Sunday, September 30, 2018

REVIEW: 'Shameless' - The Congressional Election Forces Strong Opinions from Frank and Fiona in 'Do Right, Vote White!'

Showtime's Shameless - Episode 9.04 "Do Right, Vote White!"

Election day puts Frank and Fiona in a head to head battle as they each try to round up votes for their candidates. Lip has to make an important choice about Xan's future. Debbie gets in over her head with Alex. Carl's killer instinct is put to the test. With his trial looming, Ian struggles to decide how to plead.

"Do Right, Vote White!" is the 100th episode of Shameless. It is only the second series on Showtime to hit that landmark achievement after Weeds. In just a couple of weeks, Shameless will actually have produced more episodes than any other scripted show on Showtime. That's such a remarkable distinction. Making one hundred episodes is always a big deal. For broadcast network shows, it's the mark for syndication. For cable and streaming, the designation is less important. But it's also hit much more rarely. This is the ninth season of Shameless and it is just now hitting the landmark. It has still had quite an emotional journey getting to this point as well. In fact, the characters and storytelling have suddenly started becoming very broad because it's difficult to tell stories across several years. This episode even reunites the writer and director from the first episode ever. John Wells still serves as showrunner but this is the first episode that Mark Mylod has come back to direct since the fourth season finale. As such, it's clear the creative team recognizes this achievement and wishes to honor it through sentimental value. That quality will only continue as the ninth season goes on considering this is Emmy Rossum's final season. There is still the full expectation that the show will continue for a few more years too. It still remains a massive success for Showtime. It seems bound to set a record that probably won't be beat by any other show for the premium cable channel. That's very impressive. All of this is fascinating to explore and talk about. And yet, it's the behind-the-scenes narrative. When it comes to the actual quality of this episode, it's not as notable or remarkable as one would hope from a 100th episode. Instead, it just continues the stories that have been set up by this season. The only shocking return comes from Dennis Cockrum as Terry Milkovich. That's really not that exciting though because the Milkovich family hasn't been a part of the show for a couple of seasons now. Even when they were important, it was mostly just Mickey through his relationship with Ian.

The 100th episode finds itself swirling around the congressional election. It's the storyline that has given Frank something to do in these early episodes. He has been the only character caught up in this race. He knew who the candidates were and was advocating for his own representative. It's a story that fundamentally articulates to the audience the importance of voting. Frank and Fiona are the only people in the family who are engaged in the political process and are going to vote today. Lip and Ian are of voting age as well but they aren't interested in what's going on. They are very much a part of the changing world and have strong opinions about the lack of social progress that has been made in society. But they aren't advocating for a candidate or even trying to change the world through the political process. Fiona wasn't even doing that until this episode. It's like she just learned that there was an election happening in her neighborhood and decided to do a brief Wikipedia search on what each candidate stands for. And yet, Mo White is the only candidate the show has actually made into a character. Wyman and Ruiz are also in this race. But the show hasn't identified the party they are running for or how they stand on the various issues. Frank was only engaged by the process because he didn't see himself represented in his own district. Moreover, he just found an easy way to get some money to pay for his addictions. He doesn't care at all that he is supporting a pedophile. Mo continues to profess that it was just one big misunderstanding. The show doesn't allow him to hide behind that flimsy explanation. Now, he is just openly a pedophile. He can't do work if there are high school girls waiting for the school bus. He knows the schedule and he puts on the charm when he's around underage girls. He's absolutely despicable. However, it shouldn't be surprising that he wins. It's the show trying to make a pointed statement that nothing will change unless the public holds those in office accountable for their actions and vote for people who will actually make a difference. Mo wasn't even running on a platform. He just wanted his old job back believing he wouldn't have to do anything in Congress.

And yes, that is a valuable lesson that the show tries to impart on its young viewers. It wants people to fear about what the outcomes could be of the next round of elections. There is the belief that there is a blue wave coming because more people are engaged by the political process than ever before. People are better informed and willing to fight for their beliefs now. But the resolution of this storyline is very cynical in saying that nothing has really changed. The world will always remain as messed up as always - even though we now have examples of people who did horrific behavior in the workplace to point to as examples for predatory behavior. It's odd that Kev and V are telling the guys at the Alibi if their sexual conduct is appropriate or similar to Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Woody Allen, etc. They are doing so while also just allowing Frank to campaign at the Alibi and fundraise for a child molester. They really aren't as progressive as they would like to believe even though they now have a consulting business for how to make bars seem less like places where women will be raped. It's a noble goal. But they are mostly doing it for the money. That's the motivation for many of the characters across the entire series. They do whatever benefits them in the moment. As such, this political storyline is ultimately very flimsy because no one believed in it with any passion. It was just something that intrigued the writers without them fully committing to it. Plus, it highlights how Fiona has changed over the years. She now sees herself as a success story from the Southside. She succeeded. She got out and made a better life for herself. She now fully believes that if she could do it given her family than everyone else has the tools to do so as well. And so, she shouldn't give back to the community because she was never given that handout or offer to help. She is done dealing with leeches like Frank in life. Of course, she still throws punches when a riot breaks out in front of the polling place. Her beliefs are challenged. And yet, it doesn't really mean anything because there is nothing really at stake for her. There is no sense that any of these candidates being elected will change the lives for any of the characters.

This connects back to Ian's storyline as well. He once again finds himself running down the streets, alleys and backyards of the Southside trying to avoid people eagerly trying to hurt him. In this case, it's associated with his power from the Gay Jesus movement. He is assaulted by homophobes who are eager to show their MAGA support by killing this horrific person who promotes bestiality. Ian is now trying to reckon how these people still exist in the world when the Bible was written over two thousand years ago in which God told people to be kind, loving and accepting. Ian still hasn't completely come to terms with what his movement has become. It has largely grown beyond him. And yet, everyone is still looking at him for support and direction. He is the leader who will determine the future. It's all about his upcoming trial. He is facing ten to fifteen years in jail. That doesn't seem to phase anyone else in the organization though. They want Ian to risk it just because it will lead to more promotion for the movement and the work that they are doing. That work just happens to be destroying the properties owned by people with conservative and oppressive beliefs. Ian is basically inciting people to violence. That's why that van of homophobes pulls up to him. It's that and his identity as a gay man. Ian hates still being persecuted for who he is. More lawyers have time to take up cases like his because gay marriage has been passed. That was the biggest hurdle that they had to deal with. They succeeded. And now, they can support Ian as well. But this is his life that everyone is talking about. He is a human who may not be able to handle it in prison. He loved it in there when he was waiting to make bail. There is definitely work he could do inside. But he has to make this choice. He can't just become a martyr. That's the direction all of this is heading in though because the movement may have misunderstood Ian's message considering he wasn't his sanest self when proclaiming it.

It's also fascinating how the show treats it as an abstract conversation when Ian asks Lip if he could make it in prison. Right now, that feels like a fear only Ian should be worried about. And yet, it should also concern Lip as well because he has technically kidnapped a child. The show has made the audience want to invest in Lip being Xan's guardian. He is looking out for her in a way that no one ever has before. She has thrived in the Gallagher family environment. That's an unusual sentiment because that house usually condemns whomever is staying there with a fate of always being stuck in this place in life. Caring for Xan could also pose a threat to Lip's sobriety. He presents as a guy who has his life together. He is helping others stay sober as well. And yet, he's also trying to bribe Xan's mother into giving him guardianship. He believes he's the best thing that could ever happen to Xan. He only wants to see her mother as a junkie who is selling her body on the streets. That's a simplistic view of the world. He doesn't understand this family unit as well as he thought he does. He believes he understands the pattern of abusive parents leaving their kids. He had it his entire life. He wanted to give Xan something better so that she could achieve her dreams. And now, he has to give that all away simply because Xan chooses to follow him as he meets her mother. She is so happy to see her mom again. In that moment, she doesn't care about the drug problems. She just sees the woman who is suppose to love her and is back to finally take care of her. Lip wanted to pay for Xan. Seeing mother and daughter hugging though, he makes the right choice in reuniting them officially. Him giving the money to them presents an opportunity for a better future. But it's going to be interesting to see what the purpose and fallout of all of this will be for Lip. He is no longer a father. That has been a core part of his identity this season. Without it, who is he moving forward? If he doesn't answer that quickly, then he could quickly succumb to alcohol once more. Then, he wouldn't be able to help anyone.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Do Right, Vote White!" was written by John Wells and directed by Mark Mylod.
  • There is absolutely no reason to believe that Carl suddenly has a problem with killing people. Since the beginning of the series, he was the Gallagher who enjoyed hurting people. Just a few episodes ago he was talking about serving his country by killing Muslims. And now, his short time with the terminal dogs is apparently enough to make him doubt his convictions. It's so absolutely silly and ridiculous. West Point represents a direction for him. He should chase it. He didn't have a problem with his girlfriend being murdered. So, this really shouldn't be a major story for him.
  • Debbie quickly finds herself in a relationship with Alex. They are simply taking things too seriously too quickly though. They already decide to move in together. Debbie fully believes that she is a lesbian. And yet, it's meaningful that this relationship falls apart just as quickly. It's how relationships typically go for the Gallaghers. But it should lead to Debbie questioning her sexual identity more. Just because she hates men at the moment doesn't mean she is a lesbian. A simple rationalization like that can't define her actions.
  • It's awkward and lame how the show keeps making the same observation about how people tend to vote for the candidate that looks like them. Frank and Mo did that last week even though they were surprised to get the support of an African-American woman. And now, Fiona is doing the same thing in believing that all of her Hispanic employees will be voting for Ruiz. And yet, she pushes back against the notion that she blindly supports Wyman because she's a woman. It's just ridiculous with no grand point being made.
  • There's been no real reason to invest in Liam at public school for the final three weeks of the school year either. He is simply smarter than everyone in the grade he was placed in. Three weeks is just too short for him to have to be doing this. And yet, it's also enough to inform the administration that he belongs in a much higher grade. So, it's very enticing to think of him as a middle-schooler now. It means he's possibly inherited the same smarts as Lip - even though that quiz is incredibly easy.
  • Lip only has ten thousand dollars to give to Xan's mother because he sells the first bike that he completely restored in the shop. It would have been suspicious if the show didn't explain how he was able to get that kind of cash. And yet, did he make all of the profits from that sale? It's still a little unclear how effective a business this actually is. It mostly appears to offer Lip and Brad projects to work on to keep their sobriety.