Shameless lost Fiona Gallagher after season nine. It marked a huge change that sometimes worked for the show and made it worse at others.
Showtime recently announced the return date for the 11th and final season of Shameless. Although the series is still beloved and boasts a loyal fanbase, things have changed considerably since the ninth season aired. That’s because that string of episodes marked the end of Emmy Rossum’s stint on the show.
Rossum’s portrayal of Fiona Gallagher had been the focal point of Shameless since day one. Her departure changed the game completely. No Fiona meant a whole new show, almost from top to bottom. In some ways, it actually managed to improve the series but in others, it had a negative impact on it.
Hurt The Show: She Wasn’t Mentioned Much After
Fiona leaving understandably made things quite different for almost every aspect of Shameless. It was understandable that the showrunners would want to avoid putting the focus on her not being around. That being said, it was weird that she was almost never brought up.
Season ten had a handful of opportunities to mention Fiona. She could’ve appeared or at least contacted her family in time for Ian’s wedding to Mickey. When Lip’s son was born, Debbie stepped away for a phone call and while it’s never said who called, one could assume it was Fiona. That’s about it, though.
Good Thing: Showed Someone Could Get Out
A lot of Shameless is based on the idea that the Gallaghers and their friends are stuck in their rough southside of Chicago life. Even those who have high aspirations often wind up becoming someone like Frank Gallagher. The supporting characters who left usually did so for something negative.
Lip was the best example of someone not getting out of the southside. He had genius-level intellect and went to college but kept blowing his opportunities. Fiona worked hard and shot for the stars in her final few seasons. It backfired at points but her ultimate exit proved good things could happen.
Hurt The Show: V’s New Friend Storyline
One thing that Shameless is unfortunately known for is starting storylines that don’t really end up going anywhere. They just seem to fill time for a few episodes and go away, never to be thought about again. After Fiona left, a storyline began where Veronica “V” Fisher needed a new friend.
On paper, it was a fine idea since she never had many friends other than Fiona. However, it never really developed. Other than a fun scene where Kev brought in a bunch of girls for a reality TV-style competition to find a friend, it was forgettable and didn’t even play into V’s arc for the rest of the season.
Good Thing: Gave The Show A Fresh Perspective
For so long, Fiona was basically everything to the show. Sure, audiences loved Ian’s romance with Mickey, watching Lip navigate the hardships of life, or seeing Debbie and Carl grow into young adults. However, Fiona always remained at the center of it all.
Without her, it allowed Shameless to go in a totally new direction. There was no longer a central protagonist of sorts. Debbie took over as head of the household for a bit but the show became more of an ensemble piece than ever, providing everyone with a storyline.
Hurt The Show: Heart Of The Show Was Gone
Of course, when the center of a show departs, it’s tough to get past. Think about when Eric Foreman left That ’70s Show or The Office without Michael Scott. While there were plenty of characters left to follow, Shameless always had Fiona as the beating heart.
Her emotional speech to her mother in season one detailed it all. This was the woman who audiences saw the story through. She raised the kids and lost her parents to their vices. Fiona made plenty of mistakes but that’s why she was such a perfect figure for the middle of this flawed family.
Good Thing: Her Emotional Goodbyes
Anytime that a major character leaves a show, audiences know they’re in for some emotional scenes. Again, it’s worth it to callback to Michael Scott’s goodbyes to various Dunder-Mifflin employees. Fiona got a similar send-off where she had final words for key family members.
While she didn’t stick around for her going away party, Fiona did have two standout goodbye scenes. The first was with Ian at prison, where he helped convince her to leave. The second was with Frank, who was as stubborn as ever during the scene but had tears in his eyes that Fiona couldn’t’ see.
Hurt The Show: Hard To Live Up To
Fiona was the key to pretty much every major storyline that ever happened on Shameless. Her attempts to get full custody of her siblings, her emotional spats with her parents, the various romances, and her real estate aspirations all stand out.
Without her being around, the show struggled to really live up to what she was part of. Regardless of how flawed Fiona was, she was the character a lot of fans cared the most about. Other than the Gallavich wedding and Lip being a dad, none of the season ten storylines had the emotional stakes of what Fiona usually did.
Good Thing: It Allowed Others To Step Up
Although it was noted that most of the characters couldn’t quite live up to the Fiona storylines, you have to appreciate that it gave them the opportunity to try. With such a big family, plus friends and supporting characters, it was often tough to give everyone proper screen time.
The lack of Fiona meant that others had the opening to play bigger parts in the plot. Some things missed the mark while others were fun. The good bits were namely Lip’s relationship with Tami and everything Liam got to do. Side characters like Mikey were also given time to make for a fun side plot.
Hurt The Show: Debbie’s Character
As much as she was the heart of the show, some fans complained that Fiona’s character was hard to fully get behind because she made a lot of bad decisions. It fit with her character, though. Like her brothers and parents, she often self-sabotaged. With Fiona gone, Debbie took over as the most prominent female in the series.
Unfortunately, it was all bad for her. The choices she made, like using everyone’s money for her personal gain while lecturing them about everything, made her easy to root against. Plus, her romantic storyline felt like a waste of time and she was pretty awful when it came to Derek’s wife. None of these decisions were done to help the family or were even entertaining, making her unlikable.
Good Thing: Incredible Final Arc
Season nine was 14 episodes long instead of the usual 12 for Shameless and it was a great move. That allowed the writers the time to tell a remarkable story with Fiona. She continued to aim high as a businesswoman, only to fall hard and end up in the worst shape of her life.
Audiences watched as Fiona hit rock bottom and even had Frank tell her off for the kind of drunk that she is. Lip’s scene confronting her after she caused his AA sponsee to drink was a huge blow for her. Sure, she got help in the end but it was gratifying because she had started to turn things around on her own. Her retribution felt earned.
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