This week's episode of Shameless, written by William H. Macy, took on a difficult challenge by introducing a brand-new major character in Frank's mother, Grammy Gallagher, while simultaneously juggling fast-moving existing storylines. New character introductions are always a bit of a mixed bag in heavily plotted shows, especially when they mean less screen time for the regular cast. Grammy's arrival provided an amusing, but fairly obvious explanation for why Frank turned out the way he did. I had hoped for this exposition in the show's pilot episode, when Frank's actions were quite difficult to believe, but I've since gotten used to his total self-interest. I'm not sure I needed his criminal mastermind mother to stab him in the leg over money to understand it better.
A former meth lab owner/operator, Grammy Peg was released from jail on medical furlough and immediately set out to reclaim what's hers, including a sizable amount of cash and a handgun hidden in the Gallagher bathroom, plus $200K owed to her by her former drug-running associate turned plastic surgeon. Along the way, we learned plenty about her mother-son relationship with Frank. Peg had Frank completely under control; she was able to see through his lies with relative ease. This left Frank at his wit's end. His attempt to get her arrested was foiled, and his short-lived idea to shoot his mother while she slept was too much even for Frank. Just like a few weeks ago, we saw Frank and Fiona bond over their similarities—"It's okay, my parents suck too."
The non-Grammy scenes in this week's episode were much stronger. Fiona and Steve's relationship got considerably more unusual after Steve admitted missing her, but also that he was married to a Brazilian drug lord's daughter who doesn't speak a word of English... all to save his own skin of course. We've learned how crafty Steve can be, but this will be a complicated situation to escape. Not to mention he won't have Fiona's assistance in doing so, now that Debbie has filled her in on Steve's double life as a rich medical student named Jimmy. With few allies in the Gallagher household and a tenuous truce with Tony the Cop, Steve has his work cut out for him.
Just like Fiona, Lip's been stewing over his love life the whole season, but he's finally grown tied of watching Karen make bad decisions. He spent most of the episode drunk, and for the first time he was really, truly nasty to Karen, telling her that he'd prefer she get an abortion to seeing the baby on weekends or running away with her. It's hard to imagine that everything will work out now, even if the baby is Lip's (which Karen hasn't confirmed or denied). Lip's situation is quite the opposite of Fiona's; she always seems destined to find a way to make things work with Steve, marriage be damned. I'm hoping the solution is not a tragic accident for Jody. There have been some strong hints at his stupidity—leaning his head over a grill while lighting it in last week's episode—but I'd much rather see Lip find a way to connect to Karen on his own.
At this point, the only Shameless couple with certain hope for the future is the youngest, Ethel and Malik. Ethel's creepy sister wives—"Jesus witches," as Kev called them—brought news of their husband's death, causing Kev and Veronica to debate a change of title from foster parents to real parents. But Ethel chose to run away with her fellow single parent Malik. I really enjoyed the reveal that Ethel's summer in Chicago taught her some street smarts; she made sure to leave with the pot Kev buried in the backyard in the season premiere, so that Malik could sell it for cash. It was actually quite sweet and proved once again that the Shameless writing staff doesn't forget the little things.
It's been a while now since Shameless has had a single storyline bring together the whole Gallagher family to find a solution, but one is surely fast approaching for the second half of the season. What would you like to see most? Weigh in with your comments. (I'd vote for a family effort to save Steve from Brazilian drug lords.)
The Gallagher Family Crib Sheet:
– Grammy's gifts to Carl and Debbie (plus cash for Fiona) will undoubtedly complicate life in the Gallagher household. As Fiona pointed out, Carl and Debbie's affection is definitely for sale. But it would be shocking if Grammy could stand being around the family for longer than Frank.
– Fiona and Lip have had an unspoken bond for a while now, so I enjoyed their quick chat in which Fiona warned, "Make it right with Ian. You two are my rocks, I can't do it without you."
– So Tony the Cop has a live-in girlfriend. Didn't see that one coming. I wonder if he'll re-enter the pursuit for Fiona now that Adam the Stockbroker has exited the race.
– Sheila told Frank he can't be in charge of Eddie's insurance money because he's an alcoholic. A bold move for Sheila! Then she kicked him out of the house when Frank protested Eddie's inheritance going to Karen. Even bolder! But my hope that the writers would develop her character a bit more have been dashed by this interview with Executive Producer John Wells, where he reveals that Joan Cusack is only ever available to shoot one or two days a week. I guess we can expect Sheila to remain in her house going forward.