Over the course of eleven seasons, Shameless said goodbye to countless characters whose stories had run their course. As many new characters were introduced, it was inevitable that some had to leave. Even with many Gallagher family members, friends, and enemies coming and going, it’s still tough for the audience to part ways with them. Because of this, it’s more than appropriate to delve into all of the most notable times characters have left the show.
Of course, not every single character who has left Shameless has been beloved. In some cases, the writers clearly wanted viewers to forget that a character even existed. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the end of their character arc was poorly written. Although some characters were given exits that left much to be desired, others left the show in an entertaining or even poetic way.
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Updated on April 28th, 2022 by Kristen Ashworth: During the final season of Shameless, many character exits left impressions on viewers, both negatively and positively and the most relevant only became clear once the series had concluded.
Character Exits That Saved Shameless
What happened to Karen on Shameless? Karen was a very polarizing character in the Shameless universe, with fans either loving her or hating her. She was also an important part of Lip’s character development early on in the series. Due to her complicated home life, Karen lashed out at everyone, rebelling against her parents and manipulating Lip in their relationship.
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After obtaining brain damage due to being run over by Mandy, Karen moved to Arizona with Jody and her baby in order to recover. Though her exit from the show was tragic, her character had run its course on the show and lacked the potential to go any further.
Jody’s character brought a goofy personality to the show. Jody began dating Karen but soon became too clingy for her liking and moved along to the next closest option — Sheila. Jody’s BDSM relationship with Sheila seemed to be the perfect match but he soon realized that he couldn’t handle Sheila’s intensity and began attending recovery meetings for sex addiction.
While Jody was funny at first, he quickly outstayed his welcome on the show. Although many fans were happy to see Jody finally disappear from the Shameless universe, the awkward, yet heartfelt, final interaction he had with Sheila was touching.
Eddie Jackson lived his life as a martyr, ignoring the efforts of his wife while constantly complaining about the hardships he faced. Eddie frequently berated Sheila and Karen, even forcing Karen to attend a purity ball. Eddie disowned Karen after discovering her sex life, causing his daughter to go completely off the rails.
While Eddie’s return to the Jackson household with their newly adopted father-figure, Frank, was humorous, Eddie’s character quickly became an irritant. Eddie’s darkly funny demise was shocking but also summed up why Shameless was so groundbreaking in the first place.
Season five contained an interesting journey for Frank. It involved helping a terminally ill doctor named Bianca embrace life. Of course, his way of embracing life involved a lot of bad activities that any sane or healthy person would avoid doing. Since Bianca had a tight deadline, she was game. Eventually, it was time for Bianca to leave. Instead of passing due to her illness, she went out on her own terms.
This was a very poetic end for the character. It should have held a mirror up to Frank, as he’s been living on borrowed time for years. Instead, it just caused him to grieve her departure. Frank grieved authentically, causing audiences to truly sympathize with him. For a brief moment, Frank showed he cared about someone other than himself or Monica.
Sammi was easily the most annoying character to join the show, constantly criticizing the Gallagher siblings and hovering over Frank. After discovering that Ian was wanted by the police, Sammi turned him in, getting him arrested. Instead of unceremoniously offing her, they gave Sammi an end that suited her character but also negatively affected fan favorite, Mickey Milkovich.
Mickey’s plan to get revenge on Ian’s behalf backfired and resulted in his own arrest for torturing her. Sammi’s departure was great for the show because it removed her in a way that didn’t denigrate the character but still freed viewers from her.
Monica’s permanent exit from Shameless saved Frank. Although the show had been consistently finding ways of making Frank more engaging and sympathetic, offing Monica was an effective choice. Her passing was also a fitting way for the multi-dimensional character and often terrible parental figure to leave Shameless.
Fans were used to seeing Monica come and go from the series. It was kind of her thing. Each time, the writers came up with something interesting for her to do. In her final visit, she and Frank reconciled and renewed their vows before a total binge that ended her. All of this was touching and completely authentic. It was only a matter of time before Monica’s bad habits caught up with her. The reality of her demise was a wake-up call for Frank, albeit a brief one.
How does a show end a story about a criminal struggling to break free from his world to be with the woman he loves? Well, it makes him face the consequences of his past. Shameless didn’t go for a fairytale ending when it came to writing Justin Chatwin’s Jimmy off the show. They didn’t let him escape his connections to the underworld. Sure, he may have wanted to clean up his act in order to be with Fiona, but it was far too late for that.
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Having Jimmy walk onto Estefania’s father’s boat to face his apparent demise was the right decision. Not only was it mysteriously heartbreaking, but it also made complete thematic sense. If only this had been the permanent end for the character.
Terry Milkovich terrorized his children and the South Side, consistently spreading hate and bigotry wherever he went. Terry’s assault on Mickey had a huge impact on Mickey’s growth as a character and so it was only fitting that their conflict came to a head in the final season. After moving next door to the Gallaghers, Terry turned his racist abuse toward Liam who accidentally paralyzed Terry when a bullet shot into the sky came back down on his head.
Mickey’s character development becomes even stronger when he takes responsibility for his incapacitated father, determined to prove that he is nothing like Terry. In one of the series’ most ironic deaths, Terry is “put out of his misery” by his nun caretaker and given a send-off suitable for his monstrous character.
Although Sheila was a supporting character, she had a huge influence on the Gallaghers and required a send-off suitable for such a complex character. Sheila’s struggle with agoraphobia had reached its apex. In the later years of Sheila’s role on Shameless, she didn’t have a whole lot to do, but her storyline in season five gave her a great swan song.
It followed her debating whether or not to sell her house for double its market value. Although she wanted to use the money to finally see the world, she put it off to take care of Frank. Of course, Frank completely took advantage of this. His time with her led to him accidentally blowing up her house. This forced Sheila to leave the Southside and reclaim her life once and for all.
Often described by his family as a “cockroach” who would outlive them all, Frank was one of the most truly shameless characters in the series and required an exit befitting that. Showrunner John Wells said early on that he believed Frank would have to die to properly end his story and the occurrence of Covid-19 gave him the perfect excuse.
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Frank was seemingly impervious to harm despite the constant abuse and trauma he inflicted upon himself. In the final season, Frank develops alcoholic dementia and begins declining in health. Although it may have appeared that Frank was untouchable, the finale proved that even the unkillable Frank could reach the end of his luck. While his children celebrate in the streets of Chicago, Frank dies alone in a hospital bed — a suitable end for the neglectful father.
Character Exits That Hurt Shameless
Anne was a fun addition to Shameless and a potential love interest for Carl when he returned to work at the Shrimp Shack. After discovering that Anne was selling vapes to kids during work, the pair work out a business deal. Carl soon became involved with Anne’s family, attempting to learn the ropes of their tamale business.
Anne’s storyline brought up interesting concerns involving immigration as INS police begin harassing Anne and her relatives. In usual Carl fashion, he feels compelled to help protect Anne by allowing her and her family to hide at the Gallagher house until they find a safe place to move into. Despite the important conversation about the way immigrant families are treated in America, Anne was written off the show with very little explanation as to where her and her family ended up.
Sierra was working with Fiona at Patsy’s Pies when Lip joined as a dishwasher. The pair instantly connected and had a chemistry that many fans believed would make the couple endgame. Lip also developed a great relationship with Sierra’s son despite the toxic behavior of her ex-boyfriend who often reappeared.
Lip’s drinking quickly began affecting their relationship, however, as he refused to address his alcohol dependency. Lip later broke it off, claiming that Sierra should try to make it work with her ex for the sake of their son, and the two left the show for good.
Carl’s Army-brat girlfriend, Kelly, played an important part in Carl’s character development from delinquent into a respectable cadet. Kelly’s initial interest in Carl stemmed from her desire to anger her father whose strict rules had suffocated Kelly her entire life. After a while, Kelly truly began to like Carl and even helped him with his military school applications.
Carl quickly became threatened by Kelly’s friendship with Debbie and he tried to hold onto her too tightly, resulting in Kelly asking for space. Although the pair seemed to be a great match with both characters wanting the best for each other, the show’s introduction of Anne appeared to drive the final wedge between Kelly and Carl.
Mandy was a controversial character in many ways, but also acted as the catalyst to many important milestones for main characters such as Ian and Lip. Mandy’s tragic upbringing as a Milkovich gave her a warped idea of what love should look like and resulted in her throwing herself at anyone who treated her with some semblance of kindness.
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While running Karen over with a car crossed the line for many viewers, Mandy was also responsible for positive changes in the lives of her beloved Gallaghers. Without Mandy’s assistance, Mickey never would have pursued Ian after he returned from the army. Similarly, Mandy’s dedication to Lip’s success was what landed him his MIT interview. Instead of showing that characters in terrible situations can make better lives for themselves, Mandy was written off the show, leaving town with her abuser and finding herself forced to become a sex worker to survive.
Svetlana embodied the spirit of Shameless, scrapping and conning her way from her life of forced sex work to become a successful businesswoman who could provide for her son. Although Svetlana had a hand in manipulating Mickey in season four, she did so out of fear of being back on the streets with her baby.
After becoming part of the throuple between Kev and V, Svetlana began working at The Alibi, turning it into a profitable business while also providing childcare for the Ball kids. However, when V felt that Svetlana was becoming too involved in The Alibi, she had Svetlana deported with little to no concern for what might happen to her or her son. Svetlana’s exit from the show removed an important character with no insight into her fate.
The inclusion of Ian’s love interest, Trevor, was a major source of news. It was seen as a big step forward for television, especially since the trans character was portrayed by trans actor, Elliot Fletcher. When news broke of Noel Fisher’s return to the role of Mickey Milkovich, the writers seemingly realized that they didn’t have anything of substance for him to do.
While Trevor could have become a friend to Ian after realizing they weren’t compatible as a couple, his character was scrapped entirely. Instead of a proper exit, Trevor’s character disappeared and was never mentioned again. This choice not only did a disservice to the character and the show, but also to the community it attempted to represent.
Sandy Milkovich joined Shameless as Mickey’s cousin and Debbie’s lover, seemingly taking the place of Mandy whose sibling antics with Mickey were sorely missed. Sandy throws herself into planning the Gallavich wedding with Mickey and despite never being mentioned prior to season ten, the peripheral characters all appear to have known her for years.
Sandy’s character truly begins to shine in the final season through her relationship with Debbie, becoming a pseudo caregiver for Franny and calling Debbie out when her behavior warrants it. After accurately categorizing Debbie’s anger as fear of being abandoned again, Debbie breaks up with Sandy with only two episodes remaining and the character is poorly replaced with a new love interest to fill the place.
Sean’s original exit in season six was beautifully tragic. Both he and Fiona had a tumultuous past full of mistakes, but they seemed to better one another. Their wedding should have been the pinnacle of this. Instead, Frank revealed that Sean was still into doing drugs and everything fell apart. This was a great way of wrapping up the story.
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However, Sean returned in season eight to make amends with her, revealing that he had gotten married and is clean and happy. Sean’s return served no purpose other than adding turmoil to Fiona’s downward spiral and his exit from the show was effectively ruined.
While the writers tried their best to keep the same spark that Emmy Rossum brought to the show, Fiona’s exit hurt Shameless. It would always be difficult to recover from losing a main character like Fiona, but the show’s attempt to fill Fiona’s shoes with Debbie fell flat. Fiona’s exit could have benefited from Debbie’s realization that running a household of seven was more challenging than she had ever imagined.
Fiona Gallagher’s dedication to her siblings was one of the main reasons why Shameless had been so beloved. Debbie’s constant complaints and lack of sympathy for her young brother Liam took away that magical factor of the show. Instead of giving Fiona the exit she deserved, Shameless attempted to erase her entirely from the show’s memory.
Losing one of the best characters hurt Shameless immensely and even caused a large portion of viewers to stop watching entirely. After the warrant for Mickey’s arrest catches up to him, he plans to flee to Mexico with Ian by his side. When Ian realizes he can’t leave his life behind, the resulting goodbye scene between the popular couple was beautifully shot.
Without Mickey Milkovich, the show began to suffer struggling to find the same magnetic wit that the character added. While Ian’s EMT plotline had great potential, the revolving door of potential love interests that Shameless used to try to replace Mickey made it clear that he needed to return. The cinematic reveal of Mickey sharing Ian’s cell was rewarding and a beautiful new beginning for both characters.
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