Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Comas, Civil Rights, and Dramatic Irony

This episode is what I’ve wanted Shameless to be for a really long time. Enough with the antics and the shock value, we crave the drama, the intensity between the characters and their extreme situations. But what this episode has more than any other is a real sense of dramatic irony. We know that Mandy ran down Karen, but Lip is still in the dark. 
Not to mention, Frank is off frolicking in his own delirium, giving talks to raise money for gay rights organizations, instead of causing pandemonium for his own family. Frank’s character is actually really, really funny, and now that he is only harming himself, I might actually be able to enjoy him.
The most powerful moment of the episode is Lip’s realization that Mandy sent the text message to Karen from his phone, and ultimately, that Mandy constructed the plan to rundown Karen. What must be going through Lip’s mind right now is a difficult question to answer. He cares for Mandy, but is still in love with Karen. The fact that his girlfriend intentionally ran down the love of his life must create complex emotional quandaries for Lip. Will he stand by Mandy?
And what of the moral implications: for her own selfish reasons, Mandy has changed the lives of so many people, including Karen’s mom, Sheila, her boyfriend, Jodi, and many others. Mandy wanted Karen out of the picture, but that she was willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of so many others is quite shocking. I’m not sure how Lip will be able to forgive Mandy, just thinking about the ethical boundaries crossed. Fighting, cheating, lying and stealing, manipulation we’ve come to expect, but murder? She could have easily killed Karen, and if homicide is fair game, what else is Mandy capable of as wicked means to her self-interested ends?
While these questions are probably paramount in Lip’s mind, he must also be frustrated with Mandy for taking such drastic control of his life to meet her own needs. Mandy truly cares for Lip, which was clearly evident in this episode. She does everything she can to help Lip, including applying to college for him, because she knows that Lip won’t do it on his own. Even the sagacious Debs, who despite her young age often gives the most valuable advice on the show, tells Lip to stop being a “shit head” and treat Mandy with the respect she deserves. Mandy goes well out of her way to make sure that Lip doesn’t become his own worst enemy. But how far is too far? And whether or not you agree that Karen is a dangerous poison in Lip’s life, it’s not up to Mandy to remove her altogether.
On a lighter note, Jimmy wants to go back to law school and tells Fiona he wants to move back to Michigan. Obviously, Fiona is upset with him for thinking about leaving her and her family. But, to Jimmy’s defense, how much more can he do for the Gallagher’s? He’s serving coffee at a local coffee shop, staying around the house to help Fiona with the kids, and finally has come to a fork in the road. He needs to do what is best for him, with or without Fiona. Their relationship seems too troubled to save. Firstly, Fiona has no idea that Jimmy is actually married to Estefania – although he came clean to Fiona about his car-thieving past, he’s still living a double life. 

Is Mandy a Murderer?

Although we hated Karen for leaving her child, and her mother, and Lip – for skirting town and running away – somehow we empathize with her. I have known similar people. While these people were not even close to as extreme as the characters on this show, I’ve had people that were close to me that ran away, for whatever reason, emotionally or physically. People sometimes feel it’s easier to run then to stick it out and fix what’s wrong. It’s flight or fight. I’ve wanted to run away at times, too.
So, when Karen comes back, I didn’t really hate her. In fact, I hated her more when she was still in Canaryville, fighting with her mother and Lip – the only two people that really cared for her. I wanted her to go so that she couldn’t walk all over the only people that truly loved her in that rundown town. Now that she’s back with her “tail between her legs,” I don’t hate her at all. I want her to get her life back together, back on track, make up with her mom, take care of her little baby. But that was never bound to happen.
After the viewers learn that it was actually Mandy that ran down Karen and left her bleeding in the middle of the street, we flinched. We recoiled at the implications. Something about what Mandy did was so vicious, so vindictive it’s hard too even grasp. Mandy puts a lot of effort into planning and executing this attempted murder. Firstly, Mandy steals Lip’s phone, and texts Karen to meet her in the park. Karen, thinking she is meeting Lip, agrees. As Karen heads down the street, accomplices in the first car distract her by hanging out the window and honking loudly as they drive past. While she is watching the first car disappear down the street, Mandy makes no mistake in aiming her vehicle directly at Karen’s tiny frame.
We don’t know all the details, we don’t even know about Karen’s condition, if she is alive or dead. We don’t know if Mandy was actually the one driving the car that careened into Karen. And Karen hasn’t been an exemplary human being. She has caused a lot of pain. Since Karen came back, she has only antagonized Mandy, not to mention slept with her boyfriend, Lip. And let’s keep in mind that in cases concerning adultery cars sometimes do tend to hit those involved. 
But directing 4,000 pounds of steel toward another human being is awful. Let’s remember that Karen and her mother Sheila were fighting that same day, and although they sort of make up, Sheila is going to be devastated. Cars and people don’t mix. Cars are weapons and we shouldn’t forget that. What Mandy did was so evocative because it was so venomous. Mandy has just irrevocably altered Karen’s life, and whether or not we care to see Karen in another episode, we can help but think of the implications. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

"Where There's a Will"...There's a Gallagher


After emotional fireworks on last week’s episode, the Gallagher’s were back scheming wicked plots to save themselves from eviction. Even murder wasn’t off the table, and when Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) suggests exterminating Cousin Patrick with rat poison, Fiona (Emmy Rossum) memorably says: “I’m raising a sociopath.” 

But, Debbie (Emma Kenney) is turning into the spitting image (like they say across the pond) of our desperate heroine, Fiona, and it’s comforting to know that little Debs will take after her capable big sister. In past seasons, Debs has done everything in her power to transform her cacophonous life into something less chaotic – from getting good grades, taking care of the children at daycare, to cooking and cleaning around the house. She wanted to be a miniature “Martha Stewart” as Ms. Kenney claimed in a recent interview.  But, now she’s realizing that sometimes those who play by their own set of rules are the ones that ultimately survive.
To that end, Debs alleges false accusations of sexual abuse against Cousin Patrick to strong-arm him into leaving them the house. But, she is also learning that payback is also a necessary part of the Gallagher way of life. (Last episode, she escaped from her foster-home/child-labor camp and even managed to crazy-glue her foster mother’s eyelids shut before sneaking out the front door. Bad, but also awesome, Debs.)
The impressive part is that Ms. Kenney grew up in a New-Jersey suburb, far removed from the deceitful Canaryville streets. She also started her role on Shameless in her preteens. Ms. Kenney has proved a competent actress in her young career, and the challenging role of portraying a psychologically battered Gallagher sibling is requisite justification.
Moving from Debs to her father, Frank (William H. Macy) spent most of this episode causing and resolving his own constellation of problems, a trend that will hopefully continue. Since Sheila kicked him out, Frank is preoccupied enough with finding a roof to put over his head that he leaves the rest of his family alone. He certainly doesn’t help Fiona and the gang while they’re in jeopardy of losing their own home to Cousin Patrick, instead asking what they should steal from the house before they get thrown out: the copper pipes.
But, that might just be enough for me to get on board with Frank’s character – just leave everyone else alone. He can be so witty and off-the-cuff, even when he’s hopelessly tactless and crass; it’s hard sometimes not to smirk or even smile. There is a part of his character that is genius, which is a true testament to the ability of William H. Macy. When Cousin Patrick scatters Aunt Ginger’s ashes on the street corner where she used to work, Frank implies to the handful of mourners present that she was at least good at what she did: “[She] could unhinge her jaw like a Burmese python.”
What Frank should do to help himself and his family is to take a bit of his own advice. When Sheila tries to enlist Frank to help her stage an intervention for her sex-addicted boyfriend, Jody, Frank says that his “libertarian leanings” wouldn’t allow him to: “Live and let live, Sheils,” he says. There is truth to his self-serving statement. Frank wants others to let him live the life that he chooses – a life led by the drop. But, there is high irony too. By leading a life of alcoholism, Frank takes away opportunities for his own family to make a better life for themselves, especially Fiona, who is constantly left to pick up the pieces. Hopefully, Frank will continue to lead his own life and stop taking advantage of his underprivileged children. We can hope, but we won’t hold our breath.

-                    Sheila finds out that Karen told the Wong’s to pick up baby Hymie, a powerful moment for their relationship. Of course, Karen coming home with her tail between her legs, couldn’t have been that cut and dry – that perfect. Will Sheila have had enough of her meddling daughter?
-                    Will Karen get back together with Lip? After their sexual bouts this past episode, Mandy might finally kick the unappreciative Lip to the curb. At least with Karen, we know we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Frank vs. Fiona


Are the Gallagher’s going straight to hell for their sins or will their redeeming humanity save them from eternal fire? This week, the Gallagher’s stole a dead body - which, sounds bad enough - but their intention was to pass the body off as their long-dead Aunt Ginger, forge her will, and take possession of her house. If you believed that the clan could really nick a dead body from a geriatric home, then you stopped believing it when they had to cut off a toe with a pair of bolt cutters – Aunt Ginger only had nine.   
But Shameless really isn’t about all its antics. The sex and the nudity are meant to keep our attention. The drugs and dysfunction are entertainment. The power behind the drama is seeing how tight family threads are woven, how strong sibling bonds can be before they snap under the strain of an alcoholic father who literally sleeps on the street. Humanity is really at the heart of this show and Fiona (Emmy Rossum) gives another stellar performance.
But this week the central question of the show, the pink elephant in the room, or the 800-pound gorilla, is why Frank (William H. Macy) is still in the picture at all? After all he has done to destroy his own family, for some reason or other, he always appears as the fulcrum of all the Gallagher’s problems. Fiona describes him as “scabies” that keep coming back, but I keep wondering what it is, exactly, that is keeping him from leaving. He definitely isn’t sticking around to look after the kids. And with a history of conning everyone that crosses his path, I’m sure he could survive without collecting welfare checks from the state. Whatever the case, the show finally addressed Frank’s uselessness to the Gallagher’s with Fiona taking legal steps to take custody of her siblings.
Although Fiona's actions are deplorable, her intentions are pure. She forges her dead Aunt’s will and steals a body that was slated from cremation, but she did it to prove to the courts she had a safe home to raise her siblings. She falsifies a W-2 form that she stole from the local bar to prove that she can support her siblings financially. She might not be going straight to the pearly gates, but damnation seems are far cry.  

What was memorable about this week’s episode was the emotional honesty that Fiona shows in court, while pleading with the judge to take custody away from the nefarious Frank. There are manic and maniacal explosions of emotions that take our breath away on Shameless, but this week, Fiona stood in front of the judge, solemn and introspective, with her heart on her sleeve. She told her earliest memory at six years old of driving around with Frank and her two younger siblings, when suddenly Frank leaves them on the side of the road and never comes back. With her brothers under her arms, she walks miles to the nearest clinic to save her younger brother who had a fever of 104. Fiona pleads with the judge, not on her own behalf or for admiration, but to spare her siblings the same horrors, and that’s why we love watching Shameless. Watch the clip above.

Loose Thought:

Karen is back! I know most of the Shameless community hates her for abandoning her baby with Down Syndrome earlier in the season, but I’m looking forward to more craziness that doesn’t involve Frank. A little worried about Lip falling back in love with her, but hey, it was only a matter of time!