If nothing else, Shameless is a rumination on class in America. Over the course of eight seasons, the Gallagher family has been defined by their perpetual poverty and the creative methods for surviving in spite of it. What the show lacks in cultural and racial accuracy — there is no part of Chicago’s Southside that is both working class and mostly white like the Gallagher’s neighborhood — it makes up for with biting honesty about just how bad things can get for the working class. In the most recent two seasons, however, class mobility has become more of a focus. But when you’re already poor, it’s not at all smooth sailing.
Several members of the Gallagher tribe are on the come-up. Since last season, Ian (Cameron Monaghan) has maintained his job as an EMT, a relatively decent position for someone with only a high school diploma. While he hasn’t been able to move out of his overcrowded family home, he can at least afford to take his partner, Trevor (Elliot Fletcher), out on dates. Debbie (Emma Kenney), a teen mom, has dropped out of high school, opting instead for a GED and welder training to one day support herself and her daughter. But the greatest glow-up has certainly been Fiona’s (Emmy Rossum). The eldest sibling and family matriarch has found her footing as a budding entrepreneur. She manages the diner where she works, she took over a laundromat and later sold it for a great profit, and then she acquired a rental property that she manages.
The latter has been a source of stress and test of endurance for the fresh landlady. Seven episodes into the eighth season, Fiona has already had to evict several tenants, developed a rivalry with one, and had to deal with the death of another. But most notable, the business of real estate has made it clear to the generationally broke millennial what it takes to jump into a different tax bracket. Suddenly interested in property values, Fiona doesn’t want a church near her rental property to be rented out as a homeless shelter. What she doesn’t know is that Trevor and Ian are the ones trying to open the shelter for LGBTQ+ youth. When the siblings realize they’re working against each other, Ian accuses Fiona of putting money before family and what’s right. Fiona thinks Ian is trying to sabotage one of the few chances she has at making a better life for herself and the rest of the family.
Although portrayed as family drama spilling over into her new business endeavor, there is a larger point. Capitalism requires sacrifice, and most often it receives that sacrifice at the expense of the already marginalized. It’s how classism works to keep poor people poor. This means that Fiona must turn her back on other poor people in order to make it. She spent years admonishing the gentrifiers in her neighborhood. Now she is opening her arms to them in order to make a profit on the building. She has mastered the art of not paying bills on time but has had to become aggressive with tenants for payment. The Gallagher household has hosted dozens of people in transition and down on their luck, but now to protect property values, Fiona must reject the young people that need a place to lay their heads.
On last night’s episode, after a nasty standoff between Fiona and Ian, she sought out an alternative space for the LGBTQ+ shelter. Trevor took her up on the offer and signed a lease. It was the happiest ending one could hope for in this situation, save for Ian’s mysterious refusal to forgive his sister. But this isn’t the first — and it likely won’t be the last — moral dilemma that Fiona has to face on her journey to class mobility. And it will likely still involve stiffing the people who are still in the same boat that she once was.