Sunday, January 21, 2018

REVIEW: 'Shameless' - The Gallaghers' Heroic Choices Should Have Consequences in 'A Gallagher Pedicure'

Showtime's Shameless - Episode 8.11 "A Gallagher Pedicure"

Fiona's homeless tenants barricade themselves inside her apartment. Lip takes in a terrified Sierra and Lucas when her father is released from prison. Despite warnings, Ian provides sanctuary to a runaway teen. Frank considers his retirement. Debbie must choose between paying for school and paying for surgery to keep her toes.

Fiona, Lip and Ian all probably see themselves as the heroes in their current stories. Fiona tried the diplomatic approach with her squatters. She went to the construction company to try to get them to take responsibility for Rodney's injury. It's after all of that that she believes she's in the right to board the family inside the apartment and steal back Rusty until they are willing to move out and drop the lawsuit. Lip is a comforting friend for Sierra in her time of need. When she needs support, she goes to him. He ensures that she is protected from her father after he is released from prison. He does so by getting into a fight with him and thus breaking his parole. And Ian is a protector and hero of the LGBT community. He is providing shelter for a runaway kid whose family is trying to kidnap him. He listens to the concerns and decides to take action by blowing up the van once it comes to snatch him away again. All of these moments are played as triumphant. It's the Gallaghers doing things the way that they always have. They are doing what they think is best in order to protect the people that they care about. And yet, all three of these situations could easily turn against them and get them into significant trouble. Fiona's actions could further prop up her identity as a slumlord. Sierra's father could be released since Lip went to the halfway house trying to pick a fight. And Ian could be arrested for property destruction. They all feel justified to act the way that they do. But they don't really care about the consequences of their actions. It shows how much they still have to change and grow in the world. And yet, is the show asking the audience to be aware of these concerns or should we be pumping our fists in the air because these are personal victories for the Gallaghers? The first would be very compelling and offer a purpose to this season. The second would show just how broad and non-essential the show has become after eight years.

These past two seasons have really propped up the idea that Fiona is a successful businesswoman as well. Yes, she can take some of the credit for her success. She has had the right instincts. But she's still incredibly naive about the business and how people can take advantage of her. She believes she knows all the tricks because the situation was reversed not all that long ago. She was the provider of a struggling family doing whatever was necessary to keep things afloat for as long as possible. She's moved up in the world slightly. She could entertain the thought of living on her own in her apartment building. And now, she's being sued for six million dollars. It is an interesting idea for Fiona to be sued for her personal failings. She believes she's so smart and capable. And yet, she's still just trying to hustle things at the best deal without ensuring that things will be safe. She had no problem when she has bartering with the construction crew foreman on the cost of her roof repair. But now, she realizes just how bad a decision that was because it will leave her personally responsible for Rodney's injuries. A case is being made against her which is fascinating. She has made the wrong decisions. She doesn't seem to realize that though. She still sees Rodney and Trina as taking advantage of the system at her expense. And yes, they are doing that to a certain extent because they don't exist as characters outside of these basic plot functions. The show is writing itself into a place where Fiona could emerge victorious. But it's going to be intriguing to see what the outcome of this case will be. It should be resolved in the finale. It should not extend further than that. But she does kick Trina in the face. In the moment, that feels great. But it could also increase the damages she must pay to this family. She wants to settle things the Gallagher way but the Gallagher way would be so completely unflattering when examined in a court of law - as Fiona is made aware of during her meeting with her lawyer.

Elsewhere, Lip and Sierra's relationship is so twisted and complicated. Last season she was such a strong love interest for him. She was the best he has probably ever had on the show. And yet, it's also abundantly clear that she deserves someone much better than Lip. Her entire life has been defined by addicts. Her father killed her mother in a drunken rage. She was tasked with taking care of her brother after his accident. Charlie abused drugs and alcohol. And Lip has abused drugs and alcohol. This season at times has tried to focus on Lip looking inward to analyze his behavior that led him to drink. His story has been by far the most engaging of the entire season. He's been the saving grace of the show in a lot of ways this year. His story is still compelling here. He had the hindsight to recognize it was a mistake to sleep with Sierra after it happened following her discovery of Charlie getting another girl pregnant. He recognized that he wasn't in a healthy enough place to ensure the kind of stability she and Lucas need. But now, they need Lip's help. It's just further proof that Lip's life is full of drama. Eddie sees that and is able to quickly move on knowing that that relationship won't be healthy for much longer. Lip still presents himself as a good influence on Eddie's niece though. He uses her in his scheme to get Sierra's father sent back to prison. It's a mission that works. He's being her protector. It's an action that is immediately rewarded with sex. It's the two of them once again connecting in that way. Of course, Lip hasn't done any further self-reflection. So, it still probably isn't a healthy dynamic. But the system may not ultimately care what he does to Sierra's father either. So, he may just get to be a hero. That would be lame. But now, he's in a position of needing to fix people once more after a season of doing that instead of meaningful work on himself.

And then, Ian's story has grown incredibly toxic. Fiona calling his religious followers a cult proved to be very indicative of the direction this story was heading in. It didn't necessarily need to be a cult. It could have just been Ian finding religious enlightenment and making a difference in people's lives. Any Gallagher would call some form of organized religion a cult. That wouldn't be surprising. But here, the story finally proves that this isn't any healthier than his earlier vendetta against Fiona. When he got furious about his sister taking the potential shelter from him, he wasn't justified in his anger or actions in the slightest. He was simply having this overly large reaction to a disagreement he was losing completely. But in this story, Ian does have the moral high ground. He is using religion in order to prove to people that God is love. That's a powerful message that has quickly connected with people. He's been a champion of gay rights in religious organizations across the city. He's made demonstrations to prove how sickening and wrong it is to try conversion therapy. He's absolutely right to do so. He now has a community of people following his example. But his example isn't a pillar of mental health. The show introduced the idea that he may be having another bipolar episode awhile ago. It introduced that thread only to just casually dismiss it later. But now, it does seem incredibly likely that he is having a problem with impulse control. When this runaway pops up, it's clear that he's a stand-in for what life could have been for Ian if he didn't have the love and support of his family. He was that gay kid doing drugs and selling his body while having a bipolar episode. He's suppose to be seen as better now. But he does take things too far in causing this van to explode. He does it to make a statement. It proves that he's not backing down in this fight. He's taking the fight to the oppressive people. But again, this father may not be trying to convert his son to being straight. He may just be worried about him having a mental disease. Ian doesn't spend too much time listening to this kid and taking that into account for his actions. He just wants to do things the Gallagher way. But now, he's on such a public stage where he has to put forth a good example. This isn't that. It's destructive in a way that could turn all of this against Ian very quickly in the finale.

Finally, there is the story that gives "A Gallagher Pedicure" its title. It features one of the grossest and most horrifying images the show has ever produced across eight seasons. That's truly saying something. Following that pipe falling on Debbie's foot, three of her toes are crushed. She could have surgery to fix them. But that's expensive and will result in over a year of physical therapy. It would set back her plans for her life immediately. Or she could have the three amputated and need to be fitted with special shoes for the rest of her life. It's the cheaper option. It's the option that seems sensible to her. That's the sad reality of all of this. Debbie doesn't feel like she has a choice. She had a plan for her life. She stuck to it for the most part as well. And then, this accident happened. It wasn't on an official job. She was just doing whatever it took to provide a better life for her and Franny. And now, she wants the toes cut off. She just decides to do it herself instead of having to come up with the money for that surgery. It's despicable that she asks that of Liam. She passes out long before Frank comes home. And then, he just casually does it. It's as if it's nothing to him. He has seen much worse and has no problem doing this for his daughter no questions asked. In the moment, it's traumatizing because Frank just leaves her on the table even though she wants to go to the hospital to get the proper post-surgery care. It left her in a precarious situation with no one else being home. And then, she just randomly shows up at the hospital ready to get her life started again. How she got there is completely irrelevant. That's weird. This story is still effectively gross. But it also comes at a point where the show has had no idea what to do with Debbie all season long. Episodic stories can still work on this show. But that's all that Debbie has done this year with none of it really having a cumulative effect. The loss of her toes should be a big deal. It will probably provide more focus for her in the future. So, that's at least promising.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Gallagher Pedicure" was written by Mark Steilen and directed by Iain B. MacDonald.
  • This is the season that just got me to stop caring about Kev, V and Svetlana. They are just so isolated from everyone else. They no longer have meaningful interactions with the Gallaghers. Svetlana isn't a sympathetic character no matter how much this story wants her to be seen that way. Maybe, her pursuit of a sugar daddy is the precise story that will take her far away from the Alibi and the lives of every character of importance. Maybe then Kev and V can interact with the Gallaghers.
  • Carl's story here is just so redundant. His siblings tell him that he is an idiot for marrying Kassidi. She continues to lure him in through sex and yelling about him wanting to abandon her for military school. It's wrong for him to drop out of school. He needs that focus. That's what will get him out of this neighborhood to a better life. He's just so completely entranced with her. But the audience has no reason to understand why Carl feels that way. Kassidi is just awful and there's just no evidence that this could be a healthy dynamic. It's just gotten so repetitive.
  • Ian doesn't even think to call Trevor to ask him if there are any healthy options for this runaway teen being hunted by his father. Trevor has been doing this kind of social work for awhile now. And yet, the show wants them in a precarious place because the fame has gotten to Ian's head. Calling Trevor would be the sensible thing to do. But right now, Ian isn't suppose to be acting sensible. At least I hope not.
  • Frank complaining about not being able to retire is just such a nothing story. There's no point to it. This season has seen him age in the way he views he should have lived his life all along. He had the job. He had unemployment. He had a midlife crisis. Now, he wants to retire. But it's all so meaningless. It basically brings him right back to where he started as a leach sucking off the good fortune of the family.
  • Remember when this season told stories about Liam? That slightly returns here. It's just a minor, low-key detail. But he wants to vacation in St. Croix with his friend's family. That mostly just provides an excuse for Frank to be motivated by finding the new target he wishes to go after for their financial generosity. It's not even a story about Liam for very long.