As stunt episodes go, It’s Always Sunny’s 100th episode “The Gang Saves The Day” packs a lot of enjoyment into its 23 minutes, along with a truly disturbing amount of insight into their individual psyches. I say “disturbing” not due to the content of the fantasy sequences each member imagines while crouching in the Tastykake aisle of a convenience store undergoing an armed robbery (although wait until we get to Dennis’), but more because the conceit comes perilously close at times to providing too much insight into the Gang as people.
We don’t want to know too much about why the Gang are the worst people in the world. Sure, it’s part of the fun to try to piece together, say, whether Dennis is a rapist/serial killer in his spare time, or why Mac is so resolutely devoted to homophobia and greasing up bodybuilders, or what exactly goes on in the mysterious realm that is Charlie’s brain. One of the unforeseen dangers I’ve found since taking over this post is a sneaky desire to understand—dare I say empathize—with the Gang. In last week’s episode, Mac’s humiliation (owing to the way his desperately erected defenses were laid waste through the unselfconscious awesomeness of his country counterpart), while undeniably funny, became almost unbearably sad. Of course, things went back to normal, and Mac was safely and insufferably ensconced in his various denials by the end (such is the way of It’s Always Sunny), but it pointed up a danger nonetheless—that the show has succeeded comedically at such a high level for so long is a testament to the cast’s and writers’ steadfast ability to resist having the Gang learn anything. Or, to an equal extent, allow us learning anything about them.
Sure, we learn facts about them—tantalizing, upsetting, even vile and unspeakable facts. But for the show to work, we should be left in the woods concerning the whys. By giving us five unfiltered windows into the ideal worlds of each member of the gang, “The Gang Saves The Day” edges into something like actual psychology, especially in its final installment. Luckily there are plenty of boobs and ninjas in the other ones to keep things on this side of hilariously horrible. But it’s a close one. Plus, that final installment has enough weirdness to make up for all that confusing heart.
As a masked robber threatens the store’s hapless clerk, each member of the Gang allows a dreamy look to steal into their signature cowardice as they silently respond to Charlie’s desperate, “What are we gonna do?” Here’s how that goes:
Mac casts himself as the badass he’s always dreamed of being, complete with mid-90s whispery Steven Seagal growl, some sweet, sweet martial arts moves. and “Smack My Bitch Up” on the soundtrack. Wearing his tight “RIOT” t-shirt, badass Mac takes down the robber, only to unmask him and discover he’s with THE YAKUZA! Cue a seemingly endless parade of ninjas (because the Yakuza totally has those), which Mac (and a suspiciously athletic Mac surrogate) houses with those aforementioned sweet moves and copious wire work and sound effects. Yes the Gang, cowering in the background, do push Dee out front as a human shield where she’s killed by a solid nunchaku shot to the head, but no one seems to mind, and Mac basks in the remaining Gang’s effusive praise. At least until kung-fu treachery lands him a throwing star in the neck, whereupon he ascends to heaven, which is full of hot, greased-up bodybuilder angels and an even more buff God who seats Mac at His right hand.
It’s a funny bit (and Dan Attias’ direction is solidly energetic throughout), with the biggest laughs coming from Rob McElhenney’s subtle physicality and, especially, the Gang repeatedly being taken aback by Mac’s unsuccessful post-kill puns. After Mac precedes a nacho cheese-aided takedown with, “Say cheese,” Frank, while suitably impressed with the violence, explains, “If you were takin’ a photograph and then flung cheese in his face, then…” Mac: “Should I go get a camera?” (The ensemble’s shared facility with underplayed, overlapping dialogue remains its most effective comedy tactic.)
What we learn about Mac: Nothing we didn’t already know (wants to be a badass, is not-so-secretly attracted to oiled up guys with a lot of mass), although it’s telling that even in his wildest fantasy, he’s aware that the rest of the Gang is smarter than he is. Which is a little sad.
Dee’s next, turning the tables on the, it turns out, sexy female robber by convincing her to hand over the gun, whereupon she shoots down the guys (they did try to sacrifice her again), with Kaitlin Olson’s hilariously cold, “I’ll see you in Hell, boners” a perfect encapsulation of Dee’s not-unjustified rage at their perpetual mistreatment of her. Any thought of a promised Thelma and Louise situation evaporates immediately, as Dee turns in the hot robber only to get to her real wish-fulfillment—acting stardom. Sent into the witness protection program, she poses as a British butler—with the worst accent and disguise since Mrs. Featherbottom—which leads her to being cast in a sitcom about her disguise, which leads her to being the biggest star in the world, marrying Josh Groban, and then divorcing Josh Groban after 17 minutes for Brad Pitt.
What we learn about Dee: Again, nothing too surprising, although the coldness with which her twin brother thrusts her into harms way is pretty telling (“Have your way with the whore!”) As is the true extent of her bottled-up rage at the four men closest to her, whose immediate reaction is to sacrifice her at the first sign of trouble, and ridicule her to the extent that dream fiancee Josh Groban’s song to her specifically refutes the insults she’s clearly internalized. (“She’s got blonde hair, she’s perfect in every way. Feet—not too large, not too small. Blonde hair, she’s gorgeous not like a bird. But like a beautiful woman, definitely not like a bird.”)
Dennis gets dark pretty fast. Trying to employ his supercilious therapist manner with the robber, he’s immediately shot in the head (his post-headshot gibberish is priceless, ending with something like, “Crammy Handelman—derrr.”) Ending up a near vegetable, he’s nursed back to health by the absurdly buxom weather lady from season seven’s “Storm Of The Century” (who is a nurse now) and leads Dennis through a “Walking On Sunshine”-backed rehab montage before she’s creamed by a car while rollerblading. Finding out from the solemn doctor that her boobs have been “obliterated,” Dennis does the only Dennis thing and smothers her with a pillow—while making some very suspect pleasure faces.
What we learn about Dennis: While his post-gunshot dream montage is about what we expect (lots of sweaty, possibly coercive sex culminating in his assertion, “I…am…God!”), even Dennis, upon returning to reality, seems a bit taken aback by where his mind went. At least for a second.
Frank imagines sneaking up behind the robber and eating a bunch of hot dogs while, offscreen, Dee is eaten by police dogs and a shootout ensues.
What we learn about Frank: That seems about right.
And then there’s Charlie. As stated, the mystery of Charlie is central to It’s Always Sunny’s appeal in a lot of ways—for all the other characters' occasional turns in the show’s ever-rotating empathy spotlight, Charlie has always been the outsider. He does terrible things as much as the rest of the Gang, but he, with his hinted at (or outright stated) history of neglect, abuse, and nonexistent parenting, seems to be operating in something like a state of feral innocence. All that formative malfeasance means that his attempts at relating to other people and the world at large usually come out in terrifying and/or disgusting ways, but the sense always remains that Charlie is, at heart, something like a scabrous innocent in all the Gang’s more mean-spirited assholery. In tonight’s Charlie dream sequence, however, that idea comes precariously close to being made overt. It’s not that Charlie’s dream isn’t exceptionally rendered and downright moving—it’s that it threatens to tell us too much.
In Charlie’s dream world, everything’s a cartoon. Specifically a Pixar cartoon, where Charlie (sacrificing Dee, of course) saves the Waitress from the robber’s bullets, thus winning her over to his ideal version of their life together. An amalgam of Ratatouille and Up, Charlie (and his adorable yet alarmingly swarm-prone and earthy rat army) provide his beloved with everything she could desire— a beautiful wedding dress (swarmed up by rats), a romantic dinner (served by rats), and a lovely little house (constructed rat-style.) Raising an army of kids (procured in Charlie’s mind by the armload at the “Baby Store”) after all of Charlie’s rats die off, they live a long and happy life together, only for her to die of old age (and be buried in the yard next to the rats.) Then Charlie flies off in a house buoyed by a million balloons. It’s a lovely, touching sequence, with enough weird, Charlie-specific laughs to leaven the sentiment, but it’s simply a bit too lovely for It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Played mostly without dialogue, and thus bereft of Charlie Day’s manic delivery, the music-only narrative veers into sweetness, and although the insights into Charlie’s world view—he and the waitress happily remain janitor and waitress all their lives, as do their kids—are suitably weird, we see Charlie, still crouched in the convenience store, looking up happily at the thought of flying away in a house full of balloons after a happy life, without a trace of irony.
What we learn about Charlie: Maybe too much.
- Dennis, as the Gang enters the convenience store, “Don’t get a beer—we’re on a way to a bar. Which we own.”
- After kicking a guy into a fridge, Mac’s “Cool out” is greeted with admiration by the Gang before they realize he still doesn’t get it. Mac’s deadly serious “What is a pun?” elicited my biggest laugh in the episode.
- In the credits for Dee’s sitcom Covington House, there’s a shared credit for a position called “load wipers” and someone on the crew named Hugh Manturd. Best not speculate…
- The poster for Dee’s movie Mother Earth includes Dee firing a bow and arrow with a baby strapped in a bjorn. Tagline: “They will kill to have it. Mommy will kill to save it.”
- Dee dies in three of the five segments.
- Did Dennis’ line to the robber, “A fisherman always spots another fisherman from afar” give anyone else the creeps?
- In Charlie’s dream, the Waitress brings boxes labeled “bras” and “hats.” That’s all.
- Cartoon Charlie is freaking adorable, I can’t deny that.
- When the Waitress dies, the lovely transition from Charlie kissing her goodbye to him kissing her coffin goodbye made me tear up. Is that why I watch this show? I’m very conflicted right now…