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‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ Review: A Monumental Season Finale Says Goodbye to One of the Gang

The Season 12 finale showcased a number of landmark moments and ended with a surprising goodbye we're not ready to accept.

IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA -- "The Gang Turns Black" – Season 12, Episode 1 (Airs January 4, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Rob McElhenney as Mac, Danny DeVito as Frank, Kaitlin Olson as Dee, Glenn Howerton as Dennis. CR: Patrick McElhenney/FXX

“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

Patrick McElhenney/FXX

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” Season 12, Episode 10, “Dennis’ Double Life.”]

Season 12 of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” has seen more than its fair share of bold developments. From Mac officially coming out of the closet to Dennis nearly being outed as a murderer, the latest episodes from the “Sunny” gang have felt more ambitious than previous seasons, and the show has been better for it.

So it’s fitting that the Season 12 finale not only ended with a shocking twist, but also featured a moment most fans never thought they’d see. First, let’s address the night’s biggest question mark: Is Dennis Reynolds gone for good?

Short answer: I don’t think so. Shorter answer: Maybe?

To recap, “Dennis’ Double Life” opened with the revelation that Dennis fathered a child with Mandy (Christine Woods), a woman he met after fleeing a flight to L.A. in order to avoid another woman he’d just slept with. (This all went down after “The Gang Beats Boggs,” the Season 10 premiere episode.) Five months later, Mandy called Dennis to tell him she’s pregnant, except she knows him as Brian — an identity he assumed to seduce her. Worried she’ll come after the bar if she finds out who he really is — a broke bartender in Philly — Dennis kept lying to her…until now.

READ MORE: ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ Eviscerates Manipulative Sitcoms Like ‘Fuller House’ By Making One of Their Own

After trying to ditch her first by claiming he’s gay and then by faking his own death, Dennis is caught in the act and Mandy tells him she’s leaving — no child support needed. He says goodbye to his son and the gang celebrates another successful con… Only this time, Dennis can’t find solace in irresponsibility. He misses his son and tells the gang he’s leaving to go be a dad. After an awkward goodbye, he’s gone.

IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA -- “Dennis' Double Life” – Season 12, Episode 10 (Airs March 8, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: Glenn Howerton as Dennis. CR: Patrick McElhenney/FXX

But is that really Dennis’ final goodbye? Real-world evidence suggests it’s possible. Earlier on Wednesday, The Wrap reported that Glenn Howerton may not return to “It’s Always Sunny” and the show is set to go on an “extended hiatus” after the finale.

“The option to come back is there, is in place,” Howerton said. “It’s very much a creative decision.”

Howerton went on to say there has been no permanent decision made either way. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” has been renewed through Season 14 on FXX, so the show will return. It’s just a matter of whether or not Howerton will remain a series regular. The actor and executive producer said he, Rob McElhenney, and Charlie Day will discuss what’s best for the show and decide at a later time. Howerton also said the fate of his new NBC pilot, co-starring Patton Oswalt, will not determine whether or not he returns to “Sunny.”

READ MORE: ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’: Inside The Show’s Creative Process, 12 Seasons Later

Creatively speaking, the season finale provides an opportunity for Dennis to leave, but it would be an absolute shame if this marked his last appearance on the show. “Sunny” has two seasons left, and Dennis living the rest of his days as a dad in North Dakota doesn’t exactly sound like an aptly twisted end for the sociopath who came up with The D.E.N.N.I.S. System.

Yet what was so striking about the Season 12 finale was its emotional resonance. “Dennis’ Double Life” carried an extra dose of significance from start to finish (including each member of the gang performing their signature dance moves). To properly discuss why this episode felt so distinct from past entries, we need to talk about the other major development of the night.

IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA -- “Dennis' Double Life” – Season 12, Episode 10 (Airs March 8, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly, Mary Elizabeth Ellis as The Waitress. CR: Patrick McElhenney/FXX

Charlie and The Waitress finally hooked up! He even convinced her to have a baby with him, and, while there’s no guarantee she’s actually pregnant, their relationship has reached a level we never thought it would: coupledom.

How did he do it? By baring his soul, in the way only Charlie can. He cleaned the apartment (as best he could), lit candles, and straight-up pitched the waitress on having his child. And while his presentation was more Don Draper pitching Hershey’s than Don Draper pitching the carousel, it’s Charlie’s honest answer to The Waitress’ last question that resonates: “What’s so great about me, Charlie?” she shouts. “Why don’t you go find someone better?”

“Because there is no one better,” Charlie responds. “And I love you.”

The look on her face said it all, but I didn’t believe the two actually did the deed until we saw them laying side by side in Charlie and Frank’s shared bed. Once the shock wore off, this earnest, touching moment between two lifelong combatants set the tone for a significant emotional swing later in the episode. “Sunny” has always thrived by taking its characters to extreme ends — especially Dennis. What we’ve seen the gang do defies comprehension, and Day, Howerton, and McElhenney — who all wrote the episode — recognized this and brought their characters back down to earth accordingly. It would have been impossible to imagine Dennis leaving to be a good dad without an example of equal sincerity preceding it.

That being said, the finale still sported “Sunny’s” trademark nastiness: Dee was still mercilessly mocked throughout, specifically for being too emotional (which was additionally appropriate given the episode aired on International Women’s Day), and we got another shot of The Ass Pounder 4000 courtesy of Mac’s scheme to keep sleeping with Dennis. The finale still felt like “Sunny,” even as it upped the emotional stakes all around.

Is it a fitting end for Dennis? Maybe not, and I don’t think it will be. (At the very least, he’ll have to return for the series finale, or fans will riot.) But “Dennis’ Double Life” made for a fitting end to an outstanding season.

Grade: A-

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