If you’d told me beforehand that last night’s season finale of Shameless would’ve ended with Bianca taking her own life; Debbie getting pregnant; Fiona breaking Gus’ heart; Lip breaking Amanda’s heart; Ian breaking Mickey’s heart, and a psychotic Sammi shooting at Mickey, I’d have predicted I’d be in a fetal ball by the time the credits rolled, destroyed by heartbreak and devastation.
But that’s not how Shameless works. That’s not really how it’s ever worked. I think some are disappointed in the season, in the fact that many of the characters haven’t really evolved or learned from their mistakes. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? That’s the cycle of poverty. It’s cyclical for a reason, even if it doesn’t fit into the happy ending formula we sometimes want from Shameless.
Not to bring this back around to my own family as I too often do with Shameless, but that’s exactly how a chapter in my childhood would’ve ended. A year in my life might have included my teen sister’s pregnancy, my little brother’s suicide attempt, my father getting beat in the head with a coke bottle by a homophobe; and another visit with police, but at the end of all that, you could still find us on a tattered couch in front of a blaring television laughing.
Because if you couldn’t commiserate and find the humor in it, you were dead. You were fucking dead. Without being able to make fun of yourself, you don’t survive those events. There are dark moments where you find yourself lying in bed, staring at the posters on your wall and listening to terrible power ballads, but after a few hours of self-pity, you pull your shit together and go back out there and fail again, because if there’s one thing that poverty and bad luck instills, it’s resilience.
So, yes: It was crushing to see Debbie — the smart one — stubbornly, adamantly insist on ruining her goddamn life. Yes, seeing Fiona cast aside yet another good guy for a damaged one was painful, if not predictable. Bianca’s suicide was heart-wrenching, and for once, humanized Frank Gallagher, but that won’t last; and to see Ian take the wrong message from his mother and break-up with Mickey was agony. It was pure, goddamn agony. But that’s the point, isn’t it? If Monica had ever learned from her mistakes, she wouldn’t be living in a trailer with a meth dealer. If Frank had ever learned from his mistakes, he wouldn’t be circling the drain. Again. These patterns repeat themselves in generation after generation. Maybe every once in a while, someone escapes. But mostly, it’s an infinite loop of self-destructive behavior.
But then there’s Sammi comically chasing Mickey around with a gun. There’s Ian, Fiona and V laughing about it while walking inside with their arms around each other. There’s Ian and Lip sharing a bud and commiserating, along with their pain-in-the-ass father who is only a few hours away from reducing Bianca’s suicide to a punchline; there’s Debbie reacting to a pregnancy test like Macaulay Culkin reacting to aftershave in Home Alone; and there’s Carl squaring off with Chuckie in juvie for a West Side Story style fight between the blacks and the neo-nazis.
And just like that, a sense of normalcy returns. These events, they’re not life destroying; they’re just another part of life. They’re another setback on the way to more setbacks. There are no happy endings, only happy moments along the way in the South Side. As Sean says, “Happy is overrated,” anyhow. It’s best not to dwell. It’s best to take solace in those comforting in-between moments. Those are what we live for.