‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ Season 16, Episode 4 – Frank vs. Russia (RECAP)

The most recent It’s Always Sunny episode opens Queen’s Gambit style, or whatever the Sunny equivalent of that would be. An out-of-sorts Frank (Danny Devito) is awoken by Charlie (Charlie Day) and rushed to a nondescript high school gym to play chess against a Russian pro. 

When Charlie and Frank’s ongoing scheme of using a restaurant buzzer in Frank’s pocket to allow him to cheat at chess fails, the duo search in a panic for new means. Lucky for them, The Gang already possesses some vibrating anal beads that may work. 

Always Sunny is constantly culturally mining; it’s a satirical show, first and foremost. It’s a politically, socially, and culturally entrenched series, albeit through completely absurd execution. Frank’s chess tournament seems to be a mix between Queen’s Gambit and a news story from last year about a man hiding anal beads to have moves buzzed to him during competitive chess tournaments. 

Andrew Friedman as Uncle Jack, Rob McElhenney as Mac, and Glenn Howerton as Dennis in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (COURTESY: FX)

The origins of The Gang’s anal beads are questionable, to say the least. Early on in the episode, Mac (Rob McElhenney) explains that he has been in contact with a mystery man named Johnny, who communicates with Mac through what he calls “the beads.” For the last little while, whenever Mac’s anal beads buzz, he heads to a motel to wait for Johnny, who never arrives. “He’s never actually shown up before, but one day he will, and it will be hot,” Mac pathetically insists to his unimpressed friends. 

Following the “Mac Finds His Pride” episode, in which Sunny has perhaps the only sincere moment of the entire series when Mac performs a moving interpretative dance to express his feelings about his queerness, Frank claimed that he now “gets” Mac’s sexuality. Frank rescinds his support in this most recent episode, drawing the line at Mac’s current strange, erotic practice. “The dance never said anything about no beads,” Frank complains. 

When Mac and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) struggle to hold onto men, Dennis decides to let them in on yet another one of his complex and nonsensical dating processes. Perhaps one of the most notorious Sunny bits revolves around Dennis’ “DENNIS System” — a psychopathic plan for landing and then brutally rejecting women. Dennis reveals he also has a system for landing men called the “SINNED” system (which is DENNIS spelled backward) for reasons he refuses to expand upon. 

This episode of Sunny doesn’t just continue the season’s theme of mining from past lore but also plays on some long-held, increasingly well-developed fan suspicions — specifically about Dennis’ potential queerness. When Mac asks Dennis why the “SINNED” system even exists, for example, Dennis simply aggressively shushes him and carries onward. 

Glen Howerton as Dennis, Kaitlin Olson as Sweet Dee, Rob McElhenney as Mac in It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia (COURTESY: FX)

To further blur the occasionally sexually tense line between Mac and Dennis, it is also revealed that Johnny and “the beads” were actually concocted by Dennis as a way to make Mac leave the house when Dennis needed space (or when he craved soft shell crabs, one of the tasks that “Johnny” sends Mac out on that ends up helping Dennis). Despite Dennis eventually explaining this explicitly, Mac refuses to process what Dennis is saying — “If you’re Johnny, then who is Dennis?” Mac asks in confusion. 

While Dee and Mac are on their “SINNED”-structured dates, they continually butcher Dennis’ advice. When Dennis suggests that they need to negate their date’s power, Mac opts to lie and say he used to “fuck LeBron James.” When Dennis suggests physical contact, Dee, with a mouthful of food, slides under the table to grope her date (“I’m grabbing your ding-dong,” Dee murmurs as she chews loudly). 

The Gang is so deeply entrenched in layers upon layers of delusion. Dennis’ schemes are delusional grasps at power, which are then somehow even more delusionally executed by his friends. Seeing the likes of Mac and Dee simply existing on dates with ordinary people, or seeing Charlie be utterly baffled by the fact that he’s not allowed to get drunk at a chess tournament in a high school, allows for their truly insane mindsets to come into even sharper focus. The Gang has no sense of reality, let alone basic social interaction. 

With the help of some roofies The Gang has hanging around (which the group describes, concerningly, as “magic beans”), they are able to swap the anal beads from Mac to Frank (without either of them knowing) in time for Frank to cheat in the chess tournament finals. The highlight of this episode is undoubtedly Devito’s performance as Frank reacts to the anal beads inside of him that Dennis controls from a nearby van. “They’re splitting me in half, Charlie!” Frank screeches as he rolls around on the floor in a panic at the end of the episode before begging that the high school auditorium “kill the wi-fi”. Devito’s slurring, spitting, gasping, and veiny red-faced shouts as the anal beads buzz hints to him are nothing short of inspired. 

Glenn Howerton as Dennis and Kaitlin Olson as Sweet Dee in It’s Always in Philadephia (COURTESY: FX)


By the way, we constantly see Dee searching desperately for validation among a friend group that actively hates her. It’s probably unsurprising that her dating life is equally appalling. 

Dee’s first major scene of this episode is her announcing, in the most horrific way possible, that she had sex the night before. “Your girl got her guts pumped last night,” Dee announces to an appalled Dennis and Mac. 

“Aren’t you like sixty? You’re not a girl!” Mac returns in shock and horror. 

Kaitlin Olson famously demanded that her character be rewritten upon her hiring. She did not want to be the comedic straight man/wet blanket, as Dee was initially written, but instead wanted to be as appalling, if not more so, than the rest of The Gang. In terms of sex and dating, Dee’s track record is perhaps the most blatantly and frequently unhinged — episodes like “Underage Drinking: A National Concern,” “PTSDee,” “The Gang Misses the Boat,” “Time’s Up for The Gang,” and “The Gang Gets New Wheels” create quite the highlight reel of extremely strange dating and validation issues for Dee. 

In this episode, Dee actually ends up doing okay on her date thanks to Dennis’ questionable “SINNED” system but butchers any chance at a second date by giving herself roofies and heading to her date’s home. She comes to the bar the next morning with no memory of what happened and her date’s phone in her pocket. 

“I’m not a rapist and a thief like Dee is,” Mac insists when Dee explains what she did. Instead of fighting back, Dee simply nods along in total agreement — she takes no issue with this horrific descriptor. 

Now that the weird, perverse, funny woman is a comedic trope of its own, ranging from Judy Gemstones of The Righteous Gemstones to Fleabags titular character, it can be easy to take Dee for granted. But Deandra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds was doing gross-out girl comedy on an unfathomable scale decades before her contemporaries were even conceived of, and she continues to inspire newer, grosser, more pathetic, and more shocking material to be explored every season.

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