In format, if not in tone, the season nine finale of It’s Always Sunny resembled the series finale of another iconic comedy, Seinfeld. In both cases, the main characters are forced to confront all the people they’ve wronged over the years, and the list turns out to be long and angry. In Seinfeld’s case, though, it went down in the staid atmosphere of a court room, and ended with the protagonists being sent to jail under the Good Samaritan law. If you expected something that neat from It’s Always Sunny, though, you haven’t been paying attention. The constant element in this show is chaos, and it shouldn’t surprise you that the beef squashing here ends with the gang covered in literal squash, locking their enemies in a burning apartment, and dismissing the need to apologize or self-examine in any way.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. It begins in a video store, where Mac and Dennis are about to rent Thunder Gun Express, the Unrated Director’s Cut (“they were not able to rate it!” says Dennis excitedly) for Thanksgiving, because they both hate the holiday and would rather just sit around watching an action movie with “four extra seconds dedicated to the dong shot.” Bad news, though; Ryan and Liam McPoyle now own the video store (they wanted to corner an “emerging market”), and Liam is sporting a flesh-colored eye patch from when he lost it at his sister’s wedding. He’s still bitter at Dennis, Mac and everyone from Paddy’s, and he dramatically attempts to cut their video card in half. He misses, due to his total lack of depth perception, but his brother finishes the job, and there will be no Thunder Gun Express.
Back at the bar, Dee fails to get the right hoagies for everyone since she has her own beef with Gail the Snail (their cousin), who won’t serve her at the WaWa. On top of that, Paddy’s is freezing because Frank has an ongoing feud with Wang, the man in charge of the heat. In a flash, the gang realizes they need to spend Thanksgiving just like the original pilgrims, by squashing the beef with their enemies. They set up a dinner, Dennis prepares peace treaties (because once they sign, he says, “nobody can stop me”), symbolic hatches, slates, and actual squash and beef are brought to make metaphors literal, and the guests begin to arrive.
It doesn’t go well. Frank can’t squash the beef with Wang, because he refuses Charlie’s reasonable compromise (half the money now, half later) and lights a wad of bills on fire in defiance. Dennis and Mac won’t apologize to the McPoyles and start to look for a replacement eye instead, starting with Rickety Cricket. Bill Ponderosa and Man They Once Thought Was Bruce Mathis show up too, along with Gail the Snail (who gives Wang a “mashing” handjob under the table), and soon the entire scene devolves into a food fight (better thrown than eaten, really, since Charlie didn’t buy Grade-A beef). Liam McPoyle tries to hit Frank with the hatchet, but it sticks in Rickety Cricket’s arm instead, and as the chaos envelops everyone, the gang realizes there’s a fire from Frank’s earlier money-burning stunt. They leave the apartment, Dennis nails the door shut, and they go off by themselves with the vague promise of calling 911. Inside, Liam McPoyle can he heard screaming, “out the window!”
It was an appropriate finale for season nine, which has largely relied on gimmicks from the past (Lethal Weapon Six, Gun Fever Too) in lieu of new material. It’s the sign of a show running out of ideas, maybe, but this particular retread was successful. Liam McPoyle (played by the hilarious Jimmi Simpson) deserves a place among the top minor comedic characters of all time, and every time he appears in an episode, he lights it up. The success of any It’s Always Sunny episode depends on how organically the frantic energy builds, and whether the climax feels earned or forced, and last night’s finish had plenty of justification.
The insanity felt right, and that, as a tag line, could eventually serve as a perfect epitaph this odd, wonderful show. But as the gang confronts a tenth season, the reality is that season was often weak and redundant. It hasn’t quite jumped the shark, but it has raised questions about whether their best comedy is behind them. If they can’t find new inspiration, they’ll reduce themselves to the comedy equivalent of aging rock stars, performing their greatest hits with less vigor all the time.