Shameless, ‘Iron City’ review: Acute cocaine toxicity

"I brought you some Ramen, too. I'm out of cajun chicken so I brought smoked ham." 

When Fiona arrives at the Gallagher household, she's all alone as she has been during the entire hour of 'Iron City.' She is home, but there's no housewarming—there shouldn't be either, for the lone reason why she was even away is that she was in jail and had a $10,000 bail. But she is home, all alone and with a blank expression on her face. Lost in the world.

We, the viewers, are Fiona in 'Iron City.' We've watched what very well may be the show's best episode yet—really, this was one spectacular hour of television—and we're all alone. We've got a blank look on our faces. We're lost in the Shameless world.

And it's a wonderful, yet so deeply depressing, world to lose yourself into. 

It's a world where showrunner John Wells truly shines. If he spared no punches in 'There's The Rub,' it turns out that he was really just getting started.

Wisely, Well starts 'Iron City' right after the end of 'There's The Rub.' The final four minutes of that episode were one of those moments which Shameless always nails, and us viewers likely never would have forgiven Wells had he decided to skip a few moments in the aftermath.

But the episode kicks off, and we're right where we want to be—with the Gallaghers at the hospital. Liam, Lip will soon learn, "was agitated and hurting himself. It's not unusual in cocaine overdoses." No, clearly what is unusual is the overdose itself. Now, Lip may start off as just "the only thing that passes for responsible adult that you're going to find" but he's all grown up after an hour of television when he must 1) comfort his baby brother who's overdosed on cocaine, 2) comfort his older sister who's most to blame for that cocaine overdose and who's calling him from prison, 3) tell that same sister what are the long-term risks to their brother's health, 4) attend this same sister's arraignment hearing and 5) look for his sorry excuse of a father. (Seriously. Read that list over again. All in one day!)

Jeremy Allen White nails every single one of those scenes. The muted emotions he displays in 'Iron City' are exactly what I expect from a teenager who's just a freshman in college. When Lip has exploded, it's been because he's angry. In 'Iron City,' he's seething, yes, but he's more sad, devastated and, especially, scared.

'Iron City' brings us viewers to the prison as well. Fiona carries more weight, already, "than we could ever put on" her but she's no Bubbles. The system will not give her a pass—it doesn't want to have to worry about "soft walls." (Who guessed The Wire? I'm impressed.) Before she knows it, Fiona has met her public defendant—who sure seems to know just what it is she is doing, thank you very much Kevin—and faces the very real possibility of spending a long time behind bars. Her bail has been set, at $100,000. (That she only needs to post a tenth of this solves nothing.)

It's a trying episode, and Emmy Rossum is up for it and nails every single scene. Fiona has always worn her emotions on her eyes and the phone call she makes to her brother Lip is as beautiful as it is gut-wrenching. It's a perfect scene. There's never been an emotion that Fiona didn't experience fully and authentically, except this time she must. Fiona is also a character whose biggest fear is to be stripped of her agency and, well, there's nothing more humbling than being stripped and searched. Fiona has spent a lifetime empowering herself and it's devastating to see it all crumble in a matter of seconds in prison.

'Iron City' brings us to see Frank, too. Because Frank too was admitted to the hospital and is perhaps in even worse shape than his son Liam is. Frank is told he's dying, soon, and us viewers feel...what, exactly? Is indifference the worst insult of all? Because I watched and my inner monologue navigated between "Oh well" and "Good. Die already."

Frank is a sorry excuse of a human being, but that doesn't mean that we hate him. He's despicable, laughing in the face of death and his doctor after his 56th turn as a free floater (just two short of the record, he can't die yet!!) while the rest of his family is dealing with an altogether different tragedy. His 'oldest daughter' Sammi (played by Emily Bergi) is the only one left for him and, though Frank says she looks like her mother, he can't quite remember that mother. He remembers women by their cup size, and his memory is apparently faulty in this case. The tragedy is that Frank is despicable, but that this doesn't mean that he's not lovable.

We want to hate him and we're even right there on the cusp, but we can't. We can't hate him, not with the way he breaks down at the hospice. When he's confronted with what his future may look like, Frank breaks down. He has no shame, but he does have pride. And he does get scared. Frank is scared and we can't hate him—and it's all because of that scene. To paraphrase The Wire's Marlo Stanfield, we want it to be one way. But it's the other way. That's quite the tour de force from William H. Macy.

With all that said, there were others too. It's tragic, but so perfect, to see that it is Mike (played by Jake McDorman) who pays the $10,000 to set Fiona free. Mike a good guy, a great guy to a fault. He puts up his condo as a guarantee for the money, because of course he does. That's Mike. Let's not forget Carl (played by Ethan Cutkosky) and Debbie (played by Emma Kenney), who both have minor but key roles in 'Iron City.' After last week's betrayal, Carl seems intent on not becoming his father at last and he's the one who calls Mike for help. Meanwhile, Debbie accepts that the mind has reasons the body doesn't care for and turns to Matt when she has no one else.

It's good to see Lip somehow manage to keep studying amidst the chaos that surrounds him. It's critical to see him succeed in college, if only because the world of Shameless is one where the Gallagher children grow up to be like their parents. Ian has run away, like his non-biological mother Monica before him. Fiona is an addict, like Frank is. But who is Lip, really? He's already the first Gallagher to graduate from high school, and let's hope that he finishes university as well just so that there's more hope for Liam, Carl and Debbie as they grow up.

By the end, this episode has been so effective that we can't get over the fact that Lip must be content with smoked ham-flavoured Ramen noodles. No, damnit! Lip deserves cajun chicken!