Sunday, January 14, 2018

REVIEW: 'Shameless' - Ian Deals with Newfound Fame as Lip Receives Shocking News in 'Church of Gay Jesus'

Showtime's Shameless - Episode 8.10 "Church of Gay Jesus"

Ian's fame in the LGBTQIA community explodes but the sudden surge of "followers" may be more than he can handle. Frank finds a way to cash in. Fiona struggles with her conscience when she learns about a worker who fell off her roof. Lip realizes his relationship with Professor Youens may not have been as special as he thought.

Around halfway through "Church of Gay Jesus," Fiona visits Trevor at the youth shelter. They ask what the other thinks about Ian's new gay, religious enlightenment. Both of them respond that they don't know quite what to make of it yet. That would appear to be the most meta commentary of this entire season so far. Basically every single story this season has elicited that same response. They've been weird and broad. It's hard to make sense of what's going to be important and what's just an episodic distraction for some characters. There has just been a lot. Most of it has been pure nonsense. Some of it has just been stalling tactics. Some of it has the semblance of importance but has produced a pretty baffling response. At this stage of things, I can say I basically understand what's going on in Fiona and Lip's personal stories. Those are always the two characters who matter the most. And yet, it also feels like the show has just elongated those personal stories for the two of them so that they don't reach some inevitable conclusions for as long as possible. It's all just so random and weird. Lots of things happen in each individual episode. But it's become harder and harder to figure out something of value to say about the show this season.

It seems like this season - more than any other season of the show - the Gallaghers know that each other's lives are crazy at the moment but they don't know exactly how crazy until they are right alongside them seeing it firsthand. Ian is the only one largely dealing with the pressure of being the center of attention. Everyone else just sees that happening on the periphery of their lives. He hosts meetings in the living room. But no one is really listening all that much - except for Frank who sees an opportunity to pay for his retirement. It's not until Fiona goes with Ian to his big event in the end that she realizes just how big all of this really is. And she responds in the Gallagher way of labeling it as Ian's cult. The same is also true of Carl's storyline. His siblings are pleading with him not to marry Kassidi - which is such an awful spelling of that name. They see that she's crazy. But they don't truly believe that another Gallagher is going to get married on a whim. Nor do they see the lengths Kassidi will go to in order to trap Carl into this arrangement. She's ready to commit suicide to prove that he loves her. That's absolutely horrifying. It also feels like the show no longer has a sense of how to tell a story about mental health. Kassidi clearly needs help. But everything around her is mostly treated as a punchline with Carl being pulled in further and further with no one realizing it until the marriage pictures are sent out.

This could all be another case of the Gallaghers having absolutely no idea how to properly handle fame and success. They are a family who've always had to scrap their way through life. They've had to game the system just in order to survive. Fiona has had constant opportunities for success. It wasn't until she was broken again and again by her own reckless behavior with men that she found it and managed to hold onto it. But now, she's dealing with a new complicated problem just as things are really starting to heat up with Ford. Again, that could be fascinating. Fiona has made so many mistakes because of the men in her life. Now, she has the opportunity to actually spread her wings and leave the Gallagher family home. She's made that move. She's happy. She's finally learning how to be brutally honest with Ford, who kinda creepily knows everything about her. It's played as charming and far from the worst problem she's having. But it's because she is focusing on Ford that she doesn't see Rodney and Trina for who they truly are. Yes, she knows that they are just like she was when she was caring for her children. But now, she's on the receiving end of that. And this time, they are so much worse than she ever was because they are suing her for six million dollars! That's absolutely ridiculous. That craziness defines the story even though it would be vastly more interesting to examine Fiona making that confession to Ford that she never wants to have kids after raising her siblings.

Meanwhile, Ian is arguably the Gallagher with the most fame right now. Fiona notes that it's a good thing that it has nothing to do with any kind of criminal activity. That's proof that the family really is moving up in the world. But it's such a sudden and jarring recognition of fame as well. Ian's storyline has been so completely about him attacking these anti-gay churches that it was starting to become unclear if he was still employed as a paramedic. This episode proves that he is. And yet, his new fame is following him wherever he goes. It's sudden for the audience as well even though we've been seeing the growth. It's jarring because all of a sudden Trevor feels like he's being pushed out of Ian's life because of this good work despite the two of them having sex just like week. There is new tension in that romance that doesn't quite work because it feels a little disingenuous. It's the plot forcing the issue instead of something that comes up naturally. Plus, there is the whole question of if this fame is something that Ian wants. He's been stunted in his emotional growth in so many ways over the years. He's seen Fiona and Lip stumble when it comes to success and breaking free of this life. And now, it's his opportunity to build something greater. He does believe in this cause. It's also a powerful message that just needs to be reaffirmed over and over again. It's simple that way. And yet, Fiona calling it a cult basically dooms it for failure at some point soon. Ian is passionate on that stage. But it's also hard to feel like that moment is earned because of all the shortcomings Ian has shown this season as well as the show not being abundantly clear about the purpose of all of this.

Finally, Lip's story is really successful and effective for the majority of the time but has a really awkward and too neat ending. It's a shock that Professor Yoeuns has died in prison. That was the outcome that the professor fully expected. He died from withdrawal. He was so dependent on it that it killed him. Lip's story this season has been so closely associated with helping others in order to deflect from figuring out his own problems related to drinking. And now, one of those causes has died. He didn't even know until it already happened. He believed himself to be close with Yoeuns. But he wasn't close enough to be the one to get that call in the end. Instead, that was his daughter. This episode proves that Yoeuns had a life far outside of his relationship with Lip. That was just the only reason he appeared on this show. That relationship meant so much because Lip placed so much value in it. Yoeuns was the man trying to help Lip when no one else was. Lip appreciates everything Yoeuns did. And now, he's faced with the realization that Yoeuns helped many students over his tenure as a professor. Lip was just the latest example who stood by during the end. It's a story that shows that this relationship wasn't all that Lip romanticized it to be. He throws a tantrum at the bike shop because of all of that. Then, Yoeuns' daughter shows up with a special letter saying that Lip was indeed better and more special than any other student. That doesn't feel quite right. Lip may know that as well. He may realize that this dependency on other people may not be good for his sobriety. That's just also asking a lot of the show at this point in the season. Hopefully, it's coming to a fitting conclusion for the year with things resolving in an appropriate way for the characters. But again, it's hard to tell at this point.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Church of Gay Jesus" was written by Sheila Callaghan and directed by Anna Mastro.
  • Does the show actually think that it's charming that Ford knows everything about Fiona after she calls him out for not asking any personal questions? Yes, it's fine to do research. But these are deeply personal things he's talking about. It works in the moment because it kickstarts the sexual component. But it also feels like a distraction in a time when Fiona really needs to focus. Ford convinces her to buy that chair. And then, it is immediately ruined by these new tenants squatting.
  • Fiona and V are apparently solid friends again this year. They haven't spent a lot of time together. As such, they are equally confused about what has been going on in each other's lives. Fiona has no idea how to react to V's story of trying to set Svetlana up with an older man. Meanwhile, V just has to be as outraged as Fiona is about getting sued. Those moments on the steps between the two of them are great but have become fleeting over the years.
  • So, did I just forget about those scenes last week with Kev and V deciding to help Svetlana find a sugar daddy? Or did the show just include those in the "previously on" segment despite cutting them out last week? If it's the former, it wouldn't be surprising because their storyline this season has just been bad and lame. If it's the latter, then it's just really lazy on the show's part. Plus, in what world does Svetlana need help from Kev and V in finding a man? Also, who really cares at this point what happens to Svetlana?
  • In the midst of all of this, Debbie has started getting some really sketching welding jobs. She's part of a group of non-union workers who come in late at night to get jobs done quicker so the employers don't have to pay as much in the end. It could be the start of a fascinating conversation about union jobs. But it's quickly derailed by Debbie throwing her values out the window for the money and then immediately getting hurt on the next job.
  • Frank's story was so poignant at the start of the year. He was trying to just be a part of the working class. And now, he's once again stubborn and entitled in believing that he has earned retirement despite not working for very long. It's basically just confirmation that he is back to his old self of trying to profit off of whatever happens to be going on in this neighborhood or with his kids. In this case, he tries to cash in on Ian's new fame by selling various merchandise. It's very profitable for him as well.