Danny DeVito, Kaitlin Olson, Charlie Day (FX)

It all starts with the hole.

When the alcoholic cesspit that is Paddy’s Pub springs an actual, seemingly bottomless pit in the floor of its filthy men’s room, the Gang is entranced, according to their individual natures. Gazing into the abyss, the abyss reflects back who they are. After throwing rocks down there—and never hearing them hit bottom—Mac’s confused plan is to throw his flashlight into the pit. (Dee, trying to recount Mac’s reasoning to Dennis: “To prove metal travels faster than light?” No, Charlie explains, it was to “prove light is either on or off, there’s no speed to light. It was like an anti-science thing.”) Charlie, with touchingly insane Charlie logic, speculates, “What if there’s, like, a mutant down there, we could get him up and he could live in the bar with us!” Similarly, Dee stares into the hole and imagines a way out, saying, excitedly, “This hole represents infinite possibilities—it’s endless!” Dennis views the three hours the Gang has spent playing with the hole as fuel for his customary mockery of the others, goading Frank with a self-satisfied, “Hey Frank, did you hear what I said? I turned a frustrating conversation into a joke on you!” But Frank isn’t listening. Staring blankly into the hole, Frank sees—nothing.

…something just dawned on me. I need to quit. I don’t feel anything about this hole. I’m passionless.

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The Gang are at first shocked—I mean, just look at that hole!—and then jubilant. As much as the Gang needs each other, none of them exhibit anything like loyalty to each other, or anything but apathy at the thought that another member of the Gang might be leaving. Charlie comes closest, since his signature brand of awfulness stems more from the madness of the perpetually abused rather than the selfish malice underlying much of the rest of the Gang’s depredations. But here, the prospect of taking over the rat-infested, stab-happy, now hole-riddled Paddy’s has Mac, Dennis, Dee, and Charlie at each others’ throats in a web of tangled, deeply stupid intrigue that makes for one of the funniest It’s Always Sunny episodes of the season.

As ever, the inciting opportunity of the episode immediately sets the Gang on each other like particularly devious rats, the foursome splitting into teams in pursuit of the Paddy’s prize. Unfortunately the sides are a little hard to discern, since Mac’s innate desire to both win and serve makes him flip-flop immediately—and incessantly. In a very funny episode, Rob McElhenney’s performance throughout is the highlight, Mac’s eagerly lunkheaded attempts to manipulate everyone nothing short of masterful. While no member of the Gang could ever be called bright, Mac’s blinkered, desperately self-deluding type of dumb is home to some of Sunny’s biggest laughs. Tonight, his exchange with Charlie is one of McElhenney’s best “dumb Mac” moments in the show’s history:

Mac: I’m gonna play both sides

Charlie: Why would you tell me that?

Mac: Should I not have?

Charlie: You probably shouldn’t. Because if your trying to keep a secret from me, well, now I know.

Mac: Should I tell them.

Charlie: No, I don’t think you should tell either side, because if you’re trying to play both sides then they both know. Then you’re not playing anybody.

Mac: What should I do now?

Charlie: I don’t give a shit, why are you here?

That Mac makes almost the exact same speech to Dennis later the same day should tire the joke out, but it’s the gleeful optimism McElhenney gives each successive attempt that keeps it fresh, along with the peerless straight man work from Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton in allowing Mac the freedom to (very, very eventually) recognize the one central flaw in his plans. After Dennis once again points out that Mac probably shouldn’t reveal his gambit to the guy he’s trying to scam, Mac’s immediate accession to Dennis’ schemes strikes right to the heart of most of Mac’s yawning gulfs of need:

Pawn!—there’s a lot of them, they move diagonally. I always thought that I moved too much forward and back. Because then you can’t see me if I come at you from the side. [Mac makes several diagonal feints, easily spotted by Dennis.] Well, don’t move your head, dude. If you keep your head there but close your eyes…

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Mac’s continuing desire to be needed is almost touching, especially when he reports back with the beaming, “Dennis! I did your bidding!” (And his utter failure to bounce Charlie—eventually choking himself out—is an outstanding piece of physical comedy from McElhenney and Day.)

Charlie, too, often betrays the chasm of need and pain lurking underneath his ludicrous behavior, here attempting to make his play for ownership of the bar by sheepishly asking the withholding Frank about their long-implied father-son relationship.

Are you, like, my dad? Are you, like, the father of me and shit?

Day, as ever, is terrific, letting his averted eyes and dismissive final profanity hint at both how much he really wants to know the answer and how afraid experience has made him of asking for anything. (The way he shifts the actual question into the minor key is especially affecting.) Which doesn’t, however, keep Charlie and Mac (then Dee and Charlie, then Mac solo) from nearly emptying Frank of blood as part of the Gang’s parallel schemes to test Frank’s paternity. (Sadly, all attempts to get answers prove faulty, since Charlie’s blood bucket contains traces of at least four people and one animal, and his second attempt both spills and is contaminated with pickle slices. Mac just leaves his gatorade bottle of Frank’s blood at Paddy’s.) It’s Always Sunny often plays serious injury for dark comedy, and this near-complete bloodletting of one of the main characters is about as dark—and as funny—as the show gets. (Compare it to the similar plot in last week’s Workaholics, which, unlike Sunny, is simply not a dark—or daring—enough show to pull off near-complete exsanguination.) The members of the Gang, embodying as they do the basest impulses of humanity, are capable of almost anything. Charlie might be the most sympathetic of them, residing as he does ever at the bottom, but its to the everlasting peril of any of them (or especially anyone else) to mistake occasional glimmers of humanity for, you know, actual humanity.

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As for Dee, her rare taste of potential power turns her speech into Masterpiece Theater villainy, her affected “Think of it brother, with them out of the way, we can do as we please. Two butts, one throne” earning Dennis’ scorn. “I’m being arch,” she explains, before, like Mac, over-explaining herself into abashed silence. Which is where Dennis wants everyone, since it’s he who is the true villain of the piece (at least this time out.)

Unveiling a Latino Frank doppelgänger (Alden Ray as Franquito) Dennis reveals, once everyone realizes that their plans have predictably failed, that he’s been catfishing Frank with a fake illegitimate son in order to bilk even more money out of Frank than Frank gives him already. Seeing Mac, Dee, and Charlie’s horrified reactions, Dennis attempts to assert their mutual awfulness:

But you guys would have done the same thing, right? If you’d thought of it first?

[They stare, aghast.]

Yeah, I think you guys would have. But it doesn’t matter because you know, everything as it should be. So let’s do some shots!

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Seeing them still not buying in, Dennis does the only thing he knows will distract the others from their growing aversion to his calculated evil—he sends them all back down into the hole.

I was trying to get things to go back to the way things were. Get Frank back on the throne so we can all go back to doing the things we love to do, at Paddy’s. [Pause—the others still aren’t buying it.] Like finding out what’s at the bottom of a hole! There could be a Goonies situation down there!

As they, and a rejuvenated (if ghostly pale) Frank excitedly scurry back into the men’s room, Dennis is left alone (but for the nonplussed Franquito, who, it turns out, is just some very Danny DeVito-looking Latino dude) and gloats, “Yes…go play in your little holes.”

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Down where the Gang belongs.

Stray observations:

  • Frank’s retirement might have been a glimmer of enlightenment, but the lure of the hole—and the massive blood loss—makes him abandon the self-improvement kick that seemed poised to pull him back from the brink.
  • Of course, how long could he resist what Charlie calls a “grilled Frank,” consisting of sausage, Spam, and bacon wrapped in a jelly pancake and cooked with a stick of butter (pictured above).
  • “You? You think we’re going to give’s Frank’s shares to the man who wants to pull a mutant from a mystery hole in the bar and live with him?”
  • Callbacks: Frank’s toe-knife, Charlie’s blood bucket, Charlie’s traded most of his shares in the bar for sandwiches.
  • Mac, attempting to seal his various alliances with a blood oath, slices the hell out of his palm with first Frank’s toe-kife, then the bar’s lime-knife.
  • Charlie, on the odious office chair: “It’s not actually Franks butt, I think it’s a combination of all of or butt smells.”
  • Charlie tries to pass of his signature (in blood) as him renaming himself “Trundle.” “No,” says Mac, “No, you were trying to write Charlie.”
  • The fact that Dee uses her mother’s insult “first is worst” to try to beat Dennis out for Paddy’s ownership is all manner of sad.
  • And one last taste of Machiavellian Mac:

Charlie: Dude why did you sprint ahead of me?

Mac: ‘Cause I’m playing both sides!

Dennis: Oh, Jesus Christ.

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