Mickey Milkovich (rivetingly played by Noel Fisher) first made his mark in an unexpected Season 1 sexual encounter with teenage Gallagher son Ian (Cameron Monaghan). Ian, established as gay early in the series, receives tacit support from the handful of family members and friends to whom he comes out. Mickey, by contrast, is a profoundly closeted neighborhood thug: a belligerent, grubby kid with the words “FUCK U-UP” tattooed on his knuckles … who also happens to be an exuberant bottom. However, instead of writing off this hook-up as another one-time moment of comedic outrageousness, Shameless has made Mickey’s arc a surprisingly sensitive one, examining the impact of poverty and family violence on the character’s life.
Mickey has been raised in a household ruled by terror. The Milkovich brood is overseen by tyrannical father Terry, who is often out of sight (thanks to frequent incarceration), but never far out of mind. Mickey’s appearance is disheveled: at times visibly dirty. His speech is littered with wisecracks and put-downs. He’s cagey and mean and picks fights. All of these at-once repugnant qualities are undercut by viewers’ slow, sobering realization: This is how an abused child survives. Because, as we discover in both subtle clues and scenes of explicit brutality, Terry’s hairpin trigger rage is calibrated to fire at any mention of homosexuality.
… In tiny increments since his first encounter with Ian, and at clear risk to his own safety, Mickey has pushed himself further and further past his fear. We are reminded of the time Mickey, returning from a stint in juvenile detention, greeted Ian with a deceptively terse, “Missed ya.” Of Mickey and Ian’s first kiss, hurried and nervous, long after they began meeting for sex. Of the futile, single-word plea – “Don’t” – when Ian told him he was enlisting in the Army. Of Mickey’s hesitant response to a stranger who asked, of his relationship with Ian, “Did you guys just meet last night, or are you together?”
Finally, after a pause: “Together.”
This, all of this, is what coming out looks like. And this is what Mickey Milkovich’s relevance truly hinges on: not only an acknowledgment of the suffering and self-denial that is still a reality in the lives of many LGBTQ people; but the validation that coming out is not irrelevant or passé or an all-or-nothing game. No matter how small and unwhole these acts of disclosure may seem, they are still brave.