'Shameless': How the Fall Finale Sets Up Emmy Rossum's Departure

Showrunner John Wells talks with THR about the Showtime dramedy's future, his hopes for Rossum and Cameron Monaghan's returns and if any other familiar faces will come back when the series returns in January.
Isabella Vosmikova/SHOWTIME
'Shameless'

[This story contains spoilers from the season nine fall finale of Showtime's Shameless.]

A week after one core member of the Gallaghers exited Shameless, the Showtime dramedy repopulated the family home, as Emmy Rossum's Fiona fell from grace and found herself moving back into the house and life from which she was trying to escape.

After losing her (cheating) boyfriend, apartment building and status, Fiona hits rock bottom and ends the first half of season nine on the lawn of her family's home, drunk. To hear showrunner John Wells tell it, Fiona's downfall was inspired by something many members of the working class experience as they try to improve their own circumstances. It also sets the stage for the back half of season nine (coming in January) to watch Fiona pick herself back up again and figure out what kind of person she wants to be now that her family, for the most part, no longer needs her to be their parental figure.

In a larger sense, Shameless wraps its fall finale amid uncertainty. Showtime has yet to renew its highest-rated series, which come the season finale will say farewell to Rossum, as she joins co-star Cameron Monaghan out the Gallaghers' proverbial door. (Monaghan, Wells said, wanted to exit the show for reasons similar to Rossum's.) Meanwhile, star William H. Macy has been vocal about wanting to do "another season or two" of the series.

Below, Wells talks with The Hollywood Reporter about Monaghan's departure, how Fiona's unhappy homecoming sets the stage for Rossum's looming departure and if the series would go on should Macy opt out.

Let's start with last week's episode, which was the last for Cameron Monaghan. Did he approach you about leaving?

He was negotiating for a new deal and he had expressed he wasn't sure he wanted to do a new deal. Cameron started on the show when he was 15 years old and this has been his family — as well as our family. He's now 25 and wanted to get out and see what the world looked like. I'm hopeful that he'll continue to do more episodes of the show, but I am also sympathetic to the idea that if you start something as a child and it's been your whole professional life that once you reach your mid- to early 20s, you may want to look around a little bit. This has been like his high school and college and I completely understand his desire to look around a little.

Mickey makes a surprising return, as Ian's cellmate. What were you hoping to accomplish with that conclusion for Ian? It's like you get a sense that he's going to be OK in jail after all.

We wanted to make certain we didn't desert the Ian character and that he would have some protection there. But also we just loved Noel and his portrayal of Mickey. We're all fans of the show and worry about the characters and this seemed like a great way to get them together. It's completely ridiculous that he turned over on his cartel to end up in a prison cell with Ian, but we got over the absurdity of it because it just seemed like so much fun and the right thing to do.

You had a year to prepare for Ian's ending. How did Ian's ending, at least for now, compare to what you may have had in mind for how his story ended?

Fortunately, Noel said he was prepared to come back and do it. That was the first thing we found out so we never had to accept or focus or think about another alternative because he told us really early on he'd try and find a way to make it work in his schedule. I don't know what we would've done if we hadn't done that to tell you the truth. (Laughs.) We didn't have to confront it.

Cameron implied in his farewell post that this is a farewell — for now. What conversations have you had about his return someday?

You would have to ask him that. I have told him that we love him and would love to have him back and hope he'll really consider doing it. I just saw him the other day and told him that the door is always open and that we hope he can come back soon.

Jumping into the midseason finale, Fiona has lost everything and is right back where she started: at the Gallagher home. Walk us through the decision to have her house come crumbling down just as she was on the verge of having everything.

We like to talk about ourselves as a meritocracy as a country and I think it actually is really tough to get out of the world that you're born into. We wanted to tell the story of Fiona's bit of hubris that went along with inexperience about financial matters, which is a very real way that a lot of people get into trouble — whether that be taking out additional mortgages because you thought that you could handle a rental property because the market was picking up and then it doesn't, or any number of things that happen to people when they're trying to get another step up the ladder. We thought in the world of the Gallaghers that that is what would be most likely to happen to Fiona. It was always our intention to do it, even before Emmy let us know that she was going to be done [with Shameless]. So a little bit of hubris, a little bit of flying too close to the sun, and so we think it's good storytelling and it carries us through a lot of the second half of the season.

Much of Fiona's journey in the first half of the season was charted out before Emmy Rossum decided to leave the show. In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?

We may have started her decline a little sooner because when we got into writing her trying to pick herself back up, and the family trying to help her pick herself back up, it's very rich territory and we felt like we could've probably done two or three more episodes that dealt with some of that. We would have gone at it a little earlier, maybe three or four episodes earlier.

The last viewers see of Fiona, she's at yet another low point. How will she respond to losing everything when the season picks back up in January?

We didn't plan the season as two parts, so it will feel very much like episode eight that comes after episode seven. Once we knew we were going to be separated into two parts we changed a few things, but not a lot. It's only a few weeks later when we catch up to the show in episode eight, when it comes back on the air. It's really about who we depend on when we hit our low spots: who do you turn to and who picks you up and who helps you get back up on your feet. This show has always been about the family and how they, in their own complicated ways, step up for each other. So that's really where it goes in the second half.

Last we spoke, you were reworking the final two episodes of season nine to address Emmy's departure. How would you describe her final episodes?

Since I wrote and then directed her last one, they're brilliant! (Laughs.) The character is moving away from us. It was sad. But I hope for the audience that it will be as rewarding and appealing as what happened with the end of Ian's story in episode six. That's what we're striving for: a show that's entertaining and emotional.

You mentioned before that you're not going to kill off Fiona. But knowing that she's not being killed off, what can you say about what would make her leave this family, especially given her recent setback?

It's a little surprising and yet makes perfect sense. People leave, particularly someone like Fiona who has cared for and basically raised her siblings and been their primary parent for so long. There's a moment where you realize that they don't need you in a way that they did before and if you continue to try and make them need you, you're actually impeding their ability to become adults. You have to decide, "Who do I want to be when my identity isn't primarily formed by the responsibilities I have for raising my own brothers and sisters?" That's the direction that we're headed in as Fiona realizes that she needs to make a decision for herself about what she wants. I'm being vague because I don't want to lose the fun of what she actually chooses to do or how that comes to be. I hope that [for] people who have invested as many years in watching the show and caring about these characters as we have that it feels satisfying and enjoyable.

Could Jimmy/Steve (Justin Chatwin) return as part of Fiona's final run?

I can say absolutely nothing about it, although you don't want to perform the same magic trick twice in one season. (Laughs.)

The Gallagher house is looking thin: Fiona and Ian are gone, Carl is plotting his departure possibly for Westpoint. How does the show withstand the loss of half the family?

I hope we ultimately don't have to deal with the loss of both. That's a decision for the actors to make. As Emmy said in her statement, Fiona is "moving down the block." I'm hopeful that she's going to miss us enough that she wants to keep coming back and doing more in the future. And the same with Cam. I hope he decides that he wants to figure out a way to stay involved. But the show was always about Frank (Macy) as our central character and we've really enjoyed being able to write more for Debbie (Emma Kenney) and for Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) as they've grown up from being child actors to being young adults. I love the Lip (Jeremy Allen White) character and what Jeremy has done with that character. His world is expanding and we'll expand with it. I think we're going to try and mirror what happens in your own family when people start leaving and how you expand out into other worlds. We love Kevin (Steve Howey) and Vee (Shanola Hampton) and we'll probably play with that some more. And Liam has gone from being literally a kid in diapers to someone who can actually play scenes now. Christian Isaiah is terrific. As people move away and leave, and other people come to fill their places without trying to replace Fiona in some fashion within the family or trying to replace Ian. Our lives fill out in different ways with different people and I think that's what we'll be trying to do.

Will there be any other Gallagher departures this season?

Not that I know of! (Laughs.) When you get to season nine and 10, people start to want to try other things. So as far as I know, this is all we've got!

Showtime has yet to announce a season 10 renewal for the series, which you've said has many more stories to tell. Given the cast departures, how has your vision of its future changed?

What I meant by that statement of, "I could write it forever," is that the world is so rich. People who are struggling at the lower end of the economic ladder in this country are, I think, substantially under-represented in entertainment and particularly in television. And so those stories just keep presenting themselves. You pick up the paper every day, you have a conversation with someone and you end up with four more possible Gallagher stories. What I mean by that is saying I could write it forever or write it for another 10 years is I think the stories won't dry up. Whether or not we end up in a moment where so many of the people who are central to the creative life of the series going forward don't want to do it anymore, that's a whole other question. We went through three separate casts on ER over the 15 years it was on the air. It stayed a pretty good show. Can this show perform the same way? I never would have guessed that we would be able to still be on the air after nine seasons. On ER, we were in a situation where we were going to start looking at a fourth cast and I looked around and said, "I think we wrote what we wanted to write and it's time to do something else." That could happen. But I don't see it in the foreseeable future as long as Showtime and Bill [Macy] and some of the other people who are so central to the series want to keep making it.

When we chatted, Macy said he wanted to do at least season 10. Could you see that realistically being the end of the series?

Oh sure. If he doesn't want to do it. I think at this point if the man who plays Frank doesn't do it anymore, we're probably looking at having to decide whether [continuing the show] makes sense or not. We described Frank as the proverbial cockroach who will still be around after the apocalypse, and if Bill were to decide he didn't want to make the show anymore I think we probably would really be looking at not doing it anymore. But the show continues to do very well. We all still want to write it, and as far as I know Bill does [want to continue]. I'll be very surprised if we don't at least do a season 10.