(Spoilers for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag).
Readers of my previous article may have guessed that I have spent the past month working my way through Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (hitherto to be referred to as just Black Flag). People might be sensibly wondering what exactly I’m doing playing a four year old instalment of a series with annual releases.
In truth I have never really played an Assassin’s Creed game before, having been thoroughly uninterested by the series since its inception. Prior to Black Flag my only experience with the series is the thirty minutes I spent playing the first game in a friend’s house years ago and my viewing of the movie. I only bought Black Flag because it was a pirate game (the most shamefully under-represented genre in big-budget video games).
Having essentially no frame of reference for anything that occurred in the game posed an interesting problem. Black Flag was the sixth main instalment in the series. Five games centred around four different main characters in as many time periods already exist. This is not the optimum point to join the story.
Yet this industry thrives on sequels. Given that most long-running franchises spawn sequels more popular than their predecessors, it cannot be uncommon for a player to be dropped halfway into a story and be forced to keep their heads above water. Do games as far into a series as Black Flag account for these newcomers? Let us discuss.
Basic Set Dressing
First things first. I am about to talk about a whole bunch of things that were not explained to me about the world of Assassin’s Creed in Black Flag. Yes, I know I could have looked these things up, that is not the point. The point is not the lack of knowing the information itself, but rather the game’s reluctance to share it.
From what I have gathered, the Assassin’s Creed series revolves around people in the not too distant future using a machine called the Animus to re-live the memories of their ancestors. Historical settings such as the Crusades, the Renaissance, and the American Revolution have all been the basis for previous games. Black Flag takes place during the Golden Age of Piracy in the early 18th Century.
Former privateer, current pirate, and barer of a remarkably posh English accent for a Welshman, Edward Kenway stumbles backwards into an age-old conflict between Assassins and Templars. Kenway, being more motivated by a desire for wealth, precedes to ignore this global secret war except for when it directly affects him.
As he asks few questions about both organisations, little is revealed about either. This becomes extremely frustrating late in the game when Kenway joins the Assassins, dedicates himself to fighting the Templars and still finds out essentially nothing about the two groups.
Evil Fascists V Good Murderers?
Given that a game centred around stabbing people needs a long list of villains, and that the villains are primarily all Templars, by the end of the game I had some kind of sense as to what the Templars were (the film also helped on this front). The Templars want to eliminate free will as a means of creating peace. This is an easy to understand concept.
As most of the Templars are slavers, employees of the British Empire, or both, it is quite clear that this is a group of reprehensible people. They are fascists. I do not like fascists. Therefore I can accept that I should not like the Templars and fully support Kenway in his endeavours to leap upon them clutching knives.
The Assassins, on the other hand, are basically ciphers. I know three things about them having completed Black Flag.
- Their creed is “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
- They stand in direct opposition to the Templars.
- They murder countless people.
The game frequently paints this order as being nobler than the Templars, but never explains why they should be perceived as the good guys. While opposing fascists and slavers wins them plenty of good guy points, the whole ‘it is morally permissible to murder everyone’ thing is a giant mark against them.
And while the game hints that there is a little more to their creed than a swearing off of all morality, it does not explain the substance at any point. Kenway goes from being a murderous pirate searching for riches to a murderous pirate/assassin fighting fascism. While his goal has certainly gotten nobler, his methods are ultimately unchanged. Being opposed to evil is slightly undermined when your methods are evil in and of themselves.
And on my fourth day working for a gaming company I hacked a server and was greeted by a floating digital face
The primary plot of Edward Kenway is couched in a framing plot where a new employee of Abstergo Entertainment researches Kenway’s life for a video game. It is clear very early on that Abstergo is a Templar front and the silent protagonist of this plot is eventually tasked with hacking their databases by the Assassins.
These hacks to not go unnoticed, and the silent protagonist is confined to an underground bunker along with other researchers until the hacker is found. The silent protagonist is convinced to hack the main server in order to remove any evidence of their involvement in the hacking.
Whereupon a giant female face was projected from the server, spoke a bunch of utterly indecipherable mystical jargon and disappeared. Though this plot does reach a conclusion connected to this development, what the hell just happened is never explained.
It is clear that this is linked to other super-natural elements found in the main plot. It is clear the woman was not human, but rather the member of an ancient race that may or may not have ruled humanity at some point. What is unclear is if this face was an agent of good or evil. It is unclear what Ubisoft thought newcomers would think of this out of nowhere moment.
Pro Game Developing Tip: Do not suddenly introduce supernatural elements in the final third of the game if you have no intention of explaining them in any way.
A Theatrical Interlude
One might be wondering how I could end up being so confused about all of this lore when I said up top that my first real experience with Assassin’s Creed was watching the movie. Anyone who is wondering why my knowledge is so lacking has clearly never seen this movie.
The film experiences the exact same problem as Black Flag. While it cannot stop itself from painstakingly explaining the motives of its Templar villains, the motivations of the nominal heroes are entirely undiscussed. Assassins exist only to be in opposition to the Templars, which coincidentally puts them on the right side of history (anti-slavery in Black Flag, anti-Spanish Inquisition in the movie) despite their propensity for murder.
The movie is thus unable to stand on its own, as the arc of its main character is entirely undercut by the lack of explanation. Michael Fassbender’s character turns away from a life of aimless criminality to join the Assassins and fight the good fight. This should be a quiet existential triumph for which to end a movie, and it would be if he or the audience knew anything about the Assassins.
I understand that these are plot elements that must be explained in earlier instalments, but any attempted defence of the lack of context falls apart with a simple riposte; If the movie and Black Flag were able to find the time to explain the Templars, they must also have had the time to explain the Assassins.
(Incidentally, I kind of loved the movie, great dumb beast that it was).
Plot Twist! And?
Having won some kind of victory in the Caribbean (everyone who ever annoyed him is dead, so it seems he achieved something), Kenway returns to England to care for his daughter. The game ends with a brief flash-forward showing a much older Kenway in rich attire, attending a theatre with his now adult daughter and his young son, Haytham Kenway.
Shock! Horror! Oh what a twist! Can you believe it! All along our heroic protagonist was the father of Haytham Kenway! This is world-shattering news! The series is changed forever! What a twist, what a twist, oh in the name of all that is holy WHAT A TWIST!
The confusion being felt by those unfamiliar with series is an exact mirror of how I felt upon learning this information. The game presents this as a plot twist, but as I had no earthly idea why the name Haytham Kenway was important, my response to this EARTH-SHATTERING TWIST was to shrug and go to bed. Presumably this was not the intended reaction.
For those with as little knowledge as I had before Googling this, Haytham Kenway is the main antagonist of Assassin’s Creed III. The fact that Edward (somehow) found redemption through the Assassin Order only to father a future Templar Leader is a tragic note on which to end his story. Or rather, it would have been if I had played the previous games and understood what I was being told. Instead the tragedy was marred with confusion and ambivalence. Some context for newcomers would have gone a long way.
Better Than Black Flag
Black Flag is a very good video game (I wouldn’t have written two features about it otherwise). Its primary problem is entirely a failure to provide the necessary context for much of its characters and plots. This is a problem that many games can run into this deep into a series. There are, however, examples of games that handle this significantly better.
While I have criticised the Uncharted series numerous times on the website, this criticism comes from a place of fondness. Uncharted 2 is a classic, and it was also my first experience with the series. Despite having missed the beginning, there was never a moment where I did not understand Nathan Drake as a character, or his history with Elena and Sully. The game works as both a standalone and a sequel. Black Flag almost works as both, but just about fails to work as either.
The Elder Scrolls series are also good at continuity. Many people began their experience with the games by playing Skyrim, yet not having played its immediate predecessor Oblivion does not take away from the experience. The main plot of the older game is referenced in the new to provide context. Plot elements such as The Blades are re-explained in Skyrim for the sake of first time players.
Other AAA Games are perfectly able to provide the explanations that Black Flag lacks. While it can be difficult to get all necessary information in, the fact remains that the main story takes roughly fifteen hours to complete and there was still enough time to teach me how to hunt lizards for no real reason. It is not too much to ask that the motivations of the heroes be explained at some point.
Nothing is true, everything is permitted. Are these the arc words of the series? Are they a deeply philosophical motivations for all the series’ protagonists? Is it the case that they are a self-righteous justification for heinous murder? Are they merely stolen from actual history and shoved into a video game series because they sound cool (I strongly suspect this is the case)? I do not know the answer, because Black Flag would not tell me.
Perhaps this complaint is unfair given my priorities going into the game. I freely admit to not caring in any way about the Assassin’s Creed series outside of this game, and only bought it because it was cheap and I wanted to play as a pirate. Well the last month has been filled with high-sea’s adventures. Perhaps there is no need for complaints.
The criticism comes from a place of knowing that video games can and should strive to do better narratively speaking. This medium has advantages that no other comes close to regarding the connection which can be fostered between player and player-character. Games should be held to a high standard for their own sake.
I wanted to know more about Assassins because against all the odds, Black Flag made me interested in them. Why it refrained from explaining itself after working hard to capture my interest is beyond me.
All images courtesy of Ubisoft
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus Excels Because It Knows Its History
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
The Mario Bros. are Returning to the Big Screen
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
Shameless Juggles With Too Much Going On
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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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