[WARNING: Spoilers ahead from Sunday’s season-four finale of Shameless]
Showtime’s Shameless revived one of its former regular characters during Sunday’s season-four finale — but that wasn’t always the plan.
During Sunday’s episode, former series regular Justin Chatwin made a surprising comeback as aka Jimmy (aka Steve). The character — a con man who apparently is now going by the name Jack — was presumed dead after the season-three finale but was seen with a character played by Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse) driving by the Gallagher household in the closing moments of the episode.
Chatwin exited the series as a regular in June, with a rep for the cable network saying the door was left open for him to return for one or two episodes this season. But after the mystery regarding his whereabouts was not addressed early in the season, Jimmy’s relationship with Fiona (Emmy Rossum) was not explored at all this year. The character, executive producer John Wells confirmed in June, was considered to have died in the season-three finale, though Jimmy’s death was never seen on screen.
Wells tells The Hollywood Reporter that it wasn’t always the plan to bring Chatwin back. “We heard from a lot of people that they wanted more closure,” he told THR this week. “We started talking to Justin six weeks before we shot [the finale] to see if he was interested in coming back and available, and he said he was.”
Chatwin’s return was kept quiet from the rest of the cast and the actor’s one scene was filmed quietly in Chicago before they came to town. Chatwin was even housed at a different hotel in a bid to keep his return under wraps. Many of the Shameless cast found out for the first time Sunday during the East Coast broadcast of the season finale.
“I thought he was dead; he was written as dead and nobody seemed to agree with me,” Wells says with a laugh. “I guess we didn’t sell it as well as we thought we did.”
This isn’t the first time that Wells has brought a character back from the dead. The executive producer did the same with Julianna Margulies‘ Nurse Carol Hathaway on NBC medical drama ER. The character, a love interest for a then-relatively unknown George Clooney, was killed off in the original pilot but revived after Wells and the network tested the pilot with focus groups who responded to the character. “The audience we showed it to before it went to series didn’t like that, [so] we did [her story] again and it worked,” Wells recalls of the process.
Wells said it’s important for producers to listen to viewers’ feedback on social media and carefully select what notes are worth a second look. “We didn’t want the audience to feel confused or as if we didn’t tell as good a story as we could have. You have to listen to those things and that’s what’s great about social media: it’s easier to get a sense of that over time,” he says. “Though you have to be careful to what you respond to.”
Looking ahead, Wells says it’s too early to know if Chatwin will have a larger role in the previously announced fifth season of Shameless, as writers were sitting down this week to plot out the upcoming arc.
The plan for now, he says, is for the season to pick up two or three months after the events of season four, which ended as Fiona (Rossum) returned home after an early release from prison and had her probation officer (played by Southland‘s Regina King) set her up with a diner job as well as AA and NA programs with her new boss — played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
“I can’t say too much, but you can take from [Chatwin’s scene] that there’s something else going on; he hasn’t gone back to medical school,” Wells says of Jimmy’s potential storyline, noting his traveling companion (Lachman) remains a mystery. King and Morgan, schedules permitting, could also return. Season five will shoot in the summer and into the fall, also leaving the door open for the Gallagher’s famed pot truck to return.