Shameless: Lazarus Review, Season Finale

In the Season 4 finale of Shameless, Fiona bottoms out, Ian pulls a Monica, Frank has risen once more...and Jimmy's alive?!

For the last several seasons, a show titled Shameless has chosen to end on a downbeat note, a moment of melancholy reflection, and, ultimately, always silence. Indeed, the soundless refrain of despair emanating from Ian Gallagher is too silent for any who has known Monica.

And yet, for what has undoubtedly been a “downer” season that has taken away Fiona’s dreams of ever entering the middle class, there was something resilient about “Lazarus.” Like the biblical story inferred in the title, this week’s Shameless almost felt euphoric it is exit from the darkness of seasons past. Whether that it earned that triumph is debatable, but it feels as refreshing as the cool, bitter breeze coming off Lake Michigan, the location for the finale’s first and final scene…A bitter breeze that did not end Jimmy’s life. That’s right, the doctor is in with a “post-credit” stinger so perfectly surprising for its last-minute reveal that  I nearly missed it. Like Lazarus, indeed. But before we talk about how it ended, we must go back to the beginning.

The show opens on the large, watery graveyard of Jimmy—who remarkably stayed dead for a whole season if you count the credits as ending it—but it is about getting to that destination for our four major storylines of the week, which not so much end as took a breather off for the coming off months.

The one I’d dare say is the most hopeful and worthy of clinging onto is Fiona’s rebound from truly bottoming out all season. I feel obligated to say, at least one more time, that the manner in which she collapsed from crossing the poverty line—doing cocaine on her birthday with the kids in the house—will always remain somewhat contrived. Yet, if it was a contrivance, then the Shameless writers have successfully convinced me that it was a necessary one. The loss of Jimmy in those cold, cold waters has created remarkable new possibilities for Fiona Gallagher. Granted, these are not directions the character wanted to go, but we finally got to see some of Frank rub off on her, his real daughter. Fiona has been so focused on playing mother at the house (a role that Debs is now comfortably slipping into) or chasing Jimmy, that she has never had the (mis)fortune of simply sitting down and living with herself for a while. She got that chance this season, and I do not think any of us were particularly proud with what we saw. She is very much an addict and witnessed the same self-destructive tendencies that drew her to Jimmy manifest in a far more harrowing way when she slept with Robbie. Multiple times. Her hero complex also led to the self-annihilation that came with a bender that ended in Wisconsin.

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However, this experience has been rewarding in a way. For viewers, it has afforded us the chance to witness Emmy Rossum go to some darker and previously unseen corners with her character, and it’s been highly gratifying. Rossum has continued to be a completely underappreciated talent throughout the show’s history, because if she weren’t, she’d have won several Emmys of her own already. For the actress and loyal Shameless fans, it has just been one more avenue to take the fascinatingly frustrating Fiona character. As for Fi herself, at least she has learned to live with what she saw in the mirror, even if Jimmy isn’t there…for now.

[related article: Top 12 Most Shameless Moments]

Tonight, she told Lip that she cannot blame Frank or Monica anymore at apparently age 23. These were her decisions, and she is past the point of self-pity. And like last week I believe her, which was demonstrated in her first morality test when offered a pill by a woman in jail who undoubtedly wanted a taste of more than Fiona’s addictions. Fi refused the drugs and as a reward was released by her PO, who also got her a job. It is essentially the same (if less glamorous) work she had in Season 1, but at least there is some money coming in again. And in the scene of the night, she was finally reunited with her siblings who spent all of Season 4 ignoring her existence. If it wasn’t for the overly cynical and sometimes repugnant nature of this series, the scene where Debs and Carl run into Fiona’s arms, crying, could have been construed as maudlin. Instead, it was the most cathartic character moment all season, on Shameless or otherwise, and is a real acting highlight for Emma Kenney.

But if Fi proved herself better than her parents, at least for this day, Ian lapsed into what careful watchers have known to be his arc all season: Becoming the new Monica. For the previous few episodes that Ian appeared this year, he was nothing short of manic, joyful, and overly-happy as the South Side Twink who might have made good. But this week came the crash hinted at when he washed out of the U.S. Army and ended up off-screen in a crack den with Monica.

He is in a bad place and has the exact same mood swings suffered from the manically depressed hurricane in Season 2. As soon as Ian refuses to get out of bed with Mickey, we all knew where this was leading. Eventually Mickey gets Debs and then Fiona over there, but they can only tell him the obvious. Ian is bipolar and needs to see a doctor, or at least the nearest approximation of one. It’s a shame too, because Mickey had an otherwise nice episode of reveling in his newfound out-of-the-closet lifestyle, which was treated with stunningly positive compassion at the Alibi. Granted, his whoring business upstairs pays for the drinks below, but dammit if it still isn’t a warm and fuzzy moment when Kev gives Mickey a drink on the house! Mickey had the best, and most complete, storyline in all of Season 4, thus his inability to deal with Ian needing medical attention is so much the sadder, if only because it puts an asterix by his growth as a human being.

I predicted that Season 5 would see the slow and steady decline of Mickey and Ian after their climactic moment of triumph in last week’s episode, but I didn’t exactly think it would be due to Ian pulling a Monica. I saw the outlines of Monica in Ian’s actions, but this crash was a mean curveball for viewers rooting on this romance. If one looks at how Monica and Frank worked out, Mickey might in the end be best served by jumping ship if he can’t accept the realities of Ian’s condition. Maybe Ian too if Mickey won’t let Fiona or Lip take him away. To the Mickey and Ian shippers I say: enjoy last week’s vindication…because Season 5 is not going to be fun.

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Most of the other storylines kind of stalled out until that fifth season twist. Mattie has thankfully rebuffed Debs enough that she is not going to try to sleep with him…until she is 16 and legal (is it really that young in the state of Illinois?). It might feel like that this season was a confusing mess for her since there was no pay off, but thinking back, that’s pretty much everyone’s adolescence. Ultimately, I respect how Shameless told this story of youthful awkwardness with equal amounts of grace, even if there were a few moments in previous episodes that left me worried. Similarly Bonnie has left Carl behind until Season 5, because he’s falling in love with her. Since she was only introduced late in the season, this too feels like a logical outgrowth.

The disappointment came from Lip. So much was of his college woes and his survival there have been Season 4, as well as him becoming the new Fiona as the breadwinner at home. But all of that got dropped for a storyline that also felt a lot like Fi: a love decision is about to pull him away from good decisions. It is painful to know that the only reason Lip is in that diner tonight, enjoying college with some very upper-middle class sorority girls, is because Mandy filled out his applications for him. Nevertheless, Mandy also killed his last ex-girlfriend (more or less) and will undoubtedly do for his head what Karen previously did (or Jimmy did to Fi). And I say this as a fan of Mandy. While what she did to Karen was borderline evil, she is a tragic character who has her loved ones’ best interests at heart, even if she never has it for herself. It makes her marginalization this season, as seen with Mickey’s ambivalence to her beating and her own apathy toward a near-comatose Ian, feel odd. But for Lip, Amanda is the much better influence on his life that has helped him out of his stupor. Ergo, Season 4 ending on a cliffhanger of him slowly being torn back to Mandy feeling like a soft, downbeat promise of backpedaling to come, like the first drops of snow before a storm.

And then there are those who love that brisk, brutal whiteness. Frank is where the episode truly begins and ends. With his memory back (and no memory of it being gone, thus sadly no recognition of Emily either), Frank’s first priority is to get drugs. His second is to get away from Sammi and Sheila turning on each other like comedy gold. Their fight for dominion over Frank makes them both seem crazy, but we already knew that was the case because they love the lout. And if you want to know a secret…so do I.

Seeing that curled smile of mischievousness creep across William H. Macy’s face when Carl asks if he wants to leave was like the first sip of a beer after a long day of work—as if Frank would know about that last part—and the return of an old friend. I cannot recall the last time Macy played cognizant on this show or showed any emotion other than pain. Frank’s miracle liver will never quite add up, but there is something too special about Macy’s Frank Gallagher for that matter. This is one of television’s great protagonists. The show could move on without him, but the conflict of a lead who is the antagonist to his own children is too unique and satisfying to lose. And now we haven’t.

[related article: Why Frank Gallagher is the Nastiest Protagonist on Television…and Possibly The Best]

But let’s not get too teary-eyed about Frank’s Second Coming. Despite being told by his doctor that his new liver cannot handle more alcohol, the last scene of the episode is Frank standing tall while overlooking Lake Michigan (probably about where Fiona had her summer fling in the Season 2 premiere), ready to defy anyone who thought he’d die: God, his son, the home-viewing audience. He has survived. But the taste of liquor on his mouth suggests that he is none the wiser. Frank is who he will always be: the neighborhood drunk that’s ever so lovable. Until he’s not. To expect more would be truly shameful.

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Oh yes, there was that other thing…Jimmy is alive. And he’s going by the name of Jack? I expected the twist reveal all season to be near the end, possibly as Frank’s doctor. I also had more than a twinge of Jimmy nostalgia when the finale opened on the frozen lake. Still, for it to appear after the credits began is as stunning as the fact that he is now “Jack” with a woman that does not look like his wife we thought he’d abandoned Fiona (at gun point) for. Jimmy is back for Season 5, and all it can mean is bad news for Fiona. Surely after losing Mike, she needs some stability in her life, and Jimmy offers the right amount of danger for her to stick around. I even defended Jimmy’s more unsavory aspects in Season 2. But after the crap he pulled this season, and the implicit cruelty of his absence for the last year too, makes him anything but a winner for the unofficial Gallagher mom…and I cannot wait to see how his resurrection will play out when their eyes meet. Perhaps he can begin with explaining why “Jack” is telling a new presumable lover about her house?

It was a somber finale that, like last year, left audiences with a mixed bag. The only stories that reached a full resolution in my mind were Frank and Fiona, and only the latter had a fully happy ending. Seriously, it’s not like things could get worse. The others were left hanging, and V and Kev practically disappeared into the background for the last several episodes, including during the birth of their twin children. In some ways Season 4 was messier than Season 3, and certainly had a weaker finale…but I will say it was better. For whatever weaknesses inherent in Season 4, this is the first time since the first (and best) season where these characters were truly unpredictable and that they could do anything. And Season 4 of Shameless better explored the real consequences of a life in this neighborhood with these parents better than any of the three that came before. This is painfully true for fans with the revelations about both Fiona and Ian’s characters. Still, Lip’s climb offers the hope that Fi’s never quite did last year, and it was great to see new facets of all the characters, if even in Frank it was the bitter acknowledgement of his own failings as a father while under post-surgery delirium.

Season 4 might be the most uneven season of Shameless, but it feels like the most honest one. And that makes it more than a worthy collection for what is the best blend of comedy and drama on any current medium. We’ll drink with Frank to that in sun, rain, or snow.

Most Shameless Quotes of The Week:

-KEV: To butt buddies. Long may they slam and slap.

-AMANDA: Why not? Is there anything on Earth more enjoyable than humiliating your peers?

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-SAMMI: Let me see my father, you bitch.

SHEILA: No! I’m the one he’s chosen to spend the rest of his life with. You’re just one lucky sperm!

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3 out of 5