Last week's Shameless saw Lip exit the Gallagher household, and this week's saw Monica Gallagher take his place. We met Monica briefly in Season 1, when she returned in an attempt to steal away baby Liam to start a family with her lesbian lover, "Bob." Now, with that phase of her life apparently over and Frank's emotional state in flux following his mother's passing, he asked his ex-wife to return home.
On the morality scale, Monica falls somewhere just south of Frank. In fact, Frank's usual drinking seems quite tame compared to the trouble he can get into with his ex-wife, often via harder drugs. So the family's reaction to Monica's return was rightfully skeptical. Though not a fit parent by any stretch of the imagination, Frank never completely abandoned his children the way Monica did. Even when sober, Monica has always crumbled under the pressure that Fiona lives with every day.
Chloe Webb's casting always seemed appropriate—Monica Gallagher is only a few degrees and decades removed from the Sid and Nancy character that started her career. But her Season 1 appearance was far too short to have developed any chemistry with the Gallagher clan. This week, however, she was the star—pitching in around the house to help Fiona, taking Ian to a gay bar so they could connect as mother and son, and of course, re-kindling her romance with Frank. The reunited Gallagher couple even provided the sweetest moment of the episode as they danced together at The Alibi while the usual bar patrons looked on almost lovingly, remembering a similar scene from many years and Irish car bombs ago.
Away from the changes at the Gallagher house, Lip's search for a new place to stay took him all over Chicago. After Karen asked him to pay $100 per week in rent, he tried forcing his way onto Kev and Veronica's couch and fought off bums for prime sleeping locations on the 'L' before arriving at the most logical spot—Steve's penthouse apartment. Naturally Steve offered a barter for Lip's hacking abilities, this time into someone's voicemail, leading to an impressively timely "I'll do my best, Mr. Murdoch" response.
Lip rooming with Steve is a brilliant move by Shameless's writers, as it quickly established Lip as a wedge between the season-long Fiona/Steve face-off. But getting back into business with Steve will surely lead to trouble, especially with a Brazilian gangster likely involved in the mystery scheme. In fact, the only truly helpful words Lip heard this week came from his UChicago professor buddy, who told him what we've all been screaming at the TV for the last few weeks: "Go back to school!" Even if he comes to realize he should, we now know that Lip has more problems ahead thanks to the episode's final scene, in which Mandy's father Terry burst into the Gallagher kitchen and beat up Ian for getting Mandy pregnant. Wait... Lip?! Again? This time I think it's fairly certain he's the father.
While Monica and Lip dominated this episode, Fiona's quieter struggle is what really sold it for me. Racked with guilt over the ultimatum that drove Lip from the house, she appeared almost powerless to stop her mother from taking the reigns. Despite her typical, erratic behavior, Monica made just enough of the right promises to convince Fiona she could benefit from having another adult-ish figure to lean on for help.
When Frank and Monica brought the bar back to the Gallagher house on a school night, Frank was even able to guilt Fiona into letting Debbie enjoy some attention from her drunk mother: "Nights like tonight are legend. A memory Debs can carry with her always. Don't screw her out of that. It might be the only one she gets." Emmy Rossum delivered another perfect reaction in a season full of them. However drunk he might have been as he said it, Frank's honesty was refreshing. So Fiona backed away to let her sibling have a glimpse of the nights she's likely to be deprived of later.
The Gallagher Family Crib Sheet:
– Karen is ruthless—she stopped by another man's house to tell him that 1) she's pregnant, 2) the baby is his, and 3) she needs money for an abortion. It's becoming clear that Karen might have no idea who the father is, but she's going to profit from her pregnancy as much as possible. She even spelled it out in black and white for Lip: "If there's no money involved, don't get other people's shit on your shoes."
– Lip found a real-time Portuguese-to-English translation tool online in order to translate Estefania's Brazilian phone-sex session. Technology-wise, it wasn't the most realistic moment Shameless has offered, but it certainly sped up the possible removal of Este as an obstacle to Steve getting back with Fiona.
– Steve made a Friday Nights Lights reference! Awesome. "Now I'm off to lead a pack of tiny testosterone animals to victory. Gonna warm 'em up and give 'em my best Friday Night Lights speech about hearts and eyes and some shit. I don't know."
– Last week I questioned where Jody's character might go next, but he was worth bringing back solely for his "University of River Phoenix" line and his goofy ceremony to remove the evil spirits from Sheila's house. Then the writers found their new storyline by having him sleep with Sheila. The best part? Karen got to hear "Kiss from a Rose" while standing outside her mother's room.
– In addition to Frank and Monica's slow dance, the episode offered a few more touching moments, especially the party in the final scene with a speech from Debbie to honor Grammy.
Place your bets: Will Monica remain in the Gallagher household through the end of the season?