Shameless Season 5 Episode 8 Review: “Uncle Carl” (Another Critic’s Take)


One of Shameless‘ undeniable strengths is that, within each episode, EVERYTHING seems to happen. Multiple meaty story arcs moving in parallel, hitting the right notes, comprise every installment, and as a result, the series hardly has a forgettable chapter. Given its populous ensemble, and that the Shameless is more than halfway into its fifth season, it is remarkable that it still works as a well-oiled machine, even during those times when the writers decide to break our hearts, and there are plenty of those. 

“Uncle Carl” had a lot going on, divorce (on two fronts), gentrification, incarceration of a minor, incrimination, failure to pay tuition, medication being flushed, a fake illness, a halfway confession of love, etc.. As I stated previously, Shameless episodes are saturated with storylines, none of which were neglected this week. 

Perhaps one of the show’s most heart-wrenching arcs is Ian’s, as this week he is finally released from the psych ward, a place where Fiona and Lip, who pick him up, are too familiar with, a place that is tied to their upbringing. The entirety of the sequence is sad. These kids have gone through so much because their parents are reckless, and in a big part because Monica is bi-polar, and now Ian has inherited the disorder. 

The oldest Gallaghers are informed that Ian’s release is contingent on taking a cocktail of different medications daily, and once at home, Fiona delegates the task to medicate the ginger to Debbie.  This action is a good reminder of the kind of childhood the Gallaghers endured. 

The welcome party does not go out as planned. To begin with, Ian is over-medicated and all he wants to do is sleep. Moreover, Mickey is MIA. When Fiona announces that she will move back to the house to help, Sammi also freaks out and tries to persuade her not to change residence, using as an argument that she’d be endangering her new marriage. As if that union wasn’t doomed already. Hearing that Fi got hitched surprises Frank, who acts indignant. Family reunions are always tricky; the Gallagher kind, even more so.

After Carl accidentally wakes up Ian, the still groggy young adult makes his way downstairs and takes advantage of an infatuated Debbie, who is texting her new boyfriend, Derek. He tiptoes into the kitchen and grabs his pill bottles; he then empties the contents. Debbie realizes that he is gone and that there isn’t a single pill left and rushes outside in his pursuit. She finds her brother smoking outside, with his eyes on the horizon, still a little out of sorts. He confesses that the pills make him feel awful, therefore he flushed them down the toilet. As a side note here, please give Cameron Monaghan ALL of the awards. That kind of performance should not be unnoticed. 

Debbie blames herself for Ian’s medication being gone and show up at Fiona’s job. She’s desperate, crying; she admits she was not paying attention. It’s a reminder of how young she is and how many responsibilities she has. Like every other girl her age, she should be able to text her boyfriend without the risk of a relative overdosing or disposing of controlled substances. Yet this is the hand she’s been dealt. 

The two (legitimate) Gallagher girls attempt to get a refill; however, the pharmacist refuses to assist them without a prescription. The employee is plainly following the law, even when that implies a danger, which is an interesting can of worms that Shameless subtly opened. 

Back at the Gallagher house, Fiona confronts Ian about the demise of the pills and labels his actions “a full-on Monica move,” which is accurate but brutal. Ian, who is still resisting his diagnosis retorts with a stinger. He wants the same support Fiona got when she got arrested. Remembering she, too, has a dark side, he claims:, “I’m not Monica any more than you are.” He’s not 100% wrong, as they both have put a child in harm’s way. 

Powerless, and once her boss’s words to fight for her marriage sink in, Fiona tries to salvage whatever she believes to be alive between her and Gus. In spite of a heartfelt apology and her good intentions, Gus basically announces that the spell has wore off. He will go on tour, and she will continue to do damage control. They had an intermission marriage, only good between acts. And she let Jimmy go!

Debbie is guilt-stricken, which prompts her to exhaust all her options to get Ian’s refill. First, she goes to Mickey’s house and asks for help, then lectures him about his disappearing act. Still empty handed, the teenager goes to the hospital and fakes a psychotic breakdown, which lightens the intensity of the situation. The performance is humorous, albeit ineffective since Debbie does not get the prescription.

Even though she fails to replace the drugs, Debbie helps Ian, by default, when Mickey finally goes to see Ian. He just holds him and makes zero remarks about his condition or the drugs, which might be exactly what Ian needs.

In the plethora of background plots, Carl gets a promotion after a drug runner takes a bullet and gets the assignment to do a delivery in Michigan. Taking advantage of his son biting off more than he can chew, and seeing an opportunity to get rid of Sammi, Frank advises Carl to bring his nephew with him to Michigan, in order to throw the police off his scent. Carl follows the suggestion, but Ike always, there was a catch. The Gallagher patriarch made an anonymous call to the police, ratting the boys out. Bottom line: Sammi’s son gets caught carrying drugs taped to his stomach while Carl flees the scene. 

Sammi is off Frank’s back because she needs to get her son out of trouble, which leads to the police breaking into the Gallagher residence to arrest Carl, who while being caught  brilliantly delivers: “Don’t shoot. I’m white.”

Another subplot is Lip’s, whose entrepreneurial side comes to the surface in light of his tuition drama. He suggest Kevin that they sell pot at his college. The new dad is reluctant at first but then agrees and moves into the dorms. He and Lip party with different fraternities and get an obscene amount of cash. 

Although Lip gets profit, he still doesn’t have enough to cover tuition and is advised  to take a semester off, which prompts a heartfelt speech  out of him. He feels guilty that he is not helping at the house but staying in school is his investment in his and the Gallagher family’s future. His words are perfectly fitting, and resonant with reality. Many kids, like Lip, just can’t seem to catch a break to get a chance to build a future. The adviser is moved but only grants him an extra week to pay what he owes. 

As over the top as Shameless can be, the writers have found the show’s sweet spot, where they can interject a perfectly realistic situation without hyperbole; Lip’s story line is a perfect example. We all love tales of underdogs, yet few people help actual underdogs. 

With Fiona and Gus on the rocks, the one (barely) standing marriage on Shameless has an interesting development. Given the fact that Kev is temporarily at Lip’s campus and misses his daughters, he calls Svetlana for an update and tells her to inform V that he needs her to cover his shift at The Alibi; in addition, he asks her to help his wife the way she needs. The message gets lost in translation, which results in The Alibi because being trashed, and Svetlana performing “wifely duties” on V, who goes along with it and then even asks her unlikely new BFF and lover for maternal advice. The end result of the interaction between the two of them was priceless.

In parallel, V has decided, against Fiona’s advice, to go on a date with a former beau, but she ends up taking off as the man is very forward and makes advances from the get-go. The new mother of twins realizes she and her husband need to work on their family; however, when she calls him, he is fast asleep, next to a sorority girl. Marriage, meet more rocks. 


– The writing and the acting. It is a bit global for a highlight, but it cannot go unmentioned. The depths this episode of Shameless digs into are fascinating. Both the drama and the comedy front were attacked with the tenacity of a brain surgeon, and every narrative choice made paid off. The actors and the writers deserve all the credit they can get; the execution was flawless on every level.

– The gentrification germ that was planted when Sheila sold her house is being explored now, and it stands out as a new topic for the show to tackle. I found it fascinating that for the locals, what would normally be considered improvements, are more of an invasion.

Once again, this force of nature of a series demonstrates that Shameless has an identity and that it is able to leave an imprint by taking chances. 

What did you think of this week’s episode of Shameless? And check out TVOvermind’s other review of the episode right here.

[Photo via Showtime]

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