Shameless has spent seven seasons insisting its viewers exist within contradictions. Is there beauty in destruction? Can one find fulfillment in the incomplete? We are continuously urged to search through the wreckage for shreds of contentment. When you piece together the fragments, you find that among the rubble there’s something lovely and delicate.
The most exquisite of Shameless’ paradoxes will always be Mickey Milkovich; the brash, badass delinquent who would come to define safety and love for Ian Gallagher. Mickey has an unrighteous mind, but a pure heart. Gallavich’s relationship was so impactful to viewers because it told the story of sacrifice, dedication, passion, and undiluted, unwavering, messy love. Noel Fisher’s portrayal of Mickey has always been a revelation. He seamlessly vacillates between Mickey’s exterior audaciousness and internal tenderness with the slightest lift of his eyebrow or a subtle movement of his mouth. Fisher emotes from the deepest part of his soul and it is brilliant to watch. Together, he and Cameron Monaghan have created something truly remarkable; a love story for the ages. In “Happily Ever After” we were not left with remnants of Gallavich’s relationship; we were left with the entirety.
The Shameless writers outdid themselves when constructing Mickey’s character arc. They painstakingly built layer upon layer, until they had designed a profoundly complex and sympathetic man. Even seven seasons later they didn’t let up on his development. Mickey’s openness regarding his feelings towards Ian in front of his cell mate Damon was touching. The journey from “kiss me and I’ll cut your tongue out” to kicking Damon out of the car so he could be with Ian physically, was quite the ride.
Through every point of their reunion, Mickey seemed to be waiting for Ian to tell him goodbye, always giving him an out. It was as though deep down Mickey knew that Ian didn’t have the capacity to sacrifice so much, not at this point in his life. Ian tried to make it work, despite the circumstances. He wanted to be with Mickey. Ian didn’t run away with him because he was pursuing the thrill like Dominique Morisseau had foreshadowed in “Ride or Die.” He went with Mickey in spite of the danger that a life on the run would entail. He wasn’t chasing adrenaline; he was chasing Mickey, just as he had so many years before.
Unfortunately, the chaotic nature of the situation was too much for Ian. His consternation was increasingly evident with each piece of Mickey’s plan that unraveled. He was nervous, wary, and fearful. Things weren’t as simple as Mickey had assumed they would be. They were both in over their heads.
Orchestrating the tension was writer Etan Frankel who was careful and attentive in his approach, undoubtedly wanting to honor a much loved relationship. Frankel’s writing was intelligent and allowed him the leverage he needed to get to his plot point without retconning Gallavich’s love story. Ian wasn’t manic, wrapped up in the affection of another man, or lacking love for Mickey. Ian was practicing self-preservation and acknowledging his limitations.
Frankel weaved moments throughout the episode that showed the disparity in Ian and Mickey’s experiences, from a change in snack taste to a bank account. There should have been distance between the men based on the natural rhythms of life and time, but there wasn’t. The ability for them to connect not only physically, but emotionally in the face of their contrasting life paths was a testament to their bond. Crime and mayhem may have not been Ian’s life anymore, but it wasn’t ignored that it had been in the past. Ian was not better than Mickey because of their current positions, and it wasn’t painted that Mickey was a bad influence. They were still equals and though Ian’s life had changed, Mickey was still every part of him.
When Ian told Mickey that he loved him, he didn’t whisper the sentiment; instead he exhaled the statement, compelling Mickey to feel that love down to his bones. Ian needed Mickey to know even a fraction of the love he had given him. Though we never saw Ian tell Mickey those three words before, I find it hard to believe he hadn’t. Earlier in the episode, Frankel had left Gallavich alone on a blanket staring up at the stars. The scene ended abruptly after Mickey told Ian that he had missed him. There was more. There was always more than we saw. It was an impactful way to allow the viewer to fill in the blanks and address the voids.
Ian not only told Mickey he loved him with words, but also through action. For years Mickey was the one person who truly took care of Ian, and now it was his turn to look after Mickey. Ian draining his bank account to give Mickey the money he needed to start his life in Mexico was incredibly poetic. Finally, Ian Gallagher made a sacrifice, thinking of Mickey’s needs before considering his own. While Mickey was in prison, Ian had been working and building up his savings. There’s a sense of devotion in the fact that this money went towards providing for Mickey.
Monaghan needs to be commended for the emotions he conveyed as Ian watched Mickey pass through the checkpoint. There was a smile of wonderment and such relief. Ian didn’t pity or judge Mickey. He stood in awe of him, just as he had so many years before when he was smitten by the smallest actions of the repressed boy, who would evolve into the devoted man who defined love for him. After all the time that had passed and all the life that got in their way, in his eyes were the stolen looks at the Kash and Grab, side glances on the Milkovich couch, smiles through glass, and all of the trust that had been reflected when Mickey cared for Ian more than he could care for himself. There was no shame, only love and respect for the beautiful relationship they shared. I must note, Mickey shouldn’t have been in his female disguise until after the dialogue between him and Ian. It was an incredibly emotional Gallavich scene and the hoop earrings were distracting. Though the costuming was consistent with the plot point, it felt like an attempt to emasculate a well-developed, exceedingly masculine gay character.
The boom gate lifted and Ian watched as Mickey Milkovich was set free. He was finally free from the degradation and abuse suffered at the hand of his father, the torment of his own mind, the streets of the South Side, and the walls of the prisons that had always sought to contain him. Armed with Ian’s love and money, Mickey was liberated and it was stunning, but it doesn’t have to be the end.
Reports indicate that Shameless is at a crossroads. Discussions of money have come to the forefront of the potential for season eight. There will always be a discrepancy between business and art. Rarely is business cognizant of the human condition and art is only divine when it is.
What John Wells and Showtime have laying in front of them is an opportunity to benefit monetarily from something artistically moving. They need to open their eyes and realize that viewers want Mickey Milkovich. Thanks to Mickey’s return, the ratings have risen exponentially. The conditions are favorable for a redemption tale. With a deliberate shift in focus, Wells can capitalize on this momentum, while producing television that is compelling and true to Shameless’ roots.