If you held any lingering doubts about Mac strolling out of the closet, “PTSDee” will totally dispel them. We’re privy to several of Mac’s harrowing sex fantasies revolving around a gyrating Dennis, and later, we’re treated to the transcendent image of a bright-eyed Mac flashing the thumbs-up as a gay stripper in military fatigues grinds on his lap. Fat Mac was a phase; Gay Mac is here to stay.
Nobody expected television’s most flagrantly un-p.c. show to suddenly straighten up and act polite now that it offers (openly) queer representation, but it’s still a relief to see It’s Always Sunny integrate Mac’s sexual identity without losing its bite. It’s present but incidental, organically woven into a plot with separate concerns. The show refuses to boil Mac down to this one facet of his character, but still treats it as a significant aspect all the same. “PTSDee” isn’t about Mac being gay, and yet the comic climax wouldn’t work nearly as well if Mac weren’t delighted to have a shredded slab of man dancing for his amusement.
But this isn’t Mac’s episode. This half hour belongs to Dee, and her time in the spotlight comes not a moment too soon. It’s not quite right to say Dee’s been stagnating for the first half of this season, seeing as the characters are united by their staunch refusal to improve or progress in any meaningful way. But her shtick has been getting stale, with the past six episodes all casting her as the Gang’s punching bag, forever trying to steal some attention for herself. It’s not a bad look, but a chance for Dee to do something a little more substantial comes as a welcome change of pace — and as Kaitlin Olson’s busy racking up positive reviews for her work on The Mick, she pushes the bar for recreational assholery on Always Sunny even lower.
Something snaps in Dee when her latest squeeze, a hunky stripper with an Army Man routine, tells her that their one-night stand was his rock bottom and motivated him to get his life together. The Gang is at their most contemptible when deliberately steering someone from the path of righteousness back to moral dissipation (lest we forget that Rickety Cricket, appearing here as the disease-stricken half-brother of Dallas from Magic Mike, was a man of the cloth before the Paddy’s crew got ahold of him) and Dee takes it up as her personal duty to prove that she is nobody’s rock bottom. She can either do that by improving his life and showing that she’s a treasure, or by conning him into an even more dire situation and setting a new standard of degradation. One guess as to how things go down.
Dee does give it the ol’ college try at first, inviting her new man to a support group for veterans with PTSD, assuming that his tear-away uniform implies past service. She thinks she can cure PTSD he doesn’t have — she’s wrong, of course, and she quickly reverts to her more villainous nature. The script smartly saves its most revoltingly hilarious punch line for the final minutes, and with it, the reveal of just how diabolical Dee is willing to get. It’s heartening to see Dee get a win, even if it comes in the form of successfully shattering the life of a man desperate for a second chance.
The twin B-plots revolve around very different traumas, joined in a dovetail with Dee’s scheme during the PTSD counseling meeting. Both Dennis and Mac filter some unresolved issues through unusual channels, as Dennis tries his hand in the world of stripping and Mac gets a little too deep in a VR war game with Frank. A three-day binge of the unsettlingly realistic game, along with Frank’s proclivity for treating it like a consequence-free murder simulator, combine to give Mac nightmares. Some are sexual in nature, but most involve his estranged and inaccessible father, resulting in what Mac believes to be PTSD. However, the episode extends a bit of mercy to him, perhaps looking more kindly on him now that he’s being honest with himself and us. He figures out that all he needs to do is stop playing that game to curb the nightmares. Dennis doesn’t get off so easily.
The inside of Dennis’s brain is like a radioactive waste dump of unchecked neuroses and personality defects, the worst of which bubbles to the surface in “PTSDee.” Charlie pinpoints a boyhood fling with his much-older librarian as the origin of Dennis’s malformed psyche, and Dennis then funnels that psychical stress into a disturbing stripper persona he christens “Daddy.” Charlie goes along with it, donning suspenders, a propeller beanie, and a perplexing cheese lollipop to fill the role of “the Boy,” and complete their stomach-churning routine set to “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. Their elaborate performance consists of more therapeutic role play than actual stripping, and you bet it’s the stuff of nightmares.
But what’s more, it’s the stuff of a really good nightmare, the kind that leaves the lasting terror of psychological unrest. It’s Always Sunny goes darkest when getting to the root causes of its misanthropy, and seeing Dennis lay bare his baggage (and his torso) is painful and hilarious in equal measure. What with all the comedy, it’s easy to lose sight of just how broken the regulars of Paddy’s are. Thank god for episodes like “PTSDee,” which coldly test the depth of the characters’ dysfunction. In Dee’s case, the show finds a capacity for cruelty that reaches new depths a decade into the game. In Dennis’s, it finds … Daddy.
• In the episode’s best line, Charlie adds “Charming Taint Man” to the ever-expanding list of nicknames for Channing Tatum, a collection that already includes “C-Tates,” “Chanting Taters,” “the Chan-Man,” and “Jackie Channing Tatum.”
• In other Charlie news, he believes that the one type of man that all women want to have sex with is … a juggler. As in a person who juggles, he so helpfully clarifies.
• The scenes from inside Frank and Mac’s video game continue this season’s experiments with style, with the gritty first-person-shooter cinematography building on the more visceral action camerawork of the trip to the water park and the polished Making a Murderer mimicry.