Shameless boss breaks down season finale, Fiona's exit, and Ian's return
It’s the end of an era.
After nine seasons, 110 episodes, and plenty of tears (from laughing and crying), Emmy Rossum has said goodbye to Shameless and Fiona Gallagher. In Sunday’s season 9 finale “Found,” Fiona, now flush with $100,000 (well, less than half of that after she paid her fine and gave a big chunk to Debbie), decided it was time to leave the South Side behind and head off to a to be determined warm locale (read on to learn why we don’t yet know where). But before she left, Shameless had a semi-surprise in store. While it was already announced that Cameron Monaghan would return full-time for season 10, Ian popped back up in the finale to give some closure to the brother-sister story that had been left hanging when Fiona missed his prison send-off.
To get all the necessary scoop on the episode and the show’s future, EW chatted with Shameless boss John Wells about trying to convince Rossum to stay, adjusting Fiona’s story line to prepare for the exit, and bringing Monaghan back. Also, read what Rossum told us about her departure and our full recap of the finale.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Starting from the beginning, is it correct that Emmy told you with two episodes left that she was leaving?
JOHN WELLS: It was earlier than that. It became public at that point. But she struggled with it for a lot the season. We were probably shooting episode 8 or 9 of the 14 when she definitively decided that she was going to go. But we had awareness that she might, so we had a couple different contingency plans. First, you just had to deal with being sad that she was leaving, because we all love her. I was happy to have it be so late because it meant that she had really made up her mind. I was really hopeful that she was going to stay, so I was very sad that she decided she wasn’t going to come back, but at the same time, she let us know in plenty of time to make some changes. It was a little hectic, but that wasn’t her fault, that was me continuing to try and convince her to stay.
So that then made you pivot the story line that you had planned for her here in season 9?
Yeah, the idea originally was that the end of the finale was when she would actually show up at an AA meeting, and the next year we would deal with her trying to regain her sobriety and get her life back in order. So we pushed that up to the end of episode 12, so that happened a little bit earlier than we had originally planned and then dealt with what she was going to do next in the last two episodes.
Obviously you had to then make an adjustment and a call on the fly a bit, so what was it about this send-off that felt fitting for the show and the character?
Fiona was their mother. She’s their older sister, but she raised these kids. And we wanted her to go through that experience, like all parents do, when you look around and realize, “Wait a second, I might be mostly done. The kids have grown up and other people can pick up the ball and the responsibility and it doesn’t all have to be me, and maybe it’s time as I’m almost 30 years old to consider what I want from my life — is it my time now?” And she’s young enough, because she started having to do it when she was a teenager, that she can make that choice. So that interested me and the writing staff.
And you leave it open-ended, opting to not definitively say where she’s going. My guess off of the hints on the plane was Hawaii, but what made you go in that vague direction?
I think we are going to hear about her next season; it’s not like we’re going to just let her fall off the edge of the Earth. Hopefully, Emmy will want to do some calls or something for us [Rossum seemed unsure of a need to return when talking to EW]. We’re all very close; I don’t know if she will or not, but we’re not just going to let the character disappear. But the whole mystery of it came about because we were too long. The episode ended up being about eight minutes long when I first got into the editing room. So there was a conversation between Fiona and the little girl sitting next to her on the airplane about where she was going. It ended up being a mystery because we had to cut the time down, not because we planned to make it be a mystery. So it will be revealed right at the top of the next season.
I recap the show and there’s been a lot of comments in the past few weeks of people hoping that Jimmy/Steve (Justin Chatwin) would factor into Fiona’s goodbye. Personally, I never thought you’d do that since you basically just did it with Ian and Mickey (Noel Fisher). But was that ever something you considered?
Your analysis of the situation is exactly correct, that’s exactly why. Having done it with Ian and Mickey, there was no way that we were going to double dip and do the same plot contrivance, no matter how much the fans wanted it to happen. It’s just bad plotting and storytelling to do it.
When the show was renewed for season 10, it was announced that Cameron would be back full-time. So was it always the plan to have him return in the finale or did it seem like Ian was needed once you realized this was goodbye for Fiona? Especially considering they missed each other in his last episode.
When I started thinking about writing that last one and talking to the writing staff, we all sort of looked at each other and said, “Oh, we gotta have Cameron in it.” And so I called him and said, “Would you do a scene, just one day, with Emmy?” And he said, “Absolutely.” Then we were out there shooting and having a good time and we started talking about how much I would love him to come back and do some more and he said, “You know what, I’m probably ready to come back and do some more.” This is not an unusual situation, it happens with actors on long-running television shows. Particularly people as young as Cameron, I think he just turned 17 when he started on the show, so the show became your whole world and he wanted the chance to go try some other things, and having done some of those, he was happy to come back and do some more for us. That’s one of the great joys of these ongoing relationship family shows — you can have actors come and go and you will see them again and you’re happy to see them again.
What will his return mean for the show? I don’t know exactly how far he is into his prison sentence, but will it require a time jump or what’s the plan there to weave him back into the show?
We start next Monday again in the writers’ room, so we haven’t really talked about it. Truthfully, for his offense, you’re not going to be kept in prison for very long. And then we do what we call “Shameless time.” Some character’s stories are taking place only over a few days and some are taking place over a few weeks, so we really haven’t talked much about what the jump would be or where we would be when we come back.
When Cameron originally left, you gave Ian his happy ending by reuniting him with Mickey in prison, so have you thought about what Cameron’s return means for that relationship? I’m guessing Mickey has quite a few more years left on his prison sentence.
Yeah, he’s got a little more time. I don’t know, conjugal visits? [Laughs] I don’t know, we really haven’t considered it. We love Noel and he’s such a wonderful actor and a pleasure to work with, so we’ll sit around and see what we can figure out.
With Fiona leaving, I originally thought it appeared that Lip was kind of being groomed as taking over that position. But then Debbie seems to be coming into that role. And then we have Carl getting some emotionally juicy scenes in the finale. Obviously you’ll never replace Emmy/Fiona, but are you viewing it as a group effort to step up and fill that big void?
Absolutely. And I think it’s also what happens in real families. Someone who has been central to the family leaves or gets married or they get a job someplace else or whatever happens, and at first, it seems like that hole can’t be filled, but then you watch others want to take on more responsibility, want to prove more worth to the family. I’ve done a lot of shows where we’ve had to say goodbye to lead characters, and we’ve always found that it’s really sad because you love the people and you miss them and you like writing for them, but at the same time, it’s invigorating to the storytelling, it gives you other things to do that you hadn’t thought about doing or wouldn’t have considered doing. So I’m excited about it and really miss Emmy all at the same time. And I’ll really miss Fiona because I loved writing for Fiona. But it fills in the same way that our families fill in, and it makes the world feel a little realer to the audience, because people that we love leave.
You clearly feel like there’s life beyond Fiona, considering the show will be back without her next season, but have you started to see the finish line. Emmy previously told me that the show could “quite honestly go on forever.”
I can write the show forever, because it’s great therapy. I can’t wait to get back into the room and tell everyone stories about my family members who have informed various stories on the show. So that part we could do forever, but the actors have to want to keep doing it, and the network has to keep wanting it. You never know, so we always keep in our back pocket roughly where we’d like some of the show to end, although, because we thought it was going to end after like six years, we’ve had to keep adjusting it. But it’s a very loose idea, and we’ll just see what the network’s feeling, how the actors are feeling, and how we’re feeling about it at the end.