Kaitlin Olson, Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton (FXX)

If the Gang is the worst (they are), Frank is the worst of the worst, on a couple of fronts. Since Frank Reynolds cannonballed back into the lives of his sort-of children, he’s functioned as the Gang’s enabler, his seemingly bottomless wealth providing opportunities for awfulness Dee, Dennis, Mac, and Charlie could never have afforded on their own. He’s also functioned as the foil, his age and retrograde sensibilities peppering the Gang’s misadventures with a more bald-faced version of the sins the younger four attempt to hide beneath at least a veneer of civility (when they bother). Finally, though, Frank is the Gang’s geek. As filthy and degraded as Charlie is as the lowest in the Gang’s pecking order, he’s also something like their holy fool, his scabrous actions the result of the horrible neglect and abuse of his childhood (and now adulthood). Frank—as remarkably committed as now 71-year-old pro Danny DeVito has always been in the role—is the grunting, rutting, sexist, gluttonous old bigot whose schtick works best in small doses.

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So the prospect of an episode seen solely through Frank’s eyes was, I have to be honest, not that alluring. But “Being Frank” works. Like last season’s “Charlie Work,” “Being Frank” filters the Gang’s day-to-day dangerous nonsense (this time involving an elaborate scheme to get Dennis’ Range Rover out of an impound lot) through the perspective of one of its members, and the gimmick once again provides insight both into the group’s dynamic and the episode’s main character. And while I’ve been critical of this season’s reliance on gimmick episodes, “Being Frank” functions as the best kind of stunt—one that broadens the show’s world, even as it exists purely inside it.

The idea of an episode through Frank’s eyes is applied literally in “Being Frank,” as we wake with Frank, grunting and farting, and pissing in a coffee can (actually, he seems to need two at once, for reasons I choose not to dwell on) on the floor of his and Charlie’s apartment, every grimy detail shown from Frank’s perspective à la the POV noir Philip Marlowe film Lady In The Lake. (Like that oddball detective movie, we only see Frank’s face in a mirrors, first washing up in the apartment’s horrifyingly filthy sink.) Roused from his hangover (he’d fallen asleep wearing Mardi Gras beads) by a text from Dennis demanding to know why he’s not at Paddy’s, Frank lurches out into the world and we lurch with him, episode director Heath Cullens going into shaky handheld throughout to capture Frank’s similarly patchy grasp of what transpires as he attempts to keep up with the plot transpiring around him.

Frank?

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And it is patchy. “Being Frank” shows just how out of touch Frank has become by this point, as he bluffs his way through Dennis’ briefing on the plan, loses focus when he’s given a second chance to hear how the whole thing is going to work, and even—in a genuinely shocking moment—revealing that he can’t remember his son’s name. (“Is it Damon? Delroy? Demarcus?”) The Gang’s jokes about Frank’s mental decline over the years have been plentiful, but, seen from Frank’s addled perspective here, all of his increasingly broad and irrational actions start to make more sense. It’s a bold move on Sunny’s part (this episode credited to long-time writer and producer Scott Marder), one that will inevitably color how we see Frank going forward. This season’s “Frank Falls Out The Window” hinted at a similar arc for him, but at least he had the excuse of a massive head wound to explain his similarly massive confusion.

Indeed, the Frank of “Being Frank” is in even worse shape than we thought. His usual careening progress through the world (involving the ingestion of at least two powerful drugs, a hallucinogenic trip sequence, copious vomiting, a vicious beating, gunplay, a trip to the hospital, and two bouts of unconsciousness), when seen from inside Frank’s head, are clearly the product of an old man with only the most intermittent contact with lucidity. Losing the thread of Dennis’ absurd plan almost immediately, Frank’s parallel adventures are guided mainly by prods in the form of texts from the Gang and from ever-desperate drinking (and everything) buddy Bill Ponderosa (Lance Barber) and, rather touchingly, Frank’s desire to do the right thing by his friends.

Of course, all Frank’s friends (and Frank) are the worst, so “doing the right thing” in this case involves: stealing a rug from Artemis (the always-welcome Artemis Pebdani) while she’s sitting shiva for her dead aunt, stealing drugs from Artemis’ medicine cabinet to counteract the dog tranquilizers he ate earlier, plunging his hand into boiling water to steal hot dogs to sustain him on his quest, lurching into a women’s bathroom and kicking a terrified woman off the can so he can throw up, backing up Bill after Bill has fondled an underage girl at the roller rink, and, eventually, stealing Dennis’ car out of the impound after accidentally ending up there when Bill’s car is towed with Frank locked in the trunk (he shoots his way out). One of Sunny’s greatest strengths is in how it keeps us invested in these characters despite their lack of almost any redeeming qualities, and here Marder and DeVito push the limits in both directions.

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Frank’s innate bigotry pops up loud and clear even in his fog. (“Whoa, Jews,” he blurts upon seeing Artemis’ grieving family. “Must be Asians,” he muses, after his terrible driving causes an accident.) Meanwhile, however, there’s something delicately sad in how hard Frank has to try to follow the hedonistic path he’s taken to with such relish ever since he retired to a life of “hoors,” rum ham, and Grilled Charlies. Apart from forgetting Dennis’ name, his inner monologue reveals that much of his abuse of Dee (“She’s a bird”) stems from panicky misdirection so that the rest of the Gang won’t realize how far gone he is. (It also reveals that he’s genuinely creeped out by Mac’s neediness—and, most likely, his poorly closeted gayness.) The music at the begining and end of the episode echoes this dichotomy, too, Frank’s lovely, Pixar-sounding instrumental theme amping up the pathos, even as Frank’s actions undermine it.

In the end, Frank saves the day—mostly by mistake—his confusion at the Gang’s enthusiastic gratitude covered up by a sweaty effort to “think of something cool to say” (“Anybody need a ride?”) and one more insult of Dee (the bird thing always kills). And when he and Charlie go to their shared bed that night, their exchange (“I tell you though, great work bud. You killed it. Really.” “Aw thanks, Charlie”) is genuinely sweet in that insane but touching way that Charlie and Frank’s relationship is—even as Frank must cover up the fact that he’s already forgotten the Gang’s next stupid scheme, scheduled for tomorrow.

As the music tinkles on like a lullaby and Frank convinces Charlie that he’s not secretly scared of how lost he is, Charlie suggests just one round of Night Crawlers, and Frank’s obvious excitement is tinged with relief. As Charlie shuts off the light and grabs the blanket that transforms them both, his practiced ritual thrills Frank, who responds like the child he’s slowly turning into.

Charlie: “Darkness falls, and magic stirs…”

Frank, delightedly: “It’s stirring! It’s stirring!”

Charlie, draping the blanket over Frank as the lights go out: “… As we become the creatures of the night.”

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Stray observations

  • The episode clocks in at a brisk 18 minutes of screen time, which is just about right. Frank’s pell-mell journey (complete with Trainspotting-like EDM interlude) doesn’t overstay its welcome by drawing things out unnecessarily.
  • Attempting to bluff that he knows the plan, Frank tells himself (referring to Dennis), “Listen to the vain one, he knows the deal.”
  • The first of Frank’s blackouts occurs thanks to him spitefully eating a bite of landlord Hwang’s (Shelly Desai) “snakemeat sandwich,” which Frank immediately starts choking on as well. (Although his fate is unrevealed, Hwang may be dead.)
  • Frank, in what he imagines are his dying words: “I don’t wanna die looking at you, you sack of shit. I’m checkin’ out! Somebody throw me in the trash!”
  • Frank, after groping the kindly middle-aged nurse who welcomes him back to consciousness, is told by a doctor that something is very wrong with him. As Frank can’t concentrate even on news of his own health, all we hear is “malignant tumor” and that they may “have to remove something.”
  • Artemis describes the unimpressive Frank as “my part-time lover” to her family, continuing to prove how awesome Artemis is.
  • Considering that she’s shown up in two of his drug trips (“The Gang Gets Invincible”), Artemis is clearly inside Frank’s head as well.
  • Frank and Artemis’ relationship, in brief: “I got no time for swapping loads, I’m in a jam.”
  • “Excuse me, I’m full of dog poison.”
  • Bill is doing even worse than ever after his divorce, only failing to shoot himself in the head when Frank jogs the gun in his hand.
  • Mac’s insecurity has him ask Frank “Do you think Dennis hates me?” He’s chosen the wrong confidante, as apparently Frank only knows him as “this one.”

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