Last night’s season finale of Shameless does what I think the best dramas often do in their season finales: They mix the sad with the satisfying to give us a perfectly bittersweet blend, and that’s exactly what Shameless did, as well as dropping one brief, cruel, misleading, and jaw-dropping twist into the final seconds of the episode.
Let’s hit the twist first, if only to remind everyone that Showtime and Shameless’ executives said, at the end of last season, that we had probably seen the last of Steve, save for maybe a flashback. They basically suggested that Steve was dead and never coming back.The best part of that twist? Everyone in the cast was just as surprised as we were (Justin Chatwin apparently stayed in a separate hotel). I have no idea if they were lying to us all along, or if they simply changed their mind at some point during the season, but the idea of getting Steve — now Jack — back for next year is not a bad one at all.
That’s because, without Steve in her life this season, Fiona learned a lot about herself, and most of it wasn’t positive. Foremost was the fact that she is very prone to self destruction, and that having someone in her life who isn’t more f*cked up than she is may not be the best thing for her. Fiona needs to be needed, and she needs the responsibility that goes with taking care of her family to keep her on track. I think part of Robbie’s appeal was that he wasn’t the good brother, and that maybe Fiona couldn’t deal with her relationship with Mike because she was the dysfunctional one in that relationship. Steve forced her to be the best version of herself, because it was required to keep him from fucking up his life.
Ultimately, however, I think it was important for Fiona to have that time away from Steve to realize that, and also important to come to terms with the fact that she is as just as much to blame for some of the bad behaviors in the Gallagher clan as she is responsible for some of the positive things about the family. Obviously, she took on more than most people could bear at her age in raising her little brothers and sisters, but with Frank so often out of the picture, it’s harder to blame him and their mother’s absence for some of their fuck-ups when she was the one on duty.
Speaking of Frank, I don’t know what to think about him. I still maintain that the show would’ve been better off without him, that no last-second transplant should’ve arrived, and that they should’ve let the character die off. That said, I honestly appreciate the consistency of Frank’s character: Even after nearly dying, even after all the physical suffering he went through this season because of his alcohol and drug abuse, he still sought out the bottle the first second he could get. Not only that, Frank Gallagher threw it in God’s face. In a way, that is the most incredibly brave kind of writing: Creating a character that not only doesn’t learn from his mistakes, but that is emboldened by them to continue being the worst kind of person he is capable of being.
Sheila’s plotline this season I thought was kind of a throwaway one. It kept Joan Cusack in the picture for some of the year, but it didn’t accomplish much except to force Frank and her back together, now with Sammi and her son a part of that extended unit. With Emily Bergl — who plays Sammi — returning as a series regular next season, it’s nice to know there’ll always be a reliable C-plot, but I don’t know how much more I can stand to watch Frank destroy new and different lives.
Lip’s plotline this season was my favorite, and the one I was most sympathetic too. I think that what Lip learned is that he could go to college and yet still remain true to himself. In fact, it was Lip’s insistence that he maintain his Gallagher-ness that actually helped him through this season. He took up Fiona’s role in her absence, and he found a girlfriend who admired who he is, and not what he could be. I think he’s also fallen in love with her, which could mean heartbreak next season. But for now, he’s finally comfortable in college, although the flip side of that was the heartache of leaving Mindy behind. I think that, in that diner scene in the end, Mindy was as proud of Lip as she was broken up about the fact that he’s not entirely one of them anymore. That’s what she wanted for him when she applied to all those colleges on his behalf, but I’m not sure that she completely understood that it would also mean losing him.
I don’t know what to think of Ian’s turn, either. Are we even sure that it was Cameron Monaghan under that sheet (I don’t remember seeing his face)? I don’t know if that was a development designed to accommodate Monaghan’s movie schedule, or if they plan to take up the possibility that he’s a manic depressive next year? Easily the best part about Ian’s character this year, however, was not Ian himself, but how he helped Mickey to accept himself, which then allowed Mickey to become the father he needs to be. The scene with Mickey and Kevin in the bar was also my favorite of the finale: Mickey dropped the defensive chip on his shoulder he has about being gay, and came to terms with the fact that no one gives a shit. The scene also demonstrated that the community in Kevin’s bar are equal-opportunity offenders. They don’t care who you are fucking, but none of it makes you immune to ridicule.
Finally, Carl and Debbie had growing seasons: Debbie came to terms with heartbreak, and what it means to recover from it, while Carl got his first taste of what it felt like to be in love. I almost have the sense that one day, being in love could be what straightens Carl out. Otherwise that kid will be lucky to survive long enough to one day be eligible for a liver transplant.
Ultimately, last night’s episode was a very strong finale to a very strong season of what continues to be one of the best, most underappreciated shows on television.