The Ouroboros is a graphic symbol of the cyclical nature of life — it means both destruction and rebirth. In “Ouroboros,” the ninth episode of “Shameless’s” seventh season, the return of estranged Matriarch Monica (Chloe Webb) highlights exactly whom among the Gallaghers is caught in the cycle Monica and Frank (William H. Macy) have been looping for the past 25 years, and who is breaking free.
Debbie (Emma Kenney) is the youngest Gallagher currently on the South Side who even remembers Monica; she’s also badly in need of a Mom. Monica embraces being a grandmother with her signature outpouring of love and joy, but the tragedy of Monica is that her love can’t last. Her own mental health can’t sustain it, she runs out and runs away.
But in the moment, it’s genuine — and the kids know it. That’s what wrecks them: You knew it was a snake when you picked it up.
Monica gets Debbie’s baby Franny back, with her knowledge of parental rights and a baseball bat. The return of Franny and a heart-to-heart at the Alibi thaws Debbie enough to offer her a place to stay. Debbie may be a young single Mom having trouble with DHS, but it’s nowhere near the level of neglect Monica and Frank inflicted on her as a child. The snake eats itself, but is reborn better.
Big sister Fiona (Emmy Rossum) has had the most practice in hardening her heart to Monica. She almost succeeds in keeping her cool, to win 20 bucks from Lip, but a twist in Monica’s approach just twists the knife: Fiona’s mother is proud of her, grateful she’s raising the family better than she could have. Fiona’s been down this road: Monica’s love cracks her but doesn’t break her… Until Debbie succumbs to Monica, sending Fiona over the edge, to take her aggression out on the writer of a bad Yelp review.
Ian (Cameron Monaghan) has always been Monica’s favorite, and he steels himself for her. Her reappearance leaves him vulnerable in front of his new boyfriend. Ian’s taking his meds; he can get justifiably upset, but not spiral: By episode’s end Ian is relatively unscathed. He even makes up with Trevor (Elliot Fletcher) after a misunderstanding over Trevor’s desire for privacy regarding his pre-transition life.
Lip is the snake eating itself only to remain the same: He’s relapsing. He is at his most Frank. Lip breaks into his ex girlfriend’s apartment to do some handywork as penance, but Sierra (Ruby Modine) — in the tradition of most of Lip’s girlfriends before her — sees right through him. She’s direct and firm. She won’t let him take her down, she doesn’t exist to fix him, she wants him to get help. It’s the speech Lip needs, but probably won’t hear.
In throupleland, Svetlana tells Veronica (Shanola Hampton) she will see a therapist, if it makes her and Kevin happy; she smiles sweetly when Veronica hugs her in thanks. That smile indicates Svetlana and Veronica’s relationship is more than just a con, which is confirmed in therapy when the three sit down to salvage their relationship and rebuild trust, and Kevin and Veronica express their fears about not being loved. Svetlana is an honest liar: She doesn’t love like they do, that’s not who she is. What Svetlana does is be the best partner she can be to show them she wants to be apart of the relationship. Later, when it’s revealed Svetlana is the owner of the Alibi, it doesn’t negate what she said in therapy: Svetlana can love Veronica and have a contingency plan.
Outside Neil and Debbie’s apartment, Frank lurks in the bushes, watching Monica. Frank is the snake, and she drives him to endlessly devour himself. He avoids her the best he can for most of the episode, but Frank’s an addict — forever stunted as the person who first fell in love with her. When they finally connect, Monica confesses she’s dying and Frank breaks down.
But that’s not the only snake, the only toxic undeniable love, the only cliffhanger: See you next week, Mickey Milkovich.
“Shameless” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.