Perfect Moments: Endings That Should Have Been [part 2]
If you’ve heard the story telling series The Moth on NPR or through their podcast you may have come across the story by Brian Finkelstein call A Perfect Moment. Finkelstein described this moment as perfect moment not because it was positive, but because in that moment everything made sense. All the details of the situation was tidy. A complete clarity occurred. I want to examine cases where those perfect moments for a television series to go out on happened, but were wasted.
Shameless requires a lot of compartmentalization. First we need to separate the original British show from its American version. We also have to admit that even though the perfect end point was allowed to pass, it remains a watchable show that is still better than most. In recent seasons however the characters, and therefore plot, have become somewhat untethered. Several characters undergo shifts in motivation and behavior that are both drastic and sudden. Some of them make more sense than others. Ian’s bipolar disorder emerging is believable as it tends to manifest in a person’s teens. Fiona’s self-sabotage makes sense since these motivations tend to come from deep seated scar that a person usually tries to hide, so it follows. Lip’s alcoholism is a little less so only because how suddenly it tips. Debbie intentionally becoming a teen mom ... get the hell out of here. Yes, people evolve and characters need an arc, but the way it was handled is so slapdash; so much sloppier than previous seasons. It still manages to be one of the best shows on TV right now, but you almost have to view it as collection of different series that happen to feature the same family in 3 and 4 season chunks.
A prime opportunity to wrap up the series presents itself at the end of Season 3. The story line of Jimmy/Steve being a green card husband to the daughter of a Brazilian mobster comes to a head when he drops the ball and his wife is deported. This is all after watching him be a shady shiftless coward for three seasons. A fact called into focus by Beto, the muscle for the aforementioned mobster, exhorts Jimmy to “be a man ... just this once.”
We are left with the impression that he is headed towards his end, which is a profound turn toward darkness on a show that even deals with violence humorously. The dot on the exclamation point happens when Beto delivers a stack of money to Fiona stating that Jimmy wanted her to have it.
We know of course this is going to leave a hole in Fiona’s life, which in turn will affect the rest of the family, but we are already seeing fortunes turn. Fiona is moving towards steady, white collar work. Lip is about to enter college despite his resistance. Ian runs off and enlists using Lip’s identity. Kev and V learn that their efforts to start a family are bearing fruit. Frank learns that his liver is shot, and that he is most likely going to die. Other prominent characters face transitions of their own. Jimmy’s death provides a balance to these developments. Not all of this is good. There are uncomfortable situations but it does seem that everything is reaching its natural conclusions. Reality is taking hold. If a TV series is in essence staying with a set of characters though a phase in their lives, it’s hard to think of a more natural place to leave them.
Of course the following seasons present realistic developments, and other opportunities for conclusion, but it’s hard not to feel like a guest that has stayed a day too long. Perhaps the point of the later seasons is to take the characters that started moving forward back down a peg; to show that the scars of their dysfunction run deeper than it even appeared; that these scars echo through their lives; that the path forward is not a straight shot. That is all valid. If the series absolutely needed to persist beyond this moment, then perhaps some of the other developments, such as Frank's health, could have been held onto to provide that closure.
There is no denying that Frank's survival via a liver transplant at the last possible second is also powerful and puts decrepit bow on the series. What I love about this scene is that it is sort of uplifting and thoroughly demoralizing at the same time. For all the damage Frank has done to his family, we as the audience don't want to see him die, and when he takes a drink off the bottle there is something triumphant about it. At the same time even after his brush with death, he has learned nothing. There is no redemption. This story was a tragedy all along. It seems to be mocking the audience by asking "you weren't fool enough to believe otherwise, were you?" and I relish the disdain.
Closing out the "second" Shameless series Monica's death at the end of season 7, and the subsequent events provide a brilliant denouement, including this gem:
So we have a chapter closing with the death of a recurring, but very important character. We learn that Monica was the one who ruined Frank rather than Frank tipping Monica over the edge. We also see the younger Gallaghers getting their lives together, which isn't to say life is getting any easier. Lip is early in his new sobriety. Fiona is making an ambitious and risky career move. Debbie has decided on a track for her future that is less than what her earlier potential could have been, but could prove fulfilling. Carl has committed to his educational path. Ian has begun to get his relationships in order. Life is hard, but they are all finally getting used to it.
I suppose it's possible that there could still be further moments to leave on that ties the whole series together After all, the British series lasted longer than most pets. But for Christ sake ... Jimmy should have stayed dead.