Recap: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (S16, Ep8) — Bizarre, Brilliant Finale Gets Inside Dennis’s Head

“If I wanted my blood pressure to be low, I would simply command my body to make it low.”

In It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the majority of the Gang’s psychology is more simple than it appears. For as creepy and weird as they all are, Frank (Danny DeVito) and Charlie (Charlie Day) want to be free and gross, Dee (Kaitlin Olson) wants respect, and Mac (Rob McElhenney) just wants someone to earnestly love him. Dennis (Glenn Howerton) remains a mystery—on the surface, he wants control and dominance, but throughout the years, Always Sunny has hinted at something darker beneath Howerton’s dead eyes.

“Dennis Takes a Mental Health Day” is a finale that, like the thirteenth season finale did for Mac, seeks to elaborate on what Dennis wants, and while Always Sunny may never top the artistic peak of the dance scene, this is its most consistent finale in seven years. It’s an episode that’s funny, dark, and at times, eerily relatable—in other words, it’s Always Sunny at its very best.

Dennis learns at an annual physical that he has high blood pressure, so he gets a warning to keep calm and a heart rate monitor to keep track of everything. Being the leader of the Gang would drive any sane man crazy, and even Dennis seems to be fraying. (I love when an episode focusing on one character has the Gang playing out some insane scheme in the background—here, the Gang is screwing around with a pressure cooker.) So he fulfills the title and indeed takes a mental health day, planning to drive down to the beach and just relax.

Instead, “Mental Health Day” is a comedy of errors, where one mistake or complication leads to another and Dennis’s blood pressure rises higher and higher. The biggest disaster is entirely his own fault—he leaves his phone on top of his rental car and loses it—but the rest are a series of minor annoyances that build up to disaster. First he needs some tea to wash down his kratom, but there’s a ten dollar minimum and he has to buy two. He’s pulled over after running a stop sign, and because he doesn’t have his phone, his car locks him out. When he calls customer service, he gets stuck with their robot employee, and the Gang escalating their plans into pressure cooking coal into diamonds isn’t helping his blood pressure. (“We’re going to cook diamonds, it’s very linear.”)

Angry Dennis jokes are usually just “he’s irrationally angry about something that doesn’t matter,” but “Mental Health Day” works because of how relatable some of his frustrations are. Is his reaction to them the most sane and measured? Of course not, this is Dennis we’re talking about. But it’s hard not to feel just a twinge of pity watching him struggle, despite as creepy as he comes off to the workers he interacts with. (An element of this episode I really like: all of the people he talks to seem genuinely freaked out by him. Lot of good performances here!) It all culminates with him visiting the CEO of the rental car company at his beach house.

And then we’re reminded why we don’t sympathize with Dennis that often.

When he gets to the house, he makes the CEO feel his heart—showing him the stress the company has caused his health—and then puts his hand into the CEO’s heart, literally pulling it out of his chest. It’s a bizarre and disturbing sequence (and it’s occurred to me that the bad green screen background may be intentional to add to this feeling, but I don’t know), and Howerton’s blank-eyed performance really makes it. He crushes the heart to reveal a diamond and eats it (great detail: his monitor goes from red to green here)…and then he snaps out of it.

The “it was all a dream” twist usually doesn’t work in sitcoms, but the reveal that his was all a fantasy Dennis constructed to forcibly lower his blood pressure is great due to how absurd it is. There were no stakes here—all that was learned is that Dennis is a psychopath, which is nothing new. It works because of how funny the actual contents of this fantasy are, as well as what it says about Dennis that what makes him truly happy is the thought of murder. (For non-fans: no, this is not the first time this has come up.) As he brushes off the doctor’s amazement at his sudden drop in pressure, the Gang calls him for help with their pressure cooker problems, and off he goes, business as usual.

This wasn’t Always Sunny‘s best season—maybe its best one since season twelve, but fairly inconsistent—and yet it was nice to see it end on such a funny, well-rounded episode. This is one of those episodes that fans might call “old Always Sunny,” one that’s not afraid to be weird and dark but also finds comedy by putting the worst people possible in the dumbest, most frustrating situations. Does this season signify a full return to form for Always Sunny? Maybe, it’s tough to tell. But it at least indicates that there’s still some great episodes left in its crew, and I’m happy about that.

All episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are now available on Hulu.

Sam Layton
Sam Layton

Sam Layton is a Chicago suburb native that's trying his best to make a career out of his (probably unhealthy) habit of watching too much television. When he's not working as the Third Coast Review's current sole TV reviewer, he's making his way through college or, shockingly, watching too much television.