Shameless, ‘Strangers On A Train’: It was a mistake, ok?

“This isn’t your home. It’s where you grew up.” 

It used to be that just saying you were a Gallagher would tell you all you needed to know about a person. This is how Ian’s deployment started at the season 3 finale—it’s not Lip, “it’s just Gallagher.” In season 4, nobody is so sure what it means anymore. Lip is a college student, at least for now, Fiona is a workingwoman, Debbie is something far scarier than a Gallagher (i.e. a teenager) while Frank is part-time dry-humping incestor.

The Gallaghers are growing up, and it’s fascinating to see as a viewer? What do the characters themselves think of it? 

This week in ‘Strangers On A Train,’ showrunner John Well continues last week’s exercise of peeling off the layers on his characters. He fully reveals to the viewers that the Gallaghers are not the desperate bunch that they once were. They now care about things, people, and about things and people that they could potentially lose. It’s scary, but it’s great for the viewer. The hopeless Gallaghers of the first two seasons were great, absolutely thrilling, but this new bunch may be even better.

In season 4, the Gallaghers are growing up, because they couldn’t possibly not do so. They appear willing, each to a varying degree, to grow out of the family—but will that tear them apart? Each is growing up, but what about as a unit? I suspect this is what the next episodes will tell us.

(Before we move along with the specifics of today’s episode however, let’s wonder about Ian Gallagher who, according to the most recent news, is still played by Cameron Monaghan? He’s still M.I.A. You have to wonder at what point is enough, enough—it’s not normal that the Milkovich family is the one that’s most preoccupied of his whereabouts. I know how this works, though—the creative team of Shameless has to work out the kinks of whatever it is that they need to work out, because oh by the way it sure seems like the actor might not come back. Muddy waters at best, let’s call it that.)

This week in ‘Strangers On A Train,’ there is plenty of game. It’s like class is in session—more on that shortly—and John Wells has invited all the characters.

There’s game for the female characters, and it’s that the mind has reasons that the body knows nothing about—or rather, doesn’t care for. First, Veronica (played by Shanola Hampton) knows her husband shouldn’t go to the home depot to ‘hire’ workers that he found at the depot, not at their home, but her body says otherwise.

It’s the same for Fiona Gallagher (played by Emmy Rossum). Her mind says that she’s not on Facebook and that this is why she must tell Robbie (played by Nick Gehlfuss) in person to stop touching, harassing, sexting, “fingering-in-the-bus” and sleeping with her—though they never actually sleep. Or lay down when they are not sleeping. But her body turns this around on her and uses it as an excuse for her to get laid silly. She may be “not just your ATM,” because she’s indeed much, much cheaper than a damn ATM machine. (What’s that? I took it too far? Yeah, I might have… Sorry.)

Mandy Milkovich (played by Emma Greenweld) also gets game, too. She learns that “roll the dice” takes two different meanings, but she also knows that Lip is still the guy.

Mandy may want to convince herself that she’s a long-distance runner, but she’s much better suited for the sprint. Her mind is just playing tricks on her.

Then, there’s game for Debbie Gallagher (played by Emma Kenney). She’s trying just so, so hard to be one of the cool kids, yet somehow it ends up hurting her. Her mind wants to grow up and not be “just a little girl,” but that’s all she is. Sometimes you are just a little girl—not forever, or even a long time, but just for a little while longer. She doesn’t need to do anything, because she doesn’t know what she’s doing. For that reason, she’s a Gallagher alright, as Fiona tells her.

But there’s another thing that makes her a Gallagher. Debbie only tells her sister the part of the story that she wants to tell her and leaves out parts like, oh I don’t know, that her boyfriend is 1.5 times her age. “I just wish I could skip the part where I don’t know the right thing to do. And just do.” Trust us, Debbie. You don’t want to grow up too fast and even when you’re grown up, you still don’t know the right thing to do, really, and you still don’t do as much (many?) as you wish.

For the men of the Shameless universe, the game is that you’re hopeless and incorrigible. You’re living a lie that’s not big enough. Except for Carl Gallagher (played by Ethan Cutkosky), who is living the biggest lie of all in that somehow he’s convinced his father could be a father to him if only he could just survive a tiny bit longer, or get a new liver, or get healthier, or… Here’s an advice for Carl—move on. Leave your dad behind, because he certainly has done that to you. He’s already moved to “My Oldest Daughter” and is trying to preserve “what we had together” at whatever cost—but mostly hers. Yeah Carl, move on. But no. You can’t, because you love your father. And because you love your father, you must hurt him. That’s not dumb logic, it’s Gallagher logic. (And you won’t put it on YouTube anyway. You love him!)

There’s game for Mickey Milkovich (played by Noel Fisher). One minute you think you have your hands on a gold mine, but the diggers turn out to be the, eh’m, workers you got your hands on. Then you’re called to a back alley to meet the Russians, so you bring a gun since it might be a knife fight. But it turns out that sometimes, the Russians really just invite you to the back alley to show you that “always, there is more.” (Who guessed The Wire? I’m impressed.)

There’s game for Frank Gallagher (played by William H. Macy), but that’s never stopped the man. What might stop him, however, is a destructed liver, and that’s why the man currently runs the longest con in the history of mankind. But soon he learns that Carl will help him, whether he still wants him to or not. He learns that “break a leg” has a much different meaning for him, or Carl, than it does for Lip for example. This new plan, to coax the State into paying $150,000 for him “just to live,” comes on the heels of him having tried to sucker his oldest daughter, the one who he has ignored all her life, into giving him a kidney. He knows the odds are long, and maybe that’s why he turns to the lone person who could possibly help him—but even he should know Gods don’t bother with such petty stuff.

There’s game for Kevin (played by Steven Howey), but he makes the absolute most of it. He’s gaming the system and, at least this week, he’s coming out ahead. So he dispenses advice and knowledge to those who need it the most.

In the end, there’s the most game for Lip Gallagher (played by Jeremy Allen White). Oddly enough, the lone character for who class literally not in session is the lone Gallagher who seemingly is still bothered with being a student—and that’s the crux of his problem, really. Lip is a student, though he certainly doesn’t feel like one. In college, Lip finds a world with no limits except those that he sets for himself—this is a contrast to his life inside the Gallagher house, where he had learned to crush every possible dream because, why bother? In college rather, it’s do bother.

He tries a blatantly obvious play with the dean of his faculty, pleading that he totally would not have been not two, not three, not…., not six minutes late for his midterm if not for the old switcheroo at the laundry machine. (The old switcheroo, by the way. Classic, classic move of student housing.) Kevin is right. This may have been where he grew up, but he doesn’t want to build his house there.

By the end of the episode, he understands and believes this. Someone gives him a break, because that’s how television is made. The Bible (read: The Wire) said that deserve had nothing to do with it, but in Shameless that’s not true. That’s okay, too—Shameless is growing up, and I’ll continue watching.