Shameless: Character Breakdown in its Truest Sense

If anyone knows how to pick apart every piece of a television character and still make the viewer feel genuine adoration for him/her, it’s the Shameless writers. The best thing about Season 2? They spent enough time in Season 1 creating a certain image for each character that made us fall in love with them; now that the love’s been established, they can completely break down each character and cut them to the core, exposing anger, hatred, and even a little evil. And I’m loving every second of it.

I am mostly referring to Sheila for this most recent episode, but the idea really applies to the entire stellar cast. The show is of course called Shameless, and is therefore unapologetic about its characters’ bad sides and really bad sides. However, we come to love the imperfections, as present as they might be. After all, does anyone you know in real life NOT have any problems? Have you ever met someone who’s NEVER made any mistakes? These characters are human in the truest sense, and I think the utter pathos of the show comes directly from that humanity, perfect in its imperfection.

Feeling feelings for two characters in one freeze frame.

But back to Sheila. This docile, demure woman, who everybody just wants to be happy, turns into a raging bull with an attitude that reaches to Mars and back. And all that is spurned by the great threat to her family: Peggy Gallagher. I think that in Sheila’s little world, she has just never come into contact with someone so outright horrible. (Obviously Frank is the exception to this rule, but he hides it well. And I think sometimes, he doesn’t need to hide anything, because Sheila does bring out something wonderful in him. But the Frank & Sheila discussion is one for another day.)

So you take this overtly kind woman, place her in a room with Peg, and suddenly guns are being waved in the air and people are yelling out, “Your coochie smells like brimstone and sulfur!” In “Parenthood”, Sheila consoles Frank early on in the episode by gently commenting on the fact that if anyone deserves to have cancer, it’s Peg Gallagher. She later faces Peg quite plainly and stoically and tells her that if Peg does indeed have cancer, she hopes it hurts. Sure, I was surprised by these comments. But it was also almost like a breath of fresh air. Like okay, Sheila does have anger in her. She is not always an angelic human being or a doormat.

Of course, the writers knew well enough where to draw the line of how inhumane Sheila can actually be. As soon as she sees Peg in serious pain, she begins to treat her with a bit more compassion. Although, if you saw the ending, you know compassion was the last thing on Sheila’s mind.

Just as the show is breaking down characters and showing us the bad sides of them, they just as easily take the characters we’ve grown to understand are inherently bad, and make us feel for them in a way we never thought possible.

Frank, for example, lost my vote way before Season 2. I mean, the guy is a certified jackass. (Not to say that I don’t love the character. Because I really do. I really love Frank Gallagher and all the depravity in his core.) But ever since his dear old mother came back into the picture, we are absolutely taken aback at how close-minded we were to the fact that somebody did this to him. Somebody raised him to be the way that he is. And once we realize where the problem stems from, we don’t hate Frank as much. (Or love to hate, in my case.)

Frank reflects on his mother's illness and impending death

It’s the same with Peg. She exudes evil when we first meet her. But her little bonding moments with Carl, and her many scenes in this episode with Sheila and Jody, humanize her just enough to make us feel a tiny bit sad that she’s gone. But only a tiny bit.

I have to say that Jody falls under this category as well. First, it’s important to justify the fact that I have always liked Jody. Well, that is, I liked him as soon as he became an actual character on the show, rather than a bulky, shadowy figure leaving Karen’s house every night on a motorcycle. That was, however, the extent of my admiration for the character. But recently, I have begun to appreciate Jody much more. He kind of comes out of nowhere and makes you think, “Huh. I’ve never seen anyone like you before.” He intrigues me, in the simplest sense. And I love that the writers turn him into a sort of punching bag for Karen, because it makes us enjoy him all the more. Despite Jody’s size, he kind of reminds me of an extremely loyal puppy. The Andy Dwyer of Shameless, if you will. And can we just address the fact that he positively must have Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” playing while he has sex? I mean that is just golden material.

Obviously the Gallagher children can easily fall under this category. If the writers spend any time dissecting characters, it’s them. But I thought it important to highlight the supporting characters because they essentially fuel the plot lines for the leading characters. It’s also important to note that Shameless is an ensemble cast. No one character is viewed as a priority over another. And a huge shout out to the writers of the show. All this character development in only 13 episodes per season? You people are a treasure to the television-viewing community.

What do you think about the character development on Shameless? How did you feel about this most recent episode? Any theories about what might happen next, now that a certain wrecking ball has returned?

About Neda

Lover of food, feminism, and television. I walk the fine line between devoted fan and crazy person.

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