Rob McElhenney, Danny DeVito (FX)

Over the years, the members of the Gang have experienced brief flashes of illumination about how monstrously unhealthy their group dynamic truly is. The wisdom can only be temporary—for the show to continue, no one can ever take the irrefutable proof that he (or Dee) would be better off fleeing in liberating terror from the monsters he (or Dee) is yoked to to heart for any length of time. But that’s not the whole reason. What It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has done so consistently—or, as tonight, masterfully—is to show how this group of damaged, terrible people simply cannot function without each other. Not that they function particularly well when they’re together—it’s just that no other humans in the entire world would be able or willing to reinforce the myriad delusions they all desperately need in order to continue existing. While in “The Gang Misses The Boat,” there are only hints at what would happen to the Gang if they were cut off from each other, those hints are enough to suggest the cataclysm that would engulf the five worst people in Philadelphia (and therefore by extension the world) if they were deprived of each other.

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It’s Dennis’s turn tonight. After his carefully engineered plans to get them all invited to a boat party go awry due to Dee’s need to don her latest disguise (Captain Barnacle), and Charlie and Frank eating alcohol-soaked worms in his Range Rover, Dennis decides he’s had enough. So he drives them all into the river.

It’s neither a suicide attempt, nor an attempt to try and drown them all in one glorious epiphany that the world would be better off without them, but Dennis’ attempt to catch up with the long-departed yacht in the distance. After all, the Range Rover, in addition to possessing “air intake valves,” is also a piece of “precision British land-to-sea craftsmanship.” As a cold open, it looks too cartoonish, too stupid for Dennis who, while certainly as capable of great stupidity as the rest of the Gang, is generally the one who punches holes in the rest of the Gang’s crazier schemes. It’s when they are all toweling off at Paddy’s, however, that Dennis starts deconstructing why he did what he did—and the episode (written by Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and Rob McElhenney) embarks upon one of the best of the periodic examinations of the underpinnings of the five main characters’ interconnected madnesses.

“I used to be just a cool guy who hung out and had a cool car,” Dennis cries, “All of us have just become so goddamned weird!” When the Gang objects, Dennis points out that they have “more costumes than kegs” at Paddy’s, and asks:

What if I said I wanted to become a man-cheetah right now? What would you do?

Frank: I’d go get the spots.

He’s got spots!

It’s the sort of rant that Glenn Howerton is so good at, Dennis’ roiling sea of lunacy and disdain reaching heights here that only hint at what’s to come later in the episode. It’s potency punctures both Mac and Frank’s complacent delusions as well, with Frank resentful that his largesse isn’t appreciated (Dennis: “I blame you, because you came in here with your endless supply of goddamned money and financed all this bizarre behavior”), and Mac that Dennis’ condescension is why he’s no longer “a party boy who banged chicks all the time.” (Everyone share a glance of bewildered pity that Mac chooses not to notice.) They all storm out, although Dennis, citing the Gang’s nonsense for making him “fly off the handle every five seconds now,” attempts to walk out with a modicum of control. Regardless of the manner in which they leave Paddy’s, all three embark upon individual journeys they think represent personal growth away from the Gang. What they actually discover is that, untethered from their only peers, they’re even more prone to destroy both themselves and others.

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Mac goes out clubbing in a mesh shirt and practices his karate-based dance moves while he hits on women. (Oddly none are receptive to his offer to milk their adrenal glands.) Frank puts on his most unconvincing rug and joins him before latching onto some poor bastards as his new Gang. And Dennis—still maintaining his professed cool—places a series of ads to attract like-minded guys who he hopes will understand why buying a half-submerged Land Rover is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Meanwhile, Dee and Charlie respond to Dennis, Frank, and Mac’s tantrums with an understated, “Go get lunch?,” a pairing that makes as much sense as it makes for some sublimely silly stuff for each. Dee and Charlie both vie for the lowest of the low each week. Charlie usually ends up there, his grotesque filth and feral manners marking him out for Charlie work at Paddy’s and the Gang’s perennial whipping boy. But Dee, while all too happy to abuse Charlie with the rest of them, might have it worse—her status as the Gang’s only woman and her desperate need to be accepted making her the natural butt of incessant jokes and humiliations. As Charlie says, taken aback when he and Dee sit down for a civil meal at a diner, “When’s the last time we did something, just you and me?” Dee can’t recall (neither can I), but it makes sense that they’d get along, and their conversation is a touching little Sunny masterpiece, allowing each to have moments of connection while never losing sight of how ridiculous they are.

Charlie: Sometimes those guys make me do things that aren’t really me. I kind of feel compelled to call you a bird and throw my glass of water in your face. But I’m kind of realizing that I only do that stuff because I don’t want the guys to do it to me first.

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Dee recognizes their kinship and, in recompense, teaches Charlie that he can order a chicken sandwich without having to eat the beak first, or, indeed, at all (as Frank apparently makes him do). It’s an improbably sweet little escape hatch where Dee and Charlie can glimpse what the world might be like freed from the tyranny of having to fulfill their peer group’s kicked dog role, and when they, continuing their bond over a misguided confidence in their “def poetry” spoken word skills, tentatively kiss and then make what looks to be passionate love, it should be a shocker (I did let out a little yelp of surprise, I confess). Instead, it’s lovely. Sure, their poetry skills are nonexistent (“‘Zeus,’ ‘shoes,’ and ‘poops’? You guys suck at poetry,” exclaims Dennis, and he’s not wrong), but they fit well together, calming each other and giving each other encouragement they get exactly nowhere else in their lives. Plus, their coupling—dare I say it—looks sincere and sort of sexy.

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But Sunny is only a place for destructive self-delusions, not helpful ones. So Dee and Charlie immediately revert to their old hostility and awkwardness the next day. (“Is it cold in here?” “I’m not a thermostat.”) So Mac’s seemingly unequivocal confession that’s he’s finally admitting to his homosexual “urges” (“I’m wearing a mesh shirt and it’s totally sweet. You guys probably want me to burn it but I won’t. I like this choice. I like the coices I’ve made. I like who I am, all right? But I realize I’ve been lying to myself. Over the past few years. And I’m done lying, okay? And I’ve found someone who’s gonna allow me to be me”) turns out to be a preamble to him unveiling the sexy angel dust addict he’s bribing to pretend to have sex with him to make everyone believe he’s back to his mythical “party boy” ways. Dennis’ stated desire to strike out on his own (with an Alpha Romeo and a babe) collapses in a truly epic Dennis Reynolds explosion that’s worth quoting in full:

I have contained my rage for as long as possible, but I shall unleash my fury upon you like the crashing of a thousand waves. Be gone from me, vile man, be gone from me! A starter car?! This car is a finisher car! A transporter of gods, the golden god. I am untethered and my rage knows no bounds!

(Glenn Howerton would make a great, mustache-twirling Shakespeare villain—I’m thinking Don John in Much Ado About Nothing. Just an idea.)

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As for Frank, his epiphany just sends him in search of he exact same sort of group dynamic, a tragic development for the three nice young people whose lives Frank ruins almost immediately by applying Gang logic to their new bar’s nonexistent problems. (Attempting to recreate the underage drinking scheme from season one’s “Underage Drinking: A National Concern,” he buys an army of tweens fake IDs. And releases a ferret in the place and invites the health inspector over. Because that’s the sort of pickle the Gang would weasel out of, no problem.) Here, too, Frank’s the worst (he costs his new pals their bar and $75,000 in fines), but his actions stem from the same sort of codependent fear as the rest, which would be more sympathetic if it didn’t destroy everything it touches.

In the end, everyone makes a solemn pact to return to their state of mutual, blinding denial, summed up by Dennis’ entreaty to Mac, “Want to go back to where we don’t ask questions and you just go about your business?” Frank breaks out the rum ham, and everyone chants “rum ham,” and everything resets to one. Keeping the Gang together is a fail-safe for them. And probably for the world.

Stray observations:

  • Charlie: “I like diners. I appreciate a menu with pictures.”
  • Charlie, attempting to accept Dee’s reassurance that he doesn’t have to eat a beak with every chicken dish, still yelps out a panicked “beak!” when ordering.
  • Dennis, trying to maintain: “I’m getting weird and arch—but that’s the Gang’s fault. Im taking to myself but that’s because I have things to say.”
  • “That’s crazy—black people don’t do stuff that’s not cool.”
  • “Youre gonna fail and bomb. And gag and fail and bomb.”
  • “What are you a man-cheetah?” “Yes!” “Cool.” “You like it?” “Yes!”
  • I leave it to readers to transcribe Dee and Charlie’s poetry. I’ve heard worse at open mics.

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