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Can Any ‘Shameless’ Gallagher Truly Become More Than Their DNA In ‘Mo White’?

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A Shameless recap with hefty spoilers will be found below…

“Gallaghers don’t sponsor, they get sponsored. It’s in our DNA.” — Lip

The recent Shameless season premiere set up most characters for unlikely success and probable failure in their continuing Sisyphusian struggles. The shambolic antics continued in episode two, “Mo White,” but only one of the Gallaghers’ happenings was truly compelling and worthy of examination. This wouldn’t be, as the episode title indicates, pathetic patriarch Frank, who goes on a white-power bender to boost a local political candidate (from whom the episode takes its name), so he could pocket donations. The other characters remain mostly stationary in terms of last week’s assigned rankings (Ian’s Gay Jesus persona is starting to annoy even Ian), and although Fiona’s arc will heat up, episode two largely belongs to the eldest Gallagher son, Lip.

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Lip’s saga has arguably been the most heartbreaking of the series, and actor Jeremy Allen White has been down a complex road with his character, who may end up being tasked with holding the family together after the seemingly indispensable Fiona departs at the end of the season. We’ve seen Lip reeling from anguish during the fallout of truly destructive relationships. He’s hit alcoholic rock bottom multiple times, yet he’s been entirely sober for over one season while watching his college mentor and AA sponsor go off the rails. Lip entered this season in precarious condition after admitting that he didn’t know himself, a realization that can lead to hellish places, especially after the premiere showed him being publicly humiliated by a messy hookup.

Then something unexpected happened. Whereas the old Lip would have barrelled straight into a downward spiral with his battered ego, the experience appears to have done something positive — given him the incentive to put in the difficult work of getting to know himself. Indeed, the new-and-improving Lip seems to have already forgotten being told, “You f*ck for sh*t.” He’s not only keeping up with his AA meetings, but he’s starting to realize that he’s taken on too much responsibility by becoming a surrogate dad to Xan. Then a gut-wrenching turn of events at an AA meeting begins yet another transformation for Lip when a homeless single father shares with the group for the first time. The distraught fellow, Jason, knows hard times all too intensely. His baby’s mother has fallen out of the picture, and he’s been unable to hold down a job or access homeless shelters as a single dad. And when Jason approaches Lip after the meeting with a request to be his sponsor, this sets up a tricky dilemma for a Gallagher. Lip, at first, accurately recognizes that he no longer has any spare part left of himself to give. “I’ve got enough people that need me,” he insists even as his old sponsor, Brad, urges him to reconsider.

Lip then takes a healthy step back and interprets the situation with nuance. He concludes that stepping up for Jason can be an integral part of his own continuing progress, as long as Lip maintains appropriate boundaries (in other words, stick to being an an AA sponsor and maybe take him out for dinner, but don’t take on all of Jason’s troubles by letting him crash at the Gallagher home). A key talk helps Lip make his decision: As Brad points out, Lip’s already acted like a sponsor (twice) without realizing it, and he’s simply afraid of the label. Lip argues, “Gallaghers don’t sponsor, they get sponsored. It’s in our DNA.” And Brad fires back with — as far as this show is concerned — the ultimate comeback: “Well, maybe you’re more than your DNA.”

This statement may seem like a throwaway line, but it’s actually what the past few seasons have been building to, not only for Lip but most of the siblings and especially Fiona. While there’s still no hope for her addiction to bad men (including those wearing “good guy” disguises), she’s coming damn close to moving away from the Gallagher financial fate. She’s staked a claim in a legit investment group after refusing to be written off as “dollar store trash.” She’s turned profits on two properties and moved out of the family home. Yet it’s a real question whether Fiona, or anyone, can ever shake off the Gallagher mindset — the one where indulging in one’s own drug of choice (in her case, troubled or troubling men) leads back into self-annihilating behaviors.

I suspect that Fiona’s current relationship could topple her house of cards — she keeps selecting partners who are essentially different iterations of her grifter dad, and Ford appears intent upon undermining her business sense — but Lip? He has a fighting chance at breaking free from the Gallagher curse while becoming an individual apart from the dysfunctional unit. That’s the ultimate goal for many in recovery and one that Shameless has resisted for nearly a decade (because the show’s format lends itself to Frank inevitably destroying any character’s chances at happiness, as he did with Liam this episode), but finally, one character might get (and stay) there.

Of course, this could all fall apart when Fiona leaves at the end of the season, increasing the burden on Lip. But maybe this season is all about putting him in a stronger place, so that future challenges aren’t as debilitating. Lip no longer feels compelled to take the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelfth Step so literally that it consumes him. Previously, Lip fully tried to control others’ self-destructive tendencies, which never works. He did so in order to avoid his own problems, and while viewing the possibility of his own relapse in textbook terms, he fretted that helping Jason would be a slippery slope. There’s always a chance that a Gallagher will stumble again, repeatedly, but for now, Lip’s got this.

Shameless airs on Sundays at 9pm EST on Showtime.

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