This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 6 Episode 12
Friends, we gather here today to witness the demise of the union of Fiona Gallagher and Sean Pierce. Because, hey, this is Shameless. Did you ever really expect anything to go that right for these characters?
Indeed, coming back to review the Shameless season 6 finale, I knew going in that something was going to happen to upend Fi’s almost happily ever after. Granted, she was marrying a somewhat older recovering heroin junkie while working a dead end job at a diner, but considering how low Shameless brought Fi in season 4, this was a storybook styled resurrection! Hence, what should have been a hallmark moment for the Gallaghers went the way we could generally expect, even if it is not how I would’ve predicted it.
I never believed that last week’s cliffhanger would actually lead to Sean’s death. While it was a nice little nudge to Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, it was just too purely dark and melodramatic for Frank to successfully order the assassination of his would be son-in-law. While I wouldn’t put anything past the inherent cynicism that runs through the veins of this TV series even deeper than a Chicagoan snowmelt, murder might just be too fantastical for Frank to pull off—he’s more likely to just accidentally run you over while on coke (or bang you until your heart explodes).
With that said, it was handled well enough to remind us that Frank would try something this despicable. First, he discovers he’s been swindled by a stranger on a train and then he attempts to buy a gun himself to presumably put two in the back of Sean’s head. This also never seemed plausible, first and foremost, Frank is a coward who could never go through with it himself. Secondly, it again would veer Shameless toward Dallas. No, the actual slaughter was all too believable in the end: Frank discovered Sean was using heroin and ratted on him during the wedding ceremony in a moment of pure abject horror.
Seeing Frank appear at Fiona’s wedding in a tuxedo was like first witnessing the iceberg in James Cameron’s mopey Titanic. The whole hour had the tension of a gently plucked violin string, but we knew disaster was inevitable. When the ice was finally glimpsed in the midst of a deceptively sweet romance, it was only a matter of time before he did what Fi begged him not to: ruin her day.
Still to Frank’s credit, he did more than just humiliate Fiona—he attacked every person in the room from his teenaged and Juno’d daughter to his boozing oldest son, to even his next son’s girlfriend whom he’s never met. But after finally attacking Fiona herself, and crudely suggesting that the eldest daughter he claimed to love so much had an interstate highway between her legs, he dropped the heroin bomb: Sean is using again.
And I have to say that I should’ve seen it coming. Earlier this season, I applauded Shameless for avoiding the obvious way to write Sean out of the series—that he’d start using heroin again and became a junkie when it was convenient to the script. However, here we are with the writers’ built in escape hatch easily opened at the moment where it would cause the maximum amount of emotional damage to the characters and audiences. And I have to admit that I’m disappointed.
Yes, the scene is excruciatingly good and a fair development of Frank’s awfulness as a human being. This is, after all, the man who called child services on Fiona and his children when he last felt unappreciated by his family. So the choice of ruining her wedding is par for the course, and the scene is a beautiful nightmare that both Macy and Rossum sell the hell out of in truly grim form. Macy is at his nastiest and most intentionally unforgivable, proving that even as the age of the “television anti-hero” sunsets, few have been more despicable than Frank Gallagher. Rossum, meanwhile, is nothing short of heartbreaking at conveying the sense of betrayal and bottled rage that has become a Fi trademark.
However, it seems still like a bit o a cheat to get Sean out of the series in a fashion that doesn’t seem entirely authentic. For a man shown to be such a grounding influence on Fiona in season 5, the idea that he has been using heroin for the last half of season 6 to “take the edge off” and that he doesn’t even see the problem in it just feels like a sloppy way to rob Fiona of any sort of stability or center again. Understandably, Dermot Mulroney was never likely intended to be a permanent addition, nor does the show thrive on happiness, but to rob Fi of an emotional escape once again by showing Sean to be every bit as duplicitous as Jimmy was in the end, and to show him being a man willing to lie for months about his drug use while proposing marriage, is a false note.
But he’s gone and Fiona is looking oh so pretty in her misery while sullying a white wedding gown in a bench’s slushy runoff.
Similarly, the resolution Lip’s storyline this season reached the culmination of what has been an unfair year to Jeremy Allen White. Saddled with the worst storyline(s) of the season, Lip’s descent into alcoholism—which was only really set up about two-thirds through the year after it was clearly realized that sleeping with his professor was a dead-end narrative—represented a nadir for a season of decisions reminiscent to the bad send-off to Sean.
Again, just as when Fiona seemed too close to achieving a middle class lifestyle in season 4, Lip unsurprisingly had his college experience ripped away due to some rather contrived choices. From deciding that his other professorial mentor was another failed father figure like Frank (which this episode made explicit with Lip ripping into one vicariously while talking about the other) to the sudden drunkenness at the sorority, sending Lip to an obvious expulsion from the University of Chicago was the inevitable endpoint of the season. Nonetheless, it still feels like the series is squandering all the promise it built with Lip during the previous five seasons, because if he became too successful at realizing his great expectations, the mission statement of the show might be even momentarily subdued.
Thus, even though last season saw Lip desperate to cling to collegiate life over the horrors of the craziness on the Southside, he has now been pigeonholed into the same corner they placed Fi in season 4: he has Frank’s self-destructive streak and addictive quality in his DNA, except now it’s even more direct since he’s a full-blown drunk.
As the series is approaching its seventh year, would it have been such a crime to have an eye toward building to a series finale where Lip actually used his intelligence to escape the cycle of poverty that destroyed his parents and threatens to destroy his siblings? Especially because this reluctant genius angle was already heavily explored in seasons 2 and 3.
What did work very well this episode was Ian Gallagher standing up for himself after being discovered to be bipolar by his EMT superior. The finale set-up the same bitter cynicism that swarmed his older siblings this year with him almost going back to dancing in a strip club as a twink. And the shot of Ian considering that lifestyle again was about as grim as things could possibly become, but his choice not to end up like that and fight for his job was refreshingly upbeat for this show. Hopefully, the series will not rip the rug out from under Ian, though it is unavoidable that he will have a relapse into depression again next season while on the job.
Even better is the fact that Carl Gallagher unexpectedly became the season MVP. His story about wooing for Dominique and then Dominique’s father, as well as going from a wannabe gangster to a scared-straight kid, has been both comically reliable and surprisingly cathartic throughout the year. Carl, it turns out, might just be the only Gallagher who learns from his elders’ mistakes instead of trying to repeat those errors. Seeing him both use his influx of cash to save the house and then leave the life on his own accord, and nevertheless always face a bullet-to-the-face threat from Dominique’s father, is the one story thread that held together better than any other, and landed exactly where you suspect the writer’s room intended back from the start of the year.
Well, that last bit also likely goes or Debbie. But whereas Carl’s arc has been one of surprising growth and revelation, Debbie is still slut shaming Fiona until almost the very end and thinking she can raise the baby on her own. So, I guess we should bless Emma Kenney for being asked to play Debbie so well as the character gets more bitter and unlikeable with nearly every episode.
Also, it is worth noting that the comedic through-line of the episode was the very enjoyable wrap-up to Kev, V, and Svetlana’s arc with all three of them moving under the sheets together (never mind the roof). Obviously, this will not truly end well when season 7 rolls around and the negative consequences of a threesome become apparent, but in the meantime it is a nice bit of levity. Whether it be Fi, the regulars at the Alibi, or especially Ian during the wedding ceremony, seeing each realize what this marriage has turned into were the moments of comedy gold that we needed to go down the poison pill that Frank made us swallow.
As for the future, it is again almost impossible to imagine the family still welcoming Frank back into their home. Even if he did “save” Fiona from marrying a man lying about his junkie habits, Frank did it for entirely selfish reasons and did it in the most humiliating, degrading way possible at Fi’s expense—as well as everyone else in that room. Throwing him off a bridge might have been too good for him, even if a career firefighter didn’t seem to worry about his health.
I cannot imagine anyone letting Frank back in the house, which will make the next batch of episodes all the more interesting with no Sheila for Frank to go hide behind. Also, as the series clearly wrote Sean toward his stage right exit, so it will be curious to see how they handle Fiona and Carl’s employment for next year.
Overall, season 6 does feel like a big step up from season 5 (which was the weakest one the series has had to date). Other than Lip’s regression, most of the characters found themselves in curious places as Debbie doubled down on her decision to have her baby, Fiona finally found stability (until the last minute), and Carl revealed himself to be the most well-adjusted Gallagher of all. Oh, and Frank proved to be an irredeemable bastard yet again. But to suggest that is redundant would be akin to complaining about Like Michigan being cold.
Nonetheless, the finale itself feels a bit like a missed opportunity to really find some lasting grace for anyone. Still, these characters are ones that at the end of the day I like spending 12 hours with every year, and that sense of fun isn’t changing. Also, I would be lying if I didn’t call Frank’s marital assault one of the most grueling and intensely attention-grabbing scenes the series has ever forced us to wince through. So, any issues aside, it certainly is something to meditate about while crawling back into the corner to lick our wounds—with a drink.
Most Shameless Quote of the Week
Frank’s speech. All of it.