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Sly Cooper and Questionable Children’s Media Heroes

Brion

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(Spoilers for the entire Sly Cooper series).

This one might be a slight bit controversial. Sly Cooper is the beloved star of an equally beloved series of children’s games. It is probable that anyone who has ever played these games has never gotten the impression that Sly is in any way a bad guy.

Children’s media is often given a short shift. There is a prevailing notion that because this art is being designed for children to consume, there is no need to put in a lot of effort. This is a poor attitude that can lead to some ill-thought out story elements creeping in.

I intend on illustrating this problem by taking a look at the progression of Sly Cooper’s character motivations. As deadlines became tighter between games, Sly’s heroism started to fade away and be replaced by unfeeling recklessness regarding his friends. Of course none of this was intentional; that is what worries me.

Like Clockwerk

Sly Cooper has a tragic backstory. Born into a family of career thieves, his parents were murdered by the vengeful Clockwerk when he was a young boy. He grew up in an orphanage, made life-long friends in the form of Bentley and Murray, yet lived every day knowing that Clockwerk was committed to wiping out the entire Cooper family.

So committed to this goal is Clockwerk (yes that is really how to spell his name) that he has encased his body in soulless machinery. Now more robot than man (or whatever evil bird he is supposed to be exactly), Clockwerk is essentially immortal. If left unchecked he will forever exist to menace Sly and the world at large.

What choice did Sly have put to fight back? Determined to live up to his family name, he becomes a master thief and eventually seeks out Clockwerk. Helped all the way by his two best friends, at the end of the first game he succeeds in defeating his great nemesis. At long last Sly can sleep safe at night.

All is well that ends well, right? Sly has gone on a fairly typical hero’s journey, from tragic beginnings to a victorious end. Indeed, if the original game had not spawned sequels, there would be no need to write this article. Yet it did, and the writer’s began losing sight of what exactly makes for a heroic protagonist.

Wikipedia tells me this is an owl. I’ve got nothing.

Round Two

Dropping your nemesis in a volcano is usually the best way to end things, but unfortunately Clockwerk is made of indestructible metal. The remains of his body (hitherto referred to as ‘Clockwerk Parts’) are reassembled and put on display. This terrifies Sly; what if Clockwerk fully reformed?

A plan is hatched to break into the museum and steal the parts. Unfortunately Sly has been beaten to the punch by the infamous Klaww Gang. This continental criminal organisation has split the Clockwerk Parts between themselves and are using them to further their own illegal activities. Sly and the gang resolve to steal the parts from each of the members in turn.

Clockwerk can only reform if all of his parts are put back together. This is a pertinent piece of information which hangs over every following action in which Sly engages. Provided the parts are kept separate, Clockwerk can never be a threat again.

The Klaww Gang have split up the parts and scattered them to the four corners of the Earth. Sly fails to realise that his mission is already accomplished. One could argue that he needs the peace of mind, given that these nefarious types might one day reunite the parts, so it would make perfect sense for him to steal one of these parts. If he could just lay his hands on any single one of the parts and hide it away forever, Clockwerk could never haunt him again.

Obviously he decides to collect them all; otherwise there would be no story and conversely no game. The obvious need for the developers to structure the game around numerous heists means the characterisation suffers. Not only is Sly acting against his best interests, he is endangering his friends by doing so. This is not how you get a player to view the protagonist as a hero.

Sleeping with the Enemy

Sly is somewhat infatuated by a certain Carmelita Fox. This is more than a little detrimental to his safety as Carmelita is an Interpol Agent tasked with bring him and his friends to justice (they are a criminal organisation, let’s not forget that). In Sly 2 his desire to flirt with Carmelita begin to severely endanger not just his freedom, but the freedom of Bentley and Murray.

During one of the heists the gang needs a lengthy distraction so that Murray can be winched into an occupied ballroom and steal some Clockwerk Parts. It is decided (and never directly stated whose idea it was, but this can only be a Sly brainwave) that the best possible distraction is to amaze the crowd with some incredible dancing. Sly will need a dance partner to pull this off. Who better than the also in attendance Carmelita Fox?

Well, literally anyone. Involving an Interpol Agent who hates you in your heists is generally not advisable. Nor is dancing the best way to distract a ballroom full of people who are also dancing. Really this plan does not hold up to any kind of scrutiny and it only works because presumably everyone at the party was off their faces on hallucinogenic drugs (more on that in a bit). Sly just wanted any excuse to dance with Carmelita.

This is reckless endangerment of his friends for the sake of getting his rocks off. One might argue that Sly is in love with Carmelita and that love makes people to crazy things. Well, if he is in love with Carmelita, then why does he ask Neyla on a date a couple weeks later? This man who just endangered his friends to dance with an Interpol Agent decides to ask out A DIFFERENT INTERPOL AGENT (Sly apparently has a very particular fetish).

There is no romantic way to spin any of this. The developers wanted a smooth protagonist, but actions like this just result in Sly looking selfish and dumb.

Pictured Above: Not the best way of avoiding contact with the police.

The Best Laid Plans…

Where does having romantic dalliances with law enforcement inevitably lead a gang of thieves? Why jail of course! Neyla ‘betrays’ Sly, arresting him and Murray. Though they will eventually all escape (thanks to Bentley, not Sly), that hardly alleviates the trauma Murray was subjected to while imprisoned. Controversial though this opinion might be, it is not necessarily beneficial to the mental well-being of a person to be locked in solitary confinement and fed hallucinogenic drugs.

(Carmelita also ends up losing her job and being imprisoned due to an incriminating photo of her and Sly dancing during the heist. She is then subjected to high-tech attempts at brain-washing. It sure is weird how everyone Sly ‘loves’ keep suffering awful fates because of his actions, isn’t it?)

Soon the gang are back to stealing Clockwerk Parts. Then the inevitable happens. When they have almost amassed all of the parts, one of the members of the Klaww Gang finds their stash and sells them all to the other remaining member. Sly’s master plan of collecting all of the parts to avoid them falling into the wrong hands led straight away to them all falling into the wrong hands.

Which means Sly has risked the lives, the freedom and the mental well-being of his closest friends all in the name of stopping a great threat (which probably would not have emerged) that he ends up ensuring comes to fruition. His recklessness has unleashed a potentially immortal evil being on the world. This no longer sounds like much of a hero’s journey, does it?

Once again the developers just needed some high stakes for their dramatic finale. There is nothing wrong with a heroic protagonist failing; in fact it is a good way of demonstrating their vulnerability. When every action of the protagonist is all for nought, however, and succeeds in achieving the exact opposite of their goal (and this being entirely foreseeable), they do not end up looking much like a hero.

Consequences

Carmelita lost her job, her reputation and was subjected to mind-invasive torture. Murray was also psychologically tortured and even lost the van he has owned since adolescence. Bentley has so far escaped lasting damage. Guess what is about to happen.

After foiling the reanimated Clockwerk’s new master plan (which involved driving the population Paris mad with hallucinogenic drugs. Oh sure, it’s a kids game so they keep calling it ‘illegal spice’, but it is pretty clear the Klaww Gang are running a drug empire), Bentley devises a plan to destroy the menace once and for all. He climbs into the bird’s mouth and rips out the technology that has kept Clockwerk alive all these years.

Then the mouth closes suddenly, shattering Bentley’s legs. Which Murray blames himself for and has a total mental breakdown.

So there we have it. Sly’s grand scheme to pre-emptively stop Clockwerk for a second time (that ended up directly causing his return) ended up permanently paralyzing Bentley and psychologically breaking Murray. Sly, meanwhile, walks away entirely unscathed and immediately does back to flirting with a newly reinstated Carmelita. He disappears into the night without a single lesson learned and the game ends.

All of this assembled proof suggests Sly is a reckless asshole, and these are not even the most questionable acts he has committed. There is a third game in the original series that has not been explored. Surely the developers have learned some kind of lesson by then? Nope, instead they double down on their hero being selfish.

Look on my works ye mighty and despair…

Once More into the Breach

The third Sly game sees the Cooper Gang trying to reclaim the Cooper Vault, the lost sanctum of treasure that the Coopers have been collecting for hundreds of years and…

Wait just a Goddamn minute! In the first game Sly’s life was threatened, so he turned to his friends for help. In the second game Sly was (allegedly) trying to stop an evil menace returning to the world, so he turned to his friends for help. Now he is just trying to get a bunch of money, so he turns to his friends for help. One of these things is not like the others. How the Hell does he justify any of this?

Bentley cannot walk because of Sly’s last adventure. Murray left the gang to try and heal his damaged psyche. Now he’s dragging them into another dangerous adventure where the motivation is simple greed dressed up in ‘preserving the family heirlooms’ (which are stolen, just FYI). There is no hint of self-defence or heroic motivations in this quest. Sly is simply risking his friend’s lives yet again for incredibly selfish reasons.

This what I mean when I talk about Sly being terrible. He is very clearly leaning on his shared history with these people and their obvious affection towards him in order to manipulate them for his own ends. It does not matter how much they might suffer, either physically or psychologically. At the end of the day he will always force them into yet another adventure.

Obviously these are all unintended implications and it is clear the intent was clearly always to create a charming hero. Which Sly is, provided one does not consider his actions all that closely. Children are unlikely to consider the implications of Sly’s rampant selfishness while distracted by an exciting caper. Undoubtedly the likelihood of things going over a kid’s head is what leads developers to being careless.

Sly Romance

At the very end of the third game Sly takes an injury to the head. He immediately takes advantage of this turn of events to claim to have amnesia. This is genius plan for finally having his feelings towards Carmelita reciprocated. He knows that she could never date a criminal, so he pretends he never knew he was one in the first place. Now he just as to lie forever and he will be happy.

The supposed hero has resorted to tricking a woman into a romantic relationship with him by deceitfully feigning mental illness. Let’s all say that again. He has RESORTED TO TRICKING A WOMAN INTO A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM BY DECEITFULLY FEIGNING MENTAL ILLNESS! How can positive consent possibly exist in this relationship? How can this be defined as anything other than serious emotionally abusive behaviour?

Carmelita has no idea what she’s gotten herself into. She genuinely believes that Sly has amnesia, so she tells him that he is her partner in law enforcement, meaning he is finally a proper candidate for her affections, so that she can…

Wait a second. So she comes across a man experiencing memory loss and her first instinct is to essentially brainwash his identity into something more palatable for her tastes? All so she can date him? Okay, Carmelita is also a terrible person. No wonder Sly has always been attracted to her.

By the way, to pull off this plan, Sly immediately abandons Bentley and Murray without explanation. While he does make sure they’re monetarily compensated, he drops his lifelong friends with nary a word to manipulate a woman into loving him through constant lying.

In this case there is no justification for this situation. It is just awful from whatever way you look at it, which is really the logical conclusion for not taking enough care while writing stories for children.

All healthy relationships are built on a foundation of ‘Hey remember that time my criminal plan resulted in you briefly turning you into a gigantic monster and you almost murdered me?’

Conclusion

This whole idea came from a joke I once came up with it cover up some minor plot holes that snowballed once I started finding more and more evidence. Certainly the developers never intended Sly to be viewed this way. These are children’s games starring a talking raccoon whose entire character is basically ripped from Ocean’s Eleven. These games are supposed to be fun romps, not dark commentaries on recklessly endangering your friends.

Yet while intention is important, it cannot excuse all actions. The fact that these are games designed for kids is particularly concerning; I am not one to lose my mind over the idea a child might be exposed to a mature idea, but presenting recklessness and one-sided friendships as heroic is not exactly an ideal situation.

It is up to you to decide whether or not any of this is cause for concern. Personally I think those writing children’s games in particular should put a little more care into not accidentally making their protagonists sort of terrible. After all, the ending of Sly 3 in particular is really hard to explain away. I am not saying developers need be as methodical as George R.R Martin while making games about a raccoon who pulls off heists. I just expect them to not teach children that lying about mental illness is the key to a woman’s heart.


All images courtesy of Sucker Punch

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Analysis

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus Excels Because It Knows Its History

Griffin

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Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a phenomenal game. It has an inordinate amount to say about racism, anti semitism, the cycle of abuse, ableism, eugenics, homophobia, fat shaming, PTSD, war, violence, and just about everything else under the sun. And developer MachineGames does all of that with this wonderfully strange combination of hyper-meticulous tact, high production values, and auteur confidence. Of course, none of that would have been possible if the setting surrounding the narrative didn’t work, and holy shit does it ever.

The newest iterations of the Wolfenstein franchise take place in an alternate 1960—leading into ‘61 for the second game—where the Nazis won the war. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was a game framed around the “how” of the world. How did the Nazis win? How do they keep their conquered states in check? How have things changed in this reality? How do we stop them from gaining more power? How do we fight back against a near global, yet also interplanetary, regime?

Throughout the game, you come across newspaper clippings and records (The Beatles sort of still exist) that fill the gaps between 1946 and 1960. The result is a fully realized world that isn’t just a horrifying coat of paint over reality; it’s how things would have happened…with a few super-science-y liberties thrown in because why wouldn’t the Nazis a moon base or fire breathing robot dogs? And, of course, the greatest twist of all: the Nazis’ inexplicable sci-fi advancement, the whole reason they won the war, was built on the backs of stolen technology from a secret society of Jewish science wizards. There’s even a sequence where the protagonist, William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, breaks into a high security compound and finds ancient schematics written in Hebrew, which he knows how to read.

We also knew, in broad strokes, what had happened to the other parts of the world. America had surrendered completely after Manhattan was obliterated by an atomic bomb, mirroring the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Nazis had yet to conquer the vast majority of Africa, as organized resistance was proving far more effective than they were willing to recognize. London was kept in line by a skyscraper-sized robot called the London Monitor, which you get to blow up.

Wolfenstein: The New Order took place almost entirely in western Europe (with a brief sojourn to the moon, of course) and exploring how the one region of the world that was, at one time, actually conquered by the Nazis, ended up being just familiar enough to what it was back then to what it became in their alternate history. It’s this foundation, this deep uprooting and deconstruction of history, that allows its sequel, The New Colossus, to head straight into the United States. We were shown what was comfortably familiar to us, so it was time to show what was uncomfortably familiar.

An America subjugated and ruled by the Nazis.

Enemy Of The State Of Affairs

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a game about “why”. Why do we fight against oppression when society around us punishes those who do? Why do we push back against systemic hatred, even when it has no bearing on us? Why does a man like William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, the perfect aesthetic poster boy for Aryan supremacy, reject those who would treat him like a king?

Why has America submitted to Nazi rule? The short answer is: giant airship. The long answer? Well, that one’s not so complicated.

Relatively early in the game, you meet up with a New York City resistance cell lead by a black woman named Grace, a survivor of the Manhattan bombing. In fact, all but one of her members are black with the exception of her partner Super Spesh. Their character designs explicitly invoke imagery of the Black Panthers and the overall Black Power movement.

The first game had you run around helping the Kreisau Circle, the Berlin-based Nazi resistance group that eventually cut the head off the Nazi war machine and stopping them from developing new weapons. This cell was lead by Caroline Decker, a paraplegic veteran. But, in the opening of this game, Caroline is executed by the main antagonist, Frau Engel, leaving a gaping hole in leadership that Grace fits perfectly. Who better to represent a 1960s violent uprising of the oppressed than a black woman in America?

She even goes so far as to move into Caroline’s old cabin in their captured Super U-Boat. From the start of the narrative, Wolfenstein is showing us that America is very different from a conquered Europe. For one, the English language is being banned, hearkening back to that old adage of “If the Nazis won, we’d all be speaking German”.

The largest among the differences though is that, just as Grace says above, America never stopped fighting the Nazis. The military did, yes, and the vast majority of the white population, including a South-governed KKK, but the fact that there is a dedicated anti-gravity airship, the Ausmerzer, whose sole role is to travel the country and crush resistance factions for the past decade tells us in no uncertain terms that the hold the Nazis have over America isn’t as ironclad as they believe it to be.

Even if they are able to put on one hell of a show.

We find newspaper clippings within the game describing resistance cells crushed by the Ausmerzer, and there’s even a moment during a trip to Roswell where you’re recognized (you’re the Reich’s most wanted, after all) by a local resident who, in a terrified act of defiance, whispers that he believes in what you’re doing when just seconds prior he was selling newspaper propaganda with glee.

The cap to this, however, is the final scene of the final mission of the game where you ambush Frau Engel’s live appearance on a talk show. You sneak through the bleachers and into the rafters, noting that every single person in the audience is a cardboard cutout. The show may be being broadcasted to every living room in the world, but it stands to reason that if people aren’t going to the live show…they’re not buying into the lies.

America is being crushed under the heel of the Nazis, yes, but it has yet to be crushed. Good people are still out there in the world, but they’ve forgotten how to resist. Those who were already filled with hate jumped on board, the minority, while everyone else is either putting their head in the sand or just trying to survive.

On the other side of the table, though, is how white America perceives the Nazis. I’ve already mentioned that the KKK controls the south, but it goes a whole lot deeper than that. Slavery has been legalized once more, and auctions are the talk of the town. We find out that, in true Nazi form, they rounded up the country’s degenerates—Jews, queer folk and people of color—and either purged them or sent them off to die in New Orleans…which is now a massive ghetto, Escape from New York style.

And if you “named names”, you were rewarded with what those same people left behind. Land rights, mansions, savings; everything they owned was either seized by the state or given as a gift to those who betrayed their friends and neighbors. This is not something we discover on a broad scale; it’s personal to B.J.

He visits his childhood home after nuking Area 52 (it wasn’t aliens, just ancient Jewish Techno Wizard secrets) and finds his abusive father, Rip, waiting for him, having heard he was in the area and assumed he’d come around. Rip, as we learned from flashbacks, was physically and emotionally abusive to both his son and his wife Zofia, a Jewish Polish immigrant. That, and he was a hardcore White Supremacist, having only married Zofia because he believed her father would be a business asset. He bemoans that no one knows what it is like to suffer as he does, thinking that everyone is trying to steal everything from the White Man.

In short, he represents everything that B.J. has spent his entire adult life fighting against.

When asked what happened to his mother, Rip admits that he sold her out to the Nazis and they took her away. The confrontation ends with B.J. killing his father after he presses a shotgun to his son’s forehead, but through their entire conversation he’d been on the phone with the Nazis. He’d sold out his son, too.

That’s the state of the world in Wolfenstein, and in The New Colossus you blow it the fuck up.

Terror-Billy Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass

While the game’s marketing may have been pointing towards a parallel with the American Revolution as for how the country ousts the Nazis, I posit that the historical context is far more evocative of our 1960s.

Grace’s existence and design are already evidence of this, but it’s the rest of the resistance that makes this all the more clear. The second big group you recruit, aptly enough from the New Orleans ghetto itself, is lead by a man named Horton. He organizes a group of communists, socialists and anarchists who you’d think wouldn’t fit in with Grace and her people. These are the people that dodged the draft, even if they did push the concept of equal rights earlier than most. Horton even flat out cites their attempted push for a civil rights movement in an argument with B.J.

Of course, there’s a key difference between refusing to fight on foreign soil in a war that benefits the military industrial complex and what’s happening to them now. Horton’s group draws upon sentiment from both the end of the Great War and the counterculture movements of the 1960s.

Again, many of them were draft dodging pacifists, but that goes right out the window when it comes to Nazis. It’s one thing to refuse to fight a foreign enemy on foreign lands when victory would have only spread what you’re rebelling against. It’s quite another to sit by and accept fascism in the very country that allowed, though not always encouraged, you to believe what you saw in your heart as just.

It’s at the end of the game, however, in the ending cinematic, that this entire idea solidifies. That this historical context isn’t an accident, and the frankly unbelievable amount of homework MachineGames must have done paid off in spades. Mere moments after B.J. kills Frau Engel on live television, Grace and Horton speak directly into the cameras and ignite a violent revolution. The Kreisau Circle may be organized like a guerilla military operation, but the American people aren’t. They don’t need to be.

It’s an angry, raw, improvised and imperfect call to arms, but that’s what makes it perfect. Violent uprisings don’t start with eloquence or deep debating over the justification to fight against those who oppress you. They start with whatever you’ve got on hand. The Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots and the general counterculture protests that dominated the 60s are clear influences on Wolfenstein’s depiction of “retaking America”. Seriously, if it didn’t sink in already, they blast a heavy metal cover of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” over the end credits coupled with imagery of violent rioting and uprisings across the nation.

Wolfenstein does not attempt to hold a mirror to our world today, even if it does so inadvertently. It tries to make us look back, so that we remember how to keep moving forward. It’s message is clear because it knows what it’s talking about, no matter how over-the-top the presentation:

Equality is not a debate; it’s a right. Those without it won’t stop until they have it, because for them it’s literally “Fight, or Die”.  So the best thing you can do, if you’ve already got it, is to pick them up with you. And if you don’t? If you keep trying to push others down? It’s gonna get bloody, just like it always does, and chances are it won’t be them who’s dying.


Images courtesy of MachineGames

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Film

The Mario Bros. are Returning to the Big Screen

Bo

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That’s right, the Nintendo icons will hit your theaters yet again with the potential signing of a new deal between Nintendo and Universal Pictures to bring the Mario Bros. back to the site of one of the most infamous crimes in movie history. At least this time they won’t be live action?

The deal will task Illumination Entertainment, animated filmmaker for Universal, with developing an animated adaptation of the beloved Nintendo juggernaut. The studio, responsible for films such as Despicable Me, Minions, and The Secret Life of Pets, has reportedly negotiated the deal for over a year now. If finalized, it would be the first deal Nintendo has made for TV or film since the original 1993 disaster starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo.

Anyone who has seen the film could tell you why Nintendo would wait nearly 25 years to make another deal bringing the Mario Bros. to the big screen. For those who have not seen it, run. Run far, run fast, do not let anyone tempt you into watching. Not even if you like bad movies. For all the bad movies based on video games, you don’t get worse than Mario without delving into the crap-filled swamps that are Uwe Boll movies.

Of course, this is all speculation and it is a common feature of video game movies to end up in development hell keeping them from ever releasing. The deal has yet to be finalized, with the involvement of Nintendo themselves in development of the movie reportedly holding it up. If made official, the deal could lead to multiple Mario Bros. movies. If the first ever comes out.

I want to be optimistic. Making an animated movie sounds better than live-action, but after the failure of the Ratchet and Clank animated movie, I can’t be too optimistic. I’ve yet to see even one genuinely good video game movie. I don’t think there’s ever been one that was passable besides comparison to the wasteland of the genre. It would fit the ever-innovative and successful history of Mario to break the mold. I hope somehow they manage.


Image courtesy of Nintendo

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Shameless Juggles With Too Much Going On

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Following up an episode mostly devoted to setting up the current season, the second in this season comes off as far more entertaining and emotional than I thought it would be. I’ve stated more than once that one of the issues that will continue to plague Shameless is the fact that the series has gone on for eight years and at this point it shows no indication of ending soon. At least to me. This however, does strike people in contrary ways. Some would like to see it end sooner rather than later so the show doesn’t become so oversaturated that its once-loyal following becomes split between people who have grown to hate it and those who will remain loyal fans. On the other hand you have those who want to see the show go on forever…well maybe at least another couple of more seasons. What ever the actuality is, it looks like we’re in for a different sort of season.

It does look like we’re in for something completely different with the Gallagher clan. They’ve grown and grown apart—some more than others. There is no central problem that all of them are involved in anymore; each member of the family is practically dealing with their own problems and their own list of close friends or enemies. It’s actually both an exciting and somewhat personal experience for those of us who have been with the series since the beginning and can only really imagine the Gallagher family as a whole, minus Frank of course.

Recap

This episode opens with the hilarious notion of Frank trying to become an employed member of society, scam free, while Carl lets his brothers reap the benefits of the pushed meth he sold for them. They all basically know that Frank may well be up to his old habits of trying to get injured at work so he can claim disability. He assures them that Monica was the cause of this “phase” in his life. We’ll see how long this actually lasts. Ian also begins to show some emotion in terms of Monica. It seems he’s one of the only people who actually was saddened by her death.

For Fiona, the life of a property owner has changed her story immensely as she learns that her way of keeping their home for the last seven years was so much more similar and yet so different from how the tenants of her apartment are. We get to meet her various tenants as she goes to collect their unpaid rents. We meet a woman with far too many kids that she can’t control and a over sarcastic attitude, two addicts who put a new meaning to the word mellow, and an crazy old lady who pretends to be a dog…her bark his pretty convincing.

Frank has more luck on his side as he gets interviewed by a reformed Islamic man who converted to Judaism for a woman he wanted to marry and then back to Islam when she left him. Apparently the plight of the widowed and divorced are similar enough that he hires despite his questionable and nonexistent work history. It seems Frank is not the only one trying to reclaim their “old” identities .

Lips story is still sad to the point that I just want to hit him. It’s clear he is not over Sierra no matter how much he tells his recovering buddies that he’s only trying to be nice. V has her own issues while working at Patsy’s as she worries about Kevin’s upcoming biopsy. Speaking of Kevin, he’s now enrolled in a breast cancer support group…without actually even being diagnosed. He does tap into the fears of someone who really has breast cancer but like Shameless, they get made fun of (not maliciously, though).

Ian’s tune finally changed around Trevor as he helps treats the at-risk youths in the city. Trevor tries to make him feel better by inviting him to a gay bar that has a high number of obese gay men and bikers. It’s a step forward for Ian and Trevor I guess? On Debbie’s end of things we can clearly see whats going on. Teenage motherhood is finally starting to catch up with her as barely spends any time with Neil and Franny anymore. Constantly leaving the two alone, a baby and a paraplegic, while she goes off to hang out with her new friends from class.

Liam, on the other hand, is living a whole new life as he stays at his rich friends house. Clearly much more different than the household he is used to. Trevor finally tells Ian what the Chubb bar will help him with. Not that he prays on them but apparently they are a lot more emotionally invested in their lovers and it makes for a sort of empathetic confidence boost when in a rut. By the end of it, Ian cries in an overly sympathetic fat man’s arms. Lip furthers to sadden his own life as he continues to babysit Sierra’s son free of charge.

Things at the Alibi have gotten even weirder without the Russians, as Kevin decides to give last goodbyes to all its patrons. Even Debbie is hanging around these parts with her new friends, all much older than her, but nonetheless it gives her a sort of release from her life as a mother? Not that we’ve actually seen her interact all that with her boyfriend or her daughter. She even comes home with a hickey on her neck that Neil sees! Not cool Debbie, seriously.

By the end of the night Ian does reveal to Fiona that it hurts him that he’s the only person who was affected by Monica’s death. It is nice to see Fiona acting like a real sister again, especially after her attitude last season. Nothing is funnier than the next day when Liam gets dropped off by his friends nanny and she is terrified of his neighborhood to the point that she speeds off.

Sibling love

Tension rises between the two eldest Gallagher boys as they get on each other for their respective Monica and Sierra situations and Lip plots with Frank to get Sierra’s addict boyfriend to slip up and use again. Low point for Lip, honestly if you’re taking advice from Frank. I don’t even want to mention how much I cried tears of laughter for Kevin’s “lumpectomy” day as he’s given two pancakes shaped like breasts…Gallaghers.

Back to Frank though, he is actually shining at his new job. If Frank is working a scam without giving anything away to us or the shows character I will really have to applaud William Macy on his acting skills, or Frank is serious about this new person thing and well on his way to becoming management…who knew?

Surely this isn’t really, Frank?

As Fiona begins to collect rent, the only person who pays up are the drug addicts, but we get to see more Nessa! Not nearly enough, however.

Kevin goes under for the biopsy closer to the end of the episode as he’s pumped with drugs and dry humor as Ian gets a tattoo of Monica. Hilariously the artist doesn’t know the tattoo is of his mother when he gives it quite a large chest. On the other hand, Kevin is cancer free! Not before being scared into thinking the news is bad. Lip sets up a drug pizza delivery to tempt Sierra’s boyfriend and we can only scoff at this, really a new low for him. Debbie is hitting a new low as well. Since Neil is now making excuses to not watch Franny, Debbie resorts to dumping the baby on her fathers mother and complaining about how over bearing he is to her co students. Liam’s friend gets to see the advantages of not being watched by adults as he spends the night in the Gallagher home, something we all dreamed of as kids.

Ian gets angry as Carl trades one of Monica’s old jackets for a couple of beers and a blowjob but discovers that she has a storage unit full of stuff that he wants to see. Fiona finally gets to let out some steam as the tenant with far too many children writes her a rent check of one cent paid out to the “cock guzzling sellout”…let’s say she and Debbie finally have a moment when they break down her door. Lip finally grows a conscience after he sees just how bad his drug delivery to Sierra’s boyfriend is damaging the man and chooses to be the bigger person and steal it back. The result is being mauled by a dog and Sierra’s boyfriend thinking Lip did it to help him out, casting out the doubt that Lip really cared for her but was rather just trying to win her back.

To be honest at this point, we can’t really help but agree with the latter. This will raise some serious questions if or when Sierra finds out. The episode ends with Carl and Ian running from a drug addict in Monica’s storage unit claiming they stole his meth.

Run!

Review

This was a much faster paced episode than the premiere, but with purpose. As mentioned above, each and every central character (including Kevin and V) have basically gone off on their own and developed their own separate stories not included in the collective of a single household. That is where the pacing itself could get a little tricky. There are simply too many characters doing their own thing at this point that to dedicate more time to one, which can be as little as a few minutes, would mean another few lose what could have made them relevant for that episode instead of just excluding them for that episode altogether. While the writers are currently handling it excellently, it may cause some trouble down the road as certain characters storylines become more important than others, a tough choice and strategy in writing they’ll have to consider.

For what the episode was I really enjoyed the Fiona plot. It seems like she’s in a better place than she’s been in a while and other than what ever the writers plan to do with her and Nessa; I think this is the longest we’ve seen her without a love interest. I say keep it that way but include more Nessa—we barely saw her at all this episode! Which of course, goes back to what I was saying about the amount of time allotted to each character. Since she’s not really a central character, yet, it might be some time before we start seeing more of her. A prime example of this working out in the show’s favor is when they decided to push Svetlana from a background character to a major force in Kevin and V’s life, until she wasn’t anymore.

Me when there’s not enough Nessa

As for Lip and Ian, they’ve sort have become exceedingly self destructive. Where Lip is looking for someone to fall with him, Ian has all but sort of isolated himself emotionally. He is expressing himself but not in the right ways and mostly comes off as bitter. Lip I ashamed of; he knows just how ugly addiction can be and he almost put another recovering addict in danger of relapse. Luckily, he came to his senses though taking the easy way by agreeing he was just trying to help. It really is hard not to see the old Frank in him from time to time and like his addiction I feel like he’s going to juggle that problem for the rest of his life.

Speaking of Frank, I honestly don’t know what to believe when it comes to his current work ethic. It really does seem like he’s trying but for how long? We have been burned by Frank too many times to truly believe he’s changed and even if he has can we truly forgive him for everything that he’s done? Debbie is my least favorite this season. I get that she feels trapped and overwhelmed by her child and Neil but I can’t feel bad for her because this was all her decision. She choose to sperm jack her ex into having a baby and she choose to stay with Neil. If she’s going to keep up with her nonsense I really hope she just has the courage to end it with Neil and not just cheat on him.

Seriously Debbie, not cool.


All images courtesy of Showtime

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