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The Shameless finale serves the forest, but misses the trees

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After Monica’s funeral, Fiona and Ian stand in the doorway to their living room, watching as the family parties as a memorial to a wife and mother that abandoned them. Fiona asks Ian why Trevor—his boyfriend—isn’t there, and he demurs: he isn’t telling his family about his unexpected trip to the Mexican border with Mickey, and so he simply says that he might have screwed it up. Fiona then asks a simple but crucial question: “Is it fixable?”


I was struck by this. The question is essentially asking Ian whether or not Trevor is a character that we should be invested in as part of his future, or—like Caleb—just a temporary character introduced to feed a particular storyline. Was their relationship something that could be resolved and turned into part of the fabric of Shameless, messed up in ways that are sustainable and could make compelling drama? Or is it just going to join the collection of storylines that get left behind, deemed unsalvageable by the writers, and thus by the characters as well?

“Requiem For A Slut” is about a situation that can’t be fixed. While the episode creates a moment of uncertainty as we reconnect with the Gallagher family in the hospital waiting for news about Monica, the news is as was presumed at the end of the previous episode: Monica is dead. It’s an incredibly strange television death given the fact how complex her relationship is with these characters: the only one to really react to her death emotionally is Frank, and yet that character is so odious that I never had the basic empathy I typically have when a show focuses so heavily on the grieving process. Monica’s death is not incidental, but it’s not a big emotional climax for these characters: instead, it’s basically just an excuse to bring them all together, and push each of them to ask how they see their life playing out from this point forward.


This is most evident in the “deus meth machina” that Monica leaves behind in her storage unit, a development that felt unnecessary to me. Central to this season has been Fiona’s inability to relate to her family’s worldview, making choices that embrace her upward mobility while her family—particularly Lip—doesn’t have the same privilege. But the meth lays this out too bare: of course Fiona is the only member of the family who thinks they shouldn’t sell the meth, because she’s the only member of the family who has money (at least since Ian gave all of his to Mickey). All of the Gallaghers want to fix parts of their lives, and all of them need money to do that, but Fiona is the only one who isn’t willing to do it “the Gallagher way.” The meth underlines this point, yes, but it also highlights it, and bolds it, and then underlines it again—the meth may have been foreshadowed, and has some symbolic value when Fiona buries Monica with her share, but it doesn’t add stakes or anything of consequence to the episode around it (it’s not as though the terrifying moment of Frank attacking Debbie needed the meth to be involved, given Frank’s fragile emotional state).

It also keeps this from feeling like a conclusion to the season, as opposed to an isolated moment in the mythology of the series. Everything Fiona is going through in this episode is powerful, and Emmy Rossum does some tremendous work dealing with her anger and resentment toward her mother. Both in her monologue to Frank and in her speech at her mother’s casket before the funeral, Fiona is working through years of pent-up rage at the sacrifices she was forced to make, but the episode doesn’t do a whole lot to connect this to her story in the season as a whole. The episode seemed to be setting up—as was discussed in the comments last week—that Fiona was distracted making the deal for the apartment building and was getting swindled, but then there’s no follow-up. It’s a powerful moment in Fiona’s larger journey, perhaps, but there’s very little clarity regarding her current arc, and not as much groundwork laid for the future as I have come to expect.


That’s a common thread throughout the episode, in truth, and it bears the marks of one written and conceived as a possible series finale, as though producers knew it was possible that the contract talks with Emmy Rossum could potentially go south. They didn’t (Rossum tweeted she was coming back earlier this week), but the episode is trapped between hinting at or showing us possible futures while also reaffirming that this could have been an ending. Kev and Vee could fight to get the Alibi back, but we don’t see any of that play out here, with Svetlana remaining excised from the narrative in favor of Vee and Kev hanging out as honorary Gallaghers. Lip could work at his sponsor’s motorcycle shop and go back to school, but those aren’t storylines so much as they’re just kernels of story that could either be explored or just left to the imagination.


Unless we count “Is Debbie going to bang her welding teacher,” there’s no cliffhanger in that final montage, meaning that the writers have something close to a clean slate moving forward. Maybe Fiona was being swindled on her purchase of that apartment building, or maybe it was a legitimate purchase, and Sierra will move into one of the empty apartments (one of you suggested this in the comments last week). Or, maybe Sierra will disappear between seasons, her tentative reconciliation with Lip here erased off-screen—either option seems possible. And while that’s perhaps productive for the writers, who need to find a way to keep the show fresh after seven seasons, as a viewer it seemed like an odd way to end a season of television. Monica’s death overshadows every other storyline, robbing the season of a clear climax and disrupting the arcs that were already in progress.

Some of this is just not being used to so many storylines in a Shameless season unfolding without some type of crisis or catastrophe. So Debbie’s marriage to Neil is just going to be super great, and she has no problems getting into a welding program? Fiona’s just going to take out a $250,000 loan and not bat an eyelash over it? They had all that meth on hand, and it isn’t going to get everyone arrested? Shameless has taught us to expect the other shoe to drop 90% of the time, but even the cases where it did drop—Lip’s failed appeal, Svetlana’s theft of the alibi—the show sort of just shrugged it off. It’s disorienting, and keeps the finale from taking full advantage of the season’s momentum.


“Requiem For A Slut” gives us moments that highlight what the season did well, with lots of interaction between family members. Monica’s return brought Frank further into the family fold, and Fiona taking pity on him in the kitchen is a direct and welcome callback to Debbie doing the same back in the pilot. I loved the little moment of Ian and Carl going out for a run together, or the way everyone greets Carl’s return with such love. The closeness between the siblings was a huge part of what elevated this season over the last two, and the focus on Monica here taps into the emotional mythology of the show in ways that are satisfying when viewed in the context of the series as a whole. This is not a finale that derails the show’s characters, or makes me disinterested in seeing how the show chooses to move forward from here.


However, there’s something disorienting about Shameless of all shows hitting a “reset” button, or at least reserving the right to do so. The idea of “fixing” has always been complicated on this show because its conflicts are rooted in problems that can’t be truly solved: the Gallaghers will always carry the weight of their childhoods, and in the case of Lip and Ian the alcoholism and bipolar disorder they each respectively draw from their parents is never going to be “fixed” even if they get their lives together. Although I’ve been preparing myself for how the show might end, since it’s clear the end is coming relatively soon, seeing the show laying the groundwork for this being an inadvertent series finale made clear how complex that process is going to have to be. What I learned is that if they go with a montage that glosses over a season’s storylines and paints a pretty standard “nothing’s perfect, but everyone’s doing their best” portrait of the Gallagher family, I’m not going to be satisfied.

Monica and Mickey represented two of the most crucial recurring characters in this story, and for the most part season seven will go into the books as having done well at giving these conclusions the attention they deserved (albeit delayed in Mickey’s case). But what frustrates me about this finale is that it muddles what else we’ll remember season seven by, like they forgot to write a final chapter and will just retroactively tell us what happened when we start watching season eight next year. It chooses the macro over the micro in ways that create powerful moments, but fail to coalesce into a clear statement of what the show is and what it intends to be as it treads into uncharted territory for Showtime dramas.


Stray observations

  • So technically Shameless isn’t renewed yet, but given Rossum’s announcement of signing a new contract and the end-tag noting this isn’t the end of the story, it’s a foregone conclusion at this point. I suppose the only question is whether the entire supporting cast stays—they could probably write out Carl until a series finale if the actor wanted to focus on school (which is why he disappears at the end of seasons).
  • I allude to this above, but I do hope that Ruby Modine continues on with the show: Sierra is built into this world in meaningful ways, has relationships with Fiona and Debbie in addition to Lip, and showed strong backbone when dealing with Lip that serves the future of his story well.
  • Some interesting post-production choices during Monica’s funeral: we see everyone’s speeches, but only cut in during Fiona’s, and not early enough to actually hear the quote Monica underlined in Siddhartha. It makes sense that Frank’s remembrance is highlighted, but I wonder if they wrote all those speeches and just cut them for time.
  • I honestly had no reason to believe Monica’s father was still alive, so his return here surprised until I realized they wanted to have a funeral and there was no universe where Fiona was ever going to pay for one.
  • I know the title is mostly about the meth, but it still feels weird to be slut-shaming Monica.
  • “Give me liberty, or give me meth”—not an unreasonable reaction to the state of U.S. politics in 2016, honestly.
  • When Frank was saying at the funeral that Monica is inside of all of them and that this was “good,” I really wanted to know what Ian was thinking at that moment. Obviously, Monica was troubled by her bipolar disorder and he shouldn’t hate her for passing it onto him, but it’s way more complicated than “good.” (Does Frank even understand that Ian is bipolar?)
  • Although ostensibly set at Christmas, with all the decorations, the episode weirdly never talks about it, which kind of threw me.
  • Among the episode’s many loose ends—it’s suggested there was a man living with Monica in the storage unit, but we never come back to it once they find the meth.
  • I like the idea that Emmy Rossum knew she was about to enter a salary fight when she was filming this episode, and threw everything into it as a result—“Fuck you, Mom” was just so satisfying, y’all.
  • And while I know I’ve stated my issues with Frank, Macy really does some nice work being asked to play full drama—the category fraud is what keeps getting him nominations for Comedy in a weaker category, but his best work is often the dramatic side of the show, and it shows here.
  • And thus concludes another season of Shameless reviews—thanks to everyone for reading, especially after coming in such quick succession following season six earlier this year. It’s been nice to have a bit more to talk about this year as the show pushed in some new directions, and I very much appreciate the opportunity to work through this with other viewers—until next year!

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