The writers and cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are great at doing a lot of things with the show, but one of the things they do best is rounding out their seasons with a kick-ass finale episode that leaves you wanting more. It’s Always Sunny fans still haven’t recovered from the gut punch of last year’s season finale, a surprisingly emotional episode for a typically emotionless show that told us everything we need to know about Mac’s character arc with a single dance. But how does that now-iconic episode fare against the rest of the series’ finale episodes?
13 Season 10: “Ass Kickers United: Mac and Charlie Join a Cult”
In a season where we saw the Gang take on Wade Boggs, appear on a game show, and revert to their singular selves outside the group after missing the boat, it was disappointing to see it bow out with such a mundane episode. It sees Mac and Charlie taking part in a cult that turns out to have been started by Dennis to stop Mac from eating his cookies. The plot is paper-thin, it doesn’t have any natural progression beyond Dennis messing with Mac, and it is possibly the least satisfying ending to a season of this show to date.
12 Season 2: “Dennis and Dee Get a New Dad”
Considering this was back when the show was still finding its feet and figuring out what to do with Danny DeVito’s then-new character Frank Reynolds, the season 2 finale “Dennis and Dee Get a New Dad” is a very important episode in It’s Always Sunny history. Its revelations that Frank isn’t really Dennis and Dee’s dad, but might actually be Charlie’s have continued to form the characters’ relationships and the storylines they share in the years since. However, despite these big plot twists, the episode itself isn’t particularly great, with no memorable lines or scenes to make it stand out.
11 Season 1: “Charlie Got Molested”
Season 1 as a whole doesn’t stand as a great season of It’s Always Sunny, because it didn’t find its feet until around the third or fourth season. Before then, the characters were nothing like how we know them now: Dennis wasn’t a psychopath, Mac never mentioned religion, Dee didn’t get in on any of the antics, Charlie was 99% less psychologically damaged, and Frank wasn’t even there.
The season 1 finale, “Charlie Got Molested,” is a typical early-season episode – something feels off – but there are also some great sight gags, like a jealous Mac wearing short shorts to his old gym teacher’s house in the hopes of getting molested like Charlie.
10 Season 7: “The High School Reunion Part 2: The Gang’s Revenge”
The first part of “The High School Reunion” is a significant chapter in It’s Always Sunny’s history. For years, we’d been hearing vague recollections of the Gang’s high school days, meeting the occasional old acquaintance, and now, at their reunion, we were seeing what they were actually like. Dennis was never cool; he just went around calling everybody his “minions.” Mac ratted out the cool kids at every chance he got, Charlie was forced to eat spiders and huff chemicals, and Dee was an outcast because of her back-brace. However, in the second part, it ran out of steam. It probably should’ve been squeezed into a single half-hour.
9 Season 3: “The Gang Dances Their Asses Off”
Season 3 had the longest run in It’s Always Sunny’s history with 15 episodes, and it’ll probably stay that way, because the writers realized back then that 15 was too many and they’ve since found their sweet spot with 10 a year. “The Gang Dances Their Asses Off” rounded out the longest season of the show with a simplistic premise and a lot of laughs. Charlie accidentally puts up the bar as a prize in a radio show’s endurance dance contest, so the Gang has to dance to keep it – and of course, it tears the power dynamic apart as they all realize they could own Paddy’s Pub and be in charge of their friends.
8 Season 11: “The Gang Goes to Hell: Part Two”
In the penultimate episode of It’s Always Sunny’s eleventh season, “The Gang Goes to Hell,” Mac takes the Gang on a Christian cruise in order to convert them to his religion. There’s a terrible storm and the Gang ends up trapped in the room in which they were being detained by the ship’s security. The second part – the season 11 finale – followed this up. It was set almost entirely in that room as it slowly filled with water and the Gang came to terms with their fate. Some scenes dragged on, like the Stomp riff, but it was an overall solid episode. The final scene, as the characters accept death before seeing a light and quickly pushing past each other to get to the top, is hilarious.
7 Season 9: “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs”
Over the years, the Gang has made a lot of enemies, so it was fun to see the writers address that in the season 9 finale “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs.” The Gang finally started to feel the consequences of their actions as they found their nefarious foes running the businesses they frequent – the video store, the local Wawa etc. – so they invited them all over to Mac and Dennis’ apartment for Thanksgiving to “squash their beef” in true Turkey Day tradition. Each negotiation goes hilariously awry before violence erupts, the apartment burns down, and the Gang leaves their enemies to die.
6 Season 12: “Dennis’ Double Life”
This episode gets extra points for tricking fans into thinking that Dennis was actually leaving. In the season 12 finale, we discover that Dennis has been living a secret second life as Brian LeFevre. As Brian, Dennis has a girlfriend and a son named Brian, Jr. While the episode concerns the Gang’s efforts to get Dennis out of this commitment, he decides to become a full-time dad at the end and leaves the Gang indefinitely. He turns off the light on his way out of the bar, like cheesy old series finales used to do, except the rest of the Gang was still inside. In the end, we all got duped.
5 Season 6: “A Very Sunny Christmas”
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia did a Christmas special in the most Always Sunny way possible in season 6. Mac and Charlie try to find their Christmas spirit while also realizing that their childhood Christmas traditions were built on robbery and prostitution, while Dennis and Dee try to pull A Christmas Carol on Frank with his old business partner, but Frank turns out to be even more stubborn and curmudgeonly than Ebenezer Scrooge. The episode has a ton of iconic moments, from Charlie beating a mall Santa to a bloody pulp to Frank bursting out from inside a couch, nude and drenched in sweat.
4 Season 5: “The Gang Reignites the Rivalry”
The season 5 capper “The Gang Reignites the Rivalry” starts off being about the Gang’s rivalry with a local restaurant in a flip-cup tournament called “Flipadelphia,” since their ban from the competition has finally been lifted. However, as the episode goes on and the Gang trains for the tournament, they all get scorned by a college frat and turn their rivalry on them instead. They repeat their old trick of poisoning their opponents’ beer, a characteristically sick and twisted note to end a season of It’s Always Sunny on. It’s not a perfect episode, but all of the characters are on.
3 Season 8: “Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense”
It never fails to amuse fans when the Gang gets into various lawyerings. In this case, Dennis was eating a bowl of cereal at the wheel of his car when Frank bashed into his rear bumper, knocking milk all over the dashboard, and so they spend the whole episode arguing over who should pay for the damages to Dennis’ car.
Of course, it’s not all about that, with discussions of donkey brains and evolution derailing the whole thing. “Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense” is a great example of a bottle episode done right, as well as a delightful parody of law procedurals.
2 Season 13: “Mac Finds His Pride”
No one ever expected It’s Always Sunny to get this real, but then the writers’ M.O. at this point seems to be to give the audience what they’re not expecting, so it figures. All throughout the season 13 finale, “Mac Finds His Pride,” we see Mac struggle with his identity as a gay man. He can’t figure out which subsection of the gay community he fits into, and he certainly can’t tell his father that he’s gay. We see Mac meeting with a woman and it seems as though he’s going back in the closet. And then we’re blown away by that climactic dance sequence. It says everything about Mac’s character arc in a deeply expressive way and ends with Frank Reynolds – Frank Reynolds! – shedding a tear and saying, “I get it.”
1 Season 4: “The Nightman Cometh”
This isn’t just the show’s best season finale; it might be its greatest all-time episode, period. It’s a classic example of an episode where all of the characters have something hilarious to do. Charlie Day channels every bratty theater director he’s ever met as TV Charlie mounts a musical he’s written about his life; Dennis and Mac compete over who’s a better actor (it’s clearly Dennis – at least he can remember all of his lines!); Dee makes up her own song to stop Charlie’s illiterate song-writing from portraying her as a child molester; and Frank pronounces “boy’s soul” as “boy’s hole.” To top it all off, the episode ends with an anticlimactic twist.