Emmy Rossum Says Goodbye to the Gallaghers in ‘Shameless’ Season 9 Finale

Season finales tend to focus on characters making big choices. Fiona Gallagher (Emmy Rossum) makes the ultimate choice for the season 9 finale of “Shameless.” She walks out the door. For Showtime’s comedic, gritty gem, this is an important turning point. A show that is both rough and heartfelt, “Shameless” ends this round with everyone at a crossroads. It understands that for those who struggle to get just a little ahead in this world, the slightest change of plans, a sudden life development or kiss can mean the difference between progress and complete screw up.

Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) remains stuck on the couch with his leg injury, making everyone’s lives more complicated (as has been the case the last few episodes). The Gallagher siblings are stuck trying to figure out how to take care of the beer-guzzling patriarch. But everyone is also going through their own, personal crucibles. Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) is still heartbroken over his breakup with Kelly (Jess Gabor), who was rattled when Debbie (Emma Kenney) made a move on her. He didn’t get into West Point, so he seriously considers simply dropping out of school and working full time at Captain Bob’s when the actual Captain Bob (Shashawnee Hall) offers him an assistant manager position. With even more adult problems, Lip (Jeremy Allen White) and Tami (Kate Miner) find out that she’s indeed pregnant. It ignites a fierce debate between the two over having a child. As all this happens, Fiona (Rossum) finally cashes in some good news. Her investment in a retirement home has paid off and she’s been bought out for $100,000. With new resources, she can finally pack up and leave her loveably dysfunctional home behind to start anew.

We love the Gallaghers because they are that rarity on TV where they truly are imperfect, scrappy and constantly stepping into strange, sometimes dumb choices. Essentially they represent the screw-up in all of us. But the season 9 finale, “Found,” goes for a more endearing tone as Fiona prepares to leave and everyone else goes through major changes. It’s been quite the arc for Fiona as this season her character went through a roller coaster of bad choices while still accompanying Frank to the hospital and getting a night job at a gas station. She’s also been trying ever so hard to stick with AA and stay sober. Now that Rossum is exiting the show she spends most of this episode in contemplation, looking at her family members from a distance in most scenes. Her final exit is treated breezily. She simply leaves an important envelope and says goodbye to everyone with a quiet tenderness. Her final words with Frank are full of loving gruff as he pretends to be upset in that way hardened people do when they don’t want to show emotion. Fiona even lets Lip go out and get barbecue for a final farewell, but she slips out the door, preferring to catch her train and leave it all behind.

The other key storyline is Lip’s pregnancy dilemma with Tami. Here is one of those relationships that works (on TV at least) precisely because it’s such a mess. Tami does not want a child, and because of her recent diagnosis which revealed a propensity for cancer down the road, she doesn’t even know if she’ll be around when the kid grows up. But Lip is convinced he can be a good father, Tami laughs it off but in her despair suggests they go have sex somewhere immediately. It’s that kind of combo of serious drama and feisty bad behavior that makes “Shameless” so enjoyable, even nine seasons in. The same goes for the update on Kevin (Steve Howey), who has finally surpassed his recent problem with performing in bed (clocking in at over 40 minutes!). But after a Catholic school asked him to be their Jesus for an event, as collateral for trying to pull a fast one with his kids’ enrollment, Kevin decides he can turn playing Christ into a business venture. Veronica (Shanola Hampton) has to deal with that and now Kevin’s extra-long performances in the sack. Then there’s Liam (Christian Isaiah), who runs away while no one notices. Debbie tracks him down at another family’s house where he’s been secretly spending the night. They’re African American and Liam feels with the Gallaghers he has not been surrounded by his heritage, or at least empowering examples of it. With lesser writing this could have completely bombed or gone the wrong way, but it’s edgy and funny at the same time.

But while Fiona’s departure and Lip and Tami’s relationship are focal points, the most endearing storyline that culminates here is that of Carl and Debbie. They’ve gone through a rough moment with Kelly, but when Carl decides he might quit school and go into fast food full time the two girls come together to put him on the right track. Carl has one of the episode’s strongest moments when he erupts on Debbie, telling her he’s convinced this is who he is, with his bad grades, bad family and few prospects. But when Kelly sits him down and tells him not to be a fool, it’s a scene pulled off with a surprisingly touching dramatic force. But this is all preceded by a fantastic moment where Captain Bob pitches to Carl in a pretty slick, convincing fashion the benefits of being a fast food manager on the rise. Through-out the episode the great William H. Macy is his usual, brilliantly hopeless self, lounging on the couch, demanding sponge baths and cold ones while watching everyone parade by.

And so “Shameless” says goodbye to Emmy Rossum, who in this show established herself as an actress of darker charm. The angelic presence from “The Phantom of the Opera” proved she could also be a scarred fighter and survivor. But this family is so engaging as a whole that there is no need to worry about any lasting voids. “Shameless” promises to return just a feisty and dysfunctional, going forward like anyone who’s taken life’s punches and lived to tell about it.

Shameless” season nine finale airs March 10 at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.