Several years ago, we binge-watched Shameless, were introduced to the appalling and yet somehow fascinating Frank Gallagher, and saw the young members of the Gallagher clan grow up–and make countless ill-advised decisions–before our eyes. We’ve followed the series since then, and watched memorable characters (like Svetlana, or Lip’s alcoholic professor) and a never-ending series of plot lines come and go through eleven entertaining seasons. And on Sunday night, Shameless came to an end with a commendable final episode.
One of the best things about Shameless is that the show’s creators and writers haven’t shied away from the characters doing incredibly stupid, often self-destructive, and occasionally venal things. It’s not surprising that they would, because all of the Gallaghers were raised in a prototypical dysfunctional household, with alcoholic, drug-addicted parents who were always ready to break the law, forsake their parenting duties, and disappear for months at a time to leave the kids to fend for themselves. If you believe that nurture is at least as determinative of a person’s outcome as nature, it’s no surprise that the Gallagher siblings are dealing with lots of issues and continuing to make bad decisions. It’s going to be their lot in life.
I therefore was glad to see that the finale didn’t try to wrap things up with a neat bow, or force some kind of implausible happy ending into the story arc. Instead, it just resolved the fate of Frank (William H. Macy’s defining role of a lifetime) and left the rest of the characters continuing on their journeys, with good and bad developments and lots of open questions. Will Ian and Mickey (our favorite characters by the end of the show) decide to adopt a child and be able to adapt to life on the west side? Will Lip finally find a job that lets him use that awesome brainpower, and will he and Tami add another member to their family? Will Carl and his police buddies buy The Alibi from Kev and V and at least preserve some small piece of the old South Side from the encroaching, suffocating, phony latte-quaffing crowd? Will Deb continue to spiral downward and make absurdly reckless decisions about her personal life? And will Liam–the only one of the kids to really care at all about Frank at the end–be able to move forward and take advantage of his obvious talents and smarts?
As much as I would have liked to see one last glimpse of Fiona, I respected the decision not to bring her back–although I note that Frank still thought of her, along with the other kids, at the end. And the final show managed to deftly combine the ever-present challenges in the Gallagher kids’ lives with an affirming message. (Spoiler alert!) As Frank rose to the heavens, perched on a bar stool and with beer in hand, the Gallagher kids gathered outside The Alibi to laugh at some rich geek whose high-priced car had caught fire and sing a song that drew upon their shared South Side roots. Whatever might happen to them, they’ve still got that strong connection. And for the Gallaghers, that’s as good as it is going to get.