Season finale review: ‘Shameless’ – ‘Survival of the Fittest’

Senior Television Writer
04.08.13 47 Comments


A review of last night’s “Shameless” season finale coming up just as soon as I write a letter to Santa wishing for your death…

“Shameless” is among Showtime’s most popular series, and was renewed for a fourth season only a few weeks after the third began airing. Like a lot of scripted cable successes, its return was inevitable, both to the audience who follows these things and to the people making the show.

That said, if I was a person who didn’t already know this, I would’ve assumed “Survival of the Fittest” was a series finale. It doesn’t provide closure to every character and story thread, but it sends a bunch of characters away from Chicago, it gives Frank a medical condition where he has to either stop drinking (and, therefore, stop being Frank) or die, apparently leaves Jimmy dead at the hands of Nando, and gives both Lip (with his MIT scholarship offer) and Fiona (with her office job and health benefits) access to middle-class lives that may finally drag the Gallagher clan off their perpetual financial edge. The images of Frank walking bare-assed through the frozen streets of Chicago, and Fiona smiling as she walks back into the house, had a sense of finality the show really hasn’t in its previous seasons.

Of course, the way that TV works, many of these things can be undone next season if the writers want them to be, some of them fairly easily. Ian, for instance, could have his identity and age discovered and get kicked out of the military as a result. Fiona could lose the job, Lip could decide he hates MIT (or not go in the first place), Frank could be the recipient of some experimental treatment that allows him to go on drinking, Jimmy could simply be Nando’s prisoner (or, like Frank in this season’s premiere, stranded in a foreign country with no easy way to get home), etc.

My understanding is that the British show went through a lot of character turnover, but mainly because the actors (like James McAvoy and Anne-Marie Duff) kept choosing to leave. It would be interesting to see a version of this show where Frank and the older brothers are gone, Fiona has achieved modest success and the focus shifts to Debbie, Carl and the ageless Liam. But I tend to doubt that’ll happen, if only because it’d cost the show many of its best actors and waste the presence of Emmy Rossum. There will be turmoil to come, I’m sure.

But whatever happens, “Survival of the Fittest” was a very “Shameless” kind of finale: extremely heartfelt in places (Frank being genuinely pleased when he realized why Carl was shaving his head), raucous and disgusting in others (Lip and Frank’s drunken, vomit-inducing afternoon) and just emotionally complicated throughout (Lip thanking Mandy, Mickey’s reaction to Ian’s news). And the Fiona/Frank scene at the hospital was as outstanding as you might expect, given the material and the presence of Rossum and William H. Macy.

Overall, this was the most consistent, and probably best, of the three American “Shameless” seasons so far, even if it feels like the season emotionally peaked back during the custody battle arc. It was certainly the best the writers have ever used Frank, whether as a malevolent dark force early on or in the genuinely hilarious gay marriage mini-arc. Here, he got to function as a kind of cautionary tale for what Lip can become if he doesn’t stop screwing around with his life (not that Lip seemed to mind the thought as they were getting hammered), and then as someone whom you can believe Carl, Debbie and even Fiona would miss when gone.

Assuming Showtime sticks to its usual scheduling pattern, we won’t be seeing new episodes til next January, which means it’ll be a while til we know how hard, if at all, the writing staff intends to press the reset button, or if we’re really heading for a kind of “Shameless 2.0.” But this was 12 weeks of outstanding television that just concluded.

What did everybody else think?

Around The Web