If there’s one thing you can count on when it comes to Always Sunny, it’s that Dennis (Glenn Howerton) always gets at least one episode to be a complete and utter sociopath. The joke about Dennis’s long-standing need to control everything around him has been a recurring thing for almost thirteen seasons, and it usually takes up an entire episode every season. Howerton’s performance as Dennis has always been my favorite of Always Sunny‘s main characters—the way he can turn over-the-top anger into pure comedy will always impress me. But the joke feels like it’s run its course in the past few seasons.
“Frank vs. Russia” makes a real attempt at reviving the joke, and I’d say it works pretty well. From the instant Dennis tells a delirious Frank (Danny DeVito) that “everything you need is already inside you” in the episode’s opening, I knew something was up. “Frank vs. Russia” chronicles the two days leading up to Frank’s big chess match against a Russian grandmaster, because of course the Gang’s idea of patriotism is “win against Russia.” In typical Dennis fashion, he finds a way to make this all about him, resulting in a lot of cheating, more of Dennis’s sociopathy, and a very significant misuse of sex toys. (In typical Always Sunny fashion, all of these turn out to be related.)
The biggest problem with “Frank vs. Russia” is the story’s pacing—the in medias res opening immediately transitions to two days earlier, where most of the episode is then spent on Dennis trying to get Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) dates. It makes the episode feel unbalanced. Despite this, “Frank vs. Russia” is my favorite episode of the season so far because of one simple reason: it’s really, really funny.
Tired of Mac and Dee constantly needing his help with men (“Aren’t you, like, sixty?” Mac asks when Dee brags about her sex life), Dennis sits them down and explains his system for attracting men to them. Of course, it’s just Dennis projecting how he wants women to treat him, and the lesson is rife with maternal issues and Dennis’s need to control any situation he’s in. Surprisingly, the dates he sets them up with actually go well, despite some hiccups, (“I used to fuck LeBron James,” Mac boasts to his date) but of course they both immediately drop their dates and go back to Dennis.
Naturally, Always Sunny isn’t content with just letting Dennis fail—a running joke throughout the episode is that Mac has a relationship with some mystery guy that involves a remote-controlled sex toy, but it turns out that this is all a ploy by Dennis to make Mac get out of their apartment whenever he’s tired of him. It’s a reveal that’s as bizarre as it is genuinely disturbing, so of course it’s something Dennis would do. (Favorite joke of the episode: Mac simply does not understand that Dennis and his “boyfriend” aren’t two different people.) It’s obvious from the start that Dennis is enjoying this—at the beginning of the episode when Mac brings his relationship up, you can see Dennis smirking to himself knowingly.
The less memorable (but still quite good) story of the episode is Charlie (Charlie Day) and Frank the out how to cheat their way through matches where most of their opponents are children. (The episode ignores that fact that Frank’s cheating is obvious—on a show where the comedy is usually derived from the Gang’s insanely stupid schemes getting shut down by sane people, I was hoping they’d do something with that.) And surprisingly, Frank actually makes it to the final against the Russian, but realizes that his method of another person controlling his moves through a restaurant buzzer will be easily noticed. So Dennis, being the man he is, thinks about Mac and gets an idea.
So yes, the climax of this episode amounts to a deeply distressed Frank playing a game of chess with a buzzing sex toy inside him, which is kind of an average Tuesday for the Gang given all they’ve been through. Watching DeVito struggle, shout and salivate throughout the ordeal is worth the entire episode, and seeing the sadistic glee on Dennis’s face as he commands Frank’s move further confirms how much he enjoys this. All in all, “Frank vs. Russia”, despite some strange story pacing, makes for a great episode of the show.
This episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is now available on Hulu.