Major spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched Shameless' Season 9 finale.
Saying goodbye sucks, and there were likely very few Shameless fans who went into the Season 9 finale pumped that Emmy Rossum's Fiona Gallagher was making a permanent exit. Thankfully, executive producer John Wells (who also wrote and directed "Found") had a mostly happy ending in mind for the flush-with-funds Fiona, who said some important goodbyes before hopping on a plane headed to some still-unknown destination.
Here, John Welles explains why Shameless took this route with closing out Fiona's story for Emmy Rossum's swan song.
I wanted it to feel very true to who Fiona is and how important she’s been to the family. We didn’t want to do 'Fiona dies' or anything, because we’re very hopeful that over however much longer we do the series that we see Fiona again, that Emmy will come back and do a thing here or there for us. But I also wanted to be true to the idea that even though she’s the oldest sister, she’s been the mother to her siblings for all these years. I wanted to be true to that moment when you realize that you did a good job, and they’ve moved on and don’t need you as much, and you need to actually think about what you want now and who you are.
The biggest element to pull out of that is, obviously, that John Welles and others on Shameless' creative team are more than willing to welcome Emmy Rossum back in the future, should the actress choose to return. Killing off Fiona, or putting her in some irreversibly terrible situation, would have made it a lot harder to welcome her back in the future, assuming Showtime keeps Shameless going for several more years.
Even beyond any potential future returns, though, the goal was also to give Fiona some justice for all of the hard work and dedication she put into her job as the sometimes reluctant matriarch of this dysfunctional AF family. Many of her formative years were spent making sure everyone else's formative years weren't disastrous, so if anyone deserves the chance to take a long vacation and go hard on retail therapy, it's Fiona.
Wonderfully for Debbie, Fiona gifted her sister half of the $100,000, which will likely lead to some tricky situations in the future. But then there was Frank...
While her goodbye with Lip was one in which viewers could read how appreciative he was for everything that Fiona had done for him over the years, Frank and Fiona's final moments together were far more strained. John Welles talked with TVLine about why Frank couldn't bring himself to offer up a mature and fatherly goodbye.
[Lip's goodbye] is the exact opposite of what happens with Frank, who’s a narcissist and feels that everybody’s always leaving him. That Monica left him, and his mother left him, and now Fiona’s leaving him. So it’s all about him and how badly he feels, and [he] isn’t thankful. I sort of intentionally shot it so that you see Frank, but Fiona can’t see his face. So we can actually see how painful it is for him, even though he’s refusing to say what we all know he should say, but he just can’t bring himself to say it. He even knows he’s supposed to say it. But he can’t bring himself to say it, because she’s deserting him, she’s leaving him.
Truth be told, anyone who expected emotional fireworks from William H. Macy's Frank was clearly just fooling themselves. The man is not always so eloquent when it comes to verbal cues.
Elsewhere in the finale, Fiona also shares a particularly powerful goodbye with the jailed Ian, who tells Fiona to go as far away from that place as possible, and that he'd always be there for her. That scene had an interesting slice of real-world importance, with actor Cameron Monaghan having made his own exit from Shameless in 2018, though he'll be returning in Season 10.
And now for that all-important question that most viewers were left with when the credits rolled: where in the world is Fiona going? She told Ian it might be somewhere a bit nearer the equator than their Chicago digs, but nothing got confirmed during the episode, and so viewers were left with a cliffhanger-lite mystery about the next steps in Fiona's journey.
As it happens, her destination wasn't meant to be an unknown detail at all. Fans were actually supposed to discover where she was going during a conversation that got cut from the episode. Thankfully, though, we'll all be finding out next season. In Welles' words:
Yeah, we’ll learn where she went. It wasn’t meant to be a mystery. It just ended up that way. It was actually in the dialogue on the plane that she had a conversation with the little girl who was sitting next to her. Then the episode was just too long, so we had to cut about eight minutes out of it, and one of the things that went was the dialogue about where she was going.
In some ways, it's good to learn that her destination isn't some huge narrative hook that would keep viewers worried about Fiona's fate and safety in the years when Emma Rossum is not around the show. On the other hand, it'd be nice to have already learned that she's moving to a place where her biggest worry will be how intense her afternoon full-body massages are. She deserves a break.
Shameless fans are getting a big break between episodes, with Season 9 now said and done, and Season 10 not set to debut until later in 2019. In the meantime, there are lots of other shows on the midseason TV schedule to keep viewers busy.