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SPOILER ALERT. If you have not seen all of Shameless and don’t want to ruin your experience, read this after you have seen it all.
Towards the end of the final episode of Shameless, Liam Gallagher, played by Christian Isaiah (11), finds himself at Veronica and Kev’s bar. As everyone pours out of the tavern, Liam is left standing alone, eyes scanning the empty space. He is looking for Frank, who is nowhere in sight. Mouth drawn downward, Liam closes the door of the bar and catches up with his siblings and the others to have a spontaneous celebration of sorts. The viewer can’t help but feel a pang of hurt for Liam who does not know yet that Frank has passed. If the last two seasons do nothing else, they bring to light the feelings of loneliness and displacement Liam feels as the only Black person in an Irish-American family.
Liam’s existence in Shameless is a perplexity, since he is Black but both his parents are white. It is well-known that Monica, Frank’s late ex-wife and Liam’s mother, was a drug addict just like Frank. Throughout the show, on various occasions, Frank explains Liam’s racial identity as being the result of a rare biological occurrence in which a Black child is born to white parents. In reality, it is more likely that Liam is the result of his mother’s drug-tainted lifestyle. It is not uncommon for addicts to sell themselves for drugs. This indicates that had the show continued, Liam would have deduced this and decided Frank Gallagher was not his real father. But what is the significance of this loosely veiled hiccup in Liam’s sad story?
Though Liam lives around Black people, he is rarely shown interacting with them in earlier seasons. In the later seasons, he develops a yearning to know himself in relation to Black America. This self-searching leads to several hilarious endeavors where Liam finds out that maybe being Black is harder to learn than he had predicted. But he also seeks friendships with other Black boys. However, these relationships are shallow and brief. In most cases, the soft-spoken Liam is nothing more than a push-over for his Black friends. In the end, he does not connect well with Black people, beyond surface-level interactions.
Because of this, Liam becomes a wanderer in the last season. When he hears about the house being sold, he prepares for homelessness. Periodically, he spends time outside trying to see what it would be like to be homeless. Though he has brothers and sisters, Liam has come to understand that his family is broken. It is every person for himself or herself. His natural reaction is to try and save himself.
Even with all of this happening in his life, Liam manages to be there for Frank when Frank’s alcoholic dementia renders him nothing more than a confused old man. Together, throughout the final season, Liam builds a closer bond with Frank. He writes notes on Frank’s arms to remind Frank of who he is. When Frank is at his worst, Liam uses this to his advantage to spend time with the man who has always managed to be around Liam but never a part of his life.
During these moments with Frank, the viewer sees the hope Liam has for his and Frank’s relationship. Liam knows there is something there, but he also knows Frank does not have a lot of time. This is obvious when Frank forgets mid-sentence the subject of their conversations on multiple occasions.
At one point, Frank runs Liam off, who leaves Frank reluctantly. Frank ends up in a hospital where he finally succumbs to a life shredded by alcohol and drug abuse. There is no one there to share Frank’s last moments. He leaves as alone as he lived his life. The word “alone” is more appropriate since Frank did not necessarily lead a lonely life. He dealt with people on his own time.
But what does Frank’s tragic end mean for Liam? Though Liam loved Frank, there was nothing Frank could do for him. Frank was a man who could not see beyond his own selfish addictions. His influence over Liam would have ruined Liam. In death, Frank does more good for Liam than he could ever have alive.
As for Liam’s place in the world, though Debbie, Lip and some of the others may be half-siblings with him, they are not his people. They can not feel what he feels as a Black child in a white family. Liam is intelligent and will leave the Gallaghers. Where he will end up, only a spin-off may know.
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