Sunday, January 7, 2018

REVIEW: 'Shameless' - Fiona Flirts with a Mature Relationship While Lip Deals with Romantic Drama in 'The Fugees'

Showtime's Shameless - Episode 8.09 "The Fugees"

Frank's business takes a turn for the worse, sending him on the run through the Great White North. Ian's run-in with a minister brings about some unexpected allies. Fiona tries (and fails) to fit in with Ford's group of friends. Carl's new girlfriend suffers separation anxiety. Lip must decide whether to tell Sierra about Charlie's past.

Shameless has been flirting with themes of maturity for a couple of seasons now. There is physical maturity in that the characters keep getting older with each passing season. And then, there is emotional maturity where the characters address their mistakes, deal with the consequences and learn from them to improve their lives going forward. The Gallagher siblings are still all living in the same house. But most of them are adults now. They all live their largely separate lives. There is no longer as strong a need to band together as a family. There is still some of that in the narrative. This family is always going to be incredibly close. Whenever one has tried to break free, they always find a way to be pulled back in. The show has tried examining whether that is good or not. If these characters suddenly figured their lives out and broke their destructive patterns, then there wouldn't be a show. Over the seasons though, there has needed to be some growth on display in order to prove that they weren't just stuck in the same positions over and over again. The characters were clearly aging. What was once okay in the early days of the show has a completely new meaning if they exhibited the same traits now. It's a fascinating subject that the show has been very aware of as the series has aged. And yet, the Gallaghers are still all living in the same house. They still all have complicated relationships. Every time it seems like life is finally working out for one of them, they tragically spiral and lose it all. It's a familiar pattern for the show. One that has perhaps gotten a little too commonplace this season as it doesn't seem like there has been a lot of maturity on display. This has been a broad season that gets distracted a lot in its pursuit of a solid narrative through-line.

These ideas of maturity and the desire to be better moving forward have always been most prominent with Fiona. She was tasked with raising her siblings. But now, they are becoming more self-sufficient and don't need her as much. Of course, Carl and Liam still need her. The other siblings need her support as well. But it's the dynamic that siblings have instead of what a mother should have for her children. It's become more normal. That's been very healthy. It's allowed Fiona to pursue new interests as a businesswoman. Her journey in that regard has been a slow burn to success over the last two seasons. Before that, she was very focused on men. She was obsessed with relationships and hoping that they could solve all of her problems. But she got her heart broken too many times. She turned inward and decided that she wanted something strictly casual until that was no longer fun. And now, she is potentially exploring a romance with Ford who presents himself as a different kind of man for her to date. The show still introduced him in a way that's very familiar to how it has introduced these types of characters in the past. He played a minor role in his first episode but that spark of attraction was there. And now, it's become an official thing with Fiona and Ford sharing a kiss at the end of their story this week.

That's what makes it important to note that Ford is different from all of Fiona's previous love interests. He appears to be a man who has his life figured out. Last week's story was all about Fiona and Ford sizing each other up and throwing their complications in each other's faces. That was pretty immature. It was a frustrating story because Fiona didn't seem to have any self awareness about what her life has been up to this point. And now, she does seem more aware. It's a little unnatural and basically just suites whatever the story requires. The story right now is highlighting how Fiona is still a good and responsible citizen. When she hears that a construction worker was injured at her apartment building, she makes sure to visit him in the hospital. It's a story that easily could have played to comedic effect in showing that Fiona is too selfish to offer to pay his medical expenses. But the show doesn't take that expected turn. Instead, it focuses on how Ford sees this as Fiona being a nice and genuine person. Meanwhile, the story at large is basically introducing Ford as the mature option for Fiona right now. He presents a different way of dating. Yes, he has his complications as the sperm donor for several lesbian couples. But he also remains friends with his exes even after years of dating them. He only kisses Fiona without the expectation of sex. He has the perception of being the mature interest Fiona may be ready for at this point in her life. That's startling to her because she's dealt with so much drama over the years. She's quick to start throwing down ultimatums. She's making a big deal about nothing. She doesn't know any better. She doesn't quite know what to expect because Ford is different. That's interesting even if it also makes it a little less exciting and passionate than some of the previous romances on this show that burned bright and faded out quickly thereafter.

And of course, it should come as no surprise that as one Gallagher makes a bold move forward to a better life another takes a huge step back. It could be such a frustrating detail that last week Lip found a new sponsor who told him that he needed to reflect on his own life and problems without stressing about the other people in his world only to spend the next episode with Lip only thinking about other people and their problems. Seriously, where is Lea DeLaria? She was introduced as an exciting new prospect for Lip's life. She would provide the opportunity for him to take stock of his life and reflect on why he wants to drink and how to cope when those urges arrive. But instead, Lip is right back in relationship drama. Things are becoming more serious with Eddie while the truth about Charlie getting another girl pregnant comes out. On top of that, Lip is still worrying about Professor Youens. Everyone else has seemingly moved past the professor. They've accepted that he's going to prison for a long time. He made those choices. Now, he's dealing with the consequences. But Lip is still fighting passionately because he needs a project to work on. He's creating all of this stress in his life. And some of it is not fair. He didn't ask to learn this secret that could destroy Sierra and Charlie's happiness. He just stumbled upon it. But Sierra and Charlie put him in the middle of it. With Charlie, it's horrible behavior because he's lying and delaying the inevitable. With Sierra, it's more complicated because she's the one being betrayed. But she seeks comfort in Lip through a romantic connection. Later on, Lip realizes that that was a mistake. It wasn't the best way to deal with this situation. But the damage was already done and will make that relationship more awkward and potentially triggering moving forward.

Finally, Ian is being propped up as a hero and savior now. He's being recognized for that video of him confronting the gay conversion priest. He may finally be channeling his passion into something good. He has a cause that he actually believes in. He's using the shelter kids for good instead of for selfish reasons. And he and Trevor are inspiring each other to the point that they are willing to start dating and having sex again. But again, it still feels like it is masking something much more troubling and potentially problematic underneath the surface. It plays the whole arc of Ian turning against Fiona as him having all of this pent up energy and simply channelling it at the wrong person. That doesn't justify his behavior at all. Nor does it make that storyline any better in hindsight. It leaves it just as problematic. The show hinted that Ian was perhaps suffering from some kind of new mental health problems. It introduced that option only to never mention it again in the follow up to all of that. That's such strange storytelling. It does play as the bias that these characters have towards Ian knowing what he has been through. But it lessons the power of Ian discovering this new thing that he's passionate about. He is channeling these feelings in an empowering way. He's disrupting places that need to be disrupted because of the horrifying things that are happening. He's becoming a champion for the gay youth culture. He's a hero in the end because he even saves the life of the priest who's condemning them. He has the skills to handle that situation perfectly. It may just be character rehab to prove that he is handling life well and as a rational person again. But there's still the underlining thought that the rug is going to be pulled out at some point to reveal that Ian is going to go too far and destroy something or someone in the process. That would be tragic. But again, there's still the inability to get a good read on the totality of this story.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Fugees" was written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Jeffrey Reiner.
  • Frank's Canadian smuggling business was just getting started. It went perfectly well last week. And this week it all comes tumbling down. This episode spends way too much time up north on his wild adventure of getting arrested, forming a bond with the man he was taking over the border, then running off in the end. That final moment proves he's still the same old Frank. But he returns to the Alibi to swear off the business and return to his simple life working regular jobs. That may prove that he finally is growing up this season and the earlier episodes weren't just a fluke.
  • It was so completely obvious that Toto was a drug-sniffing dog long before Debbie made that realization. But again, this is yet another episodic story for Debbie this season. She really hasn't had a consistent overall story this year. That's been very odd. They haven't really had a cumulative effect either. She's worrying about school and her future while using her welding skills to get into new kinds of trouble. It's just the same thing over and over again.
  • Carl's new girlfriend was problematic the moment she was introduced. She is a character defined as being trouble and that's it. The show is making it painfully obvious. This isn't going to end well. But it's a situation that Carl now finds himself trapped in. He believes he's in the healthiest relationship of his entire family. But he's fooling himself into believing this is a loving dynamic. Instead, it's mostly just a broad joke delivery system for the show - which is mostly just lame.
  • V is basically the only person trying to knock some sense into Carl about his future as well. Everyone knows that military school is the best option for him to have some direction in his life. This girl jeopardizes that. But V is the only one at the Alibi who recognizes that and does something about it. All of this is further proof that V and Kev have been isolated from the rest of the characters too much this season which has been a major problem for them.
  • The Svetlana story is just weird too. The last few weeks the audience has been asked to sympathize with Kev and V as they learn how to take the power back in their relationship. And now, the show suddenly asks us to see Svetlana as sympathetic with Kev and V coming across as bullies. It's strange with a whiplash effect that basically lessons the overall quality of the story. It's just a back-and-forth that isn't healthy for any of them. And yet, their presence gives them purpose in the overall show right now.