This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 11 Episode 9
“The only thing that’s permanent is impermanence. Change is the only constant…”
Change is not an easy thing. This entire farewell season of Shameless has functioned as an examination of change from many different angles, but the characters have reached a point where they have to stop running and confront these developments now that there are only three episodes left in the series.
“Survivors” is a busy episode that puts every character outside of their comfort zone and in the middle of transformations of various severities.
Kevin taking over parenting duties for an afternoon or Carl’s transfer to another police department are hardly as drastic as Vee’s mother moving from Chicago or the ultimate fate of the Gallagher home, but they all light a fire under everyone in the same way. The Gallaghers are a resilient family of lovable cockroaches, but “Survivors” pushes the message that if you don’t move with the changes then the changes will definitely move you.
The past few episodes of Shameless have largely been preoccupied with the sad decline of Terry Milkovich, which has also functioned as a strong counterpoint to the Gallaghers’ own situation with Frank’s health. Terry is now gone, but his spirit heavily lingers in “Survivors” and it drives forward some of the episode’s most rewarding material. Mickey casually echoed the sentiment, “family is family,” a few episodes back and Terry’s death has prompted Mickey to truly stand by these words. It leads to some growth that surprises Mickey more than anyone and he’s constantly at odds with the confusing and raw feelings that bombard him all episode.
Mickey is typically one of Shameless’ broader characters and this season has thrown him into several caricature-like situations that take advantage of his no filter attitude. Sincerity is not typically the character’s strong suit, yet Mickey’s free floating grief over his dad is actually compelling, new territory for him. He and Ian involve themselves with an earnest and sweet story that does manage to humanize Terry in a way and almost act as an “origin story” for his despicable racism.
Some of Noel Fisher’s best work from the entire series is in this episode as he wistfully reminisces over horrendous moments from his childhood. It becomes a little repetitive, but Ian’s deadpan reactions to Mickey’s “precious moments” all land and it’s a refreshing change of pace to have Ian act as this grounded foil. Mickey’s turn as the sympathetic one in this adventure is also the right approach. Mickey and Ian’s characterization was a little questionable at the start of this season, but it’s comforting to see these past few episodes really hit the sweet spot of their relationship.
Frank launches into an important chapter from his past just as Ian and Mickey get to learn more about Terry’s younger years. Frank’s plan is considerably more maudlin than Terry’s elegy over unrequited love. The idea that Lip is selling the house stays in Frank’s head long enough that he launches a scheme to get the necessary money to just purchase the house himself. Frank has been involved with lots of ridiculous shenanigans over the course of Shameless, but none have been as deluded as a plan to rob the Art Institute of Chicago. This would be a near impossible task for even an accomplished thief, so a severely impaired Frank doesn’t seem like he has the best odds of turning this scheme into a reality.
“Survivors” has some fun as Frank tries to get the (literally) old gang back together, but this wild pipe dream transforms into a morbid reality check for Frank. He’s surrounded with signs of decay and he’s unexpectedly forced to come to terms with how he’s also at the end of his rope. Frank gets caught up on if he’ll still have an effective wheelman for his art heist when he should appreciate that he somehow still has people in his corner that care about him. Frank’s family is infinitely more valuable than some treasure.
Some of the most interesting moments from this season of Shameless involve Frank’s frailty and how everyone treats him after they become aware of his diagnosis. It gives each of his interactions a little extra impact and pathos. “Survivors” chips away at the idea of Frank’s legacy in yet another interesting fashion, yet in the end it seems like he was somehow able to pull off this art heist entirely by himself?
Speaking of crime, Lip was fully at odds with Brad in the previous episode and ready to take things into seriously dark territory, but now they’re pulled together more tightly than ever before. Their volatile situation becomes even more combustible after they learn that their former employer has deep ties with the mafia because it seems like 90% of Chicago is corrupt according to this season of Shameless. The awkward Godfather-esque music cue that’s used when Lip and Brad meet the crime family also doesn’t improve upon the scenario in the way that the episode thinks that it does. It’s a very unusual way to seemingly resolve the heavy danger that’s followed Lip for a quarter of the season.
On the other side of the law, Carl’s reckless act of altruism with the vice squad reunites him with his former partner on the eviction squad. It’s nice to have Joshua Malina back in this nebbish role and it seemed strange to just have him pop in for a single episode before. His new zen attitude about destiny raises some superfluous questions for Carl, but the character doesn’t feel that different from before and this material fails to amount to much. Carl’s work for the police has made for rewarding character development, but his constant rotation throughout Chicago’s police departments is beginning to feel repetitive and aimless.
Between Carl’s work on the eviction unit and the prospect of the Gallagher house going up for sale there’s a lot of focus on whether the lack of a home means the lack of a family. Vee finds herself in a situation that oddly parallels the Gallaghers’ current instability when her mom moves away from Chicago and tries to establish new roots in Louisville. Vee is mostly critical that her mother’s actions are impulsive and that they won’t last. She worries about losing a connection with her mother and it becomes another situation where everyone is so caught up on what they might lose that they lose stock of what they already have. Veronica’s maturity with her mother gets juxtaposed with Kevin’s complete regression and failure to parent for less than 24 hours. It does not go well and it’s slightly misguided that this parental disaster ends as a punchline and not a cautionary tale.
Vee’s mom has a fancy new house in Louisville, but Liam is still left worrying if he’ll have any home at all if the Gallagher residence goes on the market. In perfect Liam fashion he attempts to resolve his paranoia over the future in a manner that’s more professional than every other Gallagher. There’s an inherent comedic nature during Liam’s attempts to get put into a foster home or become adopted so that he’ll have a place to live after his house gets sold.
They’re exaggerated moments, but Liam’s concern is very real and it remains impressive to see how self-sufficient he’s become. He continually thinks rationally about the future while his siblings ward off the mob and pray that they don’t have any sexually-transmitted diseases. Honestly, put Liam in charge of the family and they’ll be thriving within six months.
All of the chaos in “Survivors” begins and ends because of Lip’s stubborn attitude over selling the house. Lip’s insistence to force his family to move just because his life is imploding is still super problematic, but thankfully everyone finally just talks to each other and gets their fears and doubts out in the open. The final moments of “Survivors” are genuinely nice and it’s long overdue that Lip actually communicates and listens to the people that he cares about.
It’s really sweet that Lip promises Liam that he’ll be a part of his home and that the family’s sense of community isn’t going to change, even if their living arrangements do. However, this is also something that should have happened at the same time as Lip’s initial proposal to sell the house rather than the renegade sledgehammer that went through the wall. It’s led to a few episodes of unnecessary drama, but the Gallaghers are at least on a collective front now as the series heads into its final three episodes.
“Survivors” is a confident step forward for Shameless. It figures out how to balance the series’ more tender sensibilities with the wackier antics that were more prominent during the show’s earliest seasons. Characters operate as functional units and finally listen to each other before they’re left with fractured relationships that no longer feel like a family. There’s still a lot of growing up to do, but not that everyone’s on the same page and working towards a common goal it actually feels like Shameless might end in hugs rather than heartbreak.