Shameless boss on series finale, Emmy Rossum not returning, and possible revival: 'Never say never'
"Time's precious, don't f---ing waste it. Have a good time. I sure as hell did."
Sunday's "Father Frank, Full of Grace" marked the end for both Shameless and its unforgettable patriarch. The series finale of Showtime's beloved series revealed that Frank didn't die of an overdose as he intended in the penultimate episode, but that was just delaying what has been inevitable since Shameless began.
Star Emma Kenney, who plays Debbie, recently told EW that "there's no such thing as a fairy-tale happy ending," and that held true for all of the Gallaghers. Yes, Kev (Steve Howey) and V (Shanola Hampton) are moving to Louisville, and Carl might turn the Alibi into a cop bar, and Debbie seems to have met her romantic match in a criminal named Heidi, but for the most part, our favorite South Side family will go on living their lives. After one year of marriage and a move slightly west, Ian (Cameron Monaghan) and Mickey (Noel Fisher) are talking kids, while boy genius Lip (Jeremy Allen White) is still struggling to find work, just as he adds Liam (Christian Isaiah) and possibly a second baby to the mix.
But the party literally went on, as the finale ended with everyone gathered in the street outside the Alibi, singing Spoon's "The Way We Get By." Well, Frank was there, kind of. After waking up from his overdose, his health only further deteriorated, landing him in the hospital, alone, confused, and dying. Emmy Rossum didn't return as Fiona with any new footage, but Frank does see her and his other children in visions from the early Shameless days. He later dies, with his soul slowly elevating above the Alibi and the celebration below, as we hear him read the undiscovered letter he'd written to his family. Read the full transcription below:
"I'm not gonna ask your forgiveness because you bunch didn't do s--- for me, so let's just call it a draw. I know some of ya think ya hate my guts, and truth be told I never liked any of you much either. But we're all Gallaghers. My only advice is to stop worrying so damn much. You're supposed to ask people on their death bed if they wish they'd worked more or spent more time with their family. [Laughs] Me, hell, I wish I'd partied more. Nobody ever said our neighborhood was the Garden of Eden but it's been a good home to us, to me, and you kids. I'm proud of all of you, because every single one of you reminds me a little bit of me, Lip, you're smart as a whip, you just can't seem to get out of your own way. You'll figure it out. Ian, industrious, incredible work ethic, not a clue where you got that from — got the mental illness from your mother. The only way I can understand how you ended up marrying a Milkovich. Carl, I never could figure you out. Can't believe you betrayed the family and became a cop. I'm hoping you're already on the take. Debbie, you remind me of your mother, and not in a good way. Good luck in life, you're gonna need it. Liam, you're the apple of my eye, you handsome devil. Everybody says you look just like me. Oh, Kev, Veronica, you're overrated as friends, always sticking your noses in my family's business where they don't belong. You're moving, I say good riddance. And me, Frank Gallagher, father, teacher, mentor, captain of our little ship. People say you can't drink your troubles away, I say you're just not drinking enough. I guess that's it. Not much left to say really. Except, time's precious, don't f---ing waste it. Have a good time. I sure as hell did."
To break it all down, EW chatted with Shameless boss John Wells about killing Frank, not bringing back Rossum, and whether the Gallaghers could ever return. (For more Shameless final season, check out Kenney's personal behind-the-scenes photos.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did this feel like the right conclusion? Was this always how it had to end for Frank?
JOHN WELLS: Bill and I had been talking for years. We never thought we'd last 11 years, so we started these conversations maybe five or six years ago, that we didn't think we could let Frank off scot-free for his years of abusing his body with alcohol and drugs. So we were always intending to do the alcoholic dementia story because it's a real thing, and then as COVID came up, we'd already written in the alcoholic dementia and it seemed like it would be inappropriate to not address the subject matter in this community. It's a very real thing that's torn through communities, so it seemed like the right thing to do. And we didn't really want to resolve everything in the show or do anything that gave the impression that everything was resolved. So that really led us to this. The kids are still together as a family, they love each other; Frank's passed away, but they'll figure it out because they're the Gallaghers.
Yeah, I was going to say, other than Frank's death there's not really any definitive paths or endings. You put little hints out there of maybe Mickey and Ian having a baby, or Debbie going to El Paso with Heidi, but there's not a bunch of happily-ever-afters. Why did that feel like the truest path for this show, as opposed to like all of a sudden Lip gets a tech job and solves all of his problems?
It's just not realistic to what happens to people. And as crazy and outrageous as this show has been, we really have tried to make it feel real. That it exists in the real world and that the consequences for the Gallaghers are real. We like to pretend that we have meritocracy in this country but we don't, so we don't suddenly want everyone to win like the lottery or something. "Oh, everything's going to be fine!" It was a very conscious choice.
You said that you always envisioned that Frank was going to have to pay for the damage that he's done, but how did you arrive at sending him off in this way? Both with the very Frank-like note and his literal rise above his family on the way to heaven. Which, if that is where he's going, we should all feel good about our chances.
[Laughs] It was just always an image that I had in my head. And then Bill really felt that he would write a note to the family, but not one that's like, "I love you all forever." One that was more narcissistic and Frank-centric. And then we wanted to mirror the opening of the series, 11 years ago, around the bonfire.
I feel bad because anytime we've talked over the last few years I always have to ask about whether you'd eventually get Emmy to come back. Unfortunately, we didn't get her in the finale, which I assumed might be a challenge due to what COVID has meant for production and it no longer just being as easy as flying in for a day. In the end, is that what got in the way of us seeing Fiona one last time?
That's exactly what happened. Emmy and I had a lot of conversations about it, trying to make it work. She's been in New York with [husband] Sam [Esmail], where they live, and right about the time where we were talking about putting it all together was when the additional lockdowns kind of hit again, and it just didn't feel safe or practical for her to come back. So I think it's with a great deal of regret that we couldn't do it but it's just more minor casualty of our year of COVID.
Regardless of whether you'd be able to get Emmy, what was the thought process in never giving us a firm update on where Fiona went and what she's been up to?
We had conversations like, "Should we write scenes for her in Florida and see if that works?" But having had characters leave on ER all the time and then occasionally having them come back, those episodes always felt a little like "very special episodes" and they get you out of the rhythm of what you were doing. And when an actor leaves, and Emmy was so wonderful on the show and we were really happy to have her here and really sad when she reasonably decided to leave and pursue some other things, it's kind of done. A lot of times for the actors and the writers you go through a huge tearful goodbye and then you write them back and it's probably a little anti-climactic; it feels a little too beholden to what fans may want. So the timing just never worked out right, and it always felt strange to write too much of "Oh, hey, we got this letter from Fiona," or "Here's a postcard from Florida." It all seemed a little cheesy, so we didn't do it. I don't know if it's the right decision, to be honest.
You're almost damned if you do, damned if you don't. Other than bringing back Emmy, was there ever anything you wish you'd been able to do on the show but never got the chance for whatever reason? And that is saying something because you got a lot in over 11 seasons.
If Showtime had wanted to do another four years of this series, I would have loved to have done it, because we watched all these kids grow up and experienced their lives and families. So much of what we did just came out of the news, and what's going on in the world never really seems to disappoint. I'm sure right now we'd be doing something about the end of COVID and getting the $1400 checks and the economic devastation, and trying to make it funny but still trying to be satirically pointed. So it's a hard question to answer specifically because there's always something to write about, because of our politics and our lack of concern for the tens of millions of people who are roughly in the Gallagher situation.
In your mind, are you fully closing the book on Shameless, or considering no show truly ever feels dead anymore, do you think, "Well, maybe we could revisit the Gallaghers at some point"?
Yeah, never say never, right? I mean, Carl and Arthur may have taken over the Alibi, and Debbie may be back, and Ian and Mickey have some kids, and Lip has maybe opened up his own little motorcycle shop. I could have written this show forever. But I understand. Showtime's been such a great partner on the show since the beginning, so supportive, and they felt it was time for us to be done, so I have to respect that opinion. But, yeah, I could have done it forever.
Have you had the chance yet to reflect back and think about how much Shameless has meant to you? This has been more than 11 years of your life.
No, I haven't yet, because, honestly, I approved the last visual effects photos for Sunday night literally last night. So we're still racing to the finish line just to get it done. But I actually think this one is going to hit me kind of hard. I love the cast, I love the writing staff, we just had a fantastic time. I'm going to miss everybody, that's always the hardest part. You're leaving a series but also a workplace and friends and people that you've spent over a decade with, so there was a very personal component to it. I finish shooting up in British Columbia tomorrow and I'll be back in Los Angeles and then I think it's really going to hit me.
Wrapping up, why is the last Shameless image we might ever see Frank being incinerated like only Frank could be?
[Laughs] We couldn't go out on Shameless with an earnest image of everybody singing and Frank going up into heaven. It's Shameless, we had to do something.