Shameless 4.04 “Strangers on a Train” Recap

by Shilo Adams / February 2, 2014

shamelessFiona’s train pulls into its next stop and Robbie gets on, though he decides to stand by himself rather than go over to her. That all changes at the following step when a majority of those in their car, including the woman sitting next to Fiona, get off and he opts to sit down beside Fiona. With only a few people left in the car, he slides his hand between her legs and fingers her before leaving at the next stop. The following morning, V is beside herself with Fiona putting a good situation in danger due to her self-destructive tendencies, not the first time this has happened. She runs down a list of Fiona’s former lovers (Shawn, who did speedballs in front of Carl; Jason, who stabbed a guy; Jimmy-Steve, a married car thief) before leaving to go to the Alibi. Fiona then has to open her pockets for Carl and Debbie’s lunch money, even though Carl still refuses to speak to her and Debbie doesn’t respond well when Fiona compliments her shirt.

Frank and Sam make it to the doctor’s appointment that will test to see if Sam is a match. She takes her pants off and teases Frank about him getting excited, while he goes outside to talk with the doctor, who informs him that he has no health insurance and will be put on a list for doctors who perform transplants pro bono. However, that list has a wait time of several years and due to requiring a dozen specialties, runs for about $150,000 out of pocket. Over at the Alibi, Kev and V have started charging $3 per shot due to the payroll taxes being due, the business license needing a renewal, and asbestos upstairs that threatens to shut the bar down. Frank comes in and the idea comes up to burn down Sheila’s house in order to get her insurance money to pay for the transplant. However, Frank has one better – since she has liability, he just needs to have an accident to get the payday that he needs, though he’s still undecided on whether he’ll tell her about it or not.

While doing some last minute studying for a midterm, Lip runs to the laundry room to get his pants; unfortunately, someone else who lives in the dorm took his clothes out of the dryer and used it for their clothes, leaving his pants still waterlogged. Lip has to put them on, though, especially since his roommate left and locked the door. He runs to class in no coat and no shoes where he’s told by the professor that due to being six minutes late, he’s not allowed to take the midterm, not even if he forgoes any extra time. Mickey busts up the massage parlor that his wife works at due to her not being compensated fairly for her time and takes every working girl there to the Alibi, just as Frank uses a crowbar to loosen up a step at Sheila’s in order to help facilitate an accident. However, he only strains a knee, which is only worth about $2,000 according to his lawyer, and he learns that something drastic has to happen (paralysis, lost eyes, blown out femur) to procure a six-figure payday.

His idea? Have Carl break his leg. However, the ideas they come up with (falling off the staircase, letting a train run over his leg, putting his leg in a bear trap, sledge hammer, table saw, using a lawnmower to run over his foot) don’t appeal to Frank and the two continue thinking about how best to gain the money. Meanwhile, Debbie and Holly head to the arcade where the former brags about spooning with Matty and confesses that the two didn’t have sex. Although Holly may know a lot about sex, even she doesn’t know what to think of Matty saying it’s not the right time. Over at the Alibi, Kev is stressing over having to pay Stan’s son the $500 he was promised, but he has an idea when Mickey brings the girls in and explains that the reason they’re able to work for so cheap is from having no ID, not knowing much English, and being fresh off the boat. Just as Kev goes to Home Depot, Lip takes a meeting with the Dean, who lectures him on punctuality and mentions that Jay Santos, the runner-up for a scholarship Lip got, would’ve been at that exam on time. When Lip leaves the meeting, he uses a pipe bender to knock out the windshields and windows of several different cars nearby before being chased by campus security into the library, where he hides out under a table.

Mickey meets with Sasha, the person in charge of the parlor, and learns that she’s a woman after assuming a man was in shamelesscharge. She also won’t bite on his demands for raises and the girls being able to keep extras, not when she has a truckload of girls from Chernobyl ready and willing to work for the original rates she set. Mike approaches Fiona about plans for her upcoming birthday, but she gets distracted when Robbie, at Worldwide Cup to hit up his father for money, sends her several suggestive texts. At the Alibi, Kevin brings back the group of undocumented immigrants he hired to help bring the bar up to code for cheap, while Mickey tries to calm down the girls when they learn they’re out of a job and Deb stops by the Milkovich house in search of Mandy. Mandy takes her to one of the bedrooms where Debbie tells her about 20-year-old Matty not thinking it time for them to have sex; that’s chalked up to him being afraid she’ll run to the cops after they do it, so Mandy suggests either initiating sex with him to let him know she’s okay or sending a selfie that shows off the goods.

Carl steals Frank’s favorite movie from the video store and heats his father up some soup, crushing up sleeping pills to put in it. While Frank is conked out, Carl duct tapes weights to his stomach, ankles, and legs and jumps off a ladder he brought into the living room and onto Frank’s outstretched leg. Elsewhere, Fiona goes to Robbie’s apartment to tell him not to text her anymore and he tells her that she could have easily called or texted him this information. The two quickly undress and start having sex, only to be interrupted by Mike at the door. They get dressed and Fiona hides while Mike asks Robbie about why he was at Worldwide Cup that day, a reason that Robbie won’t divulge. Mike finally leaves and when Robbie’s girlfriend calls home, Fiona tells him not to contact her anymore. She then waits for Mike to get in his car and drive away before heading home herself.

Lip makes it home and surprises Mandy with a visit, telling her that his window smashing incident made him think of her. He thought about calling her several times while at school because he missed her and the two end up having a quickie in her bedroom. She needs money for the morning after pill, though, because she’s ovulating and he wonders aloud whether a baby would be the worst thing for them. He’s not planning on going back to school and she takes him to task for throwing away all of her hard work before punching him in the face, causing him to vow never to be with her again and leave. Carl gets Frank in a wheelbarrow and brings him to Sheila’s, dumping him on the steps and calling for help, while Deb makes it home and attempts to take a seductive selfie to send to Matty. Unsatisfied with her results, she finds one of Carl’s porn magazines and takes a picture of one of the models, sending it to Matty and getting a quick reply with a request for her to come over.

While Lip heads to the bar, Debbie makes it to Matty’s and tries to initiate sex with him by jumping on top of him as soon as she sees him. However, he gets her off of him and explains that he deleted the picture and isn’t ready to have sex due to her age and how, while she may feel like she’s ready, she’s ill-prepared for what it means to have sex. Lip rants to Kevin and the guys at the bar about college being a racket and off-handedly mentions that he won’t be going back. Kevin then sits him down and tells him that he needs to tough it out, no matter how bad his grades are. He argues that Lip is resourceful and shouldn’t end up with a life like his, struggling to hang on to every penny you make, especially since there’s nobody better at beating the system. Kev wants Lip to go through the four free years of school, earn his diploma, and then spit in the faces of all those who tried to stand in his way, but Lip ends up leaving the bar rather than continuing the conversation.

Veronica brings Fiona to her place where they talk about the latest encounter with Robbie and how Fiona felt a little tingle while she was waiting at his front door, meaning she went over there with the intention of seeing him. She confesses to constantly checking her phone to see if he texted her, but V has bigger problems when she notices that Carl broke into her cabinet and stole pills. Debbie goes back to the arcade looking for Holly and finds Seth/Sam, a guy who has taken to doing anything Holly asks on the off-chance of getting to hook up with her. She brings him to the bathroom in the hopes of hooking up, though neither of them has experience with stuff like this and Debbie pulls back, opting to go home instead. Frank gets wheeled to Sam’s trailer where she gives him good news and bad news – the good, Chuckie’s at the neighbors for the night; the bad, she’s not a match for the liver transplant, as her white blood cells attacked his. He rants about the situation with his liver and accidentally lets slip that she’s his daughter. She mentions how he dry humped her leg for 30 minutes the other day before kicking him out.

After Kevin gets through paying the immigrants that he hired, Mickey proposes that the place upstairs be used for his own massage parlor, just as Debbie comes home crying after what happened with Matty and Seth/Sam and lays down in her bed. She lets Fiona in and says that she just wishes she could skip the time when she doesn’t know how to do anything and get to the time when she knows what she’s doing, something Fiona can relate to. Sam finds Frank at the bar and asks him if he ever thought of her like she did him growing up, which he hadn’t, while he apologizes for not telling her his true identity. The two make up over a beer and Lip sits at the steps of the professor who kicked him out of the midterm. Having waited for two hours, he explains that he’s getting there as far as adapting to college and he just needs someone to give him a break. He gets just that when the professor allows him to take the midterm.

Additional thoughts and observations:
-“You let some dude finger you last night on the El?” “You make it sound so filthy.”
-“Frank, you are not going to burn down that nice woman’s house.”
-“How do I look?” “Slutty.” “Thanks.”
-“Oh, trying to get me drunk?”
-“Don’t worry, we’ll get a dick in you as soon as we can.”
-“Random destruction makes you think of me?”
-“This isn’t your home. It’s where you grew up.”
-“C’mon, buy me a fuckin’ beer.”
-I feel much better about the Fiona storyline now than I did last week because at least I know that she knows that she’s a hot mess. Had the show played it up as something sexy and dangerous and worth pursuing, it wouldn’t have worked for me at all, but Fiona knows that she has these horrible patterns of behavior and there’s a (small) chance we might even see her rectify her behavior due to that. I don’t mind a character acting out or making a stupid choice as long as they either know that what they’re doing is stupid or the show/another character points out that what they’re doing isn’t right.
-I mean, I get why she likes him (the train scene that opened the episode was something), but he’s a guy for Fiona of three years ago and not a guy for present day Fiona. Self-destructive people getting together can only create chaos and it’s nice to see that Fiona has the self-awareness to know that she’s got too much going for her now to sabotage her happiness and the well-being of her family. Plus, with the show trying to highlight the similarities she has with her father, this is her opportunity to prove to herself that she’s different from Frank in that she can overcome her addiction.
-Good for the show for already revealing Frank’s true identity to Sam. It had the makings of a season-long secret that would put Frank in increasingly precarious positions before exploding in the finale, so I appreciated that they already detonated that bomb in the fourth episode. Plus, I completely buy that Sam would get over it that fast, just because she’s had such a hard time with getting a male figure in Chuckie’s life and she wants to get to know the man from whom she came, even if she’s still a little sad about him not being there for her.
-An Obamacare episode. Timely, Shameless!
-No Sheila this episode, which is weird due to Frank’s storyline taking him to her house and the idea of burning her house down brought up.
-Also absent this episode: Ian, for the fourth installment in a row. Can somebody please go check on Ian? Granted, his presence very much hangs over anytime Mickey gets screentime, but still, it’s strange that there hasn’t been at least another check-in following the season premiere glimpse.
-Alex Borstein! Nice to see you taking a break from Getting On to pop over.
-Everything with Lip continues to be sterling. Showing Kev as the father figure that Lip always needed; the (heartbreaking) shot of him showing up at Mandy’s and suggesting they have a baby (someone so intelligent giving up their potential for fear of failure); the decidedly grounded way of looking at someone struggling to get to the next level in life and not being able to keep themselves afloat; the touching ending where someone gives him the chance that he needed to begin turning his time in college around. It was beautifully written and is the type of storyline that the show both needs and can execute well. As mentioned in a past recap, a show like this needs some semblance of hope in order to remain interesting and for the first time this season, there’s a kernel of hope that Lip finds his way in college and makes it out of the neighborhood for good.
-Don’t worry, Deb. My selfie game isn’t strong, either. I’ve yet to resort to porn, though.
-Speaking of, I’m still not sure what to think about Matty. He’s not a predator and I don’t think he’s taking advantage of the power differential between himself and Debbie, but him not completely taking sex off the table makes me hesitate from liking him.
-That being said, there was nothing sadder this episode than Debbie taking Seth/Sam to the bathroom with the intention of hooking up with him. It would’ve been a way of proving something to herself and getting her first time out of the way so she could be with Matty sooner, but, not to get too soapbox-y, your first time shouldn’t be something to get out of the way with anybody you encounter on the street. It should have some semblance of meaning and Debbie’s not developed enough as a person for sex to have a meaning. She’s also too sensitive a person for something meaningless and you just know that she would eventually regret her first time with a boy being in a public bathroom.
-Mickey operating a massage parlor/brothel should be interesting and I like how the show tied that into the Alibi, particularly with the latter’s financial struggles. A show this big can sometimes have threads that dangle off on their own and stories that seemingly take place in their own universe, but Shameless took care of that pretty early in the season and it should make the remaining episodes stronger and more cohesive.
-Thank you, show, for identifying Lip’s weapon as a pipe bender because in my notes, I had it as “funky hammer.” Funky Hammer is also the name of my hip hop alter-ego.
-I really liked the editing here as it kind of weaved together the struggles of Debbie, Lip, and Fiona in visually (i.e. Lip and Debbie walking down the street) and dramatically (i.e. Fiona relating to Debbie wanting to skip the confusion of growing up) ways.
-To show you the extent of my love for this episode, I even thought Carl was used really well. They took advantage of his personality tendencies and desire to spend time with his father without heightening his budding sociopathy. He just seemed like a lost little boy who wants his dad to love him, which made Frank forcing him to leave at Sam’s trailer all the more sad.
-Next week on Shameless: Fiona’s bad decisions involving Robbie boil over, while Frank pursues cures for his liver trouble with Samantha and Lip gets a surprise visit from Army investigators.

Shilo Adams is a contributing editor for ScreenFad whose work has appeared on TVOvermind, TVHackr, and KSiteTV. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @shilo_adams.