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What’s going on with television lately? Two days ago I had to review a particularly depressing episode of Spartacus, and now here I am writing about possibly the most disturbing Shameless episode we’ll ever see. Does TV have a case of the winter doldrums or something? Granted, in true Shameless fashion the episode had its comedic highs and dramatic lows. But man, were the lows low. Unlike Spartacus, they didn’t seem all that necessary, but it certainly made for compelling television.
The main plot of “Cascading Failures,” as you may remember from last week, is that the kids have been sent to foster homes. We get to see slices of each Gallagher’s temporary new life, as well as Fiona’s desperate attempt to reclaim her family. And it’s a pretty solid (and almost realistic) plot. While the Gallagher kids’ situations aren’t ideal, none of them are truly terrible. Yes, Lip and Ian are placed in a group home that seems more like prison than foster care. But they adjust well enough. And Debbie’s placement with a woman who uses her for free labor is rough, but it’s not much different from her job running the daycare. Carl and Liam actually get placed into a really nice home with an affluent gay couple who are hell-bent on adopting them.
But here’s where I felt things got a little…fictional. This gay couple are so desperate for a “mixed-race” baby that they go ahead and file adoption papers for both Liam and Carl right away in that episode. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that’s even legal. After all, the records will show that the situation is temporary and that Frank is attempting to get them back. I don’t think filing for adoption is even an option at this point. It seems like the writers just needed a little threat looming in the background and stuck this couple in to fill that role. And it seems like they don’t even care that Fiona is fighting to get them back. It just all seems a little unrealistic.
But I digress. The foster care plot isn’t the problem here; it’s the side plots that made me cringe. The worst being that of Kevin and Veronica. You probably remember that they’ve been trying for quite a while now to have a baby, and even have resorted to the turkey-baster method with Veronica’s mother. Though that was bizarre? Well folks, “Cascading Failures” is where things truly get weird. Fed up with the failure of every other method, Veronica forces Kevin and her mother to actually have sex. With each other. And when it doesn’t work, she essentially has a threesome with them to make it happen. In what messed up universe is this necessary? What woman would ever want a child bad enough to have a threesome with her husband and her mother? And why would anyone ever agree to that insane proposal? There was absolutely no reason for this to happen. Yes, it shows just how desperate they are, but holy crap, tone it down a little. The turkey-baster would have worked fine.
And then there’s the equally disturbing Ian-Mickey plot. Ian sneaks out of the group home to spend a weekend with Mickey while his father is gone, and predictably they spend the whole time watching action movies and having sex. But, also predictably, Mickey’s father comes home, beats the crap out of them, and hires a prostitute to have sex with Mickey while Ian watches. It’s really heartbreaking to see, because these two have been through so much already, but it’s also incredibly unsettling. But I would argue that this creepy scene is absolutely necessary. Mickey’s father was bound to find out, and I was actually expecting much worse reaction physically. But instead Mr. Melkovich opts for the one thing we’d never expect from him: psychological warfare. It turns him into a formidable enemy, and hurts Ian much worse than a beating ever could. Unlike the Kevin-Veronica grossness, this has an important purpose, and I think it hit the nail on the head.
Make sure to have a fun activity lined up after watching this episode, because it’ll definitely leave you with the same icky feeling one gets from watching Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream. Of course, there are bits of comedy to balance it out (like Sheila’s impersonation of Frank’s estranged wife) but that threesome scene will stick with you for a while.