Spoilers ahead for the Shameless season-nine finale.
We’ve known since just before Shameless began its ninth season that it would be Emmy Rossum’s last as Fiona Gallagher, the family’s eldest sister turned stand-in matriarch and forever HBIC. Rossum announced last summer that she was departing the series after seven years, and though we’ve had these last several months to drink the pain away Gallagher-style, it’s time to pull ourselves up off whatever derelict floor we’ve woken up on, and stare bleary-eyed at this new Fiona-less world. In Sunday night’s finale, “Found,” Shameless officially gave Fiona a South-Side sendoff for Rossum’s good-bye episode, though it was considerably more tame than expected.
Foregoing a big blowout — despite Lip’s best efforts — Fiona Gallagher said sayonara to her family and all of Chicago unceremoniously. All season long, Fiona’s life had backslid spectacularly when one risky financial decision after another in her real-estate hustle failed to pay off, until she finally had a bit of good luck in the penultimate episode. An old business partner, who’d previously pitied (and profited from) her misfortune, ran into Fiona, now reduced to working at a gas station, and informed her that the zoning on an abandoned lot she’d invested in with him had finally cleared. (But would he have told her if not for the random encounter? Hmm.) To buy her out of her share, he offered her $100,000; Fiona didn’t need to be told twice.
We see Fiona staring euphorically at the six-figure check in the finale’s opening scene, mentally processing not just the prospect of a fresh start, but for the first time in her life, having the freedom to choose what she wants that start to look like. Fiona could use the money for another real-estate gamble, but as she wisely relays to her best friend Vee, “Hell no — fool me once.” Or she could go on a shopping spree not unlike the one she took the first time one of her properties turned a profit. Or, perhaps, she could take the money and run toward something substantial. (In the original British version, Fiona runs off with an old boyfriend, but in the American reboot, she’s already cut that dude — “Jimmy/Steve” — out of her life.)
That third option is ultimately the path Fiona takes. Earlier in the finale, after getting off with just a fine for punching a gentrifier who’d called the police on two black kids running a lemonade stand, Fiona’s attorney gives her some free counsel: “Time to leave this South Side, hoodrat crap behind you and get on with being an adult.” With that seed planted in her head, Fiona visits her younger brother, Ian (a cameo from Cameron Monaghan, who also exited the show this season), in prison to test the news of her move on him. To only Fiona’s surprise, he gives his automatic blessing: “Go as far away as you can and don’t ever look back.”
We don’t know how far Fiona ends up going (“Somewhere nearer the equator — I’m sick of winters” is her best guess), but we do watch her look back just once. Skipping out on the farewell party planned after Fiona breaks the news to the rest of her siblings, she packs a suitcase, marches out the front door, and turns around to face that Gallagher dump one last time. It’s her house of horrors but, still, her home. Fittingly, the last person she sees on her way out is Frank (William H. Macy), whose incessant pride won’t allow him to admit to his daughter that she raised his children, herself included, when he and his wife couldn’t be bothered. “You stepped in and helped. Thanks,” he coldly remarks as she’s practically through the door. “Helped?” Fiona responds. “I did it all, Frank.” For a split second, it seems like Frank might drop the act, but he is petulant to the bitter end: “Eh, well, if that helps you sleep better.”
Fiona doubted she’d make it off the train and to the airport, but it is the defining Gallagher trait to exceed expectation. She winds up on the plane seated next to a little girl — it’s her very first flight, too. Our last apparent view of Fiona comes through Ian’s eyes as he watches a plane fly above the prison yard. Back at the Gallagher house, Debbie discovers Fiona left them $50,000 in a card put on the fridge, with nothing but a simple “love you” note as explanation. Because that’s Fiona: doing it all even when she’s gone.