Shameless "Iron City" Review: She's Family

By Patrick Sullivan

Feb 17, 2014

Shameless S04E06: "Iron City"

Oh boy, Shameless. We leave you unattended for a few weeks, and all of a sudden everything's turned upside-down. Knowing this show always saves a bit of its best drama for the middle of the season, we expected that the relatively upbeat Season 4 premiere was but a mirage, and we were right. 

Around this time last season, the Gallagher clan was spread out across Chicago's foster-care system. But when Fiona stepped up and took over for Frank as the family's legal guardian, the threat of the authorities realizing the true extent of the Gallaghers' dangerous situation was finally eliminated. Or, so we thought. In her new role, Fiona would have to walk the straight and narrow.

And this season, Fiona's done anything but "behave," as part of a rapid downward spiral. She lost her good-looking (if boring) boyfriend Mike by sleeping with his addict brother Robbie. And then, to celebrate her birthday, she doubled down by diving headfirst into the cocaine that was left behind as a parting gift from the affair. Last week's tragic reveal that her three-year-old brother Liam found his way into the drugs as well was earth-shattering, and this week we were treated to the results.

Liam was rushed to the hospital with acute cocaine toxicity and seizures threatening his future development. Just the thought of a child suffering to that degree was painfully sad, but the actors who make up the Gallaghers really nailed their moments of terror and made things more than a bit dusty in my household. In particular, Jeremy Allen White once again turned in an award-worthy episode, displaying a complicated mix of anger for his older sister, fear for his younger brother, and even pride in himself when a B+ term paper was delivered to the hospital.

Fiona got the full County Jail treatment, and it wasn't pretty. Shameless smartly took its time showing the painful process, allowing Emmy Rossum to earn her paycheck as each embarrassing moment—from the strip search to her arraignment to being bailed out by her ex—hit home. While we've often thought of Fiona as smart, brave, and responsible over the course of the show's run, she's also proven many times over to be very much a Gallagher. She's partied too hard, slept around recklessly, and ruined great opportunities and important relationships alike. Despite having seen time and again how drugs have hurt her family, in the moment, Fiona didn't think twice about her cocaine pop-up party. She crossed a fine line between letting loose and taking a risk beyond the pale.

As a result of Fiona's carelessness, the Gallaghers are once again at odds. Lip's steely silence indicated that Fiona may have screwed up one time too many to re-earn their trust. Lip's brief run as a parental replacement wasn't pretty, but in the end, he got the job done. Drugged-out Frank showed up just in time to claim Liam from the hospital, and Carl and Debbie eventually made it back to school. Adding intrigue to the shuffle was the near first meeting between the family and their long-lost older sister Sammi (Emily Burgl), who spent the episode helping Frank realize the truth of his failing health. That led to a fun moment where the family realized Debbie's boyfriend is much older, and Sammi realized Liam is black.

Frank had nearly died in his attempt to improve his failing liver a sweat lodge, sending him to the ER for his 56th visit—he's now only two trips away from taking the crown as the hospital's "most decorated frequent flyer ever." Frank's ER doctor was great, reminding me of Mad Men's Roger Sterling in his bedside manner as he chased a joke with a straight, serious message: "Given your four decades of stumble-down, hammered-in-the-gutter commitment to pro-level alcoholism, I think you owe your liver a condo in Boca, and some shuffleboard... You know you're dying, right?" Finally, after an even more sobering visit to a hospice to scope out his future, Frank realized what he's up against. Will Shameless without William H. Macy really happen? According to the doctor, it's looking likely: "Order the flowers and decide between urn and a casket soon." But something tells me there may still be a miracle liver replacement in his future.

"Iron City" will go down as one of Shameless's very best episodes, forcing us to question our trust for Fiona just as we have the show's other characters. In fact, her refusal to give up Mike's brother for providing her with the cocaine could be read several ways. Was she being loyal to Mike in the hopes that someday, he'll find a way to forgive her? Was she being selfish, doing the right thing for her reputation instead of looking out for her family's wellbeing by getting her potential sentence reduced? Or was she purely wanting to take the full punishment for her actions, no matter how ugly it might be? Regardless of how you see it, Fiona's final scene, returning home to an empty house, clutching her shirt like a child, was as heartbreaking as anything the show has delivered.


– This episode did an amazing job adding a beat of silence at two important moments. The first was when Lip took seemingly forever to accept Fiona's collect call from jail, and the second was when Fiona waited as long as she could to enter her "not guilty" plea in the courtroom.

– Financial details always matter to Shameless, and the show again did a masterful job portraying just how hard it is to be dirt poor in America. While Kev wanted the very best legal help for Fiona, the Gallaghers could only ever dream of affording more than a public defender. And while everyone wanted to keep Fiona out of jail, without Mike's final moment of generosity, she would have been locked up for quite some time. 

– Was this Sheila's goodbye? If so, kudos to this season's great, if substantially quieter, work from Joan Cusack. I've had my fill of her character several times over now, but the writing this season has done an excellent job of providing her with a romantic interest and hope for a family of her own again. 

– Kev and Veronica played an important role in this episode, providing assistance to the family while thinking about their own fast approaching parenthood. 

– Kev on his future children: "They're going to be happy and smart. And play for the Bulls." 

– The Gallaghers now rely quite a bit on Carl's ingenuity, giving him important responsibilities like keeping watch at the hospital and counting on his knowledge of Frank's whereabouts. 

– Carl was an efficient arsonist. His seemingly haphazard use of gasoline to burn down the sweat lodge that nearly took Frank's life somehow avoided taking Sheila's house with it. 

– Will Lip go back to school? He was more than willing to drop out if it meant keeping custody of Liam, but the look of satisfaction on his face after seeing his grade on an essay showed that he may finally be hooked.

– I can't say I'm on board the Lip and Mandy train. They may keep each other out of trouble, but it's hard to see them staying together if Lip plans to stay in school. 

– Stay strong, Shameless 'shippers. Ian's still out an island, and possibly still drugged out of his mind as he tends bar at a night club, but we know he'll have to come back to Mickey eventually. Hopefully, the reunion won't be interrupted by the Army dragging him back to base for faking his identity. 

– The city social worker's great final line: "This family's home visit needs to get scheduled soon. Very soon."

What did you think of "Iron City"?

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  • desireerosario564 Feb 27, 2014

    Emmy Rosum's acting in this was A+, possibly her best ever. She did such a great job of portraying the full emotional weight of everything she was feeling being locked up, but without going over the top into campiness.
    Also loved the end scene when she returns home from jail, excited to see her family again, only to find the home empty...just the look on her face ahh you could really just feel it so intensely (and I also thought it was a great choice to use Sydney Wayser's "Geography" during that scene, it really added to the mood).

  • clareh60 Feb 19, 2014

    Wow! This episode was so tough to watch. Very few moments of comedy, although Carl is always good for at least a smirk.

    The acting is absolutely spot-on, every single actor brought it in this episode and really embodies the best and worst of their characters, from Lip's confusion and sort of repulsion about his old life, craving for the stability he now sees is possible with his new life and inability to tolerate the destructiveness of his family; to Kev trying to be supportive of everyone; Debby desperately trying to find some stability anywhere, and maybe finding some in a very unlikely place; Sheila having a moment of total epiphany about herself and what she needs to be fulfilled; Frank finally realizing what the consequences of his actions will be and that it looks like this time he cannot evade them; and of course Fiona--a tour-de-force of emotional turmoil. Emmy Rossum deserves several awards.

    It seems like the chickens are coming home to roost for the Gallaghers. I suppose when you are writing a show like this you almost have a moral obligation to show the consequences of continued seriously irresponsible behavior. Frank is dying and deserves to be, and as much as I love to watch William Macy work and enjoy seeing him on this show, I think if the writers want to keep it real he should die.

    It's from Frank and his wife that the problems of this family stem. Fiona has tried to do right by her family and taken on burdens that no kid should have to,but she has a serious self destructive streak and need for drama, and that is so true to someone who grew up in a wildly unstable household like the Gallaghers. So again, I have to give the writers credit for keeping it real although it's much more fun as a viewer to watch the pop up parties that have no real consequences other than a hangover than what happened in this episode.

    Part of me would just like to see the Gallaghers continue on their path of drinking, fighting, f@#$in, and loving each other the best they can with none of this serious stuff, but that's not how it happens in life and with a quality show like this you know it's gonna get real.

    I was totally yelling at the screen BTW when Fiona didn't at least tell Mike it was Robbie that provided the coke, even if she didn't tell the police. I will be very interested to find out what her motivation was and how that plays out. I am on pins and needles with my fingers crossed for this family but a feeling of dread has taken over...

  • heartzkidnapper Feb 19, 2014

    Let's be realistic , as a show , Shameless is a great show but telling me that you are rooting or you have sympathy for anyone of the Gallaghers !
    They are totally fu*ked up and none decent would justify what the hell they are doing in their life .

  • patsully Feb 20, 2014

    Oh, surely you must have a soft spot for one of the Gallagher clan, no? Don't you want Lip to land a great job someday? Or Carl to... not become a serial killer?

  • heartzkidnapper Feb 20, 2014

    I was kinda like the innocent Debbie Gallagher but Man!! In this season , they fu*ked her up ! Hanging out with these stupid girls ,Geez she become totally Dumb !
    At the end , this show has its moments but if this family is real , i don't think anyone would get near of them :P

  • CharlieFurtek Feb 18, 2014

    I am constantly amazed by this show. It's one of the best currently on television, and this episode was the best of the season thus far. I just wish there were weekly reviews on here!

  • Whedonrules Feb 18, 2014

    They are now doing weekly reviews of seemingly all of its competition in the 9:00pmEST hour 'Revenge', 'True Detective', and 'Walking Dead' are all covered here. 'Revenge' has sucked since the end of season 1 and 'Walking Dead' has sucked since it just became a glorified artistic and design product that occasionally tries to tell a story and fails. Patrick Sullivan has one of the best voices when it comes to reviewing this show - he's a better writer than 2/3 of the column writers that post here - his weekly reviews should all go up.

  • patsully Feb 20, 2014

    I really appreciate it! I'm a Product Manager on the site (I work with the engineers to build the site features and kill bugs), but I love Shameless, so volunteer my free time to cover it when I can. I'll definitely be back to write at least one more post for the season finale as I did last season, but it's quite time consuming!

    Appreciate the vote of confidence and really excited to see our Shameless audience is starting to grow!

  • efonsecajr Feb 18, 2014

    I dont want Frank to die.

  • Whedonrules Feb 18, 2014

    This show has been set up kind of perfect this season. Seeing Emmy Rossum absolutely wonderful performance each week is one of the best parts of Sunday night. The boring waste of time 'Walking Dead' may get the coveted ratings in this time slot for cable Dramas but this story about the Gallagher family from Chicago is just superior to it in every imaginable way. You don't get any crappy child actors here like you do on 'Walking Dead' - no acting black hole (every scene looks like bad audition footage) like Chandler Riggs anywhere to be found in this cast. Even Debbie's newly introduced friends and (wonderful addition of Emily Bergl) Sammi's son are interesting. The reason Debbie's story has been so painful/wonderful is the performance by Emma Kenney as a teenage girl trying to grow up. Jeremy Allen White has been unbelievably good - when 'Lip' is quiet and you can see so much more going on behind his eyes in every scene is the best. You could see the light in his eyes in his last scene getting his graded assignment back and it was something we hadn't seen the entire season and you became as uplifted as Lip did after that dark episode. His scene with Mandy, also really good - I like White and Emma Greenwell together (obviously the actors really like one another as well) in scenes. The two seem to bring bring out the best from one another. Hopefully Mickey gets locked up for a while.

    Is this the end of Sheila? I was worried about this character as mangled Karen and Jody (Zach McGowan got a good part in 'Black Sails') drove off. I'm glad they didn't take the easy route and just spiral her into depression when she was left to her own devices. Its taken since the beginning to completely get her out of her home and this was some good stuff. Her and her new boyfriend and her falling for his kids and they for her (they were teasing her but it wasn't being mean, you could tell they all really liked her and she loved playing along) Any happiness whatsoever was a long time coming. Go Sheila! Hopefully not the last time we see her but if it is, at least she finally got to be happy.

    Frank's story has been great as well. Emily Bergl as the next in the line of characters that fall under the spell of Frank Gallagher has been perfect. That role could have been grating by now but with Bergl and the lovely chemistry she has on screen with Bill Macy has really elevated that story. Can't wait to see how it changes when the real Frank appears. I've been wondering if its all been part of his con or if he is really starting to care about Sammi?

    I'm thinking Frank's 'miracle' is going to involve Fiona being found out to be a compatible donor. (Carl grabbed someone else's tampon out of the garbage and they never really tested Fiona.) Just a thought.

    Emmy Rossum is just wonderful. You cannot name 5 better female performances in a leading role on a drama on television. Just for comparison - Robin Wright's 'Claire Underwood' is a stereotypical, thinly drawn 'politicians wife' character. Watching 'House of Cards' you wound never even realize she is the lead female character. Rossum's 'Fiona Gallagher' is the real deal. She is unquestionably the lead female performance. A character written exceptionally well that has someone as wonderful and talented as Rossum to breathe life into. Rossum is more than up to the challenge and you get work like in this episode that makes you feel emotion toward a fictional character. The performance is brilliant. Go ahead now name 5 better female lead performances? (just to see how I compare them - my top 5 this year would be Emmy Rossum, Tatiana Maslany (easiest assumption to make), Keri Russell (we know 'Americans' isn't going to skip a beat and the critical world is going to again ignore how good she is), Ivana Milicevic (Carrying on her fantastic work from the first season on 'Banshee'; now that 'Carrie' is finally home should be getting more soon), and Adelaide Kane - (Cause that young girl is the real deal playing Mary Queen of Scots.)

    As per usual, loving this season of 'Shameless' and watching Fiona embrace her inner Frank has been as wonderful as it has been painful due to the actress. This show remains fantastic.

  • Whedonrules Feb 18, 2014


    Maslany's is sort of ground breaking so - agreed - eagerly anticipating what that crew has in store this year. So nice seeing her at the Golden Globes and every interview she did showing how she was more interested in the work (and getting back to it) than getting dressed up and going to the party. Her exclusion from the Emmy broadcast made me finally just completely give up hope that that award actually mattered. (Her shooting days must be endless but the work never showed that over-work affected ANY of her performances.) This year though just watching Fiona flailing after putting so much on her plate last year has been so outstanding - seeing her almost self immolating her success. Maybe she never gets nominated because she is actually a young woman from a great family making it as an actress without being noticed by the press for being an idiot? Everything about this young woman is impressive. She's someone young actors should aspire to be like.

  • Aspiasu Feb 18, 2014

    Tatiana's work is still the more impressive of the two, I believe, but Emmy Rossum is definitely a strong number two! Though I'd have to give number three for the last year to Elisabeth Moss for Top Of The Lake.. Excellent performance by her!

  • AssandroJourn Feb 18, 2014

    Once again Shameless hit hard. I was waiting for drama to enter in the middle as it always does in previous seasons. It is like tradition already) But it was sudden as always. One second you laughing hard and happy for characters then some crazy shit happens. I hope we see Sheila's routine in reservation with kids. They are funny. I bet she'll take some kids with her and crazy fun stuff'll continue. Also it's great to see Native American character. Also that nephew, Sammi's son, is funny as hell. "Who's that guy watching a porn in our house?" "Our nephew". LOL

  • LiseLotteDive Feb 18, 2014

    I really like this show, but the neverending misery just got boring and I gave up. Ill probably marathon it later.

  • dostunuz Feb 18, 2014

    I know, right?. Kinda becomes depressing after watching all these stuff especially this seaons. To be honest i want to see Steve but not going to happen.

  • TVvuer69 Feb 17, 2014

    It was kind of funny seeing Scott Grimes as Frank's doctor. Being that this show is set in Chicago, he could have been easily reprising his role as Dr. Morris from ER. And don't forget that William H. Macy was on that series in the first few seasons as Dr. Morganstern. But I don't think it was an actual reunion between them since Grimes was only featured in the last few seasons of that show.

  • skchristensen Feb 17, 2014

    What is going on with this show? I'm a huge fan of Shameless but it's so depressing now! I don't laugh and think they are crazy anymore. I just say "What?" I hope they bring back a lot of the characters that have left.

  • patsully Feb 18, 2014

    Out of curiosity, which characters that have left are you thinking about?

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