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I think this series’ goal was to make me cry this week. And damn it, they almost accomplished it. Honestly, how many sad and/or touching things can happen in one episode? I was blown away; Shameless has always had its serious and heartfelt moments, but this was an emotional overload. And to be honest, it was the most perfect finale imaginable. I’m a hard person to please, but pleased I was.
Let’s start with Frank. I mentioned last week that his surprising rescue of and sacrifice for Carl set him up perfectly for some tragic event. I was right, wasn’t I? Some sort of drinking-related health failure was always inevitable for Frank (I mean, look at the guy), but waiting for the end of a season to put that plot into action is kind of genius. For one thing, it leaves us hanging. Will he get better for his own sake or for his kids, or will he be the same stubborn Frank and drink himself to death? Frank has always done precisely what he wants, but the finale has left him with an ultimatum: change or die. It’s something we’ve never seen Frank go through before, and this time he can’t talk his way out of it.
But it’s not only the dilemma itself that makes Frank’s situation so perfect; it’s also how the Gallaghers react to it. It touches each of the kids in a different way, which is mind-boggling when you think about just how many Gallaghers there are. Fiona feels like she has to hold in her emotions for the sake of the others and she tries to guilt Frank into changing. Lip sees his father’s failures as a reflection of his own full-speed cruise down the same path, which jolts him into changing before it’s too late. Debbie feels like she has to pull the family together as an adult but is still left out of information like a child. But the best reaction of all belongs to Carl, who’s typically only associated with explosions and animal torture. When he sneaks out to shave Frank’s head and “let the sunlight in” to cure his cancer, it was honestly the most touching moment of the entire series. And when he kisses Frank on the head afterward—somebody must be cutting onions right now.
But even as the Gallagher kids orbit around Frank’s unfortunate situation, they each have their own side plots that act as both endings and beginnings. Fiona essentially gives up on Jimmy (who could be dead, for all we know), but she’s given a shot at a full-time permanent job. Ian finally breaks away from his toxic relationship with Mickey, but he runs off and joins the army. Sheila (an honorary Gallagher) has to say goodbye to her family, but she finds her calling in the sale of sex toys. And as for Lip, he gets into MIT on a full ride scholarship at the exact moment he realizes he’s becoming his father. Which is perfection in storytelling. But here’s something to think about: if Ian is using Lip’s identity to join the army, what does that mean for Lip’s chance at college? Will he even go?
But in that same vein, let us all thank the TV gods that the writers gave a proper resolution to Lip and Mandy’s relationship. Karen’s gone, and Lip might go to college for free because of Mandy. It sets him up perfectly to go talk to her, and he does. At the end of their brief conversation there’s this feeling that everything is up in the air—and that’s a good thing. Their confrontation in the last episode was so atrocious I thought nothing would be able to fix it. But luckily the finale stitches up even the weakest plot of the season.
“Survival of the Fittest” is everything a finale needs to be. It manages to provide closure and an ending to certain plotlines, but also introduces new beginnings that we want to see carried out in the next season. It’s the mark of fantastic writing when we can feel both satisfied and anxious for more at the same time. It’s the ideal set-up for a new season, and if this episode is any indication, we have a great batch of episodes ahead of us. I, for one, can’t wait.