Tonight’s episode “Mac Day” highlights the way It’s Always Sunny plays on viewers’ sympathies with regards to the Gang, especially when compared with season premiere “The Gang Broke Dee.” The show’s most impressive achievement over eight-plus seasons has been its ability to keep us invested in the fates of five of the most selfish, irresponsible, and downright worst people in Philadelphia (which by extension, means the five worst people in the world). We might not like them, approve of them, or want them anywhere near us, ever, but the show continually shifts the focus of the Gang’s cruelty in such a way that viewers are perennially dizzy recalibrating our empathy chips in response to each week’s cavalcade of cruelty.
This week, it’s Mac’s turn, although it doesn’t look that way at the outset. Forcing everyone to kneel (while wearing signature Mac sleeveless shirts), he sets forth the premise that each member of the Gang has a designated day during which the other four must do everything the chosen Gang-member wants. Any objections mean another entire day of ultimate fealty (although everyone is allowed one primal scream into the ceremonial screaming pillow), so it seems like a big win for Mac, since that means the Gang will have to listen to a series of Bible-themed lectures (Dennis: “It was seven hours of lecturing, five about the evils of homosexuality.”) Unsurprisingly, the episode then spends the rest of its running time systematically breaking Mac down, to the extent that he becomes the most sympathetic character on the show. At least for this week.
It makes a certain amount of sense, really. Frank is always going to be Frank—he’ll get humiliated, stuck in a coil in his underpants, drool, crap, or vomit on himself, but nothing really ever touches Frank. Dennis and Dee, while subjected to as much abuse and humiliation as the rest, have their shared evil twin powers—for all their repeated defeats, there’s always the sense that they will be the last cockroaches left after the apocalypse (which they will no doubt have a hand in). Charlie’s the closest thing the show has to a moral center, but it’s a terrifying one. He’s essentially feral—a product of unremitting neglect, cruelty, and a complete lack of affection or care from anyone in his life (including his “friends”). He’s an open wound of a creature whose very instincts toward love and friendship invariably manifest themselves in disturbing (if invariably hilarious) ways. Just ask the Waitress.
And then there’s Mac. What sets him apart from the Gang is the fragile shell of his self-delusion (of being a badass, of being the boss of the Gang, of being resolutely straight), which, when threatened, seems make him the most vulnerable. Look at his session with Kerri Kenney-Silver’s therapist in “The Gang Gets Analyzed”—the sheer manic panic with which he recants his accurate description of the Gang’s dynamic (“Sometimes, I feel like they don’t even understand me, and we’re not even that good of friends”) is truly painful to watch. Of course, like the rest of the Gang, his pain is shot though with a hearty vein of ridiculousness, but that doesn’t make what he goes through in this episode any easier to digest, especially when the Gang almost immediately decides that they prefer Country Mac to him.
Played by a visiting Seann William Scott, Mac’s country cousin, roaring up on his motorcycle, beer in hand, is introduced in perfect simpatico, matching Mac’s pantomime karate moves (and attendant sound effects) to the extent that Dennis sighs, “Holy shit, there’s two of them.” (Mac Day is getting on everyone’s nerves by this point.) The reunion quickly sours for Mac, however, as Country Mac gradually steals Mac’s thunder, outpacing Mac in every way that’s important to him, seemingly without any effort or intention of doing so. He nonchalantly takes the leap off of the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, which Mac (planning another of his Project Badass videos) had intended to fake “in post.” He sneaks a doobie into Mac’s outing to the planetarium and cracks wise to the lecturer (while Mac’s sweaty attempt to do the same elicits scorn from the Gang). And he exhibits true badass-dom, disarming a knife-wielding thug with signature nonchalance (“I gave him an ocular pat-down, assessed the threat level, clocked a knife in his boot”), all while holding his beer. Mac, tricked out in his Cobra Kai karate duds, actually soils himself, all to the Gang’s derisive delight. (Dee’s gleeful “You made a poopy in your pants! Did anyone else make poo-poo in their pants?” is the sort of thing that will haunt a guy.)
The Gang’s wholehearted abandonment of Mac in favor of Country Mac involves more than badass stunts though—Country Mac is Mac stripped of the protective denial underlying much of the alarmingly dumb stuff he does, and the Gang, seeing what that Mac would be like, turns on their Mac with unsettling vigor. Huddled in the planetarium munching chips and extremely high on Country Mac’s weed, Dennis slowly and deliberately dissects the Gang’s growing enlightenment, “All these years, I thought I hated karate...and Project Badass...and God. But what I really hate...is Mac. He made all those cool things suck.” It’s a funny moment (and Dee’s stoner face is outstanding, her red eyes staring intently into the middle distance and nodding)—it’s also kind of chilling. Hence the empathy chip.
While this review might make “Mac Day” sound depressing (that’s what happens when I start to think about the Gang as actual human people), there are a lot of laughs throughout. Cruel though it may be, the Gang’s decision to enroll Mac in the karate tournament he was content merely to watch and judge is home to some great physical comedy, his delight over scoring (if inadvertently) an actual point veering into sudden defeat with a truly brutal kick to the melon. And Scott brings an effectively low-key charisma to Country Mac, making his effortless upstaging of his cousin less a display of one-upsmanship than an amiable force of nature. His confident contentment with his homosexuality and his faith contrasts hilariously with the tortured shapes Mac contorts his life into to deny those things in himself (such as his demand that the Gang accompany him to a bodybuilding competition just so they can “grease up” the contestants. “These guys work off their beautiful glutes for our enjoyment. The least we can do is pay them off in tan and grease!”) And for the second episode in a row, the Gang’s stiffly inept attempts to act nonchalant in front of a camera pay off big time. (“We don’t know his name is Mac. And we don’t know each other!”)
Naturally, Mac’s not going anywhere, and the status quo is maintained when Country Mac, riding off on his hog after accepting the Gang’s invitation to stay in Philly (and replace City Mac for good) suddenly keels over and dies. The Gang gets over its mourning almost immediately, (Dennis: “The real lesson here is that there’s nothing badass about riding a motorcycle without a helmet.” Frank: “Plus, he was drunk all the time.) Not that they’re any happier to have Mac back, with Charlie sighing resignedly, “So, what do we do about this guy?” as Mac, having snapped back into confident bluster mode, delivers a condescending eulogy for Country Mac, complete with condemnations of Country Mac’s homosexuality and religious tolerance (plus karate moves, with sound effects.) As Frank kicks off Frank Day by dumping Country Mac’s ashes down Paddy’s commode, Mac and the rest of the Gang are off and running again, no doubt to wreak whatever horrors Frank’s imagination can conjure up on the people of Philadelphia. And whichever one of the Gang’s turn it is.
- In theory, the Gang’s acceptance of Country Mac’s homosexuality should be laudable, and therefore out of character. Of course, their acceptance of Country Mac serves to further destroy their Mac, so it’s still sort of evil...
- On Charlie Day (ha!), Mac spent 10 hours helping him look for ghouls. (Charlie claims he found three.)
- The Gang’s frozen rictus smiles attempting not to complain about Mac Day are funny.
- Country Mac thinks passing drivers will try to stop Mac from jumping off the bridge. Philadelphia’s immediate answer, “Jump, you pussy!”
- Scott walks out of the river still holding his beer.
- Mac, skimming over part of his Bible-themed plan, “Day three is when God created trees and grass and nature—kind of a bullshit day, so...”
- Dennis, on the different Macs, “See, he doesn’t want us to grease them. Because he wants them for himself. I’m so much more comfortable when someone’s gay and open about it.”
- Charlie: “I know we’ve never said this as a group, but Mac’s gay.”
- Mac: “But don’t blow your wads on these guys.” Dennis: “Oh come on...”