Family Guy has tackled plenty of edgy material over the years, but season 16's "Send In Stewie, Please" is perhaps the show's darkest episode to date. It's hard to imagine now, but Family Guy once struggled to find its audience. The Seth MacFarlane created show focuses on Peter Griffin and his oddball family and friends. While Peter is a loving husband and father, he's also capable of incredibly dumb, selfish and downright evil acts, and he only seems to get worse as the show has progressed.
Family Guy was accused of being a ripoff of The Simpsons in its early years, but it established its own comic style, especially in regards to its random cutaway gags. The series struggled in the ratings during its early seasons and was eventually canceled in 2002. Luckily for fans, strong DVD sales and a growing fanbase led to Family Guy being revived a few years later, and it's still going strong today.
Seth MacFarlane himself voices Peter and a lot of the other characters on Family Guy, including the family dog Brian and Stewie. The latter is Peter's youngest, a one-year child who is secretly a genius with a passion for violence and evil schemes. Various episodes have given an insight into Stewie, but none have been as probing as "Send In Stewie, Please." This episode is unique for a few reasons, since its the first episode to not feature Peter, it doesn't have any cutaway jokes and it even featured Stewie's real accent.
The plot of "Send In Stewie, Please" has the child prodigy forced to talk to a child psychologist, voiced by Ian McKellen (The Lord Of The Rings). Stewie pushed a classmate down the stairs and while Stewie presents a confident front, the doctor breaks through and sees he's secretly lonely underneath the facade. This leads Stewie to cry and open up a little, revealing his posh British accent a fake and he briefly reveals his actual voice. He also denies being gay - which has been strongly hinted throughout Family Guy's run - and that the personality he presents is something he's built to protect himself.
Stewie Griffin makes a real connection to McKellen's doctor character during their conversation, but when he shows signs of ditching the character he's created for himself, he reverts back when the doctor has a heart attack. Stewie decides not to save him, since he knows his secrets, though the doctor warns him his inaction will haunt him. Stewie lets him die regardless and later than night can't sleep due to his guilt. He admits to Brian he did something bad but won't admit what, and Brian sleeps beside him for comfort.
Family Guy's comedy is usually irreverent or silly, but occasionally an episode will dig deeper, like "Send In Stewie, Please." There have been other episodes like Meg confronting her family over the horrible ways they treat her, but the Stewie episode felt like a unique experiment. MacFarlane and McKellen both do great work and the ending is shockingly dark - even for a show that's never been afraid of being offensive. It's nice to genuinely explore Stewie's psychology and see him a little vulnerable, but while the episode received strong reviews, it feels tonally out of place with the rest of the series. Family Guy in recent years has avoided genuine emotion for the most part, so while it's a strong episode in isolation, its too bad none of the revelations from "Send In Stewie, Please" will likely carry on to future episodes.