Emma Kenney, Emmy Rossum

“Could I possibly be doing a worse job of raising these kids?” That line, as spoken by Fiona Gallagher, is the weirdest line of the fifth season finale of Shameless, which speaks to how dramatically the show has changed since its inception.

There was a time when that line would have been weird for a different reason, the reason being that Fiona was doing a pretty phenomenal job of raising the Gallagher gaggle given the dire, desperate circumstances. After a season in which Fiona hasn’t spent a lot of time at Gallagher Manor—being the fulcrum of a love parallelogram leaves little spare time—it’s jarring to hear her talking about the struggles of raising the kids when Shameless hasn’t been about the maternal Fiona in a good while. Once Liam overdosed, Fiona lost credibility that she’s never been able to fully regain. She was essentially demoted from den mother to concerned older sister, and now that the “kids” are making resolute, if not wise decisions for themselves, Fiona’s previous maternal function has been mostly eliminated. The Gallaghers need groceries in the house and uninterrupted utilities. They can figure out the rest for themselves, for better or worse.

The line is indicative of the weirdness that is “Love Songs (In The Key Of Gallagher).” John Wells wrote the finale, as is customary for each season with the exception of the third, and it follows the loping rhythm of Wells’ previous finales, full of suspense-free cliffhangers and the wiping of slates in preparation for the season to come. It’s as if Fiona has to speak the line about the kids to suddenly shoehorn her back into a central role in Gallagher Manor, one she hasn’t occupied for some time. She says it during a conversation with Gus, who, since returning from his tour ahead of schedule, has been more of a cut buddy to Fiona than a husband. He tells her he supports her as a friend, and she’s conflicted because she still has some hope the situation can be resolved, but she has also fully acknowledged her feelings for Sean.

I was surprised by my reaction to Fiona’s looming decision to choose Gus, Sean, or neither, the reaction being one of pure indifference. I’ve enjoyed both Dermot Mulroney’s and Steve Kazee’s performances, and wouldn’t mind seeing either return next season, but neither could appear again and I’d be just fine with that too. I don’t have an issue with either character, but given that Fiona is trying to pull her life together more broadly, I can’t be made to feel like this is as pivotal a decision as the episode wants me to.

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Ian faces a far more consequential choice after fleeing with Monica in hopes of a life free of medication and judgment. Each Ian and Monica scene is heavy with dread because it’s never a question of if things go downhill with Monica, there’s only how soon and how fast, and in this case, things go downhill quickly, rapidly. Her wandering boyfriend Walter has returned to their trailer, and is less than thrilled to be hosting a houseguest. The situation devolves rapidly after Ian confirms his suspicion about Monica and Walter’s crystal meth operation and gets into a shouting match with him. Ian meanders back to the south side and when Mickey runs to find him on the stoop, their reunion is short-lived. Ian wants someone who can love the real him, the one without the drugs. Maybe I’m too invested in their relationship, but the break-up felt rushed, and I think it’s due to the difficulty of following Ian’s emotional journey. After visiting Monica and seeing the end result of chasing your moods in whatever direction they roam, it seems like Ian would be more appreciative of Mickey’s therapeutic influence, not less so. Cameron Monaghan and Noel Fisher do good work as usual, but it doesn’t remotely feel like a break-up that could stick, so the beat doesn’t land as hard as it should.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Gallaghers were being marched into neutral positions. The obvious exception would be Debbie, who presumably finds out by the episode’s end that she’s pregnant, though somehow even that doesn’t quite land with the impact it should. It’s certainly the closest thing “Love Songs” has to a cliffhanger. Given Shameless’ tendency to jump forward three to six months between seasons, it’s possible Debbie could be visibly pregnant by the time the show resumes. As usual, Debbie’s scenes with Fiona were emotionally weighty. Never does the extent of Fiona’s downfall look more dramatic than when Debbie is throwing Fiona’s choices back in her face. Fiona’s tendency to immediately back off when Debbie does so says even more. Debbie’s perspective of Fiona has changed, and Fiona is still harboring enough shame over what happened to Liam that she isn’t up to defending herself.

The season ends on a muted note for Lip, who is apparently falling in love with Helene, much to the chagrin of an increasingly hysterical Amanda. Helene and Theo, like Sean and Gus, are characters I could take or leave. Actually, I might be more attached to Amanda than I am to Helene, and not just because Helene is newer to the show. I still remember all the times Amanda took care of Liam in season four when Lip was struggling to hold everything together. I fear Lip is being a bit hasty with his feelings, but then again, that’s how feelings work.

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Frank and Bianca’s beach romance comes to an abrupt end when Bianca decides to end her suffering during a sunrise swim. It’s a situation that ends much as it began, with Frank on the hunt for a new adventure. But the Bianca story was a worthy scenic detour, and their time together in Costa Rica is gross and weird, but also surprisingly poignant. Kev and V get a poignant moment of their own when V tries to force Kevin to choose between her and the babies again, only to find herself as sensitive to their cries as he is. They’re a team again.

Shameless is sometimes difficult to review without sounding like a recap, because that’s just how the show is sometimes. A whole bunch of stuff happens but the earth doesn’t move. More often than not, that’s just fine.

Stray observations:

  • It might not have occurred to me otherwise, but “Survival Of The Fittest” is the best finale this show has had. Wells writes some of the best episodes for sure, but he didn’t write the best finale.
  • Sammi’s back, and kind of upset about the whole “being left for dead in a moving crate” thing.
  • Kevin’s plaintive “But I was the rape walker!” was hilarious to me. Kev, that’s not, like, a term people know.

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