When a main character exits a long-running series, it’s typically a time for reflection: for more than eight seasons, Ian Gallagher has been a critical part of Shameless, and one of the longest-running primetime explorations of homosexuality in the past decade. There are fans of the show who were drawn in by Ian’s story in particular, and whose relationship with the show has been shaped—for better and for worse—by the character’s experiences. Although we only learned earlier this week that this would be Ian’s last episode when Cameron Monaghan announced it via social media, it still marks a significant turning point for the series: the first Gallagher has left the nest, with another set to depart by season’s end.
And yet “Face It, You’re Gorgeous” is not in a particularly reflective mood. All of Ian’s siblings—who, to reiterate from weeks previous, apparently never visited their brother in prison but are all eager to say farewell this time?—are willing to ditch work and other commitments to be with him on his final day of freedom, but he resists: he just wants to have a quiet day at home and a nice dinner, although it eventually becomes a day of self-defense training and learning which part of the prison is most likely to get him killed. I buy that Ian might not want a big traditional sendoff, but it’s a character choice that also reflects a writing challenge: how could you possibly reflect on Ian’s story without acknowledging how thoroughly the show lost track of the plot over the past three seasons?
Executive producer Nancy M. Pimental, who wrote the script for Ian’s final episode as part of the main cast, doesn’t attempt to dive into Ian’s past in any detail. There’s no visit from the paramedics he worked with until getting caught up in the Gay Jesus boondoggle. Trevor doesn’t stop by to say goodbye to a former friend and lover. While Ian and Lip share some emotional scenes of brotherly affection, they never once turn their gaze to the past to—for example—reminisce about the scene in the first season where Karen was giving Ian a blowjob under the table. In an episode where Lip and Ian enjoy torturing Carl with stories about his childhood, Ian’s past garners significantly less investigation. In the end, there’s only one piece of Ian’s past that matters, and Pimental delivers the “Deus Ex Mickey-na” that the fans honestly deserved: Mickey is the only part of Ian’s past that counts, and so any and all logic is thrown out the window as he somehow managed to time his absurdly convenient cartel informant deal with federal investigators to the exact moment Ian would be entering this prison.
I want to be very clear that I’m glad that the Gallavich shippers get something approximating a happy ending, and so I don’t feel my logistical concerns are or should be an issue for the fans the final scene was designed to serve. But Mickey’s arrival only reinforced how poorly the show dealt with Noel Fisher’s departure from the show, as literally nothing else the writers introduced for Ian’s character in the interim resonated on any level. The writers didn’t just go to Mickey because of fan service, although I’m sure that was a big part of it: Gallavich was endgame because it was literally their only option. What else could have made Ian’s departure from the show mean something? His relationship with Lip has been sporadic at best, they never managed to give him any friends outside of Mandy, and the show basically cut Fiona off from all of her siblings over the past few years. That left Ian stranded with a handful of boyfriends and co-workers, and Cameron Monaghan often felt equally stranded as a performer, lacking the substance of material to generate substance in his performance. While losing Ian and Mickey’s relationship back at the end of season five felt like a significant loss for the show on a structural level, losing Ian now feels like it will have little to no impact on the show’s weekly storytelling. As much as it is unfortunate to see the show losing such a pivotal LGBTQ character (and no, making Debbie bisexual in the blink of an eye is not a meaningful replacement, Shameless), having Ian bunking in prison with Mickey off-screen is probably the best case scenario for the show and the character, and as much as that makes me sad I’m glad at least something positive for the fans came out of this mostly unceremonial end to his character’s journey.
“Face It, You’re Gorgeous” works in some other stories here, including a continuation of Frank’s infatuation with his latest mentally unstable love interest and an honestly quite fun guest turn from Courteney Cox as Lip’s first sober companion gig. However, while those weave in and out of the story, the centerpiece here is a cautionary tale for what will happen next winter when I’m writing a perhaps very similar essay about Emmy Rossum’s last episode of the series. The show has been pushing Fiona on the path of upward mobility, creating the implication that this could be the character’s way out. However, in one fell swoop, Fiona’s entire empire comes crashing down. Faced with a $25,000 expansion of her senior care investment that she doesn’t have, running out of loan options, and with Ford breathing down her neck to move in together, Fiona struggles to avoid buckling under the pressure. The show throws “Gallagher solutions”—a hastily offered gang loan, stealing from the safe at Patsy’s—at her but she resists, until everything unravels when she tries apologizing to Ford and instead finds him at his wife’s house with their kid.
There’s two layers to the frustrations of this Fiona storyline. Taken wholly out of the context of this particular episode, what is the show trying to accomplish by making Ford entirely right about Fiona’s ignorance to the terms of her investment while also making him a married asshole who never told her he was separated from his wife? Their entire relationship has always lacked justification: it was never clear why Fiona was attracted to him beyond the accent, it was never clear what he wanted to be in a relationship with her so desperately given his constant judgment of her choices, and his insistence on them moving in together here is just plain inscrutable. And yet despite how awful Ford is, he was technically right: Fiona was an idiot and accepted the terms of a deal without fully understanding the long-term financial implications. The show’s attempt to merge our sympathy for Fiona getting screwed over by another asshole—which leads to potentially adding a DUI and huge damage to her leased vehicle to her list of problems—with our judgment of her poor financial decision-making is just messy. I’m fine with the show not wanting Fiona to continue her rocket ship journey to upper-middle-class existence, as it was frankly moving a bit too swiftly, but having it all fall apart in this way was muddled to a degree that makes the whole thing seem wasteful.
However, when we put it in context of the episode, it gets even worse. Fiona’s very bad day happens to coincide with Ian’s last day of freedom, and at no point in time does she ever return home. I understand that Fiona was trying to avoid facing anyone, let alone her family who just recently learned that she had invested the $100,000, but the fact that she is absent from Ian’s goodbye dinner but a famous commercial actress and Carl’s new girlfriend are present is just bizarre. Fiona eventually realizes she needs to apologize to Ford—after making out with one of her Patsy’s employees in a bizarre scene where she compares her middle-class problems with his lower-class ones—but she never realizes that she’s missing her last chance to see Ian without a glass window between them for two years? Sure, it adds an extra layer of tragedy to Fiona’s situation that she stands up Ian after insisting she drive him to jail, but the sheer pileup of terrible things happening to Fiona on this day didn’t need to converge with Ian’s departure in order to resonate. And the fact that Fiona never seems to realize that she’s missing Ian’s last day is a mistake, even if next week we see Fiona bearing the consequences for that: this was a bad day for Fiona, but no version of this character that I know would so completely ignore her brother going to prison, even if that revelation may have had to come at a point when she had no way of doing anything about it thanks to the terrible situation she’d fallen into.
And now Shameless has eight episodes to either get her out of that situation or have it all unravel even further. It remains to be seen what that will entail, but if this episode was any indication, the show’s approach to resolving messy and inconsistent character arcs involves a trip into the production rolodex and a ringing phone for Justin Chatwin. In the meantime, though, Shameless will needs to find a way to pivot from the emotional catharsis of this ending into something approximating a cliffhanger in next week’s mid-season finale, which still has a lot of work to do in order to get the show as a whole back on track.
- Frank Ocean’s “Pink + White” was definitely a nice soundtrack choice for Ian and Mickey’s reconcilation. I’m glad they resisted using “End Game,” would’ve been less thematically appropriate and too on the nose.
- I love how the entire family is like “ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS?!” while Lip is standing there having just given away $10,000 like it was nothing two weeks ago which the show has yet to comment on in any way.
- Yes, I get that we as a society decided it is funny when Bob Saget says depraved things, but this Kevin and Veronica story was just dull. Beyond the fact they completely ignored the whole “twins pretending to be one child” gambit that somehow doesn’t get discovered when the nun visits their house, their ceremonial farewell to their sex toys just sat there, with some funny lines but nothing that moves them or the show forward. I appreciated their presence at Ian’s departure, but wish greatly that the show was still willing to let their stories converge with the Gallaghers on a regular basis.
- “Last time I saw you, you must have been two years old, talking up a storm”—okay, why is Shameless gaslighting us on Liam’s childhood? They’re ignoring the overdose and any potential impacts on his development, and I sort of understand that choice even if I disagree with it, but now they’re pretending that Liam wasn’t more or less mute even before that incident? I know we have no reason to believe Frank’s buddy at the mental health facility is an entirely reliable narrator, but it’s still insane that they’re not even slightly aware of the fact the audience would read that as a blatant lie.
- “Didn’t you see the GIF?”—Shameless may be ignorant to the pasts of its own characters, but it’s on the right side of the GIF pronunciation debate, so there’s that at least.
- I was utterly perplexed by Jen Wagner’s level of stardom: everyone knows who she is by name in the bar when Lip outs her, and she’s a famous cosmetics spokesperson, and she has three Golden Globe nominations, but she’s only been in 17 films (and 4 TV shows). Lip calls her a “movie star,” but is that really what she is with that resume? As noted, I liked Cox’s energy a lot, but the facts are all over the place.
- “Hey, thanks for being my brother”—that was the closest I came to getting emotional during this whole rushed situation, for the record, but only because it’s harder to be emotional when you’re rolling your eyes (they surely knew that was how people like me would respond to the justification for why Mickey would be there, as much as I accept the necessity of such an absurd fiction and enjoyed the scene nonetheless).
- An open memo to the people at Showtime: I understand that you’ve literally made the “Previously On” sequence part of the show in the case of Shameless, but I firmly and strongly believe that you should not include random details that by their randomness more or less spoil your show. There’s no reason to include Fiona’s obsession with Ford’s second phone if you weren’t going to reveal that Patty wasn’t actually his mother, and so you basically called your shot, and that’s deeply unnecessary. Just let a handful of people be confused for a second remembering why Fiona knew she was Patty and let everyone else be even remotely surprised. Thank you for your time.
- And if I could speak directly to the Gallavich shippers for a minute: I know from Twitter that you were certainly among the readers of these reviews, so I just wanted to say that I’m happy for you, and that I’m pleased that reviews provided you a space to vent and work through your reactions to the mess of Ian’s character arc. That’s a huge value to this kind of episodic criticism, so a sincere thanks for being part of that discourse.