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After a brief poll in last week’s recap it seems you guys wanted a mix of straight recap and commentary for these articles. Thanks for the feedback. This week’s episode, “Strangers On A Train,” actually didn’t feature a whole lot of plot so I’m going to recap the entire episode’s plot quickly so we can get on to the real meat of why this episode was, by far, the best of the season.
Although still dating Mike, Fiona continues to have risky sexual relations with his brother Robbie. While he’s catty and not really interested in anything more than a casual fling, this seems to suit Fi just fine as he’s adventurous and naughty in a way that Mike will never be (I can’t see him pleasuring her on a busy subway car, for instance). But after almost getting caught by Mike mid-coitus with his brother, it seems Fiona is starting to come to grips with why she’s drawn to being so sexually aggressive and turned off by the safety and responsibility of a good boyfriend.
It’s in part due to Fiona’s behavior that her only sister Debbie is so anxious to become sexually active herself. Always a bit of a black sheep in the wild Gallagher household, Debbie, in full hormone-fueled teenage rebellion mode, wants so desperate to belong with her friends and her family. In this episode, we see her try even harder to seduce her 20-year-old boyfriend, going as far as to send fake nude selfies. But her boyfriend lets her down easy before they can do the deed by telling her, rightfully so, that she’s just not ready. After finding herself in a bathroom stall with another (presumably virginal) boy her age, Debbie finally realizes that he’s right – she is still a kid and, despite how hard that might be, she has to be true to herself.
Meanwhile it turns out Sammi’s liver isn’t a good match for Frank (who already got the money for the operation by having Carl shatter his leg for the insurance). In a bout of rage, Frank accidentally reveals that he’s her father. This immediately sends Sammi into a rage (“I almost put you in my mouth!” she yells at him) but thankfully her relationship with Frank never got so… Lannister-ish..and the two are able to reconnect one she has calmed down.
While I list these plot points first, much of the episode is actually split between Lip and Mickey Milkovich. Lip, who we learned in the past episode was having trouble adjusting to college life, finds himself unable to manipulate the system the way he could back home and busts a few car windows after a stiff professor won’t let him take a midterm he was six minutes late for. While returning home, he has a quickie with Mandy and a heart-to-heart with Kev who persuades Lip from dropping out of school.
Besides the Debbie plot, my favorite part of the episode deals with Mickey Milkovich who decides to help his Russian hooker wife and unionize the local prostitutes. While the “Abe Lincoln of mouth whores” has his heart in the right place, the mysterious pimp Sasha turns out to be a woman capable of just importing another batch of illegal Russian immigrants to do her dirty work. After much yelling in Russian, it seems Mickey solves their problem by working with Kev to use the Alibi as the hooker’s new home.
In the dek, I said that the letter of the week was G for ‘grow the f*** up,’ a piece of advice that Kev gives Lip late in the episode. But it’s also the theme of “Strangers On A Train,” a show where all the main characters are struggling to follow that advice. Mickey is growing up, trying to make the best out of his fraudulent marriage and fiona is struggling to grow out of her impulsive immunity and fear of commitment that, although well founded (with the exception of her brothers, most of the men in her life have lied and abandoned her) is leading to a self-destruction lifestyle. The same can be said of Lip who self-sabotages himself at nearly every turn. His defenses are so high and his go-f-yourself, free-coasting demeanor so ingrained that the thought of working hard and actually failing is so difficult that he flees the moment things don’t go his way.
In the episode’s best scene, Debbie comes home from an aborted sexual encounter in a dirty bowling alley bathroom and cries into her pillow. So far, this season has really belonged to Debbie, whose search for maturity seems to be the purest form of the narrative running through every Gallagher’s story. Debbie has grown up so much on this show from the little girl who stole a toddler early in the first season – she’s capable of running her own daycare and dealing with the tumultuous up-and-down that comes with life as a Gallagher - but Debbie’s always been the sweetest Gallagher and the most naïve, although not blindly stupid by any means, of her family. But now Debbie is growing up, both physically and mentally. In fact it says a lot about the character, let alone the actress, that we see Debbie in some form of undress for the first time here. While the past seasons of Shameless haven’t been light on nudity, the usage of bared flesh is (usually) done for a specific purpose. Fiona, for instance, seems to be most comfortable in the least amount of clothes, while nudity was used in Ian’s storyline to show his openness with his lover (who, yes, turned out to be Steve’s dad). For the first time here we see Debbie at least partially nude, she takes a couple of selfies for her boyfriend wearing just a bra, a major signal that the second youngest Gallagher is trying to immolate those around her. But it’s also telling that she doesn’t go through with it – the pic she eventually sends is taken from her brother’s porn magazine.
At the end of the episode, in the scene I mentioned earlier, Debbie cries to Fiona that “I wish I could skip the part where I don’t know what to do and get to the part where I do.” It’s a sweet moment, but one that shows just why Debbie isn’t ready to have sex or be an adult. Every single character in this show is stumbling blind (and if the writer can editorialize for a moment, so is the person writing this and, dare I say, everyone reading this too). For Debbie, and for all of us, growing up isn’t about having all the answers; it’s about learning that nobody has them. We all stagger around, bumping into each other in the dark, hoping to be lead in the right path by some invisible string. It's only when you learn this, can you start making your own way in the world.
Shameless airs Sundays on Showtime
Image courtesy Showtime/CBS