Since the beginning of Shameless, Fiona (Emmy Rossum) has been the lynchpin of the Gallagher family. Even when she moved out and got her own place, she was still the person the Gallagher siblings depended on to get them out of their various scrapes and dangerous encounters. While that family bond proved to be stronger than steel at many points over the last nine seasons, Fiona finally realized that to really be happy she needed to set out on a life of her own — away from the South Side of Chicago. After pleading out to misdemeanor assault charges, she took the money returned to her from her busted real-estate development deal and set off for some place tropical to begin a new adventure on her own.
Rossum announced her exit from the long-running Showtime series at the beginning of Season 9, allowing showrunner John Wells to pen an emotional final episode for her character. There wasn't a giant party or any theatrics as Fiona left the Gallagher house. In fact, she slipped out relatively unnoticed save for a surprise visit to Ian (Cameron Monaghan), who is still in prison and told her to leave; a touching moment with Lip (Jeremy Allen White); and a revealing farewell with her father, Frank (William H. Macy). Then she bought a plane ticket to an unknown destination. In the end, the Gallaghers accepted that Fiona had to go and that she had earned the right to see what else was out there for her. Now they must find a way to cope with the void left in their lives by her absence.
TV Guide talked to Wells about the decision to let Fiona go quietly and what's next for the Gallaghers as they try to move on without her.
Do you ever plan on revealing exactly where Fiona is going or is that something you want to keep secret until the end of the show?
John Wells: You know, it's not a secret. ... I had written [the episode] and then directed it rather luxuriously, so it was about eight minutes over when I finished. There used to be a conversation between the little girl [on the plane] and Fiona about where she was going, and I had to cut it for time. So, it was never meant to be a mystery whatsoever. It will be revealed immediately at the beginning of the season. She didn't go into the witness protection program or anything.
This is a very low-key goodbye for a central character of the show. Why did that feel appropriate for Fiona instead of doing a big fancy farewell?
Wells: She was afraid that if she allowed everybody to say goodbye, that she would never leave — that her resolve to leave was perched on a very tenuous emotional edge, that if she actually started getting hugs from everybody and that she would just say, "Screw it," and stay. That it's such a huge decision for her that she just had to go and sort of sneak out for it.
I think that happens in families, and it certainly has happened in mine. I was just interested in that being what she chose to do. Which is why she has a goodbye scene really with Lip, even though he wants to throw a party for her. You see when she's packing... Lip acknowledging his thanks for everything that she'd done and his understanding that she has to go or she can't get on with her own life because she'll always just be taking care of them, because they're so used to her taking care of them.
And then Frank — who is going to miss her more than anybody else does, because of all the things that he depended upon her to do — being unable to thank her but our seeing how painful it was for him. That sense of desertion. He's such a narcissist, you know, that he assumes that Monica left him and now Fiona's leaving. His mother left him, so he's angry that she's deserting him. So it was a very conscious decision about how to handle it.
Is that why you avoided her having a direct conversation with Vee about leaving as well?
Wells: Sadly, I've written a number of episodes over the years for major characters who are leaving [a] series. One of the real dangers in doing them is having one goodbye scene after another goodbye scene after another goodbye scene. [Those scenes] kind of diminish it. ... When we were shooting, it was very emotional, so every time it was the last scene that Emmy was doing with somebody, they got very emotional. ... I had to kinda contain it a little bit. And I think that Vee's goodbye is when she's over Debbie's shoulder at the refrigerator and tells Debbie, "Yeah, she really does love you." So that's her own goodbye.
One unexpected person that gets to say goodbye is Ian. What factored into bringing Cameron Monaghan back for that, and why did he feel like the right person to actually tell Fiona to go?
Wells: Ian's the one who's actually left before and has moved more of his life outside of the family. The only reason that he has to keep coming back, really, is that he struggles with his mental illness and the other things that happen to him. It keeps sending him back into the home and he's aware of that. He's the person who has been away the most, and oddly enough, being in prison is also away. He knows that he has a lot to be thankful for with everything she did for him and wants her to get on with her life.
[He] knows that if she stays, that they'll just keep depending upon her for everything, and she'll never go and she'll look back and think that. So when I was starting to think about it, I said, "You know, we've really got to have Cameron back to say goodbye to her and to tell her to keep going and to have the courage to do it." He's the safest person for her to ask, because he's already gone and isn't depending on her anymore. It just kind of felt right, and I called Cameron and he was very gracious in saying he wanted to come back and be delighted to come back and do it.
I know you're starting your writers' room on Monday for Season 10, but do you have any idea of how you see Ian fitting into the fold next season?
Wells: Next week we'll really start to sit down with the writing staff and talk about it and see what everyone's impressions of the whole season [were], but particularly the end of the season was. Now that we saw it on the air, [we'll] start to formulate it, but I don't have a clue yet.
You might have the same answer for my next question but I have to ask it: Is there any possibility that Mickey could be part of Ian's return?
Wells: Well, you know, he's such a wonderful actor, Noel [Fisher], and we're always delighted to have him back. He's doing a series right now in Chicago for ... CBS, [The Red Line], with my friend Noah Wyle, and so who knows if he'll be available, but he's always somebody that we contact and ask him if he's available to do a couple episodes or not. If we can figure out a way to make it work, we would.
Going back to the finale, Fiona leaves half the money to Debbie. Do you know whether she's going to use that money for the house or will Debbie take this and invest it in herself?
Wells: I think that Fiona realizes that Debbie's mature enough now that she's going to take care of everybody with it. That it's really her kind of handing the baton, saying, "You take some responsibility now." You know. It's again an act of love to say, "Yeah, you're ready for it. Do it."
Every time I talk to Jeremy Allen White, he says that his dream for Lip is for him to have this family on the South Side. Is this storyline with Tami that idea starting to come to fruition? Is Lip starting a family of his own?
Wells: One of the things about the series is that we start with this idea that everybody's aspiration is to move out of where they're from. And I think what Lip has discovered is that he's very happy with where he's from and why should he want to be someplace else? So I completely agree with Jeremy that I think for Lip, starting a family, having a steady job where he can still hang with his friends, have a good time, maybe buy or lease a small house, rent a small house that he can fix up a bit for his family is a great ambition. We haven't sat down to figure out whether that's all with Tami and what happens next, but it's certainly, I think, where he will be happiest, the character. We're interested in trying to pursue some of that.
While it's super sad to see Fiona leave the family, what are you excited about exploring with the Gallaghers now that she's no longer there and they have to fend for themselves?
Wells: Yeah, it's the fend for themselves part. I think everybody feels they're pretty adult, and they're ready to handle it. When somebody in your family who's been central leaves, you know like you move away from your home as a kid, and you think, "Well, thank god I can get away from my parents." And you go, "Oh my god, all this stuff, they handle all this stuff?"... So there's a lot of that happening, and I think that will be a big part of what we're doing. When [people] leave, we have to figure out how to fill it in. At first it seems impossible and then everybody sort of picks up something different, you know, kind of picks up an oar to help row the boat. Then suddenly you realize, "Oh, we're doing OK." So I think that's the direction we're likely going to go.
How big of a priority is it going to be for them to get Liam back in the house?
Wells: Oh, big priority, and to really recognize that they haven't been providing him with any cultural context to who he is. And I think Veronica will get very involved in that. That is one thing we do know we want to do.
Shameless has been renewed for Season 10 on Showtime.
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