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The Saddest Shameless Scenes That Left Us In Tears

There are very few shows like "Shameless." Hardly any other programs — except, of course, for the original U.K. version of "Shameless" — paint a picture of lower-class family dysfunction that never truly pulls its punches in terms of realism. The 11-year odyssey concerning the Gallagher family and their complicated lives truly makes for stellar television. Helmed by the likes of William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum and Cameron Monaghan, the show was never short of stellar acting during its run.

A few explosions and vehicular incidents aside, the show is consistently grounded in an unrelentingly realistic presentation. Everything from mental illness to drug addiction is treated with absolute sincerity, and the show never once glamorizes either in a disingenuous way. This commitment to sobering reality led to a bevy of distressing and emotionally turbulent moments. These are just a few examples of the saddest "Shameless" scenes that left us in tears.

This article mentions self-harm, mental illness, sexual assault, and addiction.

Fiona chews out Monica

Whenever Monica Gallagher pops back up from time to time, it always spells trouble for the family, especially poor Fiona. In Season 1, Monica makes her return due to the machinations of Frank in order to acquire her signature. This leads to Monica returning to the South Side with her-then rebound — a sizable truck-driving woman named Bob. Amid this unintended family reunion, Monica and Bob reveal a secondary reason for their arrival — a claim to custody over the youngest Gallagher, Liam. Naturally, this goes over with the rest of the family like a lead balloon and results in a massive argument.

During this argument, Emmy Rossum delivered one of her first standout moments as Fiona. The verbal exchange slowly pivots from the state of affairs regarding Liam's custody to Fiona's own issues with Monica. Much like Frank, Monica has completely failed as a mother, opting to run out on her children when they needed her the most. This is a fact Fiona makes abundantly clear to her in just about the harshest way possible — noting how she has had to pick up the slack for her mother's absence. This is definitely a moment that shows "Shameless" is more than a show about eclectic madness and debauchery. These are extremely damaged people just trying to get by despite unstable circumstances.

Ian comes out to Fiona

Throughout the show's 11-year run, Fiona and Ian's sibling relationship certainly takes a lot of twists and turns. From Ian's bipolar diagnosis to the two siblings' squabbling over real estate, they certainly ran the gamut of emotions. However, one of their sweetest interactions arrives at the tail end of the show's inaugural year. Following the arrest of Ian and Lip due to one of Jimmy's stolen cars, Fiona is understandably ticked off. She confronts both her brothers about this, and Ian gives her confirmation regarding Jimmy's involvement.

Already feeling emotionally vulnerable, Ian sees fit to let Fiona in on his secret known only to a few — he's gay. However, it turns out Fiona already knows and doesn't even let it impact her decision to put him on her s*** list. It's a truly beautiful moment that shows Fiona couldn't care less about her brother's sexuality, only that he makes better decisions. The show's first season lays a lot of groundwork for the following years and this moment is a big piece of the puzzle. For anyone who struggles coming out to their family members, this was a kind reminder that oftentimes, it doesn't have to be so scary.

Monica's Thanksgiving incident

In terms of what level of brutal realism viewers can expect from "Shameless," this moment certainly raises the bar. Following the death of his mother, Frank and Monica rekindle their always problematic relationship, much to the chagrin of their kids. During a manic-depressive episode, Monica goes on a tear and spends all of the family's emergency squirrel fund on various extravagances and gifts.

After this incident, the family tries to have a halfway decent Thanksgiving together — Kevin, Veronica, and Jimmy included. This sit-down meal comes to an abrupt and horrifying conclusion when Monica goes into the kitchen and slits her wrists. It's an upsetting moment, and the realism of the scene is only heightened by the family's reactions and the lack of any accompanying music. For a show that lives and dies on excess, this is a definite case of making an emotional impact with a less-is-more approach. For many "Shameless" fans, it's a scene that still stands out in their minds all these years later.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Sheila apologies to Karen

Sheila Jackson, played by the incomparable Joan Cusack, serves as one of the show's living highlights during its early seasons. From her fear of leaving her home to stealing a baby from the hospital, Sheila is a delightful source of mayhem. However, the character is never incapable of garnering legitimate sympathy and evoking genuine tearful moments. A major example of this comes in Season 3, when Sheila apologizes to her daughter Karen, another recurring character from the show's early years.

Introduced as Lip's first girlfriend, Karen slowly becomes one of the show's most toxic presences. Not only does she constantly emotionally manipulate Lip, but she even engages in a highly problematic encounter with an inebriated Frank. (Let's note that the latter individual would be considered the legally responsible adult in the matter and is even more toxic than Karen.) Sheila, realizing her mental instabilities led to her daughter's frequent questionable deeds, sits down with Karen to apologize for her failings. Despite Karen's spotty track record, seeing her legitimately moved by her mother's sincere apology is a major tear-jerker. This was of course followed up moments later by Karen being flattened in a Mandy Milkovich hit-and-run, but the sentiment still stands.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Mickey says don't to Ian

The will-they-won't-they relationship of Ian and Mickey Milkovich serves as the backbone of "Shameless" during its run. From their out-of-nowhere hookup in Season 1 to their chaotic wedding day in Season 10 of "Shameless," there is never a dull moment for Gallavich. Case in point: the first of many schisms for the duo amid the finale for the show's third season. With Frank in the hospital due to liver failure, Jimmy missing, and Lip graduating high school, things are happening here, there, and everywhere. Amid this cavalcade of madness, Ian opts to enlist in the army using Lip's ID and leave home. This is a decision made a bit easier by Mickey having recently impregnated and married a Russian sex worker named Svetlana against his will.

However, before leaving, Ian stops by the Milkovichs' to kick it with Mandy one final time and talk to Mickey. At first, Mickey doesn't really take Ian's departure seriously, until it becomes clear he's dead serious. Not one for emotional vulnerability, Mickey can't quite articulate his sadness to Ian; he's only able to utter a simple "don't." Not satisfied, Ian departs, leaving Mandy to call her brother a "p****" for not chasing after Ian, confirming her knowledge of Mickey's sexuality. For any Gallavich fans, this moment was like a cold knife through the heart. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the last.

Carl shaves Frank's head

For several seasons, Frank shares a moderately decent relationship with one of the younger Gallagher siblings, Carl, played by Ethan Cutkosky. Prone to madcap antics and harboring a problematic streak of his own, for a time, Carl shows massive affection towards his dysfunctional dad. This caregiver role is previously filled by Debbie and then followed up on by Liam once he becomes an actual character. However, Carl's interactions with Frank are by far the most hysterical and emotionally significant, with their peak arriving in Season 4.

Following his kidney failure in Season 3, Frank is far from okay during the majority of Season 4. Now hooked on intravenous drugs, Frank's health is deteriorating fast, a fact paid little mind by his children. That is except for Carl, who sees fit to help comfort Frank during this rampantly self-destructive period. This includes Carl shaving Frank's head, as that's what Frank had done for him during a previous cancer camp related scheme (long story). While it's definitely a visually hysterical gag to see the often-long-haired Frank shaved bald, it's also legitimately depressing as well. Carl is doing his best to aid his father, despite not quite understanding the specifics and circumstances of Frank's condition.

Liam almost dies

Truly, no one saw this moment coming. The show's fourth year really stands out as a season rife with ample emotional conflict that erupts in full force. At the center of everything is Fiona, who has previously been on the upswing in terms of stability, even to the point of approaching normalcy. But Fiona being happy is a surefire way for things to get boring, so she torpedoes all of it. Not only does she cheat on her boss-boyfriend Mike with his own brother, but she accepts cocaine as a gift from him as well.

This gift, compounded by Fiona's newfound carelessness, results in a toddler-aged Liam getting into the illicit substance. Up until this point, Liam has basically served as an adorable little prop for the other characters, so this is genuinely horrific. Liam's hospitalization is what lands Fiona in legal trouble as well as causing her first downward spiral, her second arriving in Season 9. Her mental downfall this season also leads to a vicious argument between herself and Lip later on in an acting tour de force from both Rossum and White. Liam's near-death experience is utterly gutting, and a true indicator of how emotionally turbulent Season 4 is going to be.

Lip yells at Fiona

Season 4 is truly a turning point for "Shameless" in terms of just how raw and emotionally unrelenting it can be. Following Liam's cocaine exposure and hospitalization with Fiona's arrest compounding matters, things look bleaker than ever for the Gallaghers. Following the incident, Fiona has two concrete options: plead guilty and serve 90 days or go to trial and risk five years in prison. Lip tells her with absolute certainty that if she chooses the latter, she will definitely be found guilty. Fiona, placing herself as the victim, bemoans how the incident was an accident and she doesn't deserve to have her life ruined.

Lip, very fairly, refutes this by stating this is what she signed on for when she took over as their legal guardian. Fiona loudly maintains that she isn't guilty, which leads to Lip completely losing it on her, ranting that her problems aren't his. Emmy Rossum and Jeremy Allen White always had impeccable sibling chemistry, and this is definitely one of their finest moments. It shows that despite loving each other, it's very clear both characters have been damaged by their upbringing in similar yet distinct ways, resulting in ample emotional strife.

Ian's diagnosis

Early on in the show's run, it seems as though Ian is one of the more stable Gallagher siblings. However, Ian takes a sharp turn in Season 4, where it's revealed that he's coping with an all-too-common mental disorder. Ian isn't around for a good chunk of Season 4, having used Lip's name to enlist at the end of Season 3. However, it's revealed that Ian has gone rogue and misused some equipment, prematurely ending his military career. Eventually, Lip and Debbie discover Ian working at a gay nightclub called the White Swallow, dressed provocatively and acting unusually manic.

This behavior only increases once Mickey becomes aware of Ian's return, leading to the two rekindling their relationship. After finally taking a nosedive in mood and stability, Ian becomes perpetually bedridden and completely unable to function. Having seen these symptoms before, Fiona and the family determine that Ian has inherited their mother's bipolar disorder. It is truly heartbreaking to see the usually motivated, often goodhearted Ian dealing with these real-world mental health issues. Ian's bipolar disorder quickly becomes a defining element of his storylines in subsequent seasons, often causing strife between him and his siblings.

Monica dies

The matriarch of the Gallagher clan returns one final time where, as per the norm, she brings with her a whirlwind of chaos. However, this time things are decidedly different, as Monica reveals she's on borrowed time due to a brain aneurysm. This means she wants to leave something of legitimate worth behind for her kids, despite them wanting nothing to do with her. Following an impromptu vow renewal, both Monica and Frank actually manage to have a halfway-decent night with the kids, Fiona included. Unfortunately, the next morning, Frank discovers that Monica is prone and unconscious on the floor; later, she's pronounced dead at the hospital. Her passing, much like her previous suicide attempt, is rendered with brutal realism with nothing fancy or glamorous about her exit.

The fallout of her passing is heartfelt, and the reactions vary significantly among the Gallagher family. While Fiona opts to hold onto her scorn towards Monica's failings, Frank is a complete wreck. This leads to a powerhouse scene where Fiona and Frank have an outdoor shouting match over whether or not Monica was a good person. Always the show's top performers, Rossum and Macy's interactions as Fiona and Frank following Monica's demise are nothing short of an emotional gut punch.

Fiona finally leaves

Emmy Rossum departing her long-standing role as Fiona Gallagher was certainly a shocking development. Since Episode 1, Rossum's charming, imperfect, and frequently manic performance helps to ground the show amid its frequent debauchery and madness. Season 9 sees Fiona truly hit her rock bottom, even more so than her fall from grace in Season 4. Not only does another one of her relationships bite the dust, but her plans of upward mobility also go up in smoke. Steadily hemorrhaging money and getting closer to becoming a female version of Frank by the day, Fiona is in desperate need of a break.

This finally arrives in the form of $100,000 she's owed from her previous property investment. Fiona ponders what to do next and, after some advice from her siblings, decides it's time to go. Opting to leave before her goodbye party, Fiona shares a final bittersweet moment with Frank who, in his own way, thanks her for all the help. Fiona finally departs for good and gets on her first ever plane flight, heading off to what will hopefully be a more stable life. Not everyone on "Shameless" gets a happy ending, but if anyone deserves one, it's most definitely Fiona.

Lip almost drops Fred

The post-Fiona seasons of "Shameless" definitely feel and operate differently than the preceding nine seasons. Instead of a central character bolstered by five-to-six b-stories, everyone is competing for the spotlight. The character who arguably takes on the spotlight is Lip, who has undergone his own sizable developments following Fiona's departure. The once promising M.I.T prospect is now a father, forced to fly solo for an extended period of time.

Following complications of childbirth, Tami is out of commission for a few episodes, which leaves Lip to parent on his own. This obviously takes a toll on Lip, who begins showing almost immediate signs of fatigue and burnout. These stressful days eventually grind down Lip to the point where he almost drops his son Fred getting out of the tub. Shockingly, Frank, of all people checks to see if all is okay, seeing a shell-shocked Lip gripping Fred on the floor. Lip notes the near disaster but Frank, in a touching moment, notes that Lip will not hurt his son and tells him to get some sleep. Frank and Lip always had a complex relationship, but this is a supremely vulnerable and masterfully handled moment.

Frank dies

While fans and critics seem to agree the final season of "Shameless" is a mixed bag, there's no denying the show ends on a truly resonant note that bids farewell to one of modern television's finest characters, Frank Gallagher. From the show's first moments, Frank is the first character whose voice we hear and immediately creates a connection with viewers. He's the one who introduces us to his family and the crazy, mixed-up world they live in. With that in mind, it makes sense that he's the one who has the final word on everything

To see the once boisterous and chaotic Frank not only ridden with dementia but breathing his last breaths due to COVID-19 is quite heartbreaking. It's even sadder due to the fact that it occurs without any of his family or remaining friends present, leaving Frank to reminisce on the show's simpler days. As Frank passes on, he takes his seat at the Alibi once final time, experiencing Ian and Mickey's anniversary as an unseen specter. However, Liam manages to notice his ghostly presence just before Frank ascends towards the clouds with a beer in hand. Frank reads aloud a letter he left behind, simply offering final bits of wisdom with his trademark dismissive arrogance. Regardless of Season 11's inconsistencies, a foulmouthed Frank Gallagher raising a glass for the final time makes a fittingly somber way to close out the show.