Fiona and Lip have long been the two Gallagher siblings with the strongest understanding of the damage done to them by their parents. They lived through the worst of Frank and Monica, and have made it part of their life’s mission to protect their siblings from the fiction that they were—or are—anything more than a toxic presence in their lives.

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However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t want to believe otherwise. As some have posited in the comments, it’s easy to read Lip’s relationship with Helene as a classic case of “Mommy Issues” (this does not change my hate for that storyline, for the record), and Fiona’s quest for recognition with the laundromat dovetails easily into Fiona’s struggle to be appreciated for all she did in raising her siblings. Neither Lip nor Fiona is going to let Monica into their lives in the way Debbie and Liam are, but in their interactions with their mother you see them wanting to. As Monica pleads with both of them to come to her and Frank’s vow renewal, you can see each of them wanting to take her words at face value, just once, because of what it will give them at this key turning point in their lives. Here is someone who is offering what we so often turn to parents for: unconditional love and belief, which is in short supply at times in the Gallagher family. When Monica leaves without any commitments, Fiona and Lip both assure the other they were never even thinking about attending this sham of a ceremony, but their eyes told another truth: they want a mother, if not this one, and continue to hold onto the idea even long after having given up hope that it would ever happen.

“Happily Ever After” is the episode of Shameless where dreams go to die—in the case of Monica, literally. I know many seemed skeptical about Monica’s condition, but in truth I never really doubted it—logically, if we are bringing Monica back after so long, it is with a deeper purpose, and we are at the point in the show’s life where Monica conning her family again has no narrative value. Monica dying, however, is just smart storytelling: it takes something that the characters—and to some degree the show—has taken as a foregone conclusion and actually makes it a reality. None of these characters have been living life as though Monica would ever be a part of it, but they were also able to visualize what it would be like if she was. Her death takes this out of the equation: now, everyone has to imagine a world where they have no wife or mother, and reckon with how her absence—and former presence—defines them.

Chloe Webb and William H. Macy give Monica’s death the weight it deserves, serving as a microcosm of their marriage: they are in love, they have a fistfight, they’re in love again, and then they lace their children’s drinks so they can have a rager. The episode—written by Etan Frankel—doesn’t overload them with plot, alluding to Monica’s “scheme” to give her children an inheritance but never making this about hijinks. It gives Frank and Monica one last ride, fueled by a jewelry theft, hormones, and what we can best understand as a love that destroyed a family. Monica was never stable enough to care for herself or her family, and Frank was never going to be able to give up on her, and there’s a poetry to her death being after seeing that after all of that their kids weren’t a complete and total disaster. It’s a beautiful moment, and I’m impressed the show managed to generate genuine empathy for the death of a character who was undoubtedly a destructive force to these characters and this world.

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I don’t necessarily think that Monica’s death with derail Fiona and Lip’s progress. Those stories are now on their own path—Lip has a sponsor of sorts and is taking up knitting, while Fiona is once again managing to hook up with someone with shrewd business advice and a building she wants to buy. Everything could go wrong in these stories, or everything could go right, but I don’t think Monica’s death will decide them. However, it will inflect them, and shape their futures and the kind of people they want to be—if some small part of them was doing things to prove something to the ghost of Monica when she was simply out of their lives, they will need to reassess that when that ghost comes to bear upon them for real (or, well, still figuratively, but you know what I mean).

However, this is a different type of loss for Frank—as much as Macy has increasingly become a supporting character on the show (more on that in the strays), I am still invested in this side of Frank’s character in terms of understanding what motivates him on a larger level. So much of the character is about his day-to-day survival, and all of that just becomes monotonous. By comparison, though, Monica is about why Frank is who he is, and what has driven him to some of his lowest points, and arguably sidetracked him from whatever life he was supposed to lead when he was a bright teenager like Lip. Her death pushes us to the kind of questions I wish the show had been asking about Frank for the past couple of seasons, and last felt “activated” during the Bianca storyline in season five. Not shockingly, my philosophy on Frank stories is that they’re much better when the show remembers it’s a drama, and forgets its often-misguided attempt to lean on the comic side of things.

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Speaking of “often misguided,” Monica is not the only dream that died in “Happily Ever After.” It also marks a much more definitive end to Gallavich than the one we were given at the start of last season—that one, caught up in Noel Fisher’s somewhat surprising exit from the series, saw the show cleaning up a mess, rather than able to make any type of definitive statement about how they understood their relationship. After that, the show stumbled through a problem not dissimilar from the one created by Monica—how could they create new stories (and boyfriends) for Ian when the idea of Gallavich was so intoxicating for a significant group of fans and, very possibly, some of the show’s writers? As long as the dream of Gallavich was out there, hanging over the show and its audience, Ian’s story became a much more challenging proposition, and the show never managed to adapt to it. Their approach was just to ignore the Mickey in the room—Ian claims here that he thought about Mickey all the time while he was in jail, but we never saw that, because the writers had no guarantees that Fisher would be able to—or willing, depending on how we want to read his exit—reprise his role in the future.

But he did agree to reprise it, and we get an effective little mini-arc between the two characters. No, it doesn’t make sense that Mickey would manage to get over the border dressed as a woman—where is this passport even coming from?—and I have lots of questions about how Ian isn’t going to be arrested as an accessory given how many surveillance cameras he’s on with Mickey, but this is presented as a clean break: Ian goes on one last ride with his first love, empties his savings account to help him start a new life, but ultimately acknowledges that his life has moved on. He claims he’s not the same person he once was, and while I still struggle with how that was articulated last week, here we see Ian keep track of his bearings. Whatever signs that his bipolar was in some way driving him last week—which are oddly ignored here—are gone by the time he gets to that bank, at least as far as I’m concerned: he knows the choice he’s making, does so with a clear head, and leaves Mickey to go across the border alone.

Showtime, as you can see in the above video, is definitely using this as an opportunity to close the door on Ian and Mickey’s relationship, and I would say this is mostly successful. The show has created a logical reason they can’t be together—Mickey has to leave the country, and there’s no real logic to support Ian throwing away his entire life to go with him. As compared with the retconning last week, their run to the border focuses primarily on the connection between them, and provides the type of closure that wasn’t offered when it all happened between seasons. At the same time, though, the show hasn’t necessarily shut down the ‘shippers entirely: there is still the possibility of a Doug and Carol ending, albeit one that seems increasingly unlikely given that the Doug in this situation is a fugitive on the run in Mexico with whatever Ian had in his savings account to sustain him. But the possibility of it remains in the air, creating a situation where viewers might be able to better accept Ian moving on without necessarily losing the ability to believe that some day Ian is going to take a trip to Mexico and run into his old friend again—I can hear the fanfic being written now, and that’s something this story seems to consciously leave in play.

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What makes the story work in this episode, though, is how we see both Ian and Mickey wrestling with the same problem. Mickey showed up to pick up Ian with no expectation he’d be getting in the car with him, but once he does he wants to believe. He dreams of the idea of the two of them together, which is likely what motivated Ian to get in that car as well, but then the episode starts to destroy that dream piece by piece: a stop for gas turned into an unexpected holdup, the Coyote wants nothing to do with them, and by the end of it Ian has come back to reality, and Mickey is forced to do the same. Mickey is not dead like Monica is, but the final montage pulls these character moments together (along with Fiona leaving Etta in an assisted living facility) to reinforce that the “Happily Ever After” of the episode’s title is a dangerous drug, albeit one that sometimes sustains us through darker moments.

While last week’s retcon still hangs in the air, this hour does as good a job as you could probably do when it comes to reacting 23 episodes later than would have been ideal. We had to suffer through a couple of seasons of Shameless stumbling over how to talk about Mickey without knowing what kind of role he would play in Ian’s story, and whether they would be able to reaffirm the idea of “fairytale” romance, but the end result feels about as right as it could be—now comes making use of this valuable pivot, with Monica and Mickey both, to propel the Gallagher stories in a resonant direction.

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Stray observations

  • You may have read news that the series’ renewal is being held up in salary negotiations with Emmy Rossum, who is according to reports requesting that she be paid more than Macy, rather than the parity one might expect her to request (and would likely have gotten without a fight). Showtime and Warner Bros. didn’t ask for my opinion, but here it is anyway: she’s the only lead on your show, and has been for years now, so give her what she’s owed.
  • The other major storyline here—the only one, actually—is Kev ending up tending bar with Wilson Cruz at the show’s gay club. It’s a storyline that I’m confused by: are they just giving up on the Alibi? They couldn’t ask Fiona for money to pay the lawyer? Is Svetlana just going to run it without them now? The one thing I’m not confused by is where Kev ends up, which combines the show’s interest in stripping down Steve Howey to his underwear with an existing set they don’t have to build from scratch.
  • “Just read the note”—okay, so why in the world does Ian say this to the teller? Is it because he’s trying to trick Mickey into thinking they’re still robbing the bank so he doesn’t try to stop him from taking money out of his savings account? Why wouldn’t he just have that conversation with him in the car so he doesn’t, you know, try to rob a bank? Or is it because the show wants us to be on edge as to whether Ian is actually robbing the bank, playing into the “is this a manic episode?” foreshadowing from last week? It’s dumb regardless, for the record, but I’m still very confused.
  • That said, I did sort of like the idea of Ian and Mickey playing out Hell Or High Water.
  • So it feels safe to say that Fiona never actually took that money from Patsy’s, and this week they retroactively say she intends to pay Etta back for the improvements she did using Etta’s credit card. It’s weird they raised so many red flags in Fiona’s storylines and then buried them all under “she pulled this off.” I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it never does.
  • That said, I appreciated Lip’s mea culpa to Fiona, and their discovery they were rolling when it was happening—that party scene was really hearkening back to the show’s early days, and I appreciated it while also feeling like Fiona can’t just coast into an accidental career flipping property this easily.
  • I guffawed when the show claimed that Barry Sloane was from the Southside—if he can’t hide the accent, just make him from Britain.
  • Debbie wants to be a welder? I struggle to imagine how she could be so “together” on that when she was so unhinged in so many other contexts recently, but the show seems to think this is just how teenagers are.
  • Some occasionally flashy direction from John Valerio, whether in the cuts during Kev’s job hunting or the point-of-view shots when Monica and Frank start fighting during their vow renewal.
  • I never entirely bought into the idea Etta was such a neighborhood institution that it’s sad Fiona is abandoning her in an old home—she has dementia, she’ll barely know the difference—but I did like the little moment of her teaching Lip to knit before she went away. A lovely scene, and June Squibb did fine work with the character.

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