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Starcraft Remastered – A love letter to balance

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Starcraft’s getting a remastered version! This is very exciting news, if you’re a fan of real-time strategy games. Although some readers are probably wondering why Starcraft needs a remastered version if it only just came out.

I’m referring to the original Starcraft, Starcraft 1, or Brood War…the old Starcraft. Although, Starcraft 2 is getting old now too, isn’t it? One of the main faces of Battlenet, it’s been five years since its first iteration and it continues to go through a lot of patches, updates, and sometimes even improvements.

Did I say BattleNet? I meant Blizzard. Blizzard is the company that makes things like Warcraft and Diablo. BattleNet was their service for online gaming, but now they’re just calling it “Blizzard”, since everything is online now anyway and they shouldn’t confuse people with multiple words for their game client. The times are changing, but the coming of a remastered Starcraft is very good news for nostalgic gamers.

Why am I nostalgic for Starcraft? Well, old games are sort of my area, being a very slow gamer. I’m an extraordinarily lazy gamer. Everybody’s running around, having strange sorts of fun in Breath of the Wild and Mass Effect: Andromeda. But I still gotta finish Mass Effect 3. I got lost in the multiplayer, logged a thousand hours, and never got around to beating the game. Don’t pressure me. I’ll get to it. It’ll probably take another thousand hours.

I haven’t gotten off that freaky first planet, uh, that Earth one.

Okay, I don’t play many games outside of my comfort zone. This way, I can never fail. Remember, don’t do anything new because then nobody can hurt you. Starcraft has always been in my comfort zone, ever since it came out. Which wasn’t that long ago. Well maybe it was. I’m not old, if anybody’s old, it’s you.

Starcraft came out like two decades ago, back in 1998. It received an expansion called “Brood War”, and a few patches to fix a few balance things and the normal glitches and stuff. This is back when patches were optional if you just chose to never hop on to Battlenet to fight other humans.

Not everybody has played Starcraft, so let’s go through some background as to why this was such a definitive game for Blizzard and RTS games in general.

Starcraft came without a historical background or fantasy theme. It didn’t draw upon an established narrative; instead, we were thrown into a different galaxy with no particular frame of reference. The story felt as new and futuristic as the technology and the characters. It wasn’t polished like Star Trek or mystical like Star Wars, but it felt like outer space with aliens ranging from awe-inspiring to terrifying. And of course, it came with those good old rule books that had like, art and stuff. We don’t get those anymore. No more CDs, no more CD cases, no more random extra materials with funky art that you’re not sure ever appeared in the game….

I still don’t know who this dude is.

The real part I want to focus on is the gameplay. Starcraft set itself apart in a lot of ways, but it got to the top of the competitive gaming scene (and the top of my heart) through its consistent balance and capacity for strategic play. Like other real-time strategy games, you would gather resources, build up an army, and then kill everybody. Unlike other RTS games, it had three unique factions to choose from. And not just unique like what had come before. What had come before? I have to explain a lot of old stuff just to get to my point.

A contemporary of Starcraft was the Microsoft game Age of Empires. It was released some months before Starcraft and was a lot of fun for everybody, letting you build up ancient armies and kill your friends with them. Age of Empires evolved in sort of a parallel manner to Starcraft, getting sequels and improvements and even its own remastered version on steam these days.

Battle of the Anachronisms

There were about a dozen different civilizations you could play as; compared to the 3 races of Starcraft, you would think that Age of Empires would have the edge in diverse gameplay. However, in AOE, the uniqueness of the factions was not due to different units. Every single civilization had the same tech tree, the same soldiers, the same towns. The differences were in what technologies or units they might be missing, or what bonuses they got. They weren’t unique, they were just a little different. And it was not noticeable. Oh, I’m sure there’s a few experts in my audience who insist that one civ is clearly overpowered or broken or whatever. But was it noticeable the first time you played it? The second time? The fiftieth time? Or only after you had mastered the game?

It didn’t really affect your play style if you didn’t know that your archers were getting +1 attack against buildings as this civ, or that your workers cost 15 less food as this other civilization. As a beginner, you probably wouldn’t even notice these differences. It certainly was not important in playing against the computer (though as always, PVP is an entirely different animal.) In Starcraft, the differences between the factions were in your face from the beginning: unavoidably affecting how you played the game from the first time you play it.

This probably isn’t a human base.

Starcraft was designed from the beginning to have incredibly unique factions. This was partially due to Blizzard trying to get away from their previous title, Warcraft. It apparently wasn’t enough to change one or two letters in the title. The designers had to get CRAFTIER.

Blizzard’s Warcraft, much like Microsoft’s Age of Empires, had factions that were basically identical. You might have a human footman, and I’d have an orc grunt, but they had just about the same stats. Unless you care about a difference of 1 or two damage, it wasn’t noticeable at the beginner level. It was cosmetic. Nobody in the history of the world has cared about differences on the cosmetic level.

For a differing opinion, see “The entire history of the world”

Starcraft started out the same way, in its design phases. But after being told the game just looked like “Warcraft in space,” they decided to rework it from the ground up. The factions weren’t different enough, so they pulled it apart and got creative. When they finally released it, the three factions of protoss, zerg and terran were radically different from each other. When a beginner sits down to play as terran, they would absolutely have to play differently than when they play as zerg.

The game forces you to place buildings differently as protoss, and everything is grown from the same central hive as Zerg, not trained at factories as other factions. Each was intrinsically unique: it wasn’t just a reskinning of another. The theme permeated every aspect of the game, from resource management to base-building to obliterating your enemies. This wasn’t like Age of Empires, where you could get by without noticing the differences. You were reminded of who you were playing every time you clicked on a soldier, a little zerg creature, or a psionic warrior.

Let’s play “Zerg? Or pasta?”

From the ground up, Starcraft looked like it would be absurdly unbalanced. Yes, I’m going to get into numbers, but I’m not going to go crazy. If you don’t like numbers or even the barest hint of math, just skip this section. I won’t judge you. Just skip to the part with the picture of the checkerboard now.

Aw yeah, baby. Look at those bad boys.

In Age of Empires, the first actual military unit you could get as you built up your cute little empire was an axeman. The dude cost 50 money. What kind of “money”? Go away, I’m keeping it simple, call it what you like. He did 5 damage, and had 50 hit points. So if an axeman whacked another axeman ten times, that guy is dead. 5 damage x 10 hits is 50. The end. Very simple.

Look at those beautiful, intuitive numbers. 50 money to 50 hit points to buy a guy who does 5 damage. Same basic thing in say, Warcraft. Doesn’t matter if you have a human swordsman or an orc axe grunt as your starting unit. They cost the same, and your opposing unit is about the same as you.

Now enter Starcraft. JUST the first unit. For Zerg, it’s a zergling. Simple so far, and what a creative name. Costs 50 money…great. They do 5 damage…so they’re an axeman. And they have 35 hitpoints, so they’re a weak axeman. And every time you buy one, you get two of them…Wait, what? Some sort of two-for-one sale is going on. That seems unbalanced. How can the other factions keep up? Well let’s look at what the next faction has.

Protoss zealot. 100 money…Okay wait. Already, Zerg is getting a two-for-one situation, and here Protoss is, with their very first military unit, costing twice as, quadruple as much. Not looking great. How much damage does he do? 16, okay, that seems high, but hey. He’s twice as expensive, so he should get twice as much damage. Wait, 16 is more than 3 times as much as 5. And they get 4 zerglings so he’s really 4 times as expensive. Wouldn’t they need 20 damage then?

You see how, already, the comparisons are falling apart? We can’t intuitively grasp how the units were designed. It was constructed in a linear sort of way for the earlier RTS games: This guy costs 50 and does 5, my enemy’s unit costs 50 and does 5. It’s clear-cut, but in Starcraft, your guy costs….25? And does 5? And mine costs 100 and does 16? Is that balanced? Are the protoss just wild like that?

Nah, this guy looks pretty chill

I’m struggling to explain the zealot’s damage. How’d they get to the number sixteen? It doesn’t fit into a nice, “double the price, double the damage” narrative either.

Let’s move on to their hit points. Zerglings had a strange number of 35, so what could this zealot guy have? Oh, 160. One-hundred and sixty hit points. This guy does sixteen damage to the poor zergling, who will be mauled in 3 hits. The zergling does 5 damage to this 160 HP heavyweight. 160/5 = 32 hits to kill the zealot. Well at least we’ve got four zerglings for the price of one zealot, right? So it’s probably balanced? I don’t know! It’s a dangerous sort of balance.

And wait, we’ve got one guy left, the human faction. Oh sorry, Terran. Whatever. Their basic guy. Costs 50 money. Okay. sounds simple, but we’ve been fooled before. How much damage? 6. Okay. unimpressive. Except it’s ranged. All these other examples were melee. As in, i gotta walk up to my enemy and touch them. This guy has a gun. Who brought a gun to a swordfight? The humans, of course. He’s got 40 hit points. So that’s not much more than a zergling, and we get two-for-one zerglings, remember? Is that balanced? Well this human dude has a gun, i mean, couldn’t he shoot them without ever being touched? I don’t know. You can’t tell from the numbers.

I can tell we need more space marines, though.

This is what I’d call a dangerous sort of balance. You can’t know for sure until you’re testing it. And it has to be balanced, because otherwise the players won’t have fun. You need to feel it’s balanced enough that your decisions make a difference—in an unbalanced game, the only decision that matters is picking the right team.

You’d have to be crazy to take a 160-hp unit, match it up against a 40 hp unit, and say, yeah. This looks good, ship it.

We haven’t even gotten into how these units are produced, or how upgrades increase their effectiveness, or how quickly they attack in this real-time sort of game. We have an entire army we could go through, examining every level, comparing the units that couldn’t possibly work together in the same game. But it did work. The game was balanced, or at least balanced enough to make you feel like it was strategy that decided the outcome of the game. Starcraft succeeded in an unprecedented sort of way for a strategy game.

Whatever happened to the days of simple, nicely-balanced games?

So when Blizzard publishes this remastered version, you can get into Starcraft for free—the original games, without the updated graphics, will be free to download. With the remastered version, they won’t be touching the gameplay, so all those wonderful statistics I described above will be the same. No changes, despite the years it’s been, because like I said, it’s sort of complicated.

You might think that they’ve probably learned something about how to improve the balance of the game, maybe take some of those units and tweak it a little bit? But I doubt anybody fully understands the ramifications of changing the Starcraft system at this point, and they would only alienate many classic (or lazy) gamers who like things to stay the same.

The other major improvement will be multiplayer matchmaking, bringing Starcraft remastered into the modern age of PvP. If you’ve never played Starcraft before, or if you’ve just lost track of it, or if you just find numbers inspiring, then maybe this summer is a good time to give RTS a shot.

this is really just a quick summary i didn’t even get into the romance of the attack-move command so count yourselves lucky


Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment and EA Games

A casual fan of many nerdy things, Kiernan is a casual reader who’s written casually from time to casual time.

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Analysis

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus Excels Because It Knows Its History

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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

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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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Reviews

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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