Shameless, ‘Liver, I Hardly Know Her’ review: Rural charm

"A transplant, that’s a major medical procedure. This guy is a dealer I met in a parking lot after a Fish concert.” 

The man was just a cab driver, but so what? The man used to be a surgeon, or so he said, and for Sheila and Sammi “used to be” is the next best thing to “is.” That’s all the time they (read: Frank) had anyway.

The two ARE Shameless, the show. They don’t necessarily doubt what another person tells them, and it’s the way that this show treats its characters. Contempt? No. Passing judgment? Neither. All Shameless characters are just humans. And sometimes, they’re cab drivers. 

In ‘Liver, I Hardly Know Her,’ showrunner John Wells pits every one of his characters with a plausible alternative for how/who/what/where/who they are and how/who/what/where/when they could be. It’s a “thin line ‘tween heaven and here,” Bubbles once said in The Wire.

First is Fiona Gallagher (played by Emmy Rossum), who sees that thin line and drives right through it on the way to Sheboygan. She doesn’t so much reach rock bottom as much as she “pulls a Frank.” (Granted, there might not be much difference between the two.) Fiona is distraught, but is it really all Robbie’s fault?

(Just as an aside for Showtime here, let me say clearly that you don’t need to make the parallel between Frank and Fiona that obvious that we see them both asleep in successive scenes. Have faith in your viewers, Showtime. You don’t need to spell it out for us like that.)

So yeah, Fiona is becoming Frank with little hesitation—she doesn’t manage risks, because having fun is so much better, and if/when she does get caught then it’s not her fault. Just like it isn’t her fault if she hangs out with Robbie again, because while he may be a Grade-A a-hole, he also has Grade-A coke. That’s the life that she can manage, when it’s chaotic and messed up. Not the life that’s pristine and clear. Hanging out with Robbie is risky, because Fiona’s life is already messy. It might have been boring too, but it was definitely messy in her prison that is the Gallagher family home. It’s already messy, and Fiona needs to avoid sinking even deeper. She needs pristine and clear, at least for a little while, just so she can maintain messy.

But instead, she chooses Robbie, who rhymes with ripped pantyhose and pristine white powder, so she ends up in Sheboygan. (About Sheboygan, Wells does make it seem like it’s rock bottom, but there has to be a mistake. I’ve never been, but something tells me it’s far from the hellhole it’s meant to represent. There’s a nice man in Sheboygan, and he’ll even let you hang back inside his store and use his phone. That rock bottom is far from Frank’s Mexican escapade.)

There’s a thin line for Ian Gallagher (played by Cameron Monaghan), whose great love story with Mickey Milkovich (played by Noel Fisher) continues to be substantiated and to put to shame other similar love stories of the same-sex genre. Only this time, Ian almost ruins everything. The two are at Mickey’s house to pick up his guns to go after Kevin, or dissuade him from it, and it turns out that a redhead with a knife is even more dangerous.

 Ever since Debbie Gallagher (played by Emma Kenney) became a founding member of the #ThreeLoveMusketeers, I had been hoping for the best but bracing for the worst, hoping to see the return of the pre-lovelorn Debbie but fearing that she might be gone forever to the land of heartbreaks and scrapbooking. It turns out that her mind still has reasons that her heart doesn’t understand and that all she needed was the little family crisis and rescue mission double whammy that is the impending death of her father and her older sister running away. We’re glad to have you back, Debbie, even if it’s only for this one week.

Carl Gallagher (played by Ethan Cutkosky) becomes conscious of that “thin line ‘tween heaven and here,” if ‘heaven’ is the house that he lives in and ‘here’ is the van that Bonnie’s family is using as a makeshift home. Carl has grown up a lot this season (i.e. a first love will do that to any man), and Ethan has delivered on some of the best material he’s received in four years (i.e. his scene on Frank’s deathbed was marvelous). In ‘Liver, I Hardly Know Her,’ he gets the “chance to put everything you’ve ever wanted to say to Frank into one final talk” and the fellow Gallaghers suggest he do something to get his mind off things. Well, all Carl really needs is to put his mind on someone else.

As scary as the Bonnie & Carl storyline, and it really is, it could well be the greatest love of all. After diving (head first!) to first base, Carl takes the next step and meets Bonnie’s parents before bringing her to his father’s funeral that also doubles as his new marriage. Because, Shameless!

Carl and Bonnie love each other, as much as a young person can, and while they may be odd and quirky, they are odd and quirky together. And for each other.

The thin line for Lip Gallagher (played by Jeremy Allen White) is that between the states of Ohio and Wisconsin. Though physical, it’s really more mental—the same way that Fiona isn’t quite ready to be Frank quite yet, neither is Lip to become his sister and be tasked with raising his siblings. So Lip is happy when she asks for help. Just like he tells her in what is truly a lovely scene once more—really, Emmy and Jeremy Allen have been incredible this entire season—it’s a good thing that Fiona doesn’t know who she is. It means that there’s more to her than raising her siblings. It means that she doesn’t have to be the only person she’s ever been. Nor does it mean that she has to grow up to be like Frank, God no! Speaking of the man, Frank Gallagher (played by William H. Macy) also crosses a thin line. He knows that Sammi’s and Sheila’s hearts are in the right place, but that’s about all that is.

Favor for a favor? In Frank’s case, it turns out that it’s a kidney for a liver. That is also the thin line between life and death. New kidney = old liver + $25,000.