Sunday, November 26, 2017

REVIEW: 'Shameless' - Fiona is Surprised by a Familiar Face as Kev Meets His Family in 'F**k Paying It Forward'

Showtime's Shameless - Episode 8.04 "F**k Paying It Forward"

A blast from the past shakes up Fiona's view of her life. Frank gets involved with Liam's school and becomes the most popular dad in the PTA. Lip learns getting laid is harder than anticipated when sober. Ian crosses a boundary with a kid from the youth center. Kev and V take a trip to meet his birth family.

It ultimately feels like "F**k Paying It Forward" has way too much plot going on. All of the Gallaghers have their own individual stories as well as Kev and V going to Kentucky to meet Kev's family for the first time. There is a lot going on in this hour. That basically means that each story can only hit a few certain beats before the narrative needs to move onto the next story. As such, it never feels like the show finds a lot of nuance with the various stories. It can basically only go surface deep with the observations. Some of the stories are just minor and simple. They reach their basic resolutions by the end of the hour. But it's clear that some of the stories are going to remain important this season. This episode is introducing a couple of those while never making it seem likely that this is something the audience should be engaged by. This hour shockingly brings Sean back into the Gallagher's orbit. That should be a huge deal. That should be the story that everything else hinges around in this hour. But instead, it's just this minor thing that gets repetitive very quickly. It's important for Fiona to face what that relationship actually was and get the proper closure to it. He disappeared after their wedding was interrupted by the reveal that he was still an addict. This shocking return is akin to when JimmySteve returned to Fiona's life seeking closure to their love story. That was an important story that the show allowed to be the focus for an episode. Sean's return doesn't seem to do anything but really knock Fiona back which leaves her a little uncertain in many aspects of her life.

And yes, it is important to tell the story of Fiona still being in love with Sean. She was going to marry him. Sure, their relationship was largely good until it shocking wasn't in the end. That was an attempt by the show to salvage a season of story that just wasn't working. The show was able to rebound after Sean's exit even though Fiona hasn't. She's had a lot of meaningless sex. But even that has gone away this season. She's ready to give up all sexual relationships. And now, Sean returns to the picture. That's a compelling story. He returns to make amends for all of the horrible things that he did to her. She is right to be angry for him only treating this reunion as a part of him working his steps in the program. But it's also a story where the show has Fiona believing something for a long time only for Sean to reveal something else entirely. It's a case of misdirection that is incorporated multiple times into this story. As such, it feels very repetitive and not really examining the mixed feelings both of them have about their relationship and how it ended. And so, Fiona believes Sean is apologizing now in the hopes of getting back together. But Sean is now one year sober and gotten married to someone new. And then, Fiona confronts Sean's wife about how horrible a person he is only to learn that she's screaming at the wrong women. Again, their story didn't need to have a happy sense of closure to it. It's perfectly fine that it becomes incredibly messy here. It's just a little too awkward as well with it seeming like Fiona can still be knocked backwards because of a romantic interest of hers.

The show probably gets distracted by the wrong things in Kev and V's story as well. It should be so personal and significant that they go to Kentucky to meet Kev's family for the first time. Him being abandoned and forced to grow up in the foster care system is an important part of his backstory. That action has really informed who he is as a father. He's always had the worry that he wasn't good enough or doing everything he could in providing for his family. He's had this hole in his life for a long time. And now, he's learned about where he comes from. He learns that he comes from a huge family. He has nine siblings. They are big and in-your-face rednecks too. That's a character description that the show loves just a little too much in the context of this story. Yes, it believes it's providing a nuanced depiction of life in Kentucky. This is a family of hunters from a state with a strong Confederate background. But it also wants to highlight how they aren't all racists or conservative Republicans who voted for Trump in the last election. And yet, the show loves lingering on how V is reacting to all of this. She sees how troubling all of this is from a race perspective. She's worried about this family. She's worried enough to call Fiona and talk to her about it. But it's not something that Kev sees until the very end of the hour when his daughters come running out of the house wearing KKK hoods. That's a powerful visual. But that's the entire point of the story. Sure, some time is spent on how Kev was lost in the first place. But even that is all a part of the joke of how Kev was abandoned on purpose and he turned out to be the most successful one in the family.

Elsewhere, the show is seemingly going back and forth on whether Trevor and Ian work as a couple. Last season, it was clear that they did. Everything became uncertain once Ian left with Mickey. He chose to return to the city for his family. And now, he's relentlessly pursuing Trevor. It feels like the audience is suppose to see this as charming. They still have a witty banter. Ian is making his intentions known while also talking about the grief he has over Monica's death. But Trevor has made his feelings known as well about not wanting to get back together. And so, it's a little uncomfortable to see Ian just disregard that and still pursue him. Trevor is right to criticize Ian for letting a girl from the center sleep at his house for the night. It created huge problems for him at his job. But the story is still building to that moment where Trevor seemingly apologizes because Ian made a remark offscreen that got this girl thinking about her future. That's weird and not quite earned. Of course, it's much more effective than Lip's story throughout this episode. His story is especially one-note. He's just complaining over and over again about how he's so horny but hasn't found anything since he got sober. Again, there's an intriguing story at the heart of all of this that highlights how difficult dating will be for Lip since most people his age want to go out to bars and clubs. But this story was always building to that inevitable conclusion of him having sex with the girl at the bike shop. That was inevitable the moment she was introduced. It's also important for Lip to stick to the rules of just hookups during his first year of sobriety. That may be difficult for him because he has always been defined by sex and relationships on this show. It would be intriguing to see what he's like without chasing a woman for once.

Meanwhile, Frank finds himself with a new romantic admirer as well. It's another parent at Liam's school. He is really putting in the effort to be a better parent to Liam than he was to his other five children. He believes that he has emotionally matured into being a 30-something now. He's willing to step up and accept that his children's needs are more important than his own. Of course, the rest of the family still refuses to see him as Saint Francis. That's an identity he has latched onto this season in the hopes of turning over a new leaf. The family still doesn't believe anything he has to say. They are allowing him into their lives more this season. But he still hasn't really earned being respected by his kids. It's still easy for people who don't know Frank to quickly become intrigued by him. This story feels like yet another plot of a woman being attracted to him and not really knowing all of his past flaws. Much like Lip, it's unclear if a relationship is something Frank should be doing right now. He should be focusing on being a better father and staying clean. He's in recovery as well. He's been doing well so far because he has the justification of just blaming Monica for all of his problems. His luck is going to end eventually. How he deals with that will be the true test of how much he's changed. But right now, it mostly just feels like the story is putting him back into a familiar situation. It could be different because of Frank's new mentality. But it could easily go awry and come back to hurt the family once more.

Some more thoughts:
  • "F**k Paying It Forward" was written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Regina King.
  • Carl has been much more patriotic and political this season. It's the show continue to write more towards the economic and political realities of this world. That's refreshing but still pretty blunt as well. But here, Carl is showing respect for a veteran and is then absolutely giddy once his trap for catching the junkie robbing houses actually works. Overall, it's a pretty silly story that didn't necessarily need to be a part of this episode.
  • Franny takes her first steps while she's with her grandmother. Debbie sees a video of it. But that's all that she gets. So now, she's worried about missing out on more firsts in Franny's life. She's eager to see Franny walk again. That only happens at the end when Frank enters the room. But it doesn't seem like Frank has anything to really do with why Franny suddenly gets up on her feet.
  • It's a little surprising to see just how quickly the friendship has formed between Fiona and Nessa. That connection just needed to be immediate for whatever happens next with the apartment building. But it also seems like Nessa is the only tenant who is actually calling Fiona and telling her about what's going on in the place. There's always the constant reminder that the place is still a mess despite a new coat of paint and high rent.
  • Liam even gets a small story in this episode. He is no longer the only person of color in this school. Now, there is another student in his class. The show just highlights how the kids all expect the students from the scholarship program to be good at sports based on where they live and the color of their skin. That's subtle in its commentary while not ultimately being all that important either.
  • Brad isn't going to be as available for Lip and the other alcoholics he's sponsoring because his wife has given birth to a baby boy. It's a happy moment for him. They name the child Miles. But it also means that Brad has no time for Lip complaining about not having sex. That just seems so trivial in comparison.
  • Fiona is upset with Sean because of how quickly he has moved on and seemingly gotten his life back together. She's still lingering on those feelings while also having a lot of success herself. It's just interesting how the show says Sean is married after only being a year sober while also cautioning Lip not to get serious about anyone until he has that achievement of sobriety under his belt.