Misremembering Mickey: The problem in the ‘Shameless’ narrative

December 6, 2016

This week’s episode of Shameless, entitled ‘Ride or Die,’ marked a reunion fans have desperately been waiting for. For the first time in a year and a half, Mickey Milkovich and Ian Gallagher were back together — in every sense of those words. It was a beautiful episode for this couple who have had more than their fair share of ups and downs. The circumstances are not likely to lead to happily ever after, but it was exhilarating to see that the passion and chemistry between these two hasn’t waned during their time apart. I would say they picked up right where they left off, except the show seems to have forgotten where they left off. And why.

Two things are absolutely true:

  1. Mickey Milkovich is a convict who spends more time running from the law than operating within its parameters.
  2. Ian Gallagher struggled through most of the show’s fifth season, grappling with mental illness, and making several poor decisions along the way.

What is not true, however, is that number 1 was the underlying cause of number 2. For some reason, the narrative that was created as the backdrop for Mickey’s return was that Ian had finally gotten his life together because Mickey was gone. Further, it suggested that the reason his life was in such turmoil before was in large part due to his relationship with Mickey. If you hadn’t watched the show during Ian’s most difficult year, you’d have assumed that Mickey was a terrible influence on him, caring more about his own escapades than about the well-being of his boyfriend.

That’s not at all how it went down. One of Shameless’s biggest accomplishments to date is the phenomenal transformation of Mickey. Mickey, who spent the show’s early seasons so deep inside the closet that he agreed to marry the woman who raped him in order to avoid admitting his sexuality to his father. Mickey, was so horrified by his own feelings that he couldn’t figure out a way to stop the boy he loved from skipping town to join the army. Mickey, who drowned in misery for months because of that failure until he finally figured out a way to bring Ian back. Mickey, who then spent every waking moment trying to care for Ian, despite not fully understanding everything that was happening.

That Mickey. The one who kissed Ian in public, acknowledged their relationship, and tried desperately to make Ian see that he loved him and just wanted him to get well. The one Ian dismissed. Because time with his mother confused Ian and made him think that anyone who would encourage him to be on medication doesn’t love the real him. Now Ian is finally in the place that Mickey has always wanted him to be in — and Ian is going to turn around and suggest that the reason he’s well is that Mickey is gone? Mickey would love Ian the EMT. Does Ian think Mickey was happier when he was making porn? Or giving out hand jobs in alleys? This is the Ian Mickey was waiting for.

Ian is right to know that getting involved with Mickey under these current circumstances is not wise. Stability and routine are important and getting involved with someone on the run is not a good idea. But Ian’s narrative wasn’t about how he wishes Mickey was out for real because escaping complicates things too much. It wasn’t about feeling guilty for under-appreciating Mickey when he was doing everything right. He didn’t tell Mickey he was sorry for breaking up with him after he’d been the most supportive partner a person could ever hope for. He compared him to JimmySteve, a character whose evolution went in the opposite direction of Mickey’s.

Mickey escaping from prison and running from the law is not a good situation for Ian. But, Ian’s memory of who Mickey was to him when he was unwell is severely distorted. I could live with Ian coming to the conclusion that being with Mickey now is too dangerous. What I find much harder to accept is the idea that he (and the rest of Gallaghers, who witnessed it all firsthand) have forgotten what Mickey was to Ian when he needed him most.

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One comment on “Misremembering Mickey: The problem in the ‘Shameless’ narrative

  1. Elizabeth Mar 3, 2017

    I do not think that this analysis is correct. Theirs is not a relationship where they say sorry and hush out all their emotions. Ian does not refuse to get back with Mickey, he just refuses to be on the run with him. When Mickey called he came even though he had a boyfriend, he withdrew all his savings so Mickey could leave. This is how they express themselves to each other.
    I think that the comparison to Jimmy/Steve is more about the thrill that they give than the lying and cheating.

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