Sunday, November 27, 2016

REVIEW: 'Shameless' - Monica Returns to Cause More Drama in Her Children's Lives in 'Ouroboros'

Showtime's Shameless - Episode 7.09 "Ouroboros"

Monica is back! And her first task is to help Debbie get back Franny while Frank tries to avoid her. Ian has his first fight with Trevor. Lip tries to mask his relapsing alcoholism. Fiona's laundromat gets a bad review.

Monica is a key part of the Gallagher family history. She is the mother of all of the siblings. She is the love of Frank's life despite how much of her presence has ruined everything for him. The show has very strategically used her over the course of the series. She's an important character that the show recognizes can only be used in small doses. In those first few seasons, she would pop up during the final batch of episodes to stir up new drama for the family. Her presence was all it took to complicate the lives for the siblings. In the years since, her appearances have gotten more sporadic and more focused on the parallels between her and Ian. Ian has had the closest connection to her but has also been the one most hurt by her. Her sudden return in "Ouroboros" is treated as a big surprise at the top of the hour. She returns to Chicago to stir up trouble and drama in all of the storylines. The stories have been strong without her presence. Her return could have been awkwardly handled because of forced drama. That really isn't the case at all though. Her being in town is enough to heighten the drama, tension and insecurities already present in the siblings' lives. The family has changed so much over the years. Monica isn't returning to the same family as before. That makes this an exciting and interesting return. But one that is still filled with inherent drama.

Monica represents a way for the family to come together over a shared opinion. The siblings all hate her for the crappy job she and Frank did raising them. Frank has been a constant part of their lives. No matter what he always seems to survive and pop up when they least expect it. The siblings know that Monica loves rolling into town, stirring up trouble and then leaving again. It's been a pattern of hers for a long time now. Every time she shows up, she makes the same claims of wanting to do better by her kids. And every time, the siblings are less and less likely to believe she actually means it. And now, most of them are adults. Fiona no longer needs to be the one taking care of them. She's been content with letting them live their own lives this season and making their own decisions no matter how wrong they may be. She's been staying out of their lives so she could finally succeed on her own. The siblings have changed. They know they can't trust Monica or that she'll do anything to get them to change their opinion of her. And yet, there is still that temptation. If she would just say and do the right thing, then they are suddenly kids again wanting the approval of their mother.

Fiona refuses to let that happen. She has had to deal with Frank and Monica's bullshit more than anyone else. She's had to be the caretaker for the family. She struggled to raise these kids. And now, none of them seem to be succeeding in the goals they had for their lives when they were young. They are thriving in different areas. That allows Monica to be a set of fresh eyes throughout this episode. She doesn't know how much her family has changed in the years since she saw them. Liam doesn't recognize her at all. Debbie has a baby. Lip is no longer in college and a drunk just like Frank. Fiona has moved on from the family and become a businesswoman. All of the siblings have to deal with Monica throughout this episode. Fiona just wants to ignore her until she goes away. She does not want to be hurt again. She even makes a bet with Lip that she won't freak out at some random person because of it. Of course, it's a losing bet. Everyone knows that as soon as she makes it. It's painfully obvious because the show sets up the plot of Fiona needing to be validated on Yelp with the laundromat. She has never been that concerned with reviews before. But here, it's set up so she has someone to destroy and feel vindicated in the end. It's an awkward story. But again, it's all rooted around that one scene with Monica. She appears at the laundromat and tells Fiona how much she appreciates how she raised the kids for her. It's something Fiona has wanted to hear for her entire life. In that moment, she's a teenager struggling again. She doesn't get sucked in but it's clear she wants to.

Plus, Monica is able to get Franny back for Debbie when Fiona is unable to. This is the first time in a long time that Fiona has wanted to help Debbie. Lip doesn't get it but Fiona explains that Debbie needed help so she helped. And yet, Fiona is content to let family services figure it out. She does not press Derek's family to return Franny to Debbie. She agrees that it's a messed up situation. But she doesn't see anything else she can do. But then, Monica comes walking up to the place with a bat and just starts breaking windows until Debbie gets what she wants. She had no idea that she's now a grandmother. This presents an easy opportunity for her to get back in the good graces with Debbie. Debbie has grown so much over the years - not always for the better. She is now this selfish woman who doesn't take responsibility for her actions. She's camped out on the front yard not willing to abandon her daughter. That's something Monica can quickly attach to and manipulate to her advantage. She claims to be back for her family. These actions show that she may actually be genuine in that regard. She's able to get Franny back. Plus, she's supportive of Debbie at the family services meeting that allows Debbie to maintain custody. It's a major victory for Debbie. She's more appreciative of Monica now than ever before. Fiona sees it as Debbie once again falling into the trap. But almost losing her daughter could be good for Debbie too. It allows her to finally ask Fiona for a job and agree to listen to her orders as a boss. That's major progress.

Meanwhile, the parallels between Frank and Lip only continue to grow starker. Monica is the one addiction that Frank really wishes he could quit. She is the woman who has come to define his life for decades now. All it takes is for her to return for him to question everything that is in his life. He knows she's no good for him. But it doesn't take much for him to fall back into her orbit. He's content with scamming Etta, an elderly woman with dementia, because it gives him a bed to sleep in each night. It's because of Monica that Frank is comfortable scamming Etta. That pull she has on him is still strong. All she has to do is show him brain scans to prove that she's dying for him to once again be crying in her lap. Similarly, Lip has fully relapsed in his drinking. He needs a purpose to distract him from his very serious issues. He's hoping that Sierra can fill that void for him even though she just broke up with him. Her life is falling apart because Debbie is kicking her out of the apartment. She does need help fixing up her new place. And yet, she's just an object of fasciation to Lip. She's not a human being. That's a very powerful moment because she's aware of just how deeply broken Lip is when he refuses to see it. And yet, it seems much more likely that he'll continue down this dark path of drinking instead of getting the help he desperately needs. He'll just move on to the next distraction. And thus, his transformation into Frank would be complete.

Monica drops into this episode and every story explodes with drama. She intensifies the dynamics that were already there. She amplified the pressure which is such an important thing to do at this point in a season. But then, the episode ends with yet another bombshell. Mickey has escaped from prison. The police show up at the Gallagher house to know if he has reached out to Ian. It's a huge statement to close the episode on. It shows that the chaos is only going to intensify before the season is over. The return of Monica was one thing but the return of Mickey could introduce new drama altogether. He and Ian were good as a couple. That was such a powerful and important story over many seasons of the show. And yet, Ian has grown without Mickey around. His return won't be the kind of happy ending that some fans want for that couple. It will be marked by scandal and near constant pressure because of Mickey's fugitive status. Ian's relationship with Trevor is still in its infancy. He's still just getting to know him. This isn't a great time for Mickey to suddenly reappear. It will force Ian to confront his past and know if he's happy with the path he is currently on. The show will have to do that as well. With Mickey's return, there could be pressure to fall back on familiar storytelling beats. The creative team avoided falling into those with Monica. But will the same occur with Mickey?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Ouroboros" was written by Sheila Callaghan and directed by Christopher Chulack.
  • Kev, V and Svetlana go to marriage counseling. Kev is able to express his fears that V loves Svetlana more than she loves him. Kev and V's bond means so much that she's surprised he could ever feel that way. Meanwhile, V is afraid Svetlana doesn't love either of them and this is just a scam for her. Svetlana claims her actions show her love. They seem to make peace but that doesn't last long.
  • Svetlana takes over control of the Alibi. She knows how important the bar is to Kev and V. They love it and Svetlana just makes this major decision without talking to them first. It proves that she may not love them after all. This action could be the thing that tears them apart.
  • It's devastating to watch as Monica talks with Lip at the Alibi about the bright future at college he had always planned for his life when that dream was completely shut down just a few days ago. She doesn't know that but the audience sure does.
  • It's pretty amusing to see that Monica knows the law by memory when it comes to the custody of children. Sure, the bat gets Franny back. But that display of information is really quite impressive as well.
  • Ian not knowing why Trevor doesn't like showing his driver's license is a moment that just lingers for way too long. Yes, Ian is ignorant when it comes to trans issues. But that scene just plays out for a long time without Ian getting any kind of realization. The show forces a fight instead of it happening naturally. It's weird.
  • The show has already done a story about what the potential death of a parent could mean to the Gallagher siblings back in Season 4 with Frank. He survived though it seems unlikely Monica will. The way she talks about her health seems like this is a losing battle. Or it could just be part of a scam to win her family back.