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Ian is not as intelligent as Lip, but he is more physically fit and has an excellent work ethic in nearly everything he does. He is often uncertain of what he wants to do in his life, but once he makes a goal for himself he goes after it 100 percent.
Throughout the Seasons
Ian is gay and closeted. When his older brother Lip discovers a cache of gay pornography in the room they share, he first confronts Ian with it and then sets him up to receive oral sex from Karen Jackson, a neighbor whom Lip tutors. Later, Lip comes to accept his brother and becomes Ian's trusted confidante.
Ian is involved in a sexual relationship with Kash, owner of Kash and Grab. Kash, a Muslim, is married to Linda, a white woman who converted to marry him, and has two children with her. Usually, Ian and Kash have sex in the storeroom, but one weekend when Linda and the children are out of town Kash brings Ian to their home. Upon seeing the reality of Kash's life with his family, Ian balks at having sex there. Lip quickly finds out about Ian's and Kash's relationship, and so does Linda. Although angry, she tells Kash he can continue sleeping with Ian after he gets her pregnant. She allows Ian to keep his job, but strictly forbids any sexual encounters between the two until she successfully conceives.
Ian's schoolmate Mandy Milkovich expresses a sexual interest in him. When he does not reciprocate, she gets revenge by telling her brothers that Ian imposed himself on her sexually, causing them to chase him with violent intentions for a few days. After evading them, he comes out to Mandy, who not only calls off her brothers, but suggests that she be his beard to deflect any questions about his sexuality. The two start going on non-sexual dates, genuinely enjoying each other's company.
Meanwhile, Mickey Milkovich, one of Mandy's brothers and an aggressive shop lifter, due to whom Linda had installed the security cameras that revealed Kash's and Ian's relationship to her, has been terrorizing Kash and steals the gun kept in the store for protection. Ian confronts Mickey at his home, determined to retrieve it. In the ensuing altercation the pair realizes their attraction and has sex. They maintain the sexual relationship although Mickey denies any emotional attraction to Ian, who cools off his relationship with Kash. Eventually Kash catches the two having sex in the store and, in response, shoots Mickey in the leg and has him arrested following Mickey's brazen theft of a candy bar. Though he kept his relationship with Mickey a secret at first, he tells Lip about them after Mickey gets shot and sent to juvie.
Mickey is released from juvenile detention and he and Ian resume their relationship. Mickey starts working security at the Kash and Grab. Frank catches the boys having sex in the cooler and Mickey, fearing that his father would kill him should Frank tell what he saw, resolves to kill Frank. After stalking him for several days, Mickey can't go through with it and assaults a police officer instead, violating his parole and returning him to juvenile detention.
Monica returns home following the death of Frank's mother Grammy. While she is at home she tells Ian that Frank told her about seeing him with Mickey and that he should be proud of who and what he is. She takes him to his first gay bar. The next day Ian, depressed over a poor math score, allows Monica to take him to a local enlistment center to join the Army. He is refused, because he has not graduated from high school. The following morning Ian is attacked in the kitchen by Terry Milkovich, father of Ian's beard Mandy, because he believes Ian has gotten her pregnant.
Ian spends the next few days avoiding Terry, but it becomes increasingly more difficult. Lip suggests they plant Grammy's old gun in the Milkovich home; this will violate Terry's parole and, if the gun is tied to a murder, could get him incarcerated for life. They break in and discover Terry already has several guns; they plant theirs anyway.
The night before Thanksgiving Ian returns to the gay bar he has visited with his mother. He is picked up by an older gentleman who calls himself Ned; they spend the night together. A few days later at Fiona's insistence her erstwhile boyfriend Jimmy arranges a dinner for the Gallaghers and his family. Ian is shocked to learn that Ned is really Lloyd, Jimmy's father, who sends repeated text messages to Ian suggesting they get together again. Ian tries to tell Fiona several times, but is interrupted when Frank shoves him against the wall out of anger for Monica leaving. Ian is saved when Jimmy's wife, Estefania hits him over the head with a frying pan.
The third season takes place several months after the incident with Frank. Ian is still trying to improve his chances of getting into West Point, while helping with the financial stability of the family. He also now has regular contact with Lloyd, which has turned into somewhat of a friends-with-benefits relationship. He has also been seen having sex with a guy from his ROTC class, when Mickey shows up again. After Ian is interrupted, the boy pleads with Ian not to tell anyone then Mickey slightly beats the boy up who runs off. Mickey and Ian have sex and then start catching up from an interval of separation. Ian feels confused over whether Mickey actually likes him or not, especially after he has sex with a girl from their neighborhood. Ian asks Mandy for some advice about knowing if a guy is attracted to you. Mandy says that he would know it when he looks in his eyes. The next day Ian saves a kid from Mickey's wrath. Ian then tries to stare at Mickey's eyes, seeing if there was the supposed "look", but Mickey only asks, "The fuck are you lookin' at?" Though later he realizes that Mickey must care about him when he follows him and Lloyd on a date.
Mickey starts becoming jealous because Ian is seeing the other men. Eventually Lloyd reveals that he is pansexual when he is kicked out of his house and calls Jimmy soon after. When Lloyd and Jimmy come back to the Gallagher house after drinking at The Alibi Room, the older man seems to want to reach for Ian, but he falls down because of his drunken state. Jimmy offers him to let him sleep on the couch. When Lloyd wakes up in the middle of the night and decides to look for Ian upstairs with nothing but his boxers on he runs into Molly Milkovich while peeing in the bathroom. He apologizes, then continues walking down the hall. He climbs into Lip's bed with no clothes on, believing he is Ian. Lip reacts loudly, saying that Lloyd has a boner and almost beats him up until Fiona walks in to intervene. Lloyd looks around and then says he was looking for the bathroom because he was going to take a shower, trying to hide the fact that he was looking for Ian. Jimmy takes his dad downstairs, and Fiona asks Lip if he was sure Lloyd had a boner, leading Ian to admit that Lloyd had been looking for him and that the two have been dating. He adds he did not know Lloyd was Jimmy's father when he met him at the club.
Lloyd later asks Ian if he could break into his house to steal back his belongings since his soon-to-be-ex-wife changed the locks. He enlists Mickey and a couple of his cousins to do it. When Mickey asks Ian why he likes Lloyd, he says it is because he is not afraid to kiss him. Right before Mickey goes into Lloyd's house for the heist, he kisses Ian. Ian waits in the van to be the getaway driver until the robbery goes wrong. Candace wakes up when she hears a ruckus and comes down the stairs with a shotgun in her hand. She ends up shooting Mickey in the butt. Ian quickly drives away with a bleeding Mickey and his cousins. He ends up calling Lloyd and asks for his help in getting Mickey mended.
When Ian and the rest of the Gallagher children are taken away by child protective services, Mickey lets him stay at his house since his father Terry was away on an extended hunting trip. Terry ends up coming home early and catches Mickey and Ian having sex. He beats both of them, and forces Ian to watch Mickey have sex with a prostitute. Afterwards, Mickey goes to great lengths to avoid Ian. Eventually Mickey marries the prostitute, since she is pregnant. Ian goes to talk to Mickey, but it goes badly; Ian tries to get Mickey to admit he loves him angering Mickey, who brutally beats Ian. He leaves, claiming to feel better. At the end of the episode, Ian cries alone in his room.
On the day of Mickey's wedding, Ian helps Mandy set up the chairs. Ian is still so bothered by the fact that Mickey is getting married to a woman that he starts to drink heavily, getting very drunk just before the wedding. He tries to confront Mickey again, pleading him not to go through with it. Mickey says it is just a piece of paper, but Ian does not think so. They have sex, and Ian tries to stop him from going through with the ceremony again, but they get interrupted by Mandy, who has been looking for Mickey, who then proceeds with the wedding. Ian continues to drink all through the ceremony and the party. He ends up calling out to Mickey and calling his wife a whore. During his ranting, he inadvertently reveals to Mandy that he and Mickey have been sleeping together. Lip tries to take Ian home, but he stumbles and passes out in some bushes.
Ian goes to enlist in the army using Lip's identification, because he is not old enough. Ian visits Mandy to ask her to get him something. Mickey tries to talk to Ian, but he tells him that he is enlisting. Mickey tries to persuade him not to leave, but still fails to express his feelings. Mandy gives Ian what he asked for and he leaves. Mandy asks Mickey if that is all he has to say to Ian, but gets no response.
In the season premiere, Ian's family and neighbors do not know of Ian's exact whereabouts, they only know he has "taken off." Debbie is worried and has been arguing with Fiona about reporting him to the police as a missing person, but Fiona says she trusts Ian and does not see the need to do so. Mickey is seen to be missing him and secretly pining for him.
In There's The Rub, Lip is approached by military police and finds out Ian used his name and social security number to enlist. He is now wanted for the attempted theft of government property, impersonating Lip and goes AWOL. The military police show Lip a picture of Ian and ask if he recognizes him; Lip says he has never seen him before. Concerned for his brother, Lip returns home to the Southside and begins looking for clues. He asks Mickey if he has seen Ian; Mickey says no and asks if Ian is in trouble. With Debbie's help, they find out that Ian has been in touch with Mandy and told her he was staying with an old boyfriend. Upon investigation, they find out it was Lloyd, though Ian stopped staying with him as he had been asked to leave when he damaged Lloyd's property. Lloyd informs them that Ian is now with Monica. They find and abandoned house full of Ian's stuff, but not him. When they call out for Ian, they are approached by a naked woman who threatens to shoot them. After reasoning with her, the siblings find out that Ian now works at a bar called the White Swallow. They enter the bar and see Ian serving people drinks. His appearance and behavior are different, he wears a glittery top and makeup, and he acts as though he is on drugs. Upon seeing his siblings, Ian approaches them very enthusiastically and acts as if nothing had happened. He appears manic, offering them drinks and seeming very distracted. He does not answer Lip's questions, but informs him that he has been working at the club for two weeks. He also comments that he finds the idea of the army police searching for him "hilarious", and that he did not "steal anything", he just "started the rotors". Lip tries to get Ian to talk outside, but to no avail; he is dragged away by security and Ian does not seem to notice. Debbie expresses concern for her brother, asking if there is something wrong with him. Lip tells her that at least they know where he is now, and says he will check on Ian again soon.
In A Jailbird, Invalid, Martyr, Cutter, Retard, And Parasitic Twin, Mickey, after having been informed by Mandy about Ian's current situation, attempts to get Ian to return home. He eventually finds him who is currently giving an older man a lap dance, who puts an unspecified pill into his mouth. Ian is going by the name Curtis to his clients. After breaking up the lap dance, Mickey is told by Ian that he will only stay if he pays for a lap dance. Mickey obliges. While Ian is performing the lap dance, Mickey tells him that his family misses him. Ian is unresponsive and argues with an aggravated Mickey. A security guard breaks up the fight. Later, Ian leaves the club with an older man. While waiting for the cab, Ian asks him if he has any "party favors" as the man attempts to put his hand down Ian's pants. Mickey, who was waiting, intervenes and assaults the man. Ian, meanwhile, collapsed onto the floor and Mickey carries him into the waiting cab, taking him home.
In Hope Springs Eternal Ian awakens to find Svetlana staring at him. She informs him that he has been asleep all day. Ian nonchalantly gets up to shower. Svetlana walks in on him, with a hammer, and threatens to "smash his orange head" if he continues to stay at her and Mickey's home. Ian returns home to a surprised Fiona. While relaying information of where he has been to her, Fiona picks up on his slightly erratic behavior, such as laughing too loudly. She is concerned over his disinterest in returning back to school. Svetlana tells Mickey that she has kicked out Ian and Mickey comes to the Gallagher home to talk to Ian. After Fiona casually mentions that Ian is upstairs, Debbie, Carl, and Lip follow Mickey. Ian is ambiguous over what he has been up to, attributing joining the military to "relationship issues". Lip knowingly turns towards Mickey, before leaving with Debbie and Carl, giving the two time to be talk. Once alone, Mickey wants to know if Ian is here to stay, to which Ian asks if Mickey will suck his dick whenever he wants. Ian has a journal where he begins to jot down "ideas" while waiting for a response from Mickey. Mickey obliges and gives Ian a blow job right then and there. The next morning, Ian entertains his siblings with stories of basic training in the army. As everyone leaves for school, Ian stays and continues eating breakfast. Mickey walks in and sits. Fiona asks Ian for cash and he gives Fiona a few crumbled bills. Ian invites Mickey to come see him perform at the club that night. At the club, Ian tells Mickey that they have been invited to a party being hosted by one of his clients. When Mickey complains about not wanting to go, Ian attempts to kiss him. It is not until Mickey looks around and realizes that they will not be judged, that he and Ian kiss in the middle of the club, solidifying their relationship. Mickey is out of his element at the party, starting with not shaking hands with Ian's friend to having an awkward conversation with one of the other guests who asks Mickey what he does for a living. Ian and Mickey fall asleep at the party. The next day, Mickey is asked if the two are together, to which he says yes. The questioner says that Mickey is a "lucky dude".
In The Legend of Bonnie & Carl Ian's erratic behavior increases while Mickey's problems with his wife also intensify. Desperate for money to keep Svetlana's mouth shut, Ian and Mickey carry out a scam on a older, married man who Ian pretends to seduce for money.
In Liver, I Hardly Know Her Ian's manic episode continues as he makes breakfast for his family with hardly any sleep. Ian helps in the search for Fiona while Mickey has an encounter with Kevin. Ian tries to convince Mickey not to harm Kevin as they walk into his house. They see Mandy having lunch with her abusive boyfriend, Kenyatta. Ian attempts to convince Mandy to come back to the Gallagher house with him. Kenyatta approaches, and Ian grabs a knife which he holds to Kenyatta's throat. Mickey calms him down, and they leave. Mickey finally asks Ian what has been happening to him and if he is abusing drugs. Ian looks just as confused by his behavior. They later attend Frank's wedding as Ian's behavior seems to have distracted Mickey from his plans of revenge.
In Emily Ian and Mickey's relationship takes center stage. After Carl begins to notice the relationship between Mickey and Ian, Ian asks Mickey for confirmation of their relationship status. Mickey simply replies, "of course they are together". Ian crashes the christening of Mickey's son, telling Mickey he will not be a mistress anymore. Mickey replies by publicly announcing that he is gay.
In Lazarus Mickey and Ian are an established couple for the first time, Fiona gets arrested but Ian has come crashing down from his manic episode. Mickey cannot get him out of bed, and asks the Gallaghers for their help. Debbie and Carl immediately recognize the symptoms Ian is exhibiting. Fiona later comes to the Milkovich house to see Ian. The family comes to the conclusion that Ian is having serious mental health issues, and is most likely bipolar like his mother. The season ends with Mickey refusing to let Ian have any psychiatric help and insists he will take care of him himself, though this is most likely out of lack of information than Frank's similar reaction to Monica submitting herself to a hospital for her illness.
In the season 5 premiere, Ian is at the Milkovich house and is helping Svetlana with Yevgeny. Ian is running with Fiona and she asks if he has seen the doctor from the clinic, to which he replies that he "feels good" and that he doesn't need to go. Fiona responds with the insistence that the best time for him to go is when he is feeling good. Ian is at the shop with Yevgeny and Liam shopping when he runs into Kevin. They talk about the babies and then notice that there is a man flirtatiously watching Ian. Kevin asks if Ian minds the man watching him and Ian says that he does not. Kevin leaves, while Ian goes behind the grocery store with the man who has been staring at him. They give each other a hand job before leaving. Ian and the family are at the diner where Fiona works, when again, Ian notices one of the male employees watching him. The employee goes to the bathroom and Ian follows him. Once in the stall together, the employee gives Ian a blow job. These are all signs of Ian's increasingly reckless and impulsive behavior, which can be attributed to his bipolar diagnosis.
In I'm the Liver, Ian is getting ready to go to a soldier's funeral. At the funeral is a church group who is holding an anti-gay protest. After enduring their endless chanting (which is disrupting the funeral service), Ian becomes furious and begins to scream and swear at the group, threatening to kill them with a wooden cross that he took from someone's grave.
Ian has just arrived back to the Milkovich house with Mickey and is still furious about the protest and searches for grenades and fully automatic weapons. Then Ian and Mickey have some friends over (gay guys) and they argue about who's gonna do something (i.e. a blow job). All of them say no, then Ian says "I'll do it" to which Mickey responds "No, you will go overboard and kill the son of a bitch." Then Mandy and the Protest leader are on the couch and Mandy is flirting with him. She tries to convince him to let her give him a blow job. He agrees, but then closes his eyes, which puts the plan in action where one of the guys gives the protest leader a blow job instead of Mandy and then they take a picture and post it all over the web.
Ian continues to display erratic behavior as the season progresses and things come to a major halt when, Ian disappears for a full night during which he agrees to be in a porn, having unprotected sex. Mickey finds out and is furious, more importantly he realizes that Ian is sick and not making good choices. Ian refuses to accept his conditions and kidnaps Yevgeny, going on a road-trip. However, Ian goes off to a gay bar and leaves Yevgeny is a hot car (again not making good choices). A woman notices and calls the police, Ian takes Yevgeny, however, he is taken by the police when he displays erratic behavior. Lip and Fiona tell the police Ian has bipolar disorder. Ian feels bad for taking Yevgeny and listens to his family. He is put into a mental ward. Even then, he still refuses to believe that he has bipolar disorder. When Mickey and Fiona go to visit Ian, he is out of it, and distracted. His therapist interviews him and asks him questions, which results in the therapist clinacally diagnosing him with bipolar disorder.
In South Side Rules, Ian tells Sammi all the things he did when he was still in the army. Ian tells her about how he is still wanted. Later on, Mickey and Ian go to the field where they had sex at a couple years ago. Ian starts opening a beer to drink. When Mickey tells him not to drink, because drinking on lithium can cause you to get drunk quicker, he gets angry and punches Mickey across the face. He states he wanted the "shit talking, bitch slapping piece of southside trash he fell for". Mickey gets mad and pushes and punches Ian, which is what he wanted. They begin rolling on the floor fighting, and when they stop, they begin laughing. They both start to drink beer. Later, Ian is completely drunk after drinking just one can of beer. Mickey and Ian are happily dancing and singing in the streets. Ian realizes they've never been on a real date. Mickey asks to borrow a shirt before they go on a date. When they walk in, Sammi tells Ian he's a great kid who will be going places, but he will have troubles ahead of him. Mickey and Ian look at her weirdly and two army men come out. Sammi called the army and told them about Ian. Mickey and Ian try to fight off the army men, but they had guns with them. Ian gets taken and Fiona is on her way back home. Mickey and Fiona are yelling at the army men, but it is no use. Sammi comes out and tells them this is how it feels to get someone they love taken away from them because Chuckie is in juvie due to Carl.
Ian breaks up with Mickey.
In season 6, Ian is still struggling with his condition and still appears to be distant and withdrawn from surroundings; although he visits Mickey in prison, he seems disinterested in continuing their relationship (given that Mickey will be in prison for almost 8 years). He briefly re-encounters and helps Mandy (who is now working in an escort agency), and though he fails to convince her to find a better job, he reassures her that he is still her friend.
Around episode 6, Ian begins dating a firefighter named Caleb and he thinks about becoming a firefighter as well. Ian goes on a first date with Caleb that does not go particularly well, but the two continue to see each other despite this and become closer; Ian even is Caleb's date to the sister of Caleb's wedding. The pair start officially dating, and in episode nine each reveals a "skeleton in their closet". Ian reveals he is bipolar, Caleb reveals he is HIV positive due to a guy who lied to him in college, but they use condoms as Caleb's doctor said he cannot infect anyone. This also leads to Caleb saying Ian should get tested. Ian does, and goes to the doctor with Caleb, and his results are negative.
The nurse also asked Ian how many sexual partners he had had, which led to Caleb leaving the room because Ian did not want to reveal that to Caleb. Later Ian tells Caleb that he truly did not know how many because he used to dance at a strip club "and worked the back of the house as much as the front". Caleb seems to be okay with Ian's past.
Along with all this going on, Ian is working to be a firefighter and passes his EMT test with flying colors with the help of Caleb, but is distressed when he gets the paperwork and realizes he won't be able to be an EMT because of his Bipolar Disorder, but Caleb convinces him to lie on the paperwork. Ian gets a EMT job and has a good first day but then his boss runs a background check on him and finds out about his stay in the mental ward. Ian tells her that they wouldn't hire him if he put that. She tells him she can't employ somebody she can't trust. Ian is then fired. However, Caleb convinces him to go back and make a case for hiring him in spite of his disease. After trying and failing to find more menial work elsewhere, Ian does so, arguing that he can be more helpful with assisting the mentally ill and that he would not be denied the job if he had any handicap apart from mental illness. His former teammates are moved, and refuse to make the next run unless the boss puts back Ian on the team. She does so, with the stipulation that he will be sent home if he starts showing any abnormal behavior. Ian agrees and rejoins the team. After Fiona's wedding to Sean (which is dismantled before it starts due to Frank's vindictiveness) Ian joins Debbie, Carl, Kevin, Veronica, Svetlana and Caleb in taking revenge on Frank by kidnapping him, driving him to a bridge over the freezing Chicago river, and dumping him in.
In the seventh season, Ian still works as a fireman, but one morning, Caleb tells him he is going to meet an old friend. Ian gets suspicious over that friend's being a female. He has chat with Rita and Rita tells him gay men are likely to cheat. Ian does not think so, as he has never cheated on Caleb. And he, along with Lip, stalks Caleb on the train. Ian sees the girl, and Lip wants to go back. But Ian wants to see the scene completely. Caleb finally makes out with the girl, Lip tells that at least Caleb is not cheating on Ian with a man. Ian replies, "I wish she had a dick." The first episode of the seventh season ends with Ian's frustrated face.
The seventh season continues with his falling for Trevor and discovering the idea that "love knows no genders".
Cameron Monaghan said he was drawn to the role, because "it's one of those really intricate multi-layered characters, with all this inner struggle going on". He said that "Ian is smart and he's tough and he's brave and he's really caring and responsible - and I think that's not always shown in one character."
At a 2011 Television Critics Association panel, executive producer John Wells stated that with Monaghan having turned 18 the series would be able to explore Ian's sexuality in ways that had previously been barred by federal law.
Several critics have praised Ian's dynamic with Lip. Reviewing the pilot episode, Sarah Hughes of The Independent wrote that their relationship was a highlight of the UK series, and proved just as effective in the US adaption. She additionally commended Monaghan's portrayal for providing "one of the more nuanced depictions of a gay teenager to be seen on US TV." In a generally unfavorable review of the series, Variety's Brian Lowry assessed that "what little soul it possesses" is derived from the Ian-Lip relationship. Matthey Gilbert of The Boston Globe called Monaghan "extraordinary", and wrote "The moments when Lip confronts Ian about his sexuality are remarkably honest and refreshing, as they each slowly realize they don't need to play out predictably hostile roles." In contrast, Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times opined that their relationship "borders on treacle". The gay-interest media outlet AfterElton.com cited Monaghan's portrayal of Ian in naming him a "breakout actor" for 2011. In 2014, Hollywood.com named Ian Gallagher in their list of "Favorite LGBTQ Charatcters on TV", and Vanity Fair dubbed Ian and Mickey "The Best-Written Gay Couple on Television".