shows have decided that bad CGI fire is acceptable, and it’s just not.
  • It looks like, as we discussed last week, Carl’s trip to boarding school will result in his absence from the narrative—will be interesting to see when/if we reconnect with him.

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