Sunday, January 28, 2018

REVIEW: 'Shameless' - Fiona Handles the Lawsuit While Lip Makes a Big Decision About His Future in 'Sleepwalking'

Showtime's Shameless - Episode 8.12 "Sleepwalking"

Fiona taps deep into her Gallagher roots to get the homeless family out of her apartment and dismiss their lawsuit. An explosive incident sends Ian and some of his followers into hiding from the authorities. Lip makes a difficult decision in order to have the life he really wants. Carl looks for a way to go back to school without upsetting Kassidi. Debbie considers letting Derek back into Franny's life. Frank makes plans to take advantage of Liam's rich friend.

Was Season 8 of Shameless its worst season? In the immediate aftermath and analysis, I would say yes. The only other possibility would be Season 6. The first season is problematic largely because it's episodic and doesn't quite know what to do with these characters yet. Season 6 was bad for elongated and bland storylines that never really amounted to much. It was the year where the only redeeming quality was Carl. That was a consistently strong story. Season 8 was bad for extremely frustrating storylines that didn't make much consistent sense. Of course, Lip's story was regularly strong but it wasn't as uniformly well-executed in order to completely redeem this season. So, that's why I would say this was the worst season of the show. Your results may vary. There probably wasn't much "Sleepwalking" could have done in order to justify the creative decisions made this season. The reception of the year ultimately comes down to how the show resolved Fiona, Lip and Ian's stories. Would it ensure that they actually dealt with personal consequences that are appropriate to their horrible and self-destructive actions this season? Or would the show find some convenient and broad way to resolve these stories without reflecting beyond surface-level observations? In the end, it's more of a mix. Some of these resolutions aren't all that earned. What the characters learn from these experiences doesn't completely add up - if they actually learned anything. And so, that makes this an incredibly erratic and weird finale. A lot of stuff happens. But not a whole lot of it is actually compelling and great.

Let's start with Lip because I did mention he has been the redeeming quality of this season. He seemed like he was hurtling towards a relapse in his addiction because he spent the entire year focusing on the problems of others instead of rebuilding his own life. That was the mentality that his sponsor Brad imparted on him. Brad's philosophy for staying sober is basically keeping oneself busy so that they can't focus on how much they want to drink. It's a philosophy that clearly didn't work for him because he relapsed as soon as new stress was added to his life. And yet, that's ultimately not a big deal because he's back to being Lip's sponsor and a good influence in this finale. That's weird. It doesn't line up with Lip's big decision. Lip wants to be a good protector and boyfriend for Sierra. He does love her. But he breaks up with her because he has the realization that he hasn't focused on his own life and decisions too much lately. Again, that's smart and makes this an uplifting ending for the season for him. He's on the path towards a better life. It just embraces the sobriety mentality that Lea DeLaria was preaching in her one episode. Why did the show bring her on only to never feature her being a good influence on Lip? That was the advice he needed. He needs to figure his own life out before letting anyone else in or risk destroying it all. Instead, this finale frames it as him rebuilding his own life because he managed to rebuild this bicycle. But it's also odd how Lip disposes of Sierra because he needs to focus on himself only to later on pick up Eddie's niece as a new responsibility.

Of course, this season has also been severely indicating a new pregnancy or a new addition to the Gallagher family. Debbie had several pregnancy scares because she was still being reckless with sex and is now dealing with Derek wanting to pay child support and get shared custody. A big deal was made about Kassidi telling Carl they no longer needed to use condoms because they're married. Ian was working with troubled youth and invited them over to the house repeatedly. Fiona told Ford she didn't want to have kids after raising her siblings. Everyone told Lip he was a natural when holding Brad's baby. Lip spent more time with Eddie's niece than Eddie did. So, a twist was clearly going to occur to shake up the family. It was just unclear where it would come from. It seemed like a possibility for nearly everyone in the family. And now, it's represented through Lip welcoming Eddie's niece into his life. He does that out of compassion. He knows how cruel the foster care system can be. He's not planning on it being a huge responsibility. But her mother hasn't been heard from in a long time while Eddie just leaves and doesn't care. Lip has been a responsible parent in the past. He could be good at this. He could be a great parent. But in order for that to happen, he would need to figure his life out quickly and probably get out of the family house that keeps tracking in more and more craziness over the years.

Meanwhile, Fiona is getting a ton of advice from multiple perspectives over how to best handle Trina and Rodney. Her lawyer is telling her to sell the building, spend the money quickly and declare for bankruptcy. That outcome seems responsible while highlighting how Fiona doesn't have the keen skills for this profession like she always thought. Frank tells her to set a fire in the apartment to force her squatters out. It's the Gallagher method that may just add to her tab of the pain and suffering she has caused this family. And Margot tells her to just settle for an extremely low price by being firm and interacting directly with the family. It's a shrewd business approach that forces her to be just as careless as the system that led to these injuries. Margot's advice represents a path forward for Fiona to still seem mature and growing. Frank's advice would bring her back to her roots and highlight how she really isn't all that better. And in the end, the show opts to tell a mixture of these ideas. She still holds true to her Gallagher roots by smoking the family out of the apartment while listening to Margot and paying them off with just a couple thousand dollars. The show does this in order to represent a blending of the two worlds. It's suppose to be aspirational in that it shows that Fiona is still succeeding in this business by listening to her dual nature. But it mostly just ensures that she doesn't have to deal with any ongoing consequences. That makes all of this seem like something that kept her busy over the last few episodes of this season - which ultimately doesn't make it amount to much.

And then, there is the lingering business of Fiona and Ford's relationship. Here, they have a conversation about just how serious it has become. And yet, it's a conversation where they keep circling around the subject without offering any kind of definitive clarity. Ford has been a lackluster and frustrating love interest for Fiona this season. At first, he presented himself as the first mature boyfriend she has ever had. He's a guy in his 30s who is done with the petty drama of his teens and 20s. He's a guy who knows what he wants out of life. He's a guy who wants to go out on a couple of dates before sleeping with a woman he likes. He's a guy who knows the realities of love. Fiona has never had that kind of influence in her life. She's always gauged a relationship by how quickly and deeply guys fall in love with her. This dynamic is much more practical and mature. And yet, these past few episodes have also been defined by how much craziness Fiona is bringing into Ford's life and how that excites both of them. Those complications make their lives and their love interesting. But it also highlights just how pretentious and lame Ford is as a boyfriend. That makes him incredibly disappointing. This season started with Fiona swearing off men because meaningless sex was no longer as fun as it once was. That set up the expectation that her next love interest would be real and significant. It had to be a strong and distinct character to justify her showing a romantic interest in him. But this dynamic is toxic because Ford just never opens himself up in a real and genuine way. That basically ensures that this bond will end the same way it always does with Fiona. And frankly, she deserves so much better than that by now - even though this relationship still points out that she has problems to work on too.

Finally, Ian's story is resolved in an absolutely horrendous way. The family only realizes that they have to worry about him after it's already too late. The show confirms that this is yet another bipolar episode he is experiencing. It's the explanation the show tossed out there like six episodes ago in the midst of his huge fight with Fiona. Then, it just casually backed off that claim hoping the audience wouldn't notice and get what was going on. But that's not the proper way to tell a story. It also just feels so redundant. The show has featured a manic Ian before. He has gone off his medication previously. It's had destructive consequences for him. But now, it's all about the big display he creates in this city. It's no longer a personal story about him and his mental health. It's about a movement. It's a movement with a just cause. But Ian has twisted it around because of a savior complex. He's gotten all of this attention and needs it in order to feel stable. And yet, the show isn't doing anything new with these themes. It could be talking about how Monica's death affected Ian in an emotional way that threw off his regular balance with his medication. It presented the possibility of him going to therapy at the start of the season. But now, it's all about whatever he can blow up and the dangerous situations he can put his followers in. He's not being a good influence or role model. His family sees how destructive he is being. They have an explanation for it. And yet, it's absolutely horrifying that Ian is trying to politicize his arrest through another protest. He tries to make it a huge Spartacus moment. His followers all declare themselves to be Ian Gallagher. But the police know exactly what Ian looks like. They have a video of him causing the van to explode. They have the evidence to make a compelling case specifically against Ian. Trevor points out just how costly Ian's actionw could become for his shelter and the kids. But Ian doesn't care about any of that. He is obsessed with the fame and attention. He craves it because he is off his meds. But the values of this story are just in weird places that leaves the story ending in such an off-putting way. It makes it seem like Ian is past the point-of-no-return when it comes to finding redemption. That's disappointing for a character who has always been sympathetic despite his struggles. It's just so difficult to find anything remotely interesting or compelling from this overall story.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Sleepwalking" was written by John Wells and directed by John Wells.
  • The show presents a tragic moment where Carl has fallen in love with a woman who loves a specific lifestyle but not the reality of his life. Kassidi wants a life in a sketchy apartment with six kids. Meanwhile, Carl wants something much better for his life. None of this justifies the repetitive and annoying aspects of this story. Nor does it ensure that Kassidi will never be seen or heard from again. It just sends Carl back to military school as he stealthily sneaks out of the house.
  • There is just no resolution to Debbie's story whatsoever. This finale mostly just sets up what her story will be next year. Her getting her toes cut off was her big climax for the year. And now, no one else in the family has the time to react to that news. This year focused on Debbie trying to figure her life out. But that also means having to come to terms with Derek wanting shared custody and a life without her in a personal way. She has to find a way to cope with that which isn't something she has put much thought into lately.
  • Liam sleepwalking has never come up before. And yet, it's the action that gives this finale its title. It has to be established upfront. Then, it has to be immediately paid off later on with him freeing Carl in the middle of the night. It's an instance where Liam cares about what happens to his brother. But he needs to be unconscious in order to do the action he clearly wants to do. Plus, it allows Lip to seem relevant when he tells Sierra he's been sleepwalking though his entire life.
  • Kev, V and Svetlana are still on their broadly comedic adventure to get Svetlana married off to an old man who can't see. They are ultimately successful in that mission. But this story also dashes any hope that Svetlana will be going anywhere anytime soon. It establishes a prenup in this marriage which basically just serves as confirmation that dealing with this family will remain important in the future because Svetlana wasn't the same woman who signed those documents.
  • Frank is right back to his criminal hijinks. He went on this journey of growth this season in trying to live his life as an average man. He tried playing by the rules. It didn't work out. He went on madcap adventures. Those didn't work out. So now, he's back to just scamming the system because he believes he's doing the right thing. That's a story that has been told so many times on this show. As such, it's not funny in the slightest to see him hiding out inside the tank of a porta potty. That's basically the fate he always deserves.
  • The tension that popped up to put some distance between Ian and Trevor wasn't all that genuine. It mostly happened for plot purposes with Ian being on a bigger path and Trevor becoming more disposable. But Trevor is still a powerful voice of reason who lectures Ian about his actions only hurting the kids at the shelter. That makes it apparent that Trevor needs to get as far away from this family as possible. And yet, why doesn't he tell Fiona and Lip where Ian is the moment he finds out?
  • Is Margot the only business contact that Fiona has? Whenever she needs development advice for how to succeed as a businesswoman, Margot shows up to offer her two cents. But it mostly proves how Fiona has inconsistent friendships. She struggles with maintaining bonds. Sure, she and V are good and healthy now. But they don't spend much time together anymore. Is Fiona still friends with Sierra? Does her bond with Nessa extend beyond her owning this apartment building? Those are all unclear.