(WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Shameless)
If you've been riding the emotional roller coaster that is Showtime's Shameless for some time now and can't seem to escape, you are not alone. I call it The Shameless Curse — becoming way more emotionally involved in a television show than is healthy for your own wellbeing. Each week, I get sucked in and spit back out, feeling disoriented and wondering why I keep tuning in. Through the chaos, one thing is clear: Shameless is not for the faint of heart.
The reason I continue to watch is simple: Although the Gallagher family antics provide some comedic relief, I'm here for the drama. Specifically, I'm deeply invested in the most interesting and impactful storyline of the entire series: the relationship between Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) and Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher). It’s hard to imagine that anyone can watch this series and not become completely engulfed in the most powerful love story on television. Not gay love story on television, but love story on television, period. This relationship, no matter the sexual orientation of its characters, rivals any other I’ve ever seen.
If you consider yourself a Gallavich-shipper, then like me, you may have rewatched their scenes about a million times. You might lay awake endless nights replaying the club kiss in your mind. Maybe you’ve talked your friend’s ear off about how much you hate John Wells. Perhaps you read (or write) fanfic alone in your room to get your fix. Maybe your outlet is creating fan art, making YouTube edits (find my favorite here), or just endlessly tweeting compliments at Cam & Noel. However you get your daily dose of Gallavich, I think it's fair to say that we have been affected by this relationship in a very deep and tangible way. In “Voices of the Gallavich Fandom” we see that this love story has reached people of all ages and walks of life. Name a more perfect partner for Ian than Mickey. I’ll wait.
What initially attracted me to Shameless was the way the show refused to shy away from honest storytelling. It showcased the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of its characters, causing viewers to simultaneously love and loathe each of them. Unfortunately, over time these same characters started to become unrecognizable as their former selves, making decisions and spewing dialog that baffled some viewers. As seasons came and went, so did my ability to suspend belief. Each week, the show seemed to try to rewrite Shameless history as fans knew it. If you thought my love for this show and these characters would cause me to shrug off some of the biggest inconsistencies I've ever seen in television, you’re wrong.
If I had to mark a point where Shameless failed its loyal viewers, I’d direct you to Season 5, Episode 12. Since I know fans know exactly which episode this is (even if you want to forget), I’ll avoid recapping it for you. Instead, let me break down the sloppy dismantling of Gallavich by highlighting 10 things I've had a hard time buying about the show since.
1. The Break-Up Scene
In a shocking season finale, Ian breaks up with Mickey and we’re still not sure exactly why. Is it because he ran off with his absentee, good-for-nothing mother and for the first time in his life thought she gave sound advice about a boyfriend she'd never met? Was it because Mickey wanted Ian to do what was best for him and take his medication? Was it because he didn’t like the way Mickey was so selflessly caring for him during each of his bipolar episodes?
Shameless wants us to believe that somewhere between “Love is a Battlefield” and this moment, Ian changed his mind about being with Mickey when he didn’t even change his shirt. Although brilliantly acted by both Cameron and Noel, some fans were left feeling blindsided by this exchange. (I can still remember how foolishly excited I was when Mickey was running to meet Ian). In short, Mickey reiterates his love for Ian and his willingness to do whatever it takes to make this work, and Ian’s basically like “Nah, I’m good.” It felt rushed, made little sense, and was essentially throwing away five seasons of one of the most beautifully-developed love stories ever told.
2. All Of Season 6
Season 6, a.k.a. the big middle finger to Gallavich fans. After the heartbreak warfare that was the Season 5 finale and learning Noel didn't renew his contract, some fans were still holding out hope that Mickey would be back. Perhaps even hopeful that he and Ian could work things out. Instead, the season started out with Ian reluctantly visiting Mickey in prison where we learned he was sentenced to 15 years. It was a storyline from which there was no turning back. Shameless was writing off Mickey’s character in the worst possible way, essentially putting finality on Gallavich and Mickey’s happiness in one heartless swoop.
Not only did some fans have a hard time believing that Mickey would ever be convicted of this crime, but Ian’s cold demeanor talking to and about Mickey in 6x01 is hard to watch. It’s a complete 180 from the Ian Gallagher who we grew to love over the past five seasons. It doesn't get any better from here. Ian spends the rest of Season 6 trashing Mickey and downplaying their love story. Don’t even get me started on Caleb.
3. The Tattoo
In a failed humorous moment, Mickey reveals he gave himself a tattoo of Ian’s last name — and it’s misspelled. The fact that Mickey loves Ian enough to tattoo his name on him is not endearing under the circumstances, it’s sad. The saddest part? We may never see Mickey’s chest again because of it. When Shameless brought Mickey back in Season 7, writers decided to not address the tattoo in yet another attempt to dismiss what dedicated viewers of the show know to be true. Fans were quick to point out that Mickey knows damn well how to spell "Gallagher."
Although I refuse to speak about the way Yevgeny was conceived, I didn’t forget that he was once a big part of both Mickey and Ian’s lives. Remember early in Season 5 when Ian was Yevgeny's caretaker while Mickey and Svetlana worked? Since Mickey spent all of Season 6 and most of Season 7 in prison, I’m giving him a pass on this one. Can Shameless please explain to viewers why Ian has now gone two seasons barely acknowledging the baby he once claimed to love? Maybe he’s been too busy with the other boys in his life.
5. Ian Takes A Dip In The Lady Pond
When he finds out his boyfriend regularly has sex with a female friend, Ian — who has been openly gay and proud since forever — decides to try it out too. Just like you, I don’t understand why. I’m all for experimentation if that’s your thing, but I'm also for accurate LGBTQ representation on television. Known for its no-holds-barred sex scenes, Shameless hasn't left anything to the imagination when it comes to Frank, Fiona, Lip, Kev and Veronica. In seven seasons there’s never been an explicit love scene between Ian and Mickey, but you can bet that they showed way more than we needed to see of this one-night stand. How’s that for logic?
Let’s be real: The main problem with Trevor (Elliot Fletcher) is that he’s not Mickey. However, it’s not the only one. In what feels like Shameless’ latest ploy to try and distract viewers from the absence of the most beloved character to ever be on the show, we meet Ian’s latest love interest. While I can respect Shameless for introducing an openly transgender character to the show, I would have believed this storyline more if he was written as a friend to Ian. At the very least, the show could have built up a meaningful storyline that would set the stage for Ian and Trevor to later become an item. With the absence of this build-up, the relationship felt rushed and poorly developed. If the intent was to create a romantic partner for Ian that viewers would have no choice but to like, then the writers failed. Instead, Trevor comes off as pushy, easily frustrated when he doesn’t get his way, and obsessed with sex.
The majority of Trevor and Ian’s scenes are focused around the ins and outs of how to have sex without a real penis. What could have been an opportunity to educate viewers about transgender issues ended up being a forced romantic storyline with little chemistry between the characters. Shameless fell short by not developing Trevor’s character beyond surface level, leaving fans feeling ambivalent (if not angry) about the entire relationship and hoping that he doesn’t return next season.
7. The Escaped Convict
When Shameless decided they wanted to reunite Ian and Mickey in Season 7, they had to come up with a way to bypass the hurdle that was the prison storyline. Instead of writing an ending that would make it possible for Gallavich to be endgame, the writers made Mickey an escaped convict on the run. After already having to scratch what they had previously written in order to bring Noel back, you'd think the writers would have chosen a more open-ended way to get Mickey out of prison.
Now, Mickey's options on Shameless are limited. We all knew this reunion wasn’t going to end well, but it ended way worse than I imagined. Mickey’s return also revealed another shameless attempt (see what I did there?) at trying to make his character look bad (insert bad wig, fake beard, and sloppy knuckle tattoos for Noel here). Luckily, this time the joke was on them; fans ended up loving and lusting over hobo Mickey.
8. The Blanket Scene
After years of too much going unsaid, this scene had the potential to heal a lot of wounds. If ever there was a moment when Ian was going to express himself to Mickey, this was clearly it. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for any conversation from Ian that was going to repair the emotional damage Mickey (and myself) had suffered since their abrupt break-up. At this point, I would have taken anything — further clarification, an apology, a thank you, or at the very least, an “I missed you too.”
Instead, I’m afraid Shameless made a mistake here and mixed up Mickey’s dialog with Ian’s. If you want this scene to make any sense you’re going to have to pull a Willy Wonka and “strike that, reverse it.” In short, Mickey pours his heart out while Ian is painfully quiet.
9. This Isn’t Me Anymore
Ian, I want to understand you. I am always rooting for your success. In Season 5, I was your biggest advocate and still empathize with your need to take care of your mental health. But if you want us to believe that this one line of dialog is a sufficient enough reason to break Mickey’s heart for the second time, we’re going to need to see some proof that you’ve changed for the better. Right now, we’re not sure who you are anymore.
Over the last two seasons, Shameless has strayed too far from the character I used to love. Now, you say things like “I’ve got my shit together” as if Mickey was somehow the reason you didn’t have it together before. And just to clarify: No, you do not. This season you’ve slept with a woman, cheated on your boyfriend, lied to your family, aided and abetted a fugitive, and have a pound of meth in your possession. Your shit is far from together (kind of like this show).
10. The Dress
Even though I expected we’d have to say goodbye to Mickey at some point, I was beyond upset about the decision to make him exit in a dress. If this was the last time we were seeing Mickey Milkovich on our screens, I didn’t want to remember him in a costume. I wanted him to go out as the “piece of South Side trash I fell for.” This sendoff felt like the show’s attempt at one last joke at Mickey’s expense. I love these characters and their history, and I wanted to feel this moment completely even if it was painful. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be the biggest climax of the season was overshadowed by the distraction that was the dress.
You may have guessed by now that I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with this show. Although I’ll always be grateful that it introduced me to the Gallavich love story, the truth is Shameless doesn’t work without Mickey. Viewers proved their love for his character by rewarding his return with the highest ratings of the season. Noel Fisher is masterful at bringing the badass with a heart of gold to life.
For seven seasons we’ve seen Noel give Mickey’s character his all, mesmerized by his ability to convey emotion through the slightest of facial expressions and often uttering only a single word (I still get the chills at “Don’t” & “Together”). It is Mickey’s character arc (and Noel’s eyebrows) that have us completely invested in his happiness. Year after year, we’ve watched as an abused boy, crippled by his own homophobia, transformed into a man who is unashamed to publicly declare Ian his “partner, lover, family.” Now more than ever, we are adamant that Mickey Milkovich deserved better.
As our heads are spinning from the highs of 7x10 and the lows of 7x11, we are left with more questions than answers. Most involve wanting to be assured that Mickey is happy in Mexico, that he is eating well, wearing those sandals and drinking that tequila on the beach that he dreamed of in the joint, even without Ian. As Mickey crossed the border, some viewers crossed Ian off their stan list, shaking their heads at his poor decisions yet again.
However, given the chance to see the damage repaired next season, I’d bet they’d reconsider. After all, the one thing that has been a constant in our crawling back to the emotional torture of this show has been watching Ian and Mickey’s relationship unfold. They give us all hope that no matter how messed up the world is around us, true love is possible. As Shameless heads into its eighth season, this we know for sure: Gallavich fans have one, and only one, request: bring Mickey back! This time, give him the happy ending he deserves.
Relive everything that happened in the last season of Shameless in the trailer below:
How would you like to see Mickey come back in Shameless Season 8?