Shameless, ‘Hope Springs Paternal’ review: Palace of terror or temple of learning?

"It has to be a penis. With a man attached.”

‘Hope Springs Paternal’ brings the viewer along for quite the ride. By the end of the hour, we’re like Kevin. We can’t quite believe/accept/understand just what a messed up world is that of Shameless and that we get to live in it.

But unlike Kevin, we’ll never buy guns. Never. 

This week, showrunner John Wells creates an hour of television that lives up to its name. There sure is plenty of hope.

There’s hope for Debbie Gallagher (played by Emma Kenney). Oh, it’s not all good of course, as she’s trying to overcome the damage done by the#ThreeLoveMusketeers—it’s so bad that the young teenager is keeping a Virginity Countdown. (And yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.)

Yet when Debbie wakes up that first morning, she has a large smile—could it be that she’s right on schedule with that countdown calendar? Regardless, this proves our theory that her art project was much more scrapbooking than she wanted to admit.

But yes, there is hope. She finds in Sammi Gallagher (played by Emily Bergi) the new sister she had lost in Fiona. And while the bigger sister tells the younger one terrible things that no 12-year-old should ever hear, the reality is that it is somehow much more sound advice than the empty air that the two musketeers were passing as advice.

There might be hope for Frank Gallagher (played by William H. Macy) as well, thanks to an ingenious get-rich scheme from his daughter Sammi. Truly, she knows how to appeal to the Gallaghers enough to stick around—she’s been upped to series regular for season 5. The scheme is laughably dumb and she justifies it by saying that she’s done it a few times already. And look where it’s left her…The scheme is bound to go awry, doomed for failure, but it only needs to work long enough for Frank to get a new liver. Or die trying.

There is hope for Carl Gallagher (played by Ethan Cutkosky) against all odds. He seemed destined for a lifetime of fighting and bullying last week in ‘A Jailbird…,’ but it turns out that he only needed to step foot on a college campus to reevaluate his priorities.

As he listens to his father make a quite compelling case for the usefulness of his role as bully in our social ecosystem, Carl wonders why he couldn’t be the one to cure cancer. Whether he can or can’t isn’t the point—it’s that if he does want to, he’ll do his best to go to college. To get Carl to college, for reasons that may not have anything to do with studying or not, and it doesn’t have to be, is a victory in itself. You’re in college. In Shameless, the ‘why’ doesn’t really matter. (This feels like confirmation of my season-long insistence that Lip sticks to studying. For his siblings as much as for himself.)

Just as well, there’s hope for Ian Gallagher (played by Cameron Monaghan) and Mickey Milkovich (played by Noel Fisher). The latter’s gradual transformation into someone comfortable in his own skin has been as beautiful and as touching as any other character’s this season. (Now, about Ian… Of course, Fiona will say that she has missed him, and I’m sure that she did. But for the longest time in season 4, Shameless acted like Ian was nothing, not even a red herring. He wasn’t gone, it’s barely like he never ever existed. The character was gone, and it seemed like he may never come back. Because for a while, it seemed like he, the actor Cameron, may never come back. Is this better than Girls coming just short of throwing Charlie under the bus and driving it over him when Christopher Abbott quit the show? I don’t know.) In ‘Hope Springs Paternal,’ there’s hope for Ian, but we all know that despair is due at any moment. He’s further along than we ever thought. Talk that talk, Ian.

There’s hope for Lip Gallagher (played by Jeremy Allen White), though it may not seem so at first. He’s still stuck bringing his brother Liam to college, although he may recognize it might be “one of them good problems.” But soon enough, he must bring not only Liam but also Carl and pull an allnighter while the other students in his dorm throw a party.

It seems bad but really, things are, erm, looking up for Lip.

There’s hope for everyone…except for Fiona Gallagher (played by Emmy Rossum), where hope is at its most dire. The first day of the rest of Fiona’s life has started, and she gets to very fast, like 1:23-and-3:55-and-5:14 a.m.-fast, just what kind of life it will be.

It’s one where she’s literally just scraping by, losing her mind because she’s understood how hard it will be to regain the trust of her family that she has lost. She needs “to wipe first,” but she can’t wipe the one thing from her life that she wishes she could.  Instead, for at least “two weeks,” she’s confined to the Gallagher family home as her non-friend and non-cookie-eating parole officer visits and files her report.

The irony isn’t lost on the viewer. Fiona was never not about helping her younger siblings but now that she doesn’t need as much because they are growing up, she can’t help herself. She’s stuck in a moment she can’t get out of, and it’s hard for her. She said that she didn’t want to go back to prison, but that’s pretty much where she finds herself. It’s a full house, just like old times, except that she’s a felon who can’t leave her backyard.

Fiona is like The Wire‘s Kima Greggs (played by Sonja Sohn). She’s wishing everyone a good night, but in her case it’s for all the wrong reasons. She even wishes herself a good night—it’s as if she’s looking at herself, at her own life, from outside her body. (In that sense, she’s Cutty as well.)

Most of all, Fiona is alone. The family she loves is gone, at least for that one night…until Lip arrives with Liam after an emotional phone call between the two. Will help or further enable her?