This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 9 Episode 6
Goodbye, Ian Gallagher. The title of the episode might be about the inherent beauty of everyone—including presumably (or especially) Ian. But ever since it was announced earlier this week that tonight was for all intents and purposes Cameron Monaghan’s last episode of Shameless, the hour has become the expected, and dreaded, farewell to who is many viewers’ favorite Gallagher.
Yet it didn’t play that way. In fact, if Monaghan had not made the announcement himself beforehand, I suspect many would have treated it like the seasons where Carl went off to juvenile hall or boot camp mid-season (“Oh Monaghan must have some other project so is leaving early, see you next year!”). Alas, this is the end, which makes the choice to primarily treat this as merely another hour of Gallagher hijinks an intriguing and honest one. However, I cannot deny it was still a disappointing direction go in.
With the added knowledge that this is Ian’s last Shameless episodes barring some unexpected mini-arc cameo in two seasons (supposing the show even continues to live on that long), there is not much until the very closing moments of the hour to mark this as a true sendoff. Rather it is in many ways an Irish goodbye, as John Wells and the Shameless characters go about their other business. This was stated to be Ian’s understandable intent: He’s about to spend what he thinks is the next two years looking over his shoulder in fear, so now he just simply wants to have a pleasant day at home chill-axing before the big sendoff. This leaves most of the episode to be relegated to the other characters’ daily toils while Ian takes some self-defense lessons from Carl’s way cooler girlfriend.
Luckily, the other storylines are primarily strong tonight. The biggest non-Fi one is a breezy departure from all the angst poor Lip has been forced to endure this season. Due to scheduling issues, I was unfortunately unable to review last week’s episode, which I think is by far the best hour of season 9 so far. It also shined some illuminating attention onto why Lip fixated so much on turning Xan into his surrogate daughter: As long as he’s obsessing over her well-being, he isn’t worried about his own, which due to anxiety and/or tedium drives him back to the bottle.
It was a revealing aspect of Lip’s desire to be a better big brother to strangers these days than he is to his own wee baby brother, Liam. But that longing for dependency from excitement, while reminiscent of Fiona’s own self-destructive tendencies in the first four seasons, also leads Lip to a cheery of a new plot development, since he is working part-time as a drinking buddy’s non-drinking buddy. Yep, with a gig that requires him to run down rich slushes who are too unwilling (or lazy) to kick the habit themselves or attend AA, Lip has a dynamic that should be easily mined for the rest of season 9 for amusing narrative scenarios that also force him to examine himself.
The first up in this vein is a movie and television star played by an iconic movie and television star, Ms. Courtney Cox. In an amusing bit of intertextual irony, after getting Wells’ ER leads to guest spot on Friends, their new “Must-See TV lineup” neighbor of over 20 years ago, Cox is now returning the favor on Shameless.
A decidedly different neck of the Chicago woods, Cox embodies the “Gorgeous” vapidity of pampered celebrity culture as she savors slumming it for the day on the South Side. She apparently was forced into hiring a glorified babysitter to keep her hand off the booze, and Lip gets exactly what he so secretly yearns for—a person in crisis he can help, one shouting match at a time.
Shameless knowingly walks the line when it has its hero pin an actress to the ground and demand she do as he says, all while in public. But by and large, it is just an amusing sojourn with Lip finding increasingly desperate and amusing ways to stop Cox’s Jen from hitting the bottle. He smashes the glass out of her hand when she sneaks some booze into her virgin cocktail, and then forces her to fight off a swarm of fawning celebrity chasers at a hotel bar when he draws attention to her presence. It’s hard to stop him from stealing your beer when you have a line out-the-door of folks wanting selfies. As someone who has seen celebrities in these situations (and not-so-proudly has gone for the selfie early in my career), seeing Cox lampoon the artifice of pretending to share a moment with total strangers who care more about their phones than the famous human being they’re posing next to was wickedly on-point.
All of this is, of course, a long way around toward explain why Jen winds up with Lip back in the South Side. There are moments here where the series lives up to its name and does things simply for shock value—like having Jen make out with Debbie just for the surprise of seeing Courtney Cox kiss a teenager—but it’s mostly a savvier entertainment, one that reboots Lip’s storyline with a breath of fresh air.
I have no idea if the plan is to keep Jen around for a multi-episode arc (they leave the door open when she concedes she’s having fun hanging out with the Gallaghers), but it’s nice to see Lip out of his own head and neither be stressing out over Xan or his need to self-destruct via girl or drinking problems. At least not right now during these spontaneous early moments with a new acquaintance. Soon though comes the investment troubles.
Speaking of investments, Fiona Gallagher faced a downside of commercial real estate that I did not fully see coming. I did predict that her business arrangement in a senior center would come back to bite her in the rear, if only because I assumed there would be something below the board and vindictive about how she’d be set-up as the smallest fish holding the bag. Instead it turned out to be a case of above the board regulations doing her in. Due to the site having been a gas station about a hundred years ago, and some other nebulous reasons, legal wrangling with the city will cost Fiona and each of her partners $25,000, plus a year of waiting to break ground on their new venture.
Of course Fi is a Gallagher who put all of her $50,000 windfall, plus another $50,000 in loans, into this venture. She doesn’t have the money and never truly will. This is the beginning of what I suspect to be a half-season-long fall from middle class grace and back into the rags of Gallagher life. It’s cynical, but after they took away Fi’s chance of breaking out in the fourth season, or even a happy personal life with Shawn in season 6, I’ve long come to expect nothing ever going right for these Gallaghers for long (a theme I’ll return to in a moment). Yet in this case, it feels less like glib smugness and more of a knowing understanding of how the system is stacked against anyone trying to improve their situation.
Fiona has had genuine success as a small business owner, but trying to spin that into a larger business venture that actually takes her out of the South Side was always going to be an uphill battle, especially when her income is based on one building, and she has no one watching her back as she swims with the sharks.
That desperation is only going to be compounded by what comes next tonight. Fi gave a long hard look at the prospects of a loan shark when she gets an “offer” from Ian’s new mentor. She turns it down, but the look on Rossum’s face is not one of dismissing obvious danger; it is someone who almost said yes. Next week, I believe she will, hence how Fiona could be on a far darker path off Shameless than Ian. There is no way for Fi, on this series, to get into bed with loan sharks and for it to end well.
Yet the other reason that might make Fiona more desperate is this appears to be the end of Ford as her steady boyfriend. I cannot say I’ll be that sad to see him go if it is. Admittedly, I just began liking him last week when he swallowed his anger at her doing a lousy thing and not showing up for the art exhibit he had been anticipating for six months; he even had a Gallagher-worthy apology for his bitterness via a bed of condoms. Still, he’s the guy who has always acted far too cool by half.
Discovering he is married after previously learning about his treatment of exes and other children is not a surprise, but it is the poisoned cherry on the arsenic ice cream sundae that was Fi’s day. Thus Rossum leans into her reliably heartstring-yanking dramatic chops as she totals her new car and just stumbles off into the night. It is a moment in keeping with the thesis of the series, and sadly forebodes worse days for Fiona’s future… the kind where Ford’s absence will be the least of it.
Indeed, she is so distraught by the whole experience that she totally forgets to attend Ian’s farewell dinner of White Castle hamburgers. Nor is she there the next day to drive him to prison. It’s easy to roll with, however, since Fi and Ian had a much more poignant moment last week where he resisted Fi’s mothering influence, but still succumbed to her best intentions for him when she took a step back. (I’ll just add though that while he’s bipolar, what are the rest of the Gallaghers’ excuses for complaining about Fi? Do they not recall when they had to beg her pardon to open Aunt Ginger’s casket?)
Ian allowing Fiona to attend his court appearance without dialogue was a fitting moment between the two, and narratively it reinforces how far down the rabbit hole to hell Fiona has fallen after just one episode if she misses Ian’s last moments in the Gallagher home. (Although Frank missing Ian’s goodbye was too perfect.)
Be that as it may though, I still feel somewhat let down by the whole affair. Ian’s choice not to make a day of it with Lip, who he had the closest and most profound familial relation with during those early seasons, is understandable but a disappointment. Fi being so screwed up she misses Ian’s dinner and drive, while also befitting the terrifying trajectory she’s on, is nevertheless underwhelming.
Shameless is always at its strongest when the Gallaghers rally. We prefer seeing them together as opposed to apart. With Ian essentially gone forever after this episode (at least likely so for viewers), we’ve lost the chance to see them altogether here. There will never be a moment, save perhaps a now increasingly slap and dash series finale in the next year or so, where they’re all in the same place interacting. And we lost that this week, perhaps because of narrative choices, but also in an attempt to move us on to a series without Ian.
Well, they can try. It’s currently unclear if Monaghan is leaving simply because he is ready to pursue other opportunities, especially after getting a lot of critical notice on Gotham, but he cuts a hard-to-replace figure. While Fi might be the monarch this family, and Frank the unwanted jester, Ian was its soul. Suffering from mental illness, his self-destruction was far less controllable than Lip or Fi’s, and Monaghan grew into a wonderful understated actor over the years, playing the guy who under different circumstances might’ve actually just been a happy well-adjusted dude.
There is something disheartening about seeing the guy who put his life straight by quitting the “Gallagher vortex” and starting to work as an EMT while not running off to Mexico with Mickey… still wind up in a cell with Mickey. For shippers, it’s very romantic. It also put a smile on my face, because God knows we needed Ian to have some good news given how the last two seasons have gone for him. And as soon as I saw no cellmate in his room, I even thought “I bet/hope Mickey shows up behind him.”
And he did, ready to let Ian take top bunk, likely much to his father’s horror. As these two are by far the healthiest and best romantic pairing in the entire series’ run, it was a sweet way to close the curtain on Ian, potentially for good. On the other hand, the vortex Ian so forcefully escaped in season 7 still sucked him down this year. I suppose in Shameless, the Gallagher Vortex will always win, and the Gallaghers in turn will always lose. At least there is a happy ending or two at the center of it tonight.
So it’s a fond farewell in an episode that was definitely superior by Shameless narrative standards. Yet it already causes me to worry for the future, as something was missing, and Ian hadn’t even left yet.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“Who is that?” / “Probably a Gallagher.” – V and disgusted Kev.
“I’m going to get some more of those fudge stripes and then I’m going to tell you about the time Monica shattered my kneecap with a pool cue. It was the best sex of my life!” – Frank.
“Oh hey, I got bottom, so you’re on top.” – Mickey Fucking Mikovich.