S2E6: The sixth episode of Shameless’ sophomore season proves one thing: it’s all our parents’ faults. This week saw the return of two great forces for the Gallagher family: Fiona’s ex, Steve, and the ex-con grandma, Peggy Gallagher. How two people could cause so much of a ruckus would normally be beyond me, but this is the Shameless realm, and here, people are nuts – to put it bluntly. Some folks may have been put off by the side of Frank that his mother unleashes – the side that has a giant, loud-mouthed reason for his wanton behavior – but it didn’t turn him into a totally sympathetic character. He remains a completely pathetic, self-serving bastard – but we at least understand how he got to be that way, and that no matter how terrible he is, there is always someone worse.
“All my life I waited for that phone call: ‘Peggy, he’s not your son, there’s been a mix-up at the hospital.’” -Peggy
For every mark you can make against Frank, double it. Former meth lab matron Peggy Gallagher is released from prison because as the government sees it, she’s about to kick the bucket anyway. But if her stalwart racism, potty mouth and lack of anything even close to decorum are any indication, she’s not one to throw in the towel. The kids have never met Grammy, but when she starts doling out fifties to keep them silent, they’re inclined to think she’s not half bad. But it’s Kev’s reaction that acts a sign of how god-awful she actually is: to put it lightly, Kev hates her. After bribing Kev for the use of his car, Peggy shows up at Sheila’s to make Frank drive her to her “errand” and Sheila’s ecstatic to see her – of course, she’s not excited enough to overcome her fear of places beyond the upstairs section of her house.
And it seems that this episode is determined to rack up the marks on Frank’s record in Sheila's eyes. He begins the episode by trying to convince Sheila to put him in charge of Eddy’s trust, but she shoots that down because she’s no dummy – Frank is an alcoholic. And if his bed-wetting wasn’t enough of a black mark, his mother certainly is. Peggy blasts Frank for being with Sheila while Sheila is listening on the stairs, saying “I’d rather nail a hooker down on Wacker.” Such a delicate flower, that Peggy. Frank does his best to rush her out of there, but the awful conversation continues when Frank tries to tell her about the Gallagher kids – she says she couldn’t care less. And we can see where Frank gets his tendency to abandon his family – she’s just a 100 proof version of that.
Her “errand” is to finalize and extortion plot with a local plastic surgeon. The doctor won’t cave, so she takes Frank to a park and tells him to find two kids from the picture she stole from Dr. Noah’s desk. Just as he berates her for being the terrible kind of human being who would kidnap someone’s kids (but not without a flash of consideration about a possible cut he could get from the deal), she collapses and needs her meds. When she sends him to get her meds, she takes a moment to tell him she wishes he wasn’t her son, and we find more ammunition for Frank’s…condition. He goes to the surgeon to warn him about Peggy’s plan and the doctor gives him all the cash he has – it just happens to be 130 grand less than what Peggy wanted. Frank gives Peggy the money (after skimming a bit off the top) and she’s pissed. She drives a screwdriver into his leg and makes him give her the remainder. All this aggravates her condition, and Frank didn’t get the prescription of course. This offers her one moment of “compassion” in that she chooses to not stab him a second time. Frank’s actions will never be forgivable, but at least it makes sense that he’s such a mess with an ogre like Peggy for a mother.
“You’re married.” –Fiona
“Only legally.” –Steve
Fiona and Steve see each other for a little longer this time when she catches Steve dropping off a bribe at Tony’s house so that he can stay in Chicago without being run back to South America. He takes the opportunity to ask Fiona to get together with him, but she says she’s seeing someone so they decide to double-date with Adam and Steve’s non-English speaking girlfriend. But, the girlfriend is quickly revealed to be a wife, and Fiona storms off in the middle of lunch. And it seems the “to screw or not to screw married men” theme has been working towards this moment, because Steve corners her in the bathroom and they almost consummate their reunion as Steve explains that his marriage is just to keep a South American drug lord from dismembering him. Always a dramatic explanation with this one. And because Shameless’ goal is to keep things messy, Adam of course notices that they both come back from the bathroom disheveled and at the same time and he dumps Fiona and storms out. I’m going to miss guest star James Wolk, but Adam was too much of a nice guy for Fiona anyway. She needs a little danger in her life – even if that danger is a married man who goes by fake name.
"It was those evil Jesus witches; they took her. I know it.” –Kev
Ethel’s sister-wives come to Kev’s to tell Ethel that Clyde was murdered and that they are getting attorneys to try and bring her “home.” Kev is rightfully angry because Ethel is better off with him, but Ethel’s disturbing upbringing has instilled her with the sense that these women are family. But it’s not Kev’s constant worrying that gets through to Ethel - it’s Malik. Ethel thinks her “family” will find her a husband – probably Clyde’s 60 year-old brother – but Malik can’t take it anymore. He says she needs to be independent and take care of her child on her own terms. Later, Ethel is packing in her room and she hides everything before Kev comes into say she can always talk to him about anything if she needs it, and despite her genuine gratitude and the tenderness of the scene, it’s no surprise when she’s gone the next morning. While the police are on the case, V finds Ethel’s farewell note and as she and Kev walk through the backyard to head out and find her, Kev sees that Ethel stole the pot stash he buried at the beginning of the summer. Ethel and Malik sold it to his friends and they are running away together with the cash. Despite the fact that it’s quite literally a story about a 14 year-old girl selling a trash bag of weed and running away from home, it’s kind of adorable. She escapes the legal reach of her sister-wives, and not only is Malik the opposite of the rascal V feared he was, but he turns out to be the best thing for the young fan of pilgrim couture.
“Get her out of here.”-Sheila
“I can’t do that.” –Frank
“Because she would kill me and feast on my flesh.” –Frank
Then comes the wedding reception for Karen and Jody. Lip shows up drunk, fresh off his fruit-flinging display at Ian’s place of work, and ready to give Karen a piece of his mind. He does, and it reeks of bitterness; relinquishing his attempts to be with Karen, Lip tells her she should get an abortion. All this time, I’ve said Lip doesn’t deserve what Karen has done to him, but this was low even for someone as beat-upon as Lip.
Sheila’s having a hard time too – she can’t drink on her medication, but she’s breaking and feels she needs the help. The mixing really opens Sheila up and she airs the family’s dirty laundry, down to Frank potentially being the father of Karen’s baby. This turns into a fight between Sheila and Peggy, and Sheila goes so far as to call Peggy a “a loud, mean vicious bitch.” But Sheila’s bravado doesn’t last long, because Peggy whips out a pistol. Before she can shoot, Steve (who shows up with his Brazilian bride) knocks the gun out of her hand while Frank calls the cops. We think they’re about to catch her with a gun on probation and send her back to prison, but Officer Tony goes outside and tells them to leave. Sorry, Frankie, that would be way too easy and Mama Gallagher is way too good of a pot-stirrer. Later, we see Frank drunkenly stumbling like a lost little boy, standing over his mother with a gun pointed at her head and I was legitimately worried that after the summer he’s had he would actually pull the trigger. He doesn’t – even horrible Frank can’t being himself to take out the she-devil that is his terrible mother.
“It’s tough. My parents suck too.” -Fiona
The next morning, Debbie tells Fiona about Steve’s Lake Shore life, prompting Fiona to leave him quite the voicemail: “Hey, Jimmy, it’s Fiona, I just wanted to say, ‘Go f**k yourself.’” That will certainly get the message across. And as Peggy sits in the kitchen, she hands out gifts to Carl, Debbie and Fiona. Carl gets a video game, Debbie a brand new laptop, and Fiona 500 dollars to help with taking care of the kids – someone got short-changed. Peggy assures Fiona it’s not a bribe, she’s just making up for lost time, but I’m still fairly skeptical, especially after she tells Frank that he “came out a loser.”
And on top of those cruel words, the jig is finally up at Sheila’s. When she announces that Eddy left his money to Karen, which signals that he really did love his daughter, Frank freaks out and Sheila finally gets wise and kicks him out. Then he comes home to a terrible mother. Despite all the horrible things he’s done –and the fact that the Sheila situation was something he brought on himself – you can’t help but feel bad for the poor bastard. Fiona overhears Peggy’s comments and ignores a call from Steve to sit on the steps with Frank and share a beer with him. And that’s what takes this show from hilarious and wildly entertaining to just plain great. At its heart, it has, well, a heart. These nutty Gallaghers maybe be a gale force wind of insanity, but they’re feeling, aching people when it comes down to it. And nothing proves that like the return of the grandmother from hell.
Do you think Peggy is going to be around for a while? Do you think Fiona and Steve will find a way around his marriage of requirement? How adorable is it that Debbie is so protective of her big sister? Let me know in the comments or get at me on Twitter. @KelseaStahler
Based on H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's bestselling book of the same name Friday Night Lights tells the true story of the dusty West Texas town of Odessa where nothing much happens until September rolls around. That's when the town's 20 000 or so denizens pour into Ratliff Stadium the country's biggest high school football field every Friday night to watch the Permian Panthers Odessa's "boys in black " take to the field. All the town's hope and dreams are pinned on the padded shoulders of these young gridiron heroes--including insecure quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black); cocky self-assured running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke); headstrong self-destructive tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) who must contend with an overbearing abusive dad (Tim McGraw--yes that Tim McGraw the country singer); and the team's spiritual leader middle linebacker Ivory Christian (newcomer Lee Jackson). The Panthers begin their season with one thing on their minds--winning their fifth straight championship for the first time in the team's 30-year history--but for their coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) it also means instilling a love and joy of the game in the boys' hearts amidst tremendous pressures and expectations. Easier said than done.
There isn't a false note in any of the performances and no one falls back on clichéd versions of their characters as is so easy to do in rah-rah sports movies. Thornton does a particularly good job as Gaines keeping you guessing whether he's going to be a hardass insensitive to his players' emotional needs (like so many movie football coaches before him) or if he truly means to coach his boys in a fair and decent way. Gaines too has to deal with his own pressures especially from the townsfolk who are likely to string him up if the team loses the championship. As for Gaines' players Black (the oh-so-serious kid from Thornton's Sling Blade) is all grown up and buffed out and still very serious. It works for the young actor though as the beleaguered Winchell struggles with the love-hate relationship he has with his chosen sport. Other standouts include Luke (Antwone Fisher) as the star player Boobie whose cocksureness leads him to an injury; Hedlund as the volatile Billingsley trying desperately to please his father; and McGraw making his film debut as the father a former Permian Panther champion who sure hasn't given up his competitive spirit basically beating it into his son. First Faith Hill (McGraw's real-life wife) in The Stepford Wives and now McGraw--who knew country singers could act?
From All the Right Moves to Varsity Blues to Remember the Titans Friday Night Lights unfortunately doesn't completely distinguish itself from the pack of football movies before it--like those this is all about how the young players--be they underdogs second-string nobodies or stars--rising above the mounting pressure and playing the best they can bless their hearts. Still there's no question the sports genre--particularly football--always gets the juices pumping with FNL being no exception. It might have something to do with our sick fascination with watching bone-crunching hits and body-punishing tackles. It's dangerous out there for these guys; no other sport (besides maybe hockey) can elicit such wince-inducing emotion and actor/director Peter Berg (The Rundown) exploits that. Obviously influenced by Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday Berg effectively paints his own gritty documentary-style picture of the competitive sport without relying on too many trite gushy over-the-top moments. And to give it credit the film does not necessarily have a feel-good "let's win one for the Gipper" ending; it is based on a true story after all and as we know real life isn't all sunshine and roses especially in the bloodthirsty world of Texas high school football.
Dr. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife Ruth (Sissy Spacek) are throwing a summer barbecue at which their lone prodigy Frank (Nick Stahl) is proudly showing off his summer romance. Ruth vehemently disapproves: Natalie (Marisa Tomei) is an older single mother of two who is not quite divorced from the dark abusive Richard Strout (William Mapother) whose family runs their town of Camden Maine. For Frank Natalie is someone to keep the pipes greased before he heads off to study architecture at graduate school in the fall. Maybe. Frank is thinking of getting serious with Natalie and ditching school if Natalie would have him but there's that not quite ex-husband to deal with. The not quite ex-husband ends up killing Frank (this is supposed to be a plot twist but is the only action in the first two hours of the movie) which leads to much soul searching for Matt and Ruth--the raison d'etre of the movie.
With all due respect to Spacek who's been receiving a lot of Oscar buzz for her turn it's really Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty Wilde The Patriot) who gives the most outstanding astonishing performance in this film. Matt's stilted missteps at each and every turn are so human so real you empathize with the pain he's feeling while you cringe at his every inappropriate action. An Academy win for Wilkinson seems more than merited though likely won't happen. Marisa Tomei is as good as she's ever been in the role of Frank's lover Natalie. The emotional tug-of-war in her relationship with Nick is clear on her face and the distress of never getting Ruth's approval is deafening. Spacek has a hard time claiming even the second-best performance of the film but she is compelling as Ruth the kind-hearted high school teacher who's become more closed and unforgiving than she ever imagined. You can see Spacek shutting down as her world crumbles around her. William Mapother and Nick Stahl do fine jobs with their (relatively) limited characters especially Mapother who is sufficiently creepy and desperate as Natalie's husband.
An actor turned director Todd Field wastes the fine performances in his debut film. Field seemingly likes to impart significance in the mundane moments of real life which works only sporadically. Field's direction is similar to Matt's reaction to his son's death: all of his actions seem stiff and mannered and when he does do something appropriate it's a complete accident. Worse Field leaves no room for character development only letting the characters descend further and further into despair ultimately turning the film into an art house Death Wish. (With apologies to Charles Bronson.) Given the supposed strength of the Maine proletariat it would have nice to see Matt and Ruth Fowler struggle against their evil inclinations before giving in so completely. Under Field's helming the film flounders at inopportune moments rendering the story utterly meaningless.