Last week's Sunny was internet meme-tastic but I think "Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats" might even be even better. It's a very low-concept episode despite a very high-concept title (no, at no point does Charlie actually become king of the rats) but even though there was no hilarious set piece like Lethal Weapon 5 last week, it was about as close to deep and moving as this show can get, and I found that pretty amazing.
We begin on a pretty typical Sunny day: Charlie is weary, sporting a thousand-yard stare from his latest encounter with rats, of which he killed at least 200. "It's like whole generations of those things died at my hands." The rest of the gang can barely their heads to care, although they do make the minimum effort to cheer Charlie up when he says "sometimes I wonder if our lives are more valuable than theirs." "They are, they definitely are," says Dennis. But once the gang realizes, at Frank's prompting, that it's Charlie's birthday, they are momentarily shaken from their usual misanthropy to actually want to do something to cheer him up. As long as it requires no effort. "I'm tired today," says Dee.
What's brilliant about this episode is that it lets the gang examine its "cynicism," the word they repeatedly use to describe their litany of character flaws under what turns out to be an entirely cynical, sublimely pathetic ruse from Frank, who after all is the most cynical and most pathetic of them all. His demands for a surprise party for Charlie include a luau with a roast pig and the attendance of some terrifying bridge people who seem to have orgies behind screens while others tweak on meth (one of them is played by Chad Coleman, Cutty from The Wire). He says that he got them from Charlie's dream book—mostly pictures and symbols, of course.
But not knowing that, everyone tries to better themselves and treat Charlie to a good time. First there's Dee, who is told to take him to the spa with two free gift certificates (she was just going to throw the second one in the trash). The best recurring gag of the episode is Charlie's complete bafflement at the word "spa," deciding that they're just trying to say spaghetti, then bringing a plate of spaghetti with him to the spa and then to the movies. Dee really tries her best to deal with Charlie in normal social situations and who can blame her for getting frustrated by him? In one trip to the movies, he pours spaghetti into her purse, spends most of the film looking for a lost meatball and declares the whole thing boring.
Meanwhile Mac and Dennis try to be un-cynical to each other—Mac gets Dennis a surprise gift, but Dennis ruins it by switching the gifts to get a shirt he actually wants. "It was hideous, really," he says. Even Dennis' intentions are somewhat noble—why lie to Mac's face about a shitty gift? But of course, the point being made here is that these people really, really struggle to be nice to each other. Mac, of course, is crushed. "This brings me no joy at all; I feel nothing."
I'm actually finding it remarkably difficult to sum up this episode even though I thought it was so terrific, which is a testament to how well it hung together despite its plotlessness. The finale, where Frank's ruse is revealed and the guys show Charlie the sculptures they made of his dreams, was just beautiful! Charlie went from being bemused to being actually genuinely touched by the catwalk of dreams—the denim chicken, the bird with teeth (he's sad it doesn't exist in nature), and an array of worm hats, each stranger than the last. Turns out that last one was Vorm Hat, a German guy in a biplane who shoots at him, but no worries. As a capper, there's a brand new tricked-out ratstick!
It was nice that the moral of this week's episode was that with a lot of pressure the guys can be persuaded to be slightly nice once in a while, even if it is just to assuage their own guilt a little bit (everything everyone does on this show is, of course, motivated by selfishness). Except for Frank of course, because he's basically a bridge person. I'm expecting a return to the status quo next week but how nice to give Charlie his moment in the sun.
- "Let's get him a new ratstick!"
- I like Charlie's mechanical puppy, I think it should recur.
- Charlie, as Frank predicted, can't even say the word luau.
- The gang distracts Charlie by pretending "Dickless Dennis" suffered a horrible crotch injury, but Dennis isn't into it. "I'll show it to you!"
- Cutty's appearance was all-too-brief, but him murmuring "pregnant" the second he sees Dee was basically the greatest thing ever …
- … at least until the lovemaking couple burst through the screen.
- Even though the title never really got a full payoff Charlie's repeated mentions of rats, building to his freak out in the sauna ("I'm a RAT in here! BASH ME LIKE A RAT!") were a good way of underlining just how warped he is by all the Charlie work.