How would I describe Mickey Milkovich in one word? FIERCE…..…. sarcastic, funny, loyal, loving, vulnerable, guarded, fearless, scared, brave, savvy, protective, aggressive. Mickey is too complex of a character to be compartmentalized to only one word. Yes, he’s the neighborhood thug who’s foul-mouthed and rough around the edges. Yes, he’s the street savvy entrepreneur who somehow always manages to land on his feet and still take care of the people in his inner circle. And yes, he’s also a loyal person who sticks by those he loves and considers family.
No other character in five seasons of Shameless has had quite the transformational journey Mickey Milkovich has had and this is due by and large to the incredibly talented Noel Fisher. Yes, the writers are fantastic and they have taken a chance telling this unique coming out story, but without Noel I firmly believe it would have not have had the same impact it has on so many people.
It’s really remarkable that a character with very few lines and even less screen time could affect the shameless fandom so intensely. I think it comes down to two things. One Noel Fisher has the unique ability to convey with a single look or a slight smile a wide range of complex emotions. And second is that Mickey Milkovich is relatable. Mickey speaks to the vast many who struggle with who they are and who they think they need to be. Not everyone is the stereotypical gay character that is mostly portrayed on television. People are unique, they don’t all fit into the cookie cutter boxes that TV tends to put them in.
Mickey is a breath of fresh air, and his journey is a tragically sad story so many people silently struggle with. He’s not a perfect character, he’s not inherently good, he doesn’t play by the rules and he almost never makes the right decision. That’s the thing though, most of us usually don’t.
From the first moments Mickey’s on screen you could feel something special was about to happen. Rock music played in the background as Mickey and his two brothers first enter on Shameless. The three brothers walked with purpose each wielding weapons and making their way towards an unsuspecting Ian Gallagher. Even five years later the scene has electricity in it. There’s an honesty that NF brings to the role that makes you feel like the danger is real. But anyone can play the aggression the real genius comes a moment later when a fuming Mickey walks back into the Kash and grab and steals some treats, No apologies, no fear, just an unwavering bravado that you can’t teach it’s just innate in the character. The smirk at the end puts a stamp on the best introduction to a character of any show on television period.
As memorable as he was, when first watching you couldn’t really see where his character really fit into the vein of the story. Like most I assumed it was just to facilitate Ian’s coming out to his soon to be BFF Mandy Milkovich, boy was I wrong. I remember I was in my room when I witnessed the shocking scene that shifted my world into obsessive fangirl shipping an unconventional couple that affected me so intensely. I was jumping up and down screaming “OH MY GOD, MICKEY IS GAY” it was an amazing surprise and I don’t get surprised easily.
“Whatever. Liking what I like don’t make me a bitch.”
Once the shock wore off I was paying close attention and the details of who Mickey the character was, well it was eye opening. Their seemed to be two sides to this complex boy, who was equal parts both unabashedly himself and unequivocally scared to death of who he was. The difference with Mickey’s story over the many other coming out tales we’ve watched on tv, there was no accepting father kumbaya moment waiting in the wings. The fear that he was feeling at the hands of his sadistic father, we felt as an audience.
No scene has chilled me to the bone and I’m literally unable to watch after first viewing was Mickey getting raped by a prostitute at gunpoint while his father watched on. The scene is sickening, and what makes it so gut wrenching is I don’t believe it’s an impossibility. I’ve watched people come out on Social Media and talk about their similar stories and its heart breaking. But then I realize them coming out and talking about their story is what makes Mickey Milkovich more than just some character on a show, he’s giving people in impoverished places a voice that they haven’t had before. That’s where Shameless goes beyond just a show, they are sending a strong message around the world.
The thing about Shameless that is so great is even with all the shock worthy moments and crazy scenes they always bring it back to one simple idea. That reality isn’t good people succeeding, it’s not even that people are inherently good, the one clear message is that regardless of if you’re a good or bad person life in the most part is just FUCKED UP.
Mickey is a testament to that ideology. Where most shows would use the rape as a coming of age moment where he stands up to his father and chooses to be with Ian…. yeah that’s not the way Shameless works. Instead, we get no acknowledgment of their being a rape and instead of bringing Mickey and Ian closer we see in a horrifying moment of self-loathing, Mickey unleash all his fear and hatred on the person who truly knows and loves who he is. The whole thing ends in a blaze of pain where poor Mickey ends up married to the prostitute that was forced to rape him and a baby on the way to make this truly heartbreaking. The line that always sticks with me and never fails to bring tears to my eyes comes from Mickey himself.
“Not everybody gets to just– not everybody just gets to blurt out how they fuckin’ feel every minute.”
The one constant thing about Mickey, he’s not in denial of who and what his life is meant to be. Ian is the dreamer, but Mickey is the realist. He knows his life isn’t ever going to be better than the ghetto he’s in so he doesn’t waste time thinking about it. That’s why when Ian lets him know that he’s leaving, Mickey doesn’t have the words to tell him to stay. What would he really be sticking around for, Mickey doesn’t think he’s worth it.
The thing about falling in love though is it changes you, in more significant ways than you’re aware of at the time. Mickey is adaptable, so when season four of shameless opens you see him sort of blend into this pseudo-typical married couple. Well as normal as anyone on shameless could ever be. Then in a single moment, you see just how much love and pain Mickey has for the now missing Ian Gallagher. Standing in front of the mirror with Ian’s picture on it, Mickey struggles to jack off to the person he loves most in the world. The scene ends in an outburst of anger and emptiness. Then something amazing happens, Terry Milkovich break parole, goes to jail, and we get to see who Mickey would be without the fear of his father looming over him.
Mickey walking into a gay bar seemed like an impossibility. Ian giving Mickey a lap dance should have been sexy, except it was a disturbing display of two people drowning without each other. Their connection is intense, their chemistry is palpable. And although they’ve had to grow up too fast in their neighborhood, you see them for the young adolescence they really are. Unable to communicate or fully understand what love and heartbreak really are. But Mickey isn’t giving up, in a display that’s downright chivalrous Mickey saves Ian from being taken advantage of in his altered state. Too bad that the implication of that exact thing probably happening more than once, isn’t lost on us as an audience.
Their coming together is a mix of too much passion, too much pain, and not enough communication to be in any way a healthy relationship. There are cracks in their armor. The feelings of jealousy, insecurity come out in droves. But Mickey stands up and shows that there is something that scares him more than his father and that’s losing Ian Gallagher. He comes out in a blaze of glory all while humping a cop car because Noel Fisher is that amazing that he can play drama and comedy simultaneously. But shameless is never simple or filled with happy endings so instead of domestic bliss we get Ian pretty much bipolar and Mickey screaming and crying out
“Don’t fucking tell me what’s impossible! We’re taking care of him here. You, me, us. His fucking family.”
Season five Mickey is a changed man, no longer bogged down by shame or fear. He comes across as the incredibly confident unashamed person that we saw glimpses of in the beginning. But happiness only lasts so long when the person who gives you the freedom to be yourself without apologies is so obviously sick. You see the immense love Mickey is capable of. He doesn’t care about the details he just wants Ian in whatever capacity that he can. It’s a beautiful display to watch and even more heartbreaking when Ian delivers the final blow and breaks up with him. And even though we eventually see Ian tell Mickey he loves him in season seven after helping him on his final steps towards freedom it does nothing to lessen the pain of this memory. But thanks to Noel Fisher’s portrayal, Mickey Milkovich will continue to live on in the hearts of those who love him.
Written by Kristina Badem
**Originally published in 2015, but has since been updated.**