Showtime's longest running series, Shameless, hit its 100th episode on Sunday evening, just four episodes into its ninth season. Hitting a triple-digit episode count is a big achievement for any series in the midst of Peak TV, but it's even more so for a premium cable show that averages only 12 episodes a season. There's a decade of experience behind Shameless' achievement -- and it showed.
The best milestone episodes are the ones that go back to the roots of a series. It should be exemplary of the show's tenure, highlighting what makes the series special and how it's maintained its success for so long. Shameless had to pull this off with the unexpected dark cloud that rolled in just days before the Season 9 premiere; series star Emmy Rossum will depart the show at the end of this season. Fans immediately began wondering how the show will continue to go on without her, and we pondered it too. Although the 100th episode was already shot and in the process of being edited when the actress made her announcement on Facebook in August, the episode managed to both exalt what makes Shameless great and demonstrate what the show could be after Rossum departs.
Shameless' superpower has always been commenting on current affairs with no filter. The Gallagher family plight to make ends meet and claw their way above the poverty line allows the show to call out a corrupt system set up to keep the lower class down and allow the rich to profit off of them. Although adapted from the U.K. series of the same name, Shameless has tackled mental illness, homophobia, alcoholism, drug abuse and various other issues in a singularly American context with a grit and bluntness that is all its own. At a time of intense political turmoil, it should come as no surprise that the show turned its attention to elections.
The 100th episode celebrates election day in Chicago as Frank (William H. Macy) makes a last ditch effort to get Mo White (Dan Lauria) elected to Congress in hopes of continuing to mooch off campaign contribution cash, despite having found out Mo is a pedophile . (If that seems absurd, remember that Alabama's Roy Moore ran for Senate just last year amidst allegations that he sexually assaulted multiple underage girls.) Frank goes so far as to hire Terry Milkovich (Dennis Cockrum) and his band of white supremacists to intimidate voters at the polls, which leads to a brawl between the neo-Nazis and Ian's (Cameron Monaghan) platoon of lesbian MMA fighter bodyguards. The riot culminates with Fiona (Rossum) getting in on the action and literally punching a Nazi, because America, you know?
Mo still manages to win, by a landslide, as news pundits realize early polls were skewed because many people didn't want to admit they were willing to vote for a "White is Right!" sexual offender in order to return power back to caucasians on the South Side. You don't have to try hard at all for the montage of supporters for the more progressive candidates sobbing over the news to bring back memories of the 2016 election night.
"What are you going to do now that you've won?" Frank asked in the wake of Mo's surprise win. "Nothing," Mo replied, "that's the beauty of being in Congress." The closing scene showed Mo being sworn in on the Gallagher TV with a young -- obviously criminally young -- girl by his side. The truth hurts, even when its satire.
Politics aside, Shameless at its heart is a show about a family. The 100th episode really returned to its base formula with two scenes in particular, a heart-to-heart between Ian and Lip (Jeremy Allen White) and a come-to-Jesus discussion between Fiona and V (Shanola Hampton) about selling out. Lip and Ian have always been close -- Lip was the first family member Ian came out to -- but their respective sobriety and Gay Jesus journeys have left little time for their used-to-be regular brotherly chats. A rare quiet moment in the Gallagher house lead the two to discuss if Ian really wanted to risk prison for the sake of his movement and whether Lip was ready to become his quasi-foster child's legal guardian. It harkened back to early episodes where Lip and Ian could be found in every episode drinking beers in an abandoned lot, trying to figure out the mess of their lives. The touching conversation was a reminder of how good the Gallaghers are when they band together, and made me wish for more of it to balance out the all to real social commentary.
It's also been a hot minute since Fiona and V have had any kind of best friend bonding. Fiona's struggle in the episode was whether to vote for the small business candidate who would lift the rent control ban and make her apartment building venture all the more profitable, or for the progressive candidate whose platform would be the best thing for the poverty stricken members of the South Side, the class Fiona used to belong to. V was just the person to call Fiona out for overlooking the obvious and push her friend to vote for who she knew was the right candidate.
Even though Fiona ended up choosing the pro-South Side option over her own self-interest, the whole dilemma highlighted how Fiona is moving in a separate circle from her family and friends. She had a reminder of where she comes from in the 100th episode, but the signs that Fiona is moving on are already showing up. That's what makes the Ian and Lip scene all the more important, especially when Lip makes the decision to let his ward go back to her mother at the end of the episode. He may have lost Xan (Amirah Johnson), but Lip had the realization that he not only wants, but is capable, of taking care of a family. He is the best person to bring the Gallagher family back together, especially in the vacuum that will be caused by Fiona's impending departure. He can focus that paternal energy on his own little brother Liam (Christian Isaiah), who turns out inherited the Gallagher genius gene as well.
This season of Shameless may have opened with doubts about the future, but the simultaneously blistering funny and heartwarming 100th episode proved this show knows what it is and what it does well. Even without Fiona, the show can soldier on if it continues to play to its strengths.
Shameless airs Sundays at 9/8c on Showtime.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company)