Shameless is a character-driven series where the characters’ growth is more important than any overarching storyline. Every single character is worthy of a full-length analysis, but we have decided to go with Ian Gallagher for several reasons. Not only is Ian one of the characters that have changed the most throughout the seasons, but he’s also the most-talked-about-character in the fandom due to what the writers have done to Gallavich.
Ian’s journey through the series could be defined by three plot points: his homosexuality and relationship with Mickey, his goal to join the army and his bipolar disorder. Before that, I would like to throw a question that has been on my mind ever since I caught up with the series: who is Ian Gallagher, really? Since Ian left for the army in the end of Season 3, in all the scenes we got from him he was either high on drugs, having a psychotic break or heavily sedated/medicated. That is why to understand Ian’s personality better we should take a look at his portrayal during the first three seasons.
The very first thing we learned about Ian is that he is gay. In fact, his first episodes in the series are all about his relationship with Kash, Mickey and, later on, Lloyd. However, Ian’s character is not reduced to his sexual orientation. In fact, his homosexuality is hardly ever brought up (Mickey is the one who carries issues like coming out or homophobia), and his family is nothing but accepting of his sexuality. From his relationships with his siblings, Ian is shown to be ambitious, loving and responsible, but also very tough (he’s a Gallagher, after all). Most of these aspects are shown in the scenes he shares with Lip, his older brother. Lip and Ian have a very strong relationship in the first seasons, being the two eldest brothers beside Fiona. Sadly, a big part of this relationship is lost when Lip leaves for college, coinciding with the beginning of Ian’s emotional and mental downfall.
Speaking now about his parents, Ian is very different from his siblings. In the first season, it is revealed that Frank is not Ian’s biological father, but rather his uncle. Before this was revealed, though, we had already seen Frank being aggressive towards Ian. Frank has had his moments with all of the kids, but he’s barely had any significant moments with Ian. It would be a stretch to say Frank dislikes Ian, but it does seem like he just doesn’t care. Ian does seem to get along more with Monica. Ian’s relationship with his mother is one of the most interesting ones in the series as a whole.
Even before it was revealed that Ian also suffered from bipolar disorder, Ian had already shown more attachment to her (going to a gay bar together, trying to feed her when she was depressed in bed, worrying about her before she tried to kill herself during Thanksgiving…). Sure, the purpose of those scenes was probably to add foreshadowing for Ian inheriting her disorder, but I’m sure it was also to show that Ian cared more about her because, unlike Frank, she’s his biological parent. Don’t get me wrong – Monica is not good for Ian either, but some scenes they share in Season 5 are among the most emotional moments in the entire series.
Outside of the family, besides Mandy, it’s clear that the most important relationship he has is with Mickey. Actually, talking about Gallavich is the same as talking about Mickey’s character development. Ian and Mickey’s love for each other is genuine, raw, but very influenced by external factors. The beginning of their relationship is constantly put in stand by due to Mickey’s fear of coming out (can’t really blame him given the father he has), and his own emotional constipation. Just as Mickey had finally come out, put his father in prison and started being more comfortable with showing his love for Ian in public, Ian started to lose himself. Ironically, as inconsistent and toxic this relationship could be, the more inconveniences they faced, the stronger their love grew.
Seasons 4 and 5 are the most defining one for their relationship. Gallavich was one of the major attractions in the series, and a big portion of the fandom started watching the show only because it featured a realistic gay couple. However, Gallavich breaking up in the end of Season 5 is not the reason why many of these viewers are complaining: it’s the fact that Ian has seemed to have forgotten who Mickey was and what he was willing to do for him. I used to believe that Gallavich would be endgame, but I started losing hope when Fiona/Jimmy was over for good. Same for Lip and Mandy. It’s easy to forget that Shameless is also a drama, so the fact that these two couples could end up separated by the end of the series is actually quite possible. Shameless is no stranger to getting rid of characters (Sheila, Mandy, Karen, Little Hank…), but the problem comes when they made the entire relationship disappear as if it never happened.
It’s rare to see bipolar disorder being represented in media. I personally knew very little about this disorder and learned a lot thanks to Shameless and, reading comment by bipolar viewers, it seems like the show has done an excellent job with it. The beginning of this storyline also marks Cameron Monaghan‘s best work in the series. Ian returned to Season 4 completely changed, both physically and mentally. In a way, Ian regained the spotlight he had previously lost. In only 2 seasons, Ian had dropped out of highschool, illegally joined (and left) the army, started working in a gay bar as a stripper, and had problems with drugs. For the most part of the season, we saw a very hyper and motivated Ian, and it wasn’t until he refused to get out of bed for an entire day that Fiona suggested that he could probably have inherited Monica’s bipolar disorder. Season 5 dealed with the consequences of not getting treatment, like having Ian steal Mickey’s baby to later sign up in a psych ward in one of the most stressful and devastating episodes in the entire series.
Ian broke up with Mickey because he didn’t want him to be worrying about him all the time. At the time, Ian was at his lowest. He had just returned from his trip with Monica and he was lost trying to figure out his disorder and, basically, his new life as a bipolar person. I understand Ian’s argument of wanting to stay away from Mickey for a while so that Mickey could catch a break while Ian could be alone and figure out who he is first. I honestly believe that if Sammy hadn’t shown up, they would have been able to work it out.
Season 6 had its problems, and Ian was no exception. Ian (as a person) was doing great: he was taking his meds, had started a job, and also started dating someone. However, Ian (as a character) started losing credibility. Of course there was nothing Ian could do if Mickey was in jail, but the problem came from the fact that he pulled a 180º and started acting as if he never cared about Mickey in the first place. Furthermore, he seemed to imply that Mickey was a negative influence in his life, and that because of him, he didn’t know how to love right.
While it’s understandable to have Ian dating other people, he could have probably also used some time of his own, and maybe even go back to high school (why did he drop out, again?). Caleb helped Ian move on and start taking his life seriously, but we can’t just ignore the fact that he laughed at Mickey being raped. Trevor is a good person who’s expanded Ian’s perception of the LGBT community, but he pales in comparison to what Ian shared with Mickey. I’m not going to lie — chances are the reason Noel Fisher was back for a couple of episodes in Season 7 was probably because the backlash they got from the audience was impossible to ignore. But more than that, if they had a chance to give Gallavich closure and give Mickey a better open ending, I don’t see why they shouldn’t take it. Sadly, while it was easy to believe Ian still loved Mickey (mainly due to the chemistry Monaghan and Fisher share), it was also hard to see that was the same Ian from Season 6 because the damage had already been done.
After the Season 7 finale, Ian has already said goodbye to Mickey, and he might be willing to make an extra effort to fix things with Trevor. However, what will probably determine what kind of person he’s become will come from what he decides to do with his share of Monica’s meth (what that else could you expect from Shameless?)