For those who haven’t watched Shameless (and we’re talking the U.S. version here, for simplicity’s sake), and even for those who have casually binged, the general perception of the show involves a deliciously dysfunctional family portrayed in a humorous light. And that’s partially true, for these characters roll with a multitude of punches in every episode. It’s hard to keep a Gallagher down, after all, but season eight took a different turn by maintaining enough of the show’s light tone while digging up the roots of this family’s emotional paralysis and, even more so, by showing multiple players’ inability to form proper dynamics outside the f*cked-up family unit.
My anti-hero loving friends, that is how this show has persisted in a cherished state, despite all the terrible things within — by hosting antics while steadfastly remaining a character-driven series. That the show could last this long (it’s fast approaching episode 100) past its initial gimmick is one thing. That it can continue to spawn compelling new storylines full of humanity is another. These characters’ plights are familiar — widespread, even — to many viewers, regardless of whether there’s a common struggle to stay above the poverty line.
The thing is, we Americans like to pretend that our current collective garbage fire is tied to recent political cycles, but it damn well has bubbled up for decades. The latchkey kids of yesteryear can attest to that much, and there’s a deep-seated fear that runs rampant for now-adults who didn’t reap the benefits of healthy parental attachment. That’s where we find the Gallagher siblings, who have somehow managed to stay financially afloat, yet their inner selves still bear significant scars, and they can’t progress. This can be difficult to witness.
Still, the show remains irresistibly watchable, thanks to the still-plentiful elements of the ridiculous, including “father” Frank (the role that William H. Macy was born to play) casually amputating his daughter Debbie’s gangrenous toes, or everything that young Liam has been subjected to over the years. It’s also impossible to know whether Ian’s new “Gay Jesus” persona will go anywhere relevant next season. There are, as always, plenty of balls in the air, and much of the seriousness boils down to a word — codependence — that’s widely whispered in therapists’ offices, a term that practically describes an epidemic, which is the cornerstone of why the Gallaghers are so relatable.
Yup, these characters are all in various stages of realizing their codependent trappings and tendencies, and they’re learning (or not) to stand as individuals, whether it’s steeped in substance abuse or something else. For a trio of Gallaghers in particular, they reached crucial points in their recovery while approaching season nine. Let’s see where they stand now.
Lip: Finally Shaking Off (Most Of) The Shackles
The eldest Gallagher son (played by Jeremy Allen White) managed to maintain his sobriety throughout the entirety of season eight, even as his own Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor fell off the wagon, and the professor who got Lip into rehab got a DUI and died from an alcohol withdrawal-induced seizure. He risked his life, limbs, and mental well-being to help both mentors while attempting to personify the Twelfth Step — “we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs” — and the quest threatened to destroy him. He’s consumed by internalizing other people’s problems and trying to control their actions, which is an impossible feat to manage.
Enter Lip’s new sponsor, Barb (Lea DeLaria of Orange Is the New Black), who knows codependence when she sees it, and Lip (like most newfound codependents) couldn’t believe the term applies to him. Yet without the relief found within burdening himself with other people’s problems, Lip didn’t know who the hell he is. “Yeah, I don’t know what that looks like,” he realized.
So, Lip attempted to ignore Barb’s diagnosis and persisted in his Sisyphusian struggle while plotting how to
save steal win Sierra back from her baby daddy (played by Chet Haze!). Lip succeeded but relented in the season finale, admitting that he didn’t know how to love anyone because he didn’t even know himself — “I’ve been drunk or high almost every day since I was 12 years old” — in an episode aptly titled, “Sleepwalking.” To Sierra’s question of whether he loved her, Lip let loose:
“I don’t know. I want to. You know, I really do, but I’ve been sleepwalking through my life for years, and I’ve been so loaded, I haven’t known what I want … you know, or who I wanna be or be with, and I just… Fuck! I was drunk on our first date. I was drunk almost the entire time that we were together. I don’t know how to be with myself, let alone someone else. Man, I don’t know what I want, but I know I have to be honest with you.”
Naturally, Sierra didn’t take this news well, but it’s a victory for Lip.
Will Lip Finally Put Himself First In Season 9? Lip finally realized that by “helping” others, he’s actually avoiding the difficult work of fixing and learning about himself. And although he backslid by helping a friend’s niece, Zan, avoid child services (by crashing with him “for a couple of days”), Lip still symbolically ended the season by riding away on the motorcycle he rebuilt. He’ll probably become a father figure to Zan in season nine, but at least he has a healthier outlook and may prioritize boundaries … eventually.
Fiona: Furiously Backpeddling Into Relationship Rock Bottom
By no choice of her own, Fiona (Emmy Rossum) became the maternal figure for the Gallagher kids from a very early age. As such, she’s always placed others’ needs before her own, and we saw how surprised she was to not even know her own taste while decorating her first solo apartment. Naturally, her romantic life has been a disaster so far, including these main players: Steve/Jimmy (Justin Chatwin), a prolific liar and rich-boy-turned-car-thief with dark, dueling personas who disappeared into thin air; Gus (Steve Kazee), who she married after knowing him for a few days; and Sean (Dermot Mulroney), the addict whose continuing love affair with heroin surfaced at the altar.
After cruising Tinder for a while and accepting sex instead of love like a true codependent, Fiona set her sights on finding a real connection and a healthy relationship but found anything but that. Ford (Richard Flood), the Irish carpenter and architectural genius, may still be hoodwinking viewers, but I’m not fooled. He swooped in and convinced Fiona that he’s not only after sex by resisting her first advances … which she only made after he took her into his bed while they romantically stared up artwork on the ceiling.
Oh, Fiona. She fell for Ford’s “good guy” act, hook, line, and panty sinker, and wasn’t deterred while attending a get-together that saw Ford surrounded by a “harem” of adoring ex-girlfriends. Not only that, but Fiona found out that Ford has bizarrely impregnated several lesbians in the vicinity. Still and despite all of the red flags of Ford being a “collector,” Fiona’s still game, and they eventually did the deed (a lot) before he warded off her expressed desire for him be “madly in love” with her while insisting that he’ll never again be a “lovesick teen.”
Lady, this man is nothing but trouble.
The real danger lies in the unfortunate fact that, outwardly, Ford represents the most functional, healthy relationships that Fiona’s ever had, mostly because he’s truthful about not loving her. So, she’s accepted the insidious fellow and all his female hangers-on, despite her real desire for true, monogamous love. Given that Flood has been promoted to series regular in season nine, there’s every possibility that despite all of Ford’s furniture counseling and advice to find herself, rather than continue to fret over her family, he may actually destroy her budding sense of self in the end.
Will Fiona Hit Relationship Rock Bottom With Ford? It is likely. She did decide to reclaim her familial identity to “go Gallagher” during the series finale while ejecting a family from her building who was playing dirty with a bullsh*t lawsuit. Is this a sign that she’ll shake off Ford’s influence next season? Sadly, the signs point to “no.” After all, she was ready to take back Mulroney’s Sean when he recently resurfaced to make amends until she learned he was already married (after one year away — a classic Shameless move), so it’s safe to guess that Fiona can recognize everyone else’s needs except her own.
Carl: Emerging From A Fiery Circle Of Young Marriage Hell
Beginning with the series’ first moments, in which Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) melted action figures in the microwave, viewers caught wind of his nihilistic tendencies. He soon dealt drugs and sold guns, but after a stint in the juvenile justice system, Carl emerged and surprised everyone by changing his ways. Instrumental in that shift was his gleeful immersion in military school, where he found the structure that he craved, and he was so thrilled to belong to something, anything, that he took the role seriously even on home breaks, continuing to wear his boots and uniform pants in the Gallagher household. He also referred to himself as “Corporal Carl,” but it all went to hell when he met Kassidi.
Kassidi, a minor, pushed Carl into marriage by faking a suicide attempt. She cut up his military uniforms and handcuffed him to the bed when he was due to return to school, all because she couldn’t bear to be alone. Even Lip gained perspective on his own situation while listening to Carl and Kassidi’s fights.
To be certain, the utterly deranged Kassidi functions as a severe, blood-vial-wearing exaggeration of a borderline-personality stereotype, which is likely offensive to some but serves to highlight Carl’s own issues. That is to say, he accepted her disrespect for boundaries and allowed his entire future to circle the drain because — in his words — “I can’t lose her … no one’s ever loved me this hard.” To which Fiona (who has no room to talk) answered, “She’s a f*cking psycho.” Yes, she is.
Can Carl Escape Hurricane Kassidi? Carl managed to end the season by sneaking away from a screaming Kassidi and returning to military school while she chased his bus down the street. So, he’s broken free for now, and perhaps he’s had enough of her batsh*t antics, but given the patterns established by the rest of the Gallaghers, we likely haven’t seen the end of Carl’s marriage, which could one day even spawn a spinoff series and dysfunctional family on its own. Still, it’s reasonable that assume while Kassidi could show up and set fire to Carl’s school, she could also divorce him and find a new target. And that might be his best hope for a healthy future.
Season nine of Shameless arrives on Showtime on Sept. 9.