Shameless: Season 5 — a review

This season takes place two to three months after the events of Season 4. Take heed: I’m going to spoil the hell out of it, so skip down to the bottom if you haven’t watched the series yet.

As always, we deal with the aftermath of the story threads from the previous season. Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) discovered that he was bipolar last season, so this season’s character arc will certainly address that. After being released from prison, Fiona Gallagher (Emmy Rossum) is working at Patsy’s Pies, which is under the new ownership of Sean Pierce (Dermot Mulroney). Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy), meanwhile, has to deal with unaccustomed limitations imposed by his recent liver transplant.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s South Side—the natural habitat of the Gallaghers—is becoming a transitional area, making its implacable journey towards gentrification. This is another important ingredient in this potentially rich story stew.

As always with this series (and any good series, in my opinion), this season boils down to individual character arcs within the overarching big-picture story. The South Side is undergoing change. So are the Gallaghers.

Let’s talk about Fiona first. The average viewer, like me, might assume that Fiona is the type of young woman who doesn’t know how to not be in a romantic relationship. It’s obvious from the outset that she has feelings for her boss, diner-owner Sean, who is a recovering addict himself and is giving back to society by hiring ex-cons, such as Fiona, and other addicts, like himself. But, once off house arrest, Fiona falls for a musician, Gus Pfender (Steve Kazee) and impulsively marries him. Both soon regret these actions, as Jimmy/Steve/now Jack (Justin Chatwin) returns briefly into Fiona’s life, and she cannot resist sleeping with him, apparently. Even worse, Fiona confesses her infidelity to new husband Gus, which, naturally, affects their relationship. This act of self-sabotage opens up the possibility of a love connection with boss Sean. Fiona admits that she’s in love with him, but Sean rejects her because she’s already married.

I wasn’t crazy about this character arc for Fiona. It makes her seem more like a victim of fate instead of a character with agency.

Another of my favorite characters, Lip Gallagher (Jeremy Allen White), demonstrates that self-sabotage just may be a dominant genetic trait in their family. He scuttles his relationship with Amanda (Nichole Bloom) and gets involved with one of his professors, the beautiful and sexually forward Helene Runyon Robinson (Sasha Alexander). Lip allows Kevin Ball (Steve Howey) to move into his dorm room briefly while Kev and Veronica (Shanola Hampton) are temporarily separated (more on that in a bit). A student gets injured after Kev sells him synthetic weed that leads to him jumping from a second-story window. More unnecessary drama in Lip’s life that also potentially affects his new relationship with the hot professor.

In what may begin to sound like a refrain, I wasn’t wild about this weak character arc for Lip either. Lip is the one Gallagher whom every expects to rise above his station in life. The dictates of drama require that his path to ultimate success is paved with huge amounts of failure and setbacks. As with Fiona, Lip’s story drama involves his romantic relationships more than any real, lasting story developments.

Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher) takes care of Ian Gallagher after last season’s bipolar diagnosis. Ian remains in denial of his condition, which leads to hypersexuality and generally risky behavior. While experiencing a manic episode, Ian kidnaps Mickey and Svetlana’s (Isidora Goreschter) son, Yevgeny, and flees. This results in Ian being admitted to a psychological evaluation ward. Then, Ian ends up arrested by the military police for his army misadventures from a previous season (more on that in a bit). Ian also has a brief hitchhiking adventure with his mom, Monica (Chloe Webb), but finally returns to the South Side and breaks up with Mickey, citing his bipolarity as the issue.

Ian, like Fiona (and, to maybe a lesser degree, Lip), is presented as a victim. This time of his disease. The feeling is that the character is not so much doing anything, but rather is reacting to everything happening to him. Story-wise, it is a little dissatisfying.

Frank Gallagher continues his journey as an agent of chaos. He convinces son Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) to use the son of his eldest daughter Sammi (Emily Bergl) as a drug mule. Carl has decided to get rich by being a drug dealer, you should know. Sammi no longer thinks Frank hung the moon and Frank is trying to get her out of his life. Chuckie gets arrested, of course. Sammi shoots Frank in the arm, and while he is in the hospital, Frank bonds with his doctor, Bianca (Bojana Novakovic), who is diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer. Frank encourages Bianca to live what’s left of her life to the fullest. The two begin a romantic relationship, and a drug- and alcohol-fueled grand adventure that leads them to Costa Rica, where Bianca cuts her own story thread by committing suicide. Which, I’m sure, will be the impetus for future drama from Frank.

What else is going on? Debbie Gallagher (Emma Kenney) begins dating someone more age-appropriate and becomes pregnant. That’s a source of drama that I’m sure will carry over into future seasons. Liam Gallagher (Brendan Sims) continues to be an underutilized background performer. Carl, as mentioned earlier, is having some success as a drug dealer. But, after using Chuckie as his drug mule, leading to his cousin going to juvenile prison, Carl’s older half-sister Sammi also turns in Carl, who is also sentenced to a year in juvenile prison.

Meanwhile, next door, Kev and V are experiencing some marital discord. Initially, this was because Kev is so caught up in caring for their twin daughters that he neglects V. Then, the two temporarily separate. Svetlana moves in Kev, and the two begin having sex. Then, V begins a physical relationship with Svetlana as well. The relationship becomes complicated.

There seems to be an unwritten Law of Character Conservation that requires you to remove characters from the story roster at the same rate that you add new ones. This season sees a few characters we’ve grown accustomed to seeing taking what may be their final bows.

Sheila (the always wonderful Joan Cusack) has finally tired of Frank’s endless schtick, sells her house and leaves the show in an RV.

Eldest daughter Sammi, after turning in both Carl and Ian to the proper authorities is drugged by Mickey and Debbie and then tortured in an unnecessary BDSM sequence. Mickey and Debbie mistakenly believe they have killed her and pack her body into a moving storage container. In the season’s final scenes, Sammi returns, not having died in fact, and chases after Mickey with a gun, which leads to the incarceration of both.

If you’re keeping score, the season ends with Carl, Chuckie, Sammi and Mickey all in prison. Who knows who’s coming back to the show?

I’ve come to expect certain things from Shameless. Sex and dysfunctional family dynamics go without saying, of course. But, in the early goings, the family still felt like a complete, mostly cohesive unit. This season feels like the Gallaghers are all spinning off in their own directions. The “family” feeling, dysfunctional or otherwise, suddenly seems to be a secondary consideration.

Don’t misunderstand me. The series is still entertaining, and I intend to watch it until the end. However, the character disaster loops are beginning to feel monotonous, and less believable than they were when I still getting to know the characters.

This has been my least-favorite season so far. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there are better things to come. The series is about to begin its eleventh season, so something better has to be coming. Right?

Firewater’s Let’s-Go-Get-Drunk-and-Buy-a-Gun Report Card: B

I almost went with a B+. There are interesting moments, and I’m honestly invested in what happens to the Gallagher crew and their friends. However, Season 5 was a serious letdown for me. A grade of B is not terrible, but not great (or even great-adjacent). That seems to be a suitable summation of the season.

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