The Downward Spiral of It’s Always Sunny’s Dennis Reynolds

It's been a long and hilarious journey for television's most charming sociopath


    Dennis Reynolds is a monster.

    Few likely expected that would be the case. In It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s early episodes, Dennis exuded an everyman vibe thanks to performer Glenn Howerton’s polished, leading-man look. However, he soon revealed himself to be an asshole of the first degree, and his subsequent evolution from self-absorbed dick to unstable psychopath has proven to be one of the show’s most satisfying arcs.

    Sure, sure, all of Sunny’s characters are nuts. That’s the appeal of the show, after all. But Dennis is different. His psychosis isn’t born of ignorance like Charlie, nor is it, a la Mac, a result of his arrested development. There’s an intelligence to his madness, one that plots, prepares, and considers concepts such as “self-preservation” and “implications.” Truly, there’s a demon inside Dennis, a shrieking thing that spreads its leathery wings whenever he’s on the verge of realizing that maybe, just maybe, he’s not that cool anymore.


    It was a gradual arc, the kind that could only be told over the course of 11 seasons. In the third episode of the first season, Dennis tries to evade the advances of a (legal) high schooler. In the sixth, he brags about the “wonderful and very sexual” hickeys he loves getting from young girls (legal ones, to be clear; in a move that’s as creepy as it is careful, he always checks their IDs). Still, there were shades of his burgeoning psychopathy early on, like when he and Dee exploited the drug addicted and mentally ill to get on welfare or the time he taught pre-teens how to “break a kid’s foot in three places.”


    Below, we’ve compiled the episodes that best demonstrate Dennis’ descent into darkness. We’re excited (and terrified) to witness the depths of his depravity in season 12.

    Season 3, Episode 5

    “The Aluminum Monster vs. Fatty McGoo”

    Psychotic Break: When Dee decides to get into fashion after finding out her high school friend is now a designer, Dennis steals her thunder by sketching designs of his own, all of which are little more than drawings of women with globular, humongous breasts, some of whom aren’t even wearing clothes.

    Victims: Ingrid Nelson, otherwise known as Fatty Magoo, is sexually harassed in addition to having Dennis’ impractical garments pressed on her. There’s also the band of Eastern European sweatshop workers tasked with sewing his creations. Really, though, all women are subject to Dennis’ comically unrealistic female body standards.

    Deposition: “Winners, we don’t listen to words like ‘no’ or ‘don’t’ or ‘stop’. It’s not in our vocabulary.”

    Diagnosis: This is one of the show’s deeper glimpses into Dennis’ maniacal desire to maintain the illusion that he’s still as popular as he was in high school. When Dee suggests he peaked at 18, Dennis’ countenance tightens, rage simmering in his throat, as he tells her he hasn’t even begun to peak. As the above quote shows, Dennis won’t let a silly thing like consent stop him from keeping his dreams alive. But this episode is perhaps most notable for its pronounced look at Dennis’ perfect woman, who is essentially 75% breast. (“This woman doesn’t have a rib cage!” Dee says of Dennis’ muse.) A lingering shot of Dennis, shirtless, putting on lipstick in the mirror, however, also suggests that his perfect mate is, well, himself.


    Season 4, Episode 4

    “Mac’s Banging the Waitress”

    Psychotic Break: The Waitress says she’ll bang Mac if he can get her into Dennis’ room, where she wants to steal back the tape Dennis made of them having sex. Yep, Dennis films his sexual encounters.

    Victims: The Waitress, obviously, but look closer at Dennis’ stash and you’ll see several waitresses, including French, Korean, and Indian ones. There’s also a tape labeled “Zookeeper,” which is hilarious.

    Deposition: “You know that video camera I keep in my bedroom? I got that bad boy running 24/7. It’s a security cam, except it’s for bangin’.”

    Diagnosis: The most revealing aspect of Dennis’ filming (besides the fact that he, well does it) isn’t that he shows the videos to Mac and Charlie. Nor is it that he has his own star rating system for the girls. Rather, it’s Dennis’ point of focus. As Mac says, “It’s mostly that horrible angle that you see in porns. Ya know, where it’s all balls and male ass.” Gross.


    Season 5, Episode 8

    “Paddy’s Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens”

    Psychotic Break: When negotiating with the gang’s long-suffering lawyer, Dennis offers to help him with his forthcoming divorce by “tossing a frame bang your way.” As Dennis explains it: “I’m gonna slip into your house one night while your wife is sleeping and ease into her real nice. That way you’re cheating on each other and she can’t clean you out!” In response, the lawyer politely asks that Dennis not rape his wife. Dennis, however, is shocked at the rebuff to his generosity.

    Victims: None, assuming Dennis hasn’t pulled a “frame bang” before.

    Deposition: “Bro? Rape? I wasn’t talking about raping your wife. I was talking about making love to her sweetly while she sleeps. And I was gonna do it for you, you son of a bitch — fine, I won’t do it.”

    Diagnosis: It’s interesting the way Dennis has attempted to commodify sex. First, there was his erotic memoir, and now there’s the frame bang, which is as terrifying for the careful thought Dennis has put into it as it is the act itself. It also perpetuates the narrative that, to Dennis, women are literally nothing more than objects. And, somehow, it gets darker from here.


    Season 5, Episode 10

    “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System”

    Psychotic Break: Dennis isn’t content to just get laid. Not anymore, at least. Dennis wants to make women fall in love with him, seemingly so he can leave them that much more broken in his wake. That’s why he invented the D.E.N.N.I.S. system, a “comprehensive approach to seduction” that’s defined as such: Demonstrate value, Engage physically, Nurture dependence, Neglect emotionally, Inspire hope, and Separate Entirely. D.E.N.N.I.S.

    Victims: Caylee, the sweet pharmacist that gets D.E.N.N.I.S.’d here. Also, Dee gets stabbed, and it’s at least inadvertently because of Dennis.

    Deposition: “Now, once you’ve had sex with the woman, she will naturally start depending on you. All women do this...”

    Diagnosis: Here’s where Dennis proves he’s not just your run-of-the-mill sociopath. Women were once just objects to him, but now he’s interested in more than just gargantuan breasts. Now, by manipulating their emotions, Dennis wants to penetrate their minds, establishing what he believes to be complete control over their souls. Nowhere is Dennis’ malevolence more clear than when he explains his favorite way to make a woman dependent: “a fictional angry neighbor who is threatening her.” In this scenario, Dennis calls up his conquest, masks himself with a voice modifier, and screams, “I’m watching you, you bitch! You’re gonna die tonight!” Minutes later, he’s on her doorstep to comfort her. The breeziness with which he lays out the tactic is offset by the psychosis of his call, which is horrifying in any context.

    Season 5, Episode 12

    “The Gang Reignites the Rivalry”

    Psychotic Break: Dennis visits his old fraternity, hoping they’ll treat him like a party god. When he arrives, however, he’s met with derision and several pokes of a stun gun. He has a meltdown, shrieking about the “idiots” and “savages” who don’t respect their elders.


    Victims: Fueled by rage and humiliation, Dennis maniacally pumps nails into the shoes of Art Sloan, the gang’s flip cup rival. He also poisons the beer of the frat dudes (making Dee deathly ill in the process).

    Deposition: “I’d take a banana and stick it up some guy’s ass in front of his best friend. And I’d be like, ‘Hey! Banana ass! How you doing!’ Or maybe I’d like take the tip of my penis and stick it in a guY’s mouth for, like, just a second! Hahaha!”

    Diagnosis: “They’re like stupid, little goddamn savages,” Dennis rails after his humiliation, and it’s the most unhinged we’ve ever seen him. Usually, Dennis remains cool while destroying the lives of others. Here’s where we see the cracks in his guise, the seeds of insecurity that, for anyone else, would inevitably sprout here and cause a person to reexamine their place in life. Not Dennis, though. He doubles down on his status as a “legend” and “trailblazer,” cackling with a twisted, sinister glee while recounting the hazing rituals he masterminded as a college student and condemning the “idiots.” Mac calls Dennis’ freak-out “weird rage”; he’s right, but he’s also only scraping the surface.


    Season 6, Episode 3

    “The Gang Buys a Boat”

    Psychotic Break: The gang buys a boat and Dennis sees it as the perfect opportunity to score chicks. Why? Because being alone in the middle of the ocean with a man she barely knows makes it hard for a woman to refuse his advances. Because of the implication.

    Victims: Luckily, no one, being that the boat bursts into flames before he can lure any ladies onto it.

    Deposition: “If the girl said no, then the answer is obviously no. The thing is, she’s not gonna say no. She would never say no. Because of the implication.”

    Diagnosis: What’s this implication? According to Dennis, it’s “that things might go wrong for her if she refuses to sleep with me. Now, not that things are gonna go wrong for her, but she’s thinking that they will.” Maybe Dennis is getting more careful? Instead of outright overlooking the issue of consent, he is now gaslighting his conquests with vague insinuations. Dennis may not consider himself a violent person, but he sure isn’t shy about using the spectre of violence to his benefit. “That seems really dark,” says Mac. Yyyyyep.

    Season 6, Episode 11

    “The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods”

    Psychotic Break: After their car breaks down in the woods, Dennis teaches Charlie the importance of being open to new experiences. He does this by sharing how he got a hickey from an “extremely young lady” (who was “legal, totally legal”) because he allowed himself to “say yes” to the experience.


    Victims: Charlie, who is not one to benefit from Dennis’ teachings.

    Deposition: “A serial killer. I like that. I like that. It’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but I see your point. I take it as a compliment.”

    Diagnosis: Dennis couching his dalliances with “extremely young” women in one’s desire to be “open to new experiences” is yet another example of Dennis justifying his creepy behavior. More than that, though, this episode is notable mostly for the above quote. After Charlie compares Dennis’ methodical nature to that of a serial killer, Dennis responds with the above, essentially crystallizing the undercurrent of his behavior and causing us all to wonder: Holy shit, is Dennis actually a serial killer?

    Season 7, Episode 13

    “The High School Reunion Part 2: The Gang’s Revenge”

    Psychotic Break: Dennis tries to bang the wife of his old friend, but is rebuffed and humiliated in front of everyone at his high school reunion. This causes him to retreat to his car, where he tears up the lining of his trunk to reveal his “tools,” which consist of duct tape, zip ties, and gloves.

    Victims: Whoever he’s used these “tools” on.

    Deposition: “I am the king of the minions!”

    Diagnosis: After having his college delusions dinged back in season five, Dennis now cherishes his high school stardom that much more. After he’s rejected in front of his old classmates, he screeches, “I reign supreme over everyone in this school!” before reiterating “I!I!” over and over again. His ego collapsing around him and madness consuming the pieces, he retrieves his tools, screaming again of “savages,” “idiots,” and now “jerk-offs.” Sure, he passes the tools off as “fetish shit” (“I like to bind!” he screams. “I like to be bound!”), but we all know what this means: Dennis Reynolds is absolutely a serial killer.


    Season 8, Episode 5

    “The Gang Gets Analyzed”

    Psychotic Break: The Gang visits Dee’s therapist’s office where each member is analyzed. Dennis insists he’s not a patient, however, but a “colleague.” Still, the therapist gets him to admit he secretly gives Mac “size pills” to ensure he doesn’t get fat again; Dennis doesn’t see what’s wrong with that. He also, for good measure, draws a sketch of him cupping the therapist’s (dramatically enlarged) breasts.

    Victims: Mac. The therapist, who is harassed by Dennis both sexually and intellectually.

    Deposition: “Giving a man medicine for his disease. Wherever did I get that idea?”

    Diagnosis: It might seem that, for the most part, Mac and Charlie are free from the ravages of Dennis’ psychosis. Here, we learn that’s not the case. In addition to Dennis literally drugging his best friend, we discover that he has also been keeping psychological notes on Dee since the second grade (some of them are in crayon). Psychopaths tend to have an interest in psychology, yeah?

    Season 10, Episode 2

    “The Gang Group Dates”

    Psychotic Break: Dennis and the gang try group dating, but when things turn south he realizes he’s being rated by women on a popular website. As his star rating plummets, he becomes more and more obsessed with getting a good review, which only serves to terrify his dates that much more.


    Victims: All the woman he dates, but the poor, poor Waitress more than anyone.

    Deposition: “If it were a one out of five thing, and it is, what would you give me? The obvious five-star rating? Or would you be a liar?”

    Diagnosis: Ah, the ravages of age. The D.E.N.N.I.S. System is no longer working. Dennis no longer knows how to demonstrate value, let alone engage physically. The rating system is a tangible indicator of his own failure. Now, in a last-ditch effort to save himself from himself, he turns to the woman who has never been able to resist him: The Waitress. “I’ve ignored your feelings for pursuits of the flesh,” he says to her, then offers her a promise ring (but not the promise of a relationship, natch) to get a five-star rating. When he finds out she doesn’t use the Internet, he bails on that idea, resorting instead to his tried-and-true tactic of screaming in the face of every woman in sight. “ZERO! ZERO! ZERO!” he screams in their faces. If he’s a zero, he’ll make sure everyone else is as well.

    Season 11, Episode 5

    “Mac & Dennis Move to the Suburbs”

    Psychotic Break: In an effort to save money, Mac and Dennis move out to the suburbs and are slowly driven crazy by the mundanity of it all. Dennis takes on the role of working stiff, and his hour-long commute in gridlock traffic sends him spiraling to heretofore unseen depths of utter rage.

    Victims: Mac, obviously. His smiley neighbor, Wally. And, tragically, poor little Dennis Jr.

    Deposition: “I don’t care if you’re old! Seize the gap! You old, fat bitch! YOU FAT BITCH!”

    Diagnosis: “Mac & Dennis Move to the Suburbs” is a psychological horror movie, and Dennis is the bad guy. He lashes out at his best friend. He seethes at a friendly neighbor. He’s complicit in the death of an adorable dog. In a fantasy sequence, he strips nude and threatens to brutally murder a man for simply commenting on the weather. I was almost disappointed when I realized it was all just a fantasy. After 11 seasons of Dennis’ spiral into darkness, I was prepared to finally watch him murder someone.