What goes up must come down, and on Shameless, coming down is a rock bottom kind of affair. That's where Fiona (Emmy Rossum) ends up in the midseason finale of the Showtime drama. After two seasons of trying to evolve into a realty queen, Fiona gets in over her head with a new development deal, finds out her boyfriend is a scumbag and immediately spirals into desperate territory. She drunkenly crashes her car, breaks her wrist and ends up having to sell her apartment building. So yeah, she's right back at square one.
The final scene of the episode finds her drunk in the Gallagher backyard, toasting to her own failure. It's obvious she's in a dark place, and now the siblings she left on their own to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams will have to rally to get her back on her feet.
Fiona's return to the family homestead and the dismal bank account balance she's been trying to leave behind comes at an auspicious time, as Rossum will exit the show at the end of Season 9. TV Guide talked to Shameless showrunner John Wells about what Fiona's relapse means for the family and the future of the show once she rebounds and leaves.
Why did this feel like the right time for Fiona to have a huge relapse and lose everything?
John Wells: What we try and do on this show generally is show just how difficult [it is] for people in the lower socioeconomic classes to break out of the economic spaces that they're in. She was trying and she was making some progress, and then the hubris kicked in and the desire to make even more money. That's when you get into trouble. [It's] what happened during the recession, where people were buying a second condo to try and make an investment and then discovered that they couldn't really afford to make the payment. ... We didn't want it to feel as if we weren't realistic with portraying what can really happen and how difficult it is for folks to break out.
We saw the family push against her when she had a savior complex trying to help Ian. Are they going to let her sink by herself or are we going to see them rally around her in the second half of the season?
Wells: That's what we depend upon on in families, even when we are angry at somebody or upset with what they've done. You certainly want to try and have sympathy, empathy for them, for the situation they've gotten into. That's really being the hallmark of the show no matter how difficult times are they know they have each other. So I think its probably safe to assume that we'll be following the themes of family and survival together.
Part of Fiona's backslide is that we find out that Ford really sucks. Is Fiona capable of having a healthy romantic relationship or is she just pathologically attracted to pathological liars?
Wells: When you grow up without any examples of what a real relationship is supposed to look like, what ends up happening a lot is that people continue to repeat those patterns until they figure out how to disconnect themselves from everything they knew before that feels familiar. Sadly, that's sort of a psychological state for many of us, that we end up gravitating towards what we know and what she knows is significant relationship dysfunction. I think she's first got to figure out exactly who she's going to be and who she wants to be. Then after that happens, maybe she'll be able to get a handle on who she should be with. Her whole purpose in life has been raising her siblings. That's been her life and now that they're growing up or grown up, if they don't need her, what is her purpose in life? Who is she supposed to be?
Over the past couple of seasons, we've seen each of these kids grow into their own and move in their own direction. With Emmy leaving the show at the end of the season, are you making a more conscious effort to have the family come back together so you have them in a central space before she leaves?
Wells: Not a conscious effort. I just think that it's each one of their individual stories, the narratives going on for each one of them. It's kind of where are they and what do they need and where are they going to be? Who's going to fill in for Fiona and take some of that responsibility or are they all going splinter and go into different directions, which is what so often happens with families.
You've said you have a lot more Gallagher stories to tell. What do you think it is about the family that gives you so much leverage to keep going?
Wells: For one thing, there are very few shows on television that actually represent. Within all the satire that we do and the outrageous humor and everything we do, we do try and talk about the issues that are really animating people who are struggling in the American system, [the] class system and also just economically. You pick up a paper every day, there's three or four stories in there that you find, and you hear the stories from all the writing staff's family members, my family members, about the things that they're struggling with, so there's an endless amount of material. We have this image of ourselves and the American dream that we are really a meritocracy. But are we in a meritocracy if you're already born on second base? [It is] really tough to pull yourself up by your boot strings. That's really what the show is about and the stories that we try to tell are about. That's endless because things haven't changed in the country.
Is it possible for any member of this family to actually make it out of the South Side?
Wells: Well, I think part of that question is, what do we see as success? We have this notion of success in America as massive financial success in which someone comes out of a neighborhood, a difficult neighborhood, and makes a lot of money and does really well and gets away from the life that they're leading. The reality is that a lot people don't necessarily want to leave their family and their place and their home and who they are. That's part of the story we're playing with Lip, because even though he has intelligence, he's actually happiest in his neighborhood with his friends and his people. And that doesn't make him a failure.
I absolutely loved what you did with Ian in Cameron Monaghan's final episode, but it did bring up this question of, is it possible for anyone on the show to have a true happy ending or is there always a Shameless twist? Ian's happy ending had to be in prison.
Wells: I think we don't want to reward Mickey's (Noel Fisher) criminal behavior by letting him out on the street. I think we're trying to deal realistically with what happens in these communities. The reality is people end up in jail. Certainly people of color, but also white people or Caucasians who don't have much cash. It's very hard to escape the world that you come from, so it's part of what we're trying to present in the reality of the world that we portray.
This is looking a little bit further down the line, but with two major members of the Gallagher family leaving the show this season, do you suspect that you'll be having some new characters during next season?
Wells: Well, I don't think we'll be having any new adult children who show up and say, "Hi, I'm your sister or brother and I'm 30-years-old."
So, no more Sammys?
Wells: Right, I think we've done that story. The extending lives of everybody who's in the show brings other people into their world. I think that's a wonderful way to tell a story. We've had major characters leave lots of shows that I've been fortunate enough to involved with. You're always sorry to see people go and at the same time, it gives you an opportunity to write and do other things that you wouldn't have done otherwise.
It's tough because they tend to be personal friends and people that you really care about and when they choose to go on, as Cameron has — he was 15-years-old when he started on the show and he's gone to high school and been in his own college, which is this family. He wants to go and see the rest of the world. Out of love for him, you're happy to see him do it and at the same time sorry to see that person go and hope they come back and do some more and still be part of the family. It's always a little bittersweet.
There will be characters who interact with all of our central characters, Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) and Debbie (Emma Kenney), who were really children when we started ... they're growing up and they're young adults, so we have lots of stories you can tell now that we didn't or couldn't tell before because there was so much school they had to go to during the day. [There's] lots of opportunities to tell more stories.
Shameless Season 9 will return Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company)