The Gallagher family in Showtime’s Shameless has always had a rough go of things. Saddled with an unreliable, alcoholic patriarch, Frank (William H. Macy), the kids have to take care of themselves. But in the fourth season, which closed this week with “Lazarus,” the obstacles they face get noticeably more challenging and adult. It’s a good thing these characters have plenty of practice hanging tough, so they are likely to survive the increased hardships.
Fiona (Emmy Rossum), is the oldest, and so serves as the mother figure for her younger siblings. This season, though, she gets a taste of a normal life and job, and perhaps feeling guilty for being pulled away from the kids, or undeserving of success, or stressed out from all she’s done, she spirals. “Lazarus” begins with Fiona in jail for a 90-day sentence on a drug charge and breaking probation. Luckily, by the end of the hour, she is released due to overcrowding and returns home, beginning to put her life back together, working as a waitress for Charlie Peters (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Magic City, Grey’s Anatomy).
I don’t think Fiona has an abuse problem; I think she is just going through something. She may not need NA or AA to stay clean because she’s not addicted to substances, but the program could still benefit her. It teaches one to look for inner strength and to work hard to better oneself. Fiona, now an adult, needs to set the course for the rest of her life, and in a sweet scene with brother Lip (Jeremy Allen White) late in the episode, it sounds like she’s taking the lesson to heart, pulling out of her dive. Thank goodness, because she’s probably the most admirable person on Shameless, prior to recent events, and she deserves to find happiness.
Part of what will help Fiona is to finally realize she doesn’t have to do everything for her family. During her stay behind bars, the household runs just fine. Lip, while busy with college, manages to pitch in and still pass his exams. Debbie (Emma Kenney) and Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), who really grow into their own stories this year, which include romances, are old enough to take care of themselves, rather than being a burden. There’s still young Liam, whose accidental endangerment begins Fiona’s mess, but with so many responsible brothers and sisters, everyone can share his care, meaning it doesn’t all fall on Fiona any more.
It’s really cool to see the other Gallaghers become more responsible. Lip’s college tenure is a success thus far, and for all his girlfriend, Amanda’s (Nichole Bloom), faults, she does help him manage his time effectively. I’m not sure he’ll stay with her, the siren call of Mandy (Emma Greenwell), who needs protecting, tempting him back to his old life, but it will probably be beneficial if he stays where he is. Debbie also matures and goes through her first real relationship, with things not playing out quite as she expects, but she finds within herself the ability to cope and get through troubles. Carl picks a terrible girl in Bonnie (Morgan Lily), but at least he shows compassion when helping out her younger siblings, indicating he will follow in his siblings’ laudable footsteps, not his father’s stumbling ones.
Carl is the most in danger of being like Frank. Unlike the others, he still looks up to the old man. The powerful final scene of “Lazarus,” evoking the installment’s title, in which Frank, who has survived nearly dying of liver failure and a stolen kidney, shouts profanity at the heavens and then begins drinking again, is disturbing, all the more so because Carl stands beside him. Up until now, Carl is rebellious, but he is also sweet, too. If Fiona, Lip, and Debbie get pulled away to their own things and forget about Carl, there is every chance he will continue to be susceptible to Frank’s poor example, which could turn him in the wrong direction. Or maybe he’ll learn the hard way not to be like Frank when Frank finally kicks the bucket, which seems a near certainty in the near future.
While all of these positive things are happening for the Gallaghers, one huge negative rears its ugly head out of nowhere in the Shameless finale. Middle child Ian (Cameron Monaghan), who has been acting strangely all season, suddenly reveals himself as being bipolar. This isn’t something easily overcome with rehab, like a drug problem, and the family is all too familiar with the symptoms, as their absentee mother suffers the same affliction. They may be able to get Ian help and medications to balance him out, but the fact remains that Ian has become the new burden on the family. Thank goodness they love him enough, and are tough enough, to help him.
They won’t have to do it alone. Ian’s boyfriend, Mickey (Noel Fisher), another character who really grows as Ian forces him to step out of the closet, is protective of Ian. He may not understand what Ian is going through yet, and isn’t in favor of medical treatment, but he cares for Ian and seeks to protect him. With these feelings firmly in place, it seems like Mickey can be brought around to what needs to be done, and that he will stick by Ian through this process. I could be wrong, and for drama’s sake, Mickey likely won’t shift easily, but I’m optimistic he can be the man Ian needs him to be.
The Gallaghers may be the center of Shameless, but they aren’t the only characters in it. I’ve particularly enjoyed the dynamic between Sheila (Joan Cusack), now married to Frank, though time will tell if that means anything, and Sammi (Emily Bergl), Frank’s eldest daughter whom he has only recently reconnected with. The two women fight bitterly over how best to take care of Frank, then return home and share a pot roast. Sammi’s fighting drive that causes her to park her trailer outside of Sheila’s house contrasts nicely with Sheila’s need to take care of people, while not really being a pushover. The timing of this latest moment, after Sheila loses a custody battle for five Native American children and Sammi could really use a parent when Frank escapes the hospital and her, couldn’t be better. I look forward to seeing how they develop next season.
Then there’s the bombshell at the end of “Lazarus”: Jimmy/Steve (Justin Chatwin) is still alive. We’ve thought him dead for an entire year, and now he’s in a car on the Gallaghers’ street with an as-yet unnamed woman (Dichen Lachman, Dollhouse). What is he doing here? How did he survive? Why has he come back now? It’s a tantalizing tease for the fans as we wait for the show’s return next January.
Character development and unexpected twists are hallmarks of the high-quality sseries about an at-times heart-warming, low-income family. It’s moving, soapy drama (entered for the first time as a comedy for the upcoming Emmys), but it’s also really developed stuff, making it better than most of its peers. Shameless has been renewed and will air its fifth season in 2015.
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