In the last few seasons at least, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has strained a bit at the finish line, reaching out for a big capper that’s fallen flatter than if the Gang just squabbled and schemed as usual right to the end. That being said, if you’re going to go for broke, then “The Gang Goes To Hell” is an admirably cuckoo swing at it, as the Gang, at least in this first installment of the two-part season 11 finale, appears to have finally crossed over. Into where? Well, that’s the question.
Starting out with the ominous legends “Unknown time,” and “Unknown place” in place of the usual time and place markers, the episode sees the Gang decked out in white bathrobes in a hazy Heaven Can Wait-esque emptiness, addressing, well, God. Sure, we don’t see Him/Her/Whatever form the Gang imagines the Supreme Being to take, but they all make their case for eternal salvation in signature, hilarious fashion.
Charlie: I personally didn’t think any of us would be standing in front of you here today.
Mac: I thought we were going straight to hell.
Dennis: But that being said, we’re good people.
Frank: I did what I did. You don’t like it, you can kiss my ass.
Dee: Hey, can we be judged individually? Because I don’t want to lumped in with him.
Mac: Look, I know you’re going to judge us. But before that cruise ship went down, we prayed. I mean, like, sure, we’ve done some bad things. You know, but we’ve changed, I promise. I’m gonna walk you through how. So please, reserve your judgement, okay? Because once we’re finished, I’m sure you will judge us accordingly.
So what’s to judge? Is it Dee knocking out the tooth of an amateur magician just because she had the temerity to choose the chaise lounge Dee wanted earlier? Or Dennis, for taking advantage of the Gang’s raffle prize trip on a Christian cruise to finally demonstrate the would-be effectiveness of “the implications” on a cowering, virginal 19-year-old girl (Sloane Avery). Or Frank and Charlie for effectively trashing the ocean liner in a quest for something alcoholic they can jam down their ravenous gullets. (They eventually settle on boat fuel “with mixers.”) Or Mac, who technically doesn’t break any laws (he just wanders into the brig where the others have been rightfully confined on his own) but whose continual inner war about his sexuality causes him to first go full-on evangelical trying to convert his new gay friends and then indulge in five minutes of serious (albeit off-screen) debauchery. Or is it, you know, just the fact that they are who they are—five walking embodiments of sin and awfulness, sowing discord and destruction wherever they go?
The episode, written by David “Rickety Cricket” Hornsby and Scott Marder, lays the blame equally, as is only right and proper, having Dennis helpfully outline the specific deadly sins each most prominently embodies. Dee is wrath—not that she’s not provoked to it, her desperate plea to have a vacation away from Philly (and the guys) seeing her stuck on a deck chair next to Dennis and a seabird crapping on her directly after begging not to be shit on (metaphorically) for once. (“A bird shit inside of my mouth! I’m literally getting shit on!”) Frank and Charlie are gluttony, building parka-obscured bomb vests of beers to circumvent the “dry” cruise’s rules, drinking all the mouthwash the Gang planned to swig to “stave off the shakes,” and seemingly causing the sinking of the ship by ripping out its guts in search for something else to get bombed on. Dennis pegs himself as lust, with all the darkest connotations that brings (it is Dennis), picking out the most innocent potential partner/victim immediately, stealing her ID (to ensure she’s of age—he has some standards), and then cornering the trembling girl in a ship’s passageway, and freaking her out with his menacing come-ons (punctuated by the lashing of the storm around the ship). As ever, Glenn Howerton makes Dennis’ arch malevolence with women terrifyingly funny, his “This thunder’s really throwing this thing off. It’s making everything I say seem sinister, which it’s not,” coming off perhaps less soothing that he intends. The poor girl runs off screaming, thankfully, before the implications such as “I suspect you maybe might say no and yet I also feel like maybe you wouldn’t dare” can turn into reality. (The combination of Howerton’s performance, the subtle horror movie music, and Todd Biermann’s direction makes this the scariest Dennis has ever been.)
Meanwhile, it’s Mac’s confused, noxious stew of self-loathing and religious fanaticism that only grows more potent as the storm at sea rages and he fights the storm of conflicting desires inside himself, standing on the abandoned deck in the tempest and screaming up at God for guidance, or at least a divine smiting. Of whom? Well, Mac’s not sure—he did offer the cat o’ nine tails he apparently keeps on him to urge his new pals (Tuc Watkins, Eric Ledgin) to flagellate him “So I can be a better boy,” and claim that the group’s fun in performing Guys And Dolls is wrong because music is intended “to punish our ears to pay for the original sin of being born.” But his stated goal in inviting the Gang to accompany him on the religious cruise is to convert his friends to his own, confused notion of godliness (or “take a missionary position with them,” in Mac’s words), even going so far as to coat the cross he gave Frank with battery acid to “subtly send a message that he might be a demon.” (Frank, seeing the cross-shaped welt on his chest, shrugs, “I could be Satan. Screw God.”)
In the end, the combined efforts of the Gang as they follow their own inner demons seem to have doomed everyone on board, one final crack of thunder seeing them all tossed around their isolated cell, Dee’s final malediction ringing in their ears.
I just wanted a couple of days away from you! But there’s no escape. You know where hell is, it’s right here, it’s right now! WE ARE IN HELL!
Or wherever. Stay tuned for the finale next week.
- Charlie and Frank brought captain and first mate costumes on board to cause further trouble. Charlie interpreted his first mate role as Gilligan, however.
- This season’s gone broad, sometimes to its detriment, but I’m withholding judgement on the undeniably outsized shenanigans here until I see how part two plays things out. There are a number of possibilities. On the “it’s all a dream/near death experience” front: Charlie doesn’t freak out that the Gang has left Philly, on a ship, no less (although he doesn’t like the growing storm much); everyone at the talent show instinctively starts calling Dee a bird; Mac’s impressive song-and-dance skills; Frank’s apparent ease at rupturing the ship’s fuel line with a wrench (and drinking the contents) without showering himself and Charlie with spraying (diesel?) or blowing everyone up immediately. (I assume nothing they drink can actually kill them at this point.)
- With a twelfth season already confirmed, it’s hardly likely that the Gang’s actually dead or will stay that way. But the idea of them spending a season trashing heaven and hell holds a certain “what if they dared?” appeal, doesn’t it?
- That’s good old Brian Doyle-Murray as the captain.
- Charlie, after Frank explains that a lineup of pitchers isn’t filled with screwdriver but orange juice: “What, like the mixer?”
- Dee reveals that she has her own version of the implications (“the insinuation”), offhandedly explaining how she regularly frightens ambivalent would-be lovers into going through with sex by implying she’ll report them for having raped her to the police if they don’t. Even Dennis is taken aback.
- Mac: “There are two guys in this church that are gay!” Charlie: “Who’s the other one?”
- Mac explains to God that he had to leave his old church because it was getting “super-Vietnamese.”
- Mac bursts into the brig with a matter-of-fact, “Well, I’m gay.” (“Yeah, no shit,” replies the Gang.) While this is his bluntest admission yet, sadly it doesn’t seemed poised to lead Mac to inner peace, as he explains he now no longer believes in God: “If there was, he wouldn’t make me queer, right?” So close, Mac.
- Now soliciting your descriptions of what the Gang’s God would look/be like. I mean, we could just say Cthulhu and be done with it, but somehow it seems whatever they’d pray to would be a lot more disturbing.