"If it wasn’t sex then, what was the problem? -Everything else.”
That was worse than a stomach punch. A stomach punch is unexpected and sudden, but us viewers saw this one coming from a mile away. And that we knew Liam would be the one to take the biggest hit didn’t make things easier. It actually made it worse, way worse.
The Rub in the fourth season of Shameless is that while the Gallaghers have grown, they’ve mostly just grown apart from one another. They haven’t really grown up.
In ‘There’s The Rub,’ showrunner John Wells reminds us that he’ll spare no one—not you, not myself, and none of the characters. Shameless is a show that will always go there if it can. And it’s a show whose showrunner spares no punches.
Most of the time, the punches are just jokes and they’re harmless—they’re jokes that are funny, highly inappropriate but ultimately, yes, rather harmless. Shameless is a drama at heart, though it walks the line between that and comedy so often that you could make the case for the latter and I wouldn’t hold it against you, and the genius in the jokes is that they make the viewers complicit in them. We all know someone who’s said some of these things, or done those things, or we’ve all thought these things or maybe even said it…and so we laugh. Because Gary, in Indian, is still Gary.
But in ‘There’s The Rub,’ it felt like the entire episode was just one continuous punch where Wells spares none of the characters. In ‘Strangers On A Train,’ Lip Gallagher (played by Jeremy Allen White) finally gets the break he thinks he deserves and finally is “at ease” when he must go back to a more private space—Chicago, and the Gallagher household.
He’s back because he is looking for his brother Ian, who has apparently enrolled under his name and social security number, deserted and stolen a helicopter—because Shameless. Back in Chicago, he realizes that not much has really changed at the house except for the fact that everyone, himself included, is growing apart. It’s not her house but the Gallaghers’ that Sheila (played by Joan Cusack) can never leave—and it’s not due to her phobia but rather that she’s the lone responsible adult.
Fiona is busy working, or boning the guy at work, Sheila is babysitting Liam, and Frank is using Carl, so Lip brings Debbie along with him. His sister is at that point where she’s “expressing (herself) creatively,” but all Lip sees is scrapbooking. He knows better so he has Debbie Gallagher (played by Emma Kenney) tag along as they search for the most infamous redhead in America (i.e. just a hunch).
The punch comes when they see Ian Gallagher (played by Cameran Monaghan) working in Boys’ Town. He’s a special one, this one (i.e. just ask Jimmy’s dad/Ian’s former boyfriend), but what’s special is how distant he acts with his two siblings—he’s also high on cocaine, but Debbie doesn’t know that. She does know a bit more about life however, and she’s plenty happy to tell Lip. The scene in the subway, when she tries to understand how sometimes the only thing that isn’t a problem is the sex when it was all it was for her, is full of tenderness and love in an episode that is otherwise depressing.
In fact, that scene was probably inserted as a counterpoint to the mess that was the trifecta of Sammi, Frank and Carl. At first, Frank Gallagher (played by William H. Macy) sees his ‘oldest daughter‘ as nothing more than “an organ farm,” because he really needs a liver more than he needs another daughter.
But Sammi Gallagher (played by Emily Bergi) soon falls for Frank’s con as well, arguing that she’ll settle for a dad.
But Sammi doesn’t know that yet. Frank is a family man after all, and that’s what appeals to her.
Carl Gallagher (played by Ethan Cutkosky) takes that lesson hard. He was the last remaining member of the family who still believed in Frank as something of a paternal figure. He had helped him find the next hit of booze, or meds, every time that he could, and even did a little bit of biology. If Frank’s fracture is “an aerial photo of Ground Zero,” it’s because of Carl. And he didn’t even put it on YouTube!
In ‘There’s The Rub,’ Carl is heartbroken by the one person he loves because he had the youthful innocence of mistaking attention for love, of thinking when all Frank wanted was to “hit the road” and “find out what this foot is worth.”
Considering that this is Shameless, no doubt that Frank is in for a rude awakening—if he even does wake up in the next episode.
Sometimes in Shameless, the punches are actual punches too. This was the case for Robbie (played by Nick Gehlfuss), who receives a nice hook from his brother Mike (played by Jake McDorman). Robbie is an addict and will stop at nothing for his next hit of chaos and mayhem, even ruining the relationship that his brother and Fiona had while also planting the evidence of the crime in the Gallagher household—though Fiona herself is far from faultless in this ordeal.
And because we’re the viewers, and because every last one of them hurts, today I fight back.
Now, let me make the case. Sheila in undeniably a wonderful character that’s played with such subtlety by Joan Cusack. And when you have a Joan Cusack on your show, you do everything in your power to keep her. Other characters like Mickey Milkovich (played by Noel Fisher) and Kevin (played by Steven Howey) have become less dependent on the Gallaghers and more so on rubs and tugs, so long as there is a sidewalk “to walk into (his) bar.”
Not Sheila, who’s a character with little storyline. She’s living at the Gallaghers’ house practically, with her daughter and her sex-addict-in-remission husband having moved out. Maybe it’s better without Sheila, because you can’t keep her if all you’ll do is have her mingle with fake Christians who want “to meet nice white women.” You can’t have her on a date (at the Gallaghers!) and be willing to learn “all about the culture” that *inaudible* raped *inaudible* her aunt. Sheila deserves better—though this being Showtime, the character is going nowhere.
And yet there may still be a point to Sheila, and that’s to babysit Liam. Somehow, Sheila is the lone responsible adult.
While the punches are sometimes literal, they hurt so much more when they’re not.
It turns out that it’s not for long, though Fiona (played by Emmy Rossum) did hold her part of the bargain. Except that you can’t bargain with an addict like Robbie.
Life in Shameless is pain. You’re a Gallagher and, though have dreams you’re not allowed to dream. (From The Wire. I’ll pat my own back.) You’re not allowed until the day that you are. Then you have to dream, and you have to chase your dreams, but dreaming creates expectations. And expectations are scary. Fiona doesn’t think that she “deserved any of it” and she indeed didn’t. But deserve has nothing to do with it. Somehow you get things, and it’s up to you to decide what to make of it.
The rub happens all on Fiona’s birthday and “she’s not in the mood for bad news.” She doesn’t want to celebrate, especially not after the day she’s had, but it doesn’t mean that her friend Veronica (played by Shanola Hampton) still hasn’t organized a birthday party. Likewise, Fiona is not addicted to cocaine, but she’ll sure have some on her birthday.
And when she’s cuffed and crying on the backseat of a police car, so are we.