Karen Jackson is a former main character from seasons 1 and 2; she reappears as a recurring character in season 3. She is first introduced as a promiscuous classmate whom Lip tutors, and the two eventually begin dating throughout the first season.
Karen’s parents are Sheila and Eddie Jackson. Karen has a strained relationship with Eddie, who is overbearing and extremely religious. Her mother Sheila is mentally ill, having developed agoraphobia and obsessive compulsive disorder sometime during Karen’s childhood. Since Eddie is dismissive of Sheila’s agoraphobia, Karen has had to look out for her mother, taking care of her medications and protecting her from Eddie and the outside world. After experiencing a breakdown at the end of Season 1, Karen’s character begins to spiral out of control; she becomes more bitter and resentful, taking advantage of people to get what she wants. Her manipulative actions towards Lip and her rude behavior makes her one of the two main antagonists of Season 2.
Karen is a petite, blonde girl who often wears jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies. At the end of the first season, she goes through a brief phase where she dyes her hair black, pierces her nose, has "Whore" tattooed on her arm, and wears all black.
Karen is introduced in the pilot episode as Lip's tutoring student. While doing homework, Karen suddenly performs oral sex on Lip from underneath the dining table. When questioned, Karen explains that "science just turns me on”, and is happy to repay Lip's tutoring with sexual favors. Later on in the episode, Karen again performs oral sex on Lip’s brother Ian, only doing so at Lip's request to see if Ian is actually gay. Eddie suddenly arrives from upstairs and discovers Karen giving Ian a blowjob. Enraged, Eddie angrily flips over the dining table and attempts to beat the two boys. Disgusted by Karen’s actions, Eddie packs his bags and moves out, leaving his wife and daughter.
Karen and Lip develop a sexual relationship at the beginning of the season. She begins to spend more time at the Gallagher house, meeting his siblings and learning more about Lip’s home life. She is unhappy when Lip’s alcoholic father, Frank Gallagher, gets romantic with Sheila and moves in; Frank freeloads and takes great advantage of Sheila’s cooking, hospitality and disability checks, to Karen’s dismay. Karen is further disgusted when Eddie moves back in. In an attempt to get back at Eddie for leaving, Karen flirts with Frank and tries to seduce him, though Frank rebuffs her. Karen ultimately becomes more neutral over Frank's presence in the house; in Killer Carl, Karen asks Frank to join her at a parent-teacher conference, and in It's Time To Kill the Turtle, Karen comforts Sheila when Frank temporarily moves out.
Karen continues a relationship with Lip, who is clearly falling in love with her; however, she refuses to be his girlfriend, insisting that they’re merely friends with benefits. In But at Last Came a Knock, Eddie invites Karen to go to his church's purity ball, a religious reconciliation event where girls pledge their chastity, in hopes of getting her to stop having sex. Karen agrees to go in exchange for a car.
In Nana Gallagher Had an Affair, Karen attends the purity ball dance with Eddie. She is asked by the pastor to admit her sexual history; following the pastor’s instructions, Karen details her extensive sexual history in front of the group. Eddie is enraged and angrily calls Karen a whore in front of the group. Shocked and embarrassed, Karen leaves the ball early and returns home. She immediately trashes her father’s room, crying, exclaiming “He made me think he loved me”, implying that Karen was looking forward to reconciling their relationship. Karen finds comfort in Sheila, telling her what happened.
Following the purity ball, Karen experiences a mental breakdown, cutting her hair and getting the word “WHORE” tattooed in her arm. Lip confronts Karen, exclaiming he doesn’t understand why Karen cares about what her father said, as “you have been kind of a whore.” Offended, Karen angrily kicks Lip out. Karen later starts a video blog called Daddyz Girl, in which she confronts her father. Later that night, a drunken Frank finds Karen crying in the basement. Karen initially tries to shoo him away before discovering his pain pills. She gulps down the rest of the pills and pulls off her shirt; she then broadcasts herself raping an unwilling and incapacitated Frank on her video blog.
In Father Frank, Full of Grace, Karen makes the video blog public and sends a personal link to Eddie and his co-workers. Frank is forced to go into hiding because of Karen's video, as many people believe he was the instigator. Distraught from watching the video, Eddie commits suicide by tying himself to a cement block and jumping into the frozen lake. Meanwhile, Lip visits Karen and apologizes for calling her a whore; she forgives him. The two have sex, and Lip unexpectedly tells Karen that he loves her. Feeling guilty, Karen starts to cry and breaks up with Lip. Upset and confused, Lip tries to take back his statement, to no avail. Lip eventually discovers the Daddyz Girl video blog; he yells at Karen and viciously beats up Frank.
Later that night, Karen catches up with Lip and tells him of what really occurred. She apologizes to Lip; he seems to accept the apology, responding, “Fucking fathers, huh?”
At the beginning of the season, Karen has begun attending Sex Addicts Anonymous, and is now dating Jody Silverman, a tattoo artist whom she met in the group. She continues to support Sheila, who is making significant progress in overcoming her agoraphobia. Despite her sex-free relationship with Jody, Karen continues a sexual relationship with Lip, though she quickly breaks it off when she suspects Jody intends to propose. Jody ultimately proposes to Karen at the Alibi Room, and she happily accepts the proposal. Jealous over the engagement, Lip attempts to dig up dirt on Jody, and he gets Mandy Milkovich to show up at the Jackson house and seduce Jody. However, the plan backfires; Jody rebuffs Mandy and informs Karen. Upon discovering Lip’s plan, Karen attacks Lip in front of the Gallaghers and tearfully reveals that she's pregnant. Lip is shocked by the news of Karen’s pregnancy, as he could potentially be the father.
In the episode Father's Day, Eddie’s dead body is found floating in the lake. Karen learns of her father's death but does not feel any remorse. Meanwhile, the police discover Karen’s Daddyz Girl video blog, and Frank is arrested on statutory rape charges. However, Karen gets Frank released when she tells the police that she took advantage of Frank, not the other way around, and the police subsequently stop their investigation of Frank. Karen later thanks Frank because she believes that he killed her father.
Karen and Jody get married at a courthouse, and the two throw a wedding party; Karen invites the whole Gallagher family except for Lip, who crashes the party anyway. During the party, a drunken Sheila gets into an argument with Frank’s mother, Peggy. The fight escalates with Peggy pulling out a gun and pointing it at Sheila’s face, causing everyone to panic. The gun gets pulled away from Peggy and the police arrive, abruptly ending the wedding party. Following the incident, Lip discovers Karen crying outside. He confronts her about the baby and states he wants her to get an abortion; Karen slaps him.
Karen and Jody's marriage initially goes well, but Karen soon starts to feel smothered by him; she is overwhelmed by Jody's sex addiction, his friends and his weird sexual habits. Under Lip’s suggestion, Karen tricks Jody into signing a prenuptial agreement, and then kicks him out of the house. She also reignites her sexual relationship with Lip. In Parenthood, Karen reveals to Lip that she has decided to put her baby up for adoption, expressing that she wouldn’t be a good mother. Lip agrees with Karen’s decision; however, he grows conflicted when it becomes obvious that Karen cares more about who is willing to pay the most money for the baby, rather than if the baby goes to a good home. Karen and Lip ultimately choose the wealthy Jeff and Alana as adoptive parents. In Hurricane Monica, Karen discovers that Sheila and Jody are pursuing a sexual relationship. Karen later informs her mother that she knows about the affair, but expresses neutral feelings over the relationship.
In Just Like the Pilgrims Intended, Karen gives birth to her child. Sheila, Jody, Lip, and the rest of the Gallaghers congregate in the hospital room to see the baby; However, the baby has Down Syndrome and is of Asian-American descent, revealing that Lip was never the father. Karen reveals that the father is probably her classmate, Timmy Wong, and refuses to even hold the child. Angry with Karen, Lip storms out of the hospital. When Jeff and Alana don’t want the baby because of his disability, Sheila and Jody abduct the baby from the hospital to ensure he has a better future, rather than staying in the foster care system.
Karen is informed of Sheila abducting the baby at the hospital. She declines to press charges and instead returns home, imploring Sheila to return the baby to the hospital. When Sheila refuses, Karen calls the police; the cops side with Sheila, because if the baby were to return to the hospital, he would be placed into foster care and cost taxpayer money. As a result, Karen gives Sheila an ultimatum: either the baby goes or Karen does. Sheila initially pleads with Karen, but unable to change Karen’s mind, Sheila chooses the baby.
Keeping her word, Karen packs her bags and runs away. Lip catches up with Karen as she leaves; he informs her that if she goes through with running away, she will regret the decision in the future. Karen initially stares at Lip with a wistful and a contemplative expression, but after a moment, she turns around and walks away as Lip watches.
After running away, Karen has not returned to her family, though Sheila remains hopeful for her return. Sheila and Jody struggle to take care of the baby, whom they have named Hymie. In The Sins of My Caretaker, Lip leaves a voicemail from Karen, giving her an update on what’s happening; he then insults her, calling her a “selfish, ignorant, heinous piece of dogshit”, and tells her to stay gone.
In A Long Way From Home, Timmy Wong and his mother visit the Jackson house and reveal they want to take Hymie to live with them. Sheila initially relents; however, with Jody having relapsed in his sex addiction, Sheila realizes her home is an unhealthy environment for a baby and decides to give Hymie back to his biological family. The next day, Karen suddenly returns to the Jackson house and reunites with Sheila. She seems to have reformed, apologizing to Sheila for making her choose between her and Hymie. She also expresses interest in meeting Hymie, implying that she came back for her child.
In Where There's a Will, Karen reunites with Lip and tries to make amends for how things ended with him. She reveals that she heard his voicemail, and that she hit rock bottom while running away, having been robbed by a guy in New York. Lip does not show any reaction, simply informing her that he is with Mandy now; Karen tells him that he deserves happiness and sadly watches him leave. Karen later tries to meddle with Lip and Mandy's relationship, informing Mandy that she talked to Lip. Mandy later confronts Lip, hurt that he did not inform her about Karen’s return. Lip returns to Karen’s house and inquires about her story of being robbed; Karen smiles and confirms it was all a lie. The two end up having sex. Meanwhile, Sheila speaks with the Timmy Wong's mother, and discovers that before her return, Karen had called the Wongs to take Hymie away from Sheila. Heartbroken, Sheila confronts Karen, who claims that she wanted to return to a simpler time before Hymie was born.
In Frank the Plumber, a depressed Sheila refuses to communicate with Karen. Karen believes she and Lip have reconciled their relationship, but Lip changes his mind when Mandy secretly applies to colleges for him. Lip breaks up with Karen, revealing that he has chosen Mandy because she genuinely loves Lip and has his best interests at heart, whereas Karen does not seem to have the same kind of love and respect for him. Enraged and devastated, Karen calls Mandy and leaves a threatening message, stating that all she has to do is trick Lip into one unprotected encounter and she will have him back. Later that night, Sheila visits Karen in her room and tries to reconcile their relationship by giving a heartfelt apology. She apologizes for her previous mental health issues, acknowledging that she couldn’t be there for Karen due to her agoraphobia. She also apologizes for dating Jody and asks for Karen’s forgiveness. The apology seems to work; the two share tears, but before Karen can respond, she receives a text message supposedly from Lip, asking to meet at the park. Karen kindly brushes her mother off and leaves the house to meet up with Lip. While crossing the street, she is suddenly rammed by a speeding car; she gets flipped completely on top of the car and hits the ground, her unconscious, bleeding body left in the middle of the street as the car speeds away. It is later revealed that Mandy was the one driving the car.
Karen miraculously survives the car crash, though she is hospitalized with severe injuries and placed in a medically induced coma. Lip visits the hospital; Sheila tells him that Karen was excited about his text message, and Lip realizes that someone had used his phone to text Karen. Meanwhile, Karen’s doctor instructs Sheila and Jody to do things that Karen likes, as it could potentially get her to awaken. Jody notices that Karen’s finger twitches when he touches her leg; remembering what the doctor said, Jody starts performing oral sex on Karen, causing Karen to wake up. After awakening from the coma, Karen's personality dramatically changes; she is much calmer and “happier”, presumably because her old, selfish personality is gone. She also answers most questions in monosyllables. Sheila and Jody are informed that Karen can only recall memories from before the accident, but cannot make any new memories; it is likely that she will never recover. When Lip visits the Jackson house to see Karen, she is able to remember him. During a private moment with Karen, Lip tells Karen that it was Mandy who ran her over; Karen amicably digests the news, but then follows up a few moments later, stating she does not know who hit her. Angered from witnessing Karen’s deficiencies, Lip breaks things off with Mandy, calling her a “jealous, demented cunt.”
In hopes of giving Karen a better recovery, Sheila reveals that Jody plans to move to Arizona with Hymie and Karen. In the season finale, Sheila says goodbye to Karen, expressing “I know I have to let you go.” The two exchange their goodbyes, and Jody drives away, marking Karen’s last appearance in the show.
In Sparky, Lip lists Karen as one of his crazy romantic partners to Ian when discussing how Gallagher men attract odd partners.
- She mentions several sexual encounters with women but has not been seen dating one.
- She is the first girlfriend of Lip Gallagher.
- After receiving brain damage, she moved to Arizona.
- She has been involved with three Gallagher’s in a way: Lip, Frank, and Ian.
- Karen had not been seen or mentioned for 6 seasons until Lip mentioned her in season 10.