Let’s face it: the 13th season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is unlikely to go down with many fans as worthy of being classed as the show’s best era.
There was plenty of disgruntlement before it even kicked off over the tiresome will-he-won’t-he? circus surrounding Dennis’ presence in this most recent block of episodes, which tested the patience of even the most die-hard Sunny viewer. And once season 13 finally got under way back in early September, the result of the show’s 18 months away from our screens was, well, a rather mixed bag: moments of razor-sharp satire (‘Time’s Up For The Gang’) one week were scuppered elsewhere by a reliance on the tired and hackneyed “Oh, isn’t Charlie clumsy?” shtick (‘Charlie’s Home Alone’). Even the show’s affectionate tribute last week to the Philadelphia Eagles’ triumph at the 2018 Super Bowl (‘The Gang Wins the Big Game’) fell disappointingly flat. Had Always Sunny finally lost its touch?
But then came last night’s (November 7) wildly surprising and affecting season finale, ‘Mac Finds His Pride’, just in time to save the day. Honestly, we’ve never seen anything quite like it from The Gang.
Spoilers for the Always Sunny… season 13 finale ‘Mac Finds His Pride’ are posted below.
The closing episode of season 13 centred on Mac’s sexuality – or, to be more specific, Frank’s painfully boorish attempts to “get” Mac’s sexuality. Set around the time of Pride, the focus is initially on Frank – who suffers from a bleeding, broken and possibly infected nose throughout – trying to coerce Mac to dance on Paddy’s float for the Pride parade as the latter is “our prize gay”. “I told [the others], ‘I don’t get the whole gay thing,'” Frank tells a bewildered Mac after bursting into his apartment. “But I drew the short straw. So here I am.”
Mac is reluctant to join in with The Gang this time, though, admitting: “I don’t want to do that. I don’t know where I fit in as a gay man and it’s starting to get to me… I’m not feeling very proud.” Frank though, for all his faults, then vows to help his friend locate his “pride” – which, because it’s an Always Sunny episode, involves making humourous detours to such locations as an S&M club, a drag bar and a maximum security prison.
— It's Always Sunny (@alwayssunny) November 8, 2018
It’s at the prison where ‘Mac Finds His Pride’ really starts to take flight, though. After failing on his first attempt to come out to his terrifying incarcerated father Luther, Mac is convinced to try again by a now-enlightened (and still-bleeding) Frank, who reasons: “I been in agony the whole day, but I came to this realisation that sometimes you gotta let the blood flow in order to start the healing. Some cuts you just can’t plug up. And that’s the same for you. You got this thing inside of you and you’re trying to plug it up, but you gotta let that shit out, you gotta let it flow. Otherwise, you’re gonna be in agony for the rest of your life.”
This touching – well, by Frank’s standards – speech sets things up nicely for the episode’s big closing scene, which sees Mac take to the stage back at the prison in front of his father and a bunch of scowling inmates. What happens next makes for the most memorable Always Sunny performance since ‘The Nightman Cometh’ – but for a whole bunch of different reasons.
— It's Always Sunny (@alwayssunny) November 8, 2018
Set up brilliantly by the episode’s writers (and Always Sunny stars) Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day, Mac then proceeds to deliver this most important of statements to his disapproving father via the medium of a stunning, emotive and utterly striking five-minute dance routine with a female dance partner (the incredibly-talented Kylie Shea). The densely choreographed contemporary routine – which plays out to Sigur Ros‘ ‘Varúð’ – is quite genuinely breathtaking, with the pair performing on a rain-sodden stage as they bring Mac’s earlier explanation of his years of inner struggle to life. “There’s like this storm inside of me and it’s been raging my whole life,” he told Frank. “I’m down on my knees, and I’m looking for answers, and then God comes down to me and it’s a very hot chick and she pulls me up and we start dancing.”
The audience of inmates and Frank are quite rightly transfixed by the dazzling routine – Luther, clearly affected by Mac’s courageous display, skulks off half-way through – which ends with a shaken-up and exhausted Mac being held and comforted by his dance partner, who assures him “it’s okay, it’s okay” as the rain continues to fall all around them. There’s then a brief pause before a divine light is switched on above the couple, and we then zoom in on a visibly moved Frank who delivers season 13’s final line: “Oh my God… I get it.” No gags, no laughter, no third wall-breaking – just pure wonder and speechless understanding.
Always Sunny has broken the mould for TV sitcoms countless times during its 13 years on the air, but its willingness to break the conventions of its own show with ‘Mac Finds His Pride”s powerful curveball ending was sublimely pulled off by its creators to devastating effect.
And the best thing of all? It’s ended any remote chance that we’d even consider giving up watching the show in the future. Roll on season 14.