One of my favorite recent Twitter jokes among Houston comedy immediately and repeatedly came to mind while watching this episode:
White people love escape rooms because that’s what happens when the concept of jail time is that foreign to you.
— zahid dewji (@zahiddewji) August 5, 2018
Really, it seems like the only reason we haven’t seen the Gang participate in an escape room before is that the popularity of escape rooms is relatively recent. (I don’t get it either.) Dee decides to set up the whole thing for the Gang as a fun thing to do, using Mac and Dennis’ apartment– something most of them quickly turn on for various reasons. (Except Dennis, who sees it as a turn-on, naturally: “It’s a highly sexual experience for people, you’ll get no judgment for us.”)
Frank and Charlie are out because there’s no prize. Mac is out because “Men don’t do things just to do things. We’re busy running the world, providing for their families.” A bizarre disconnect from Mac’s actual life, but one that’s to be expected at this point. Dennis has an idea to make the game interesting, suggesting that Amanda (the host of the game, played by Kate Comer) buy the winner a 20 oz. steak. (Of course, a singular winner of an escape room already goes against its very purpose, working together.)
Where it goes from here is both funny and very much true to character; once again, so much of what makes this show continue to hum is that these characters are so richly detailed in the writing and portrayal, that storylines like this not only remain perfectly true to character but still manage to surprise us in the details, and occasionally offer us a glimpse into another level of each character’s particular madness.
Of course, a game that requires cooperation immediately results in the Gang splitting up to compete. Of course, Dee would nakedly lie about searching the room even while Amanda is watching her. Of course, the guys would gang up on Dee and lock her in Dennis’ room. Of course, the guys would then yell over themselves and proceed to split into the Dynamic Duo and the Gruesome Twosome. Of course Dee already completed this escape room and set it up to try to impress the guys. And of course Dennis has a soundproof room that locks from the outside as part of some strange sexual game (there’s your new depth of madness). But I never would have come up with the details myself.
The four men, left to their own devices, engage in a lot of talk about being a man and being successful both before, during, and after splitting up and reconvening. Dennis and Mac have a heart-shaped lock; Frank and Charlie have a heart-shaped key. Most of the episode is taken with the two groups figuring out how to try to negotiate with one another to open the lock without sacrificing power or dominance. (Frank’s advice to Charlie: “The most important aspect of a man’s success is to never trust another man.”)
The negotiations first center around Frank’s gum. (Charlie brought some Big League Chew and gave it to Frank when he started freaking out about being locked inside the escape room. “Frank hasn’t been locked up since the nitwit school.”) After a lot of internal dialogue and item-smashing on both ends, Mac goes to open negotiations, attempting to get gum for Dennis, but constantly trying to one-up Charlie and Frank by eating it himself. Eventually they somehow negotiate a summit to figure out how to best open the lock and key, and thus win the escape room, without losing face.
This opens up the opportunity for the Gang’s latest ridiculous fixation: negotiation through trickery and dominance, and, naturally, citing Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal. Mac: “Never trust another man in a negotiation! That’s textbook! Art of the Deal, Art of the Deal, bro!”
Eventually, the men gather for a summit with whiskey and pipes, and come up with an intricate agreement by which they would all spit out their gum, open the lock and key, and have determined the correct order in which they would bite into their steaks upon winning. And Charlie, as speaker (they gave it to him to placate him for drawing the short straw in the steak-ordering draw), gives a delightful toast to all of them, which deserves to be repeated in its entirety:
I’d like to take a brief moment to recognize our excellent work as men. …navigating these difficult waters with ethics, with grace, with minimal violence… But above all, without compromise to our masculine identity by any admission of guilt, failure, or weakness.
Capped with Dennis’ “To us as men!”, Frank then opens the lock… only to find a whole lot of other clues and steps to get out of the room, because of course there are, and of course these idiots never considered that. They start panicking, with only two minutes left before they lose… and then Dee appears outside of the window, having crawled out of Dennis’ (“Clever girl,” he says) and onto a very rickety ledge, at which point Amanda opens the door and rushes in to tell them to stop the game and let her in. And then Dee falls off the building.
And in what constitutes about the closest thing to a heartwarming ending this show gets, the guys come into the hospital cheering for Dee, with a steak and everything, and giving her the respect she craves. As Mac puts it, “That’s what a quarterback does: sacrifices his– or her— body for the team.” And then they manage to get their congratulatory picture taken because, as they point out to Amanda, she let them out of the room before the game ended– and the win conditions didn’t specify how you got out, just that you got out. Art of the Deal!
- I thought of Dewji’s joke because the episode is about an escape room, but it also got me wondering just how it is that the Gang has avoided jail for so long.
- Dennis is all the way back for this episode, and Glenn Howerton is back in the opening credits after being left out last week (in a pretty nice fakeout).
- Howerton also has some terrific deliveries this episode: His “DON’T SIT DOWN!” to Mac, “The only one” to Dee regarding her escape from his, uh, escape room.
- Speaking of that escape room, I don’t even know where to begin… Dennis’ laptop with the verbal commands, his system that insists the woman’s presence there is a sign of consent (taken with a thumbprint, almost certainly non-consensually), the vibrating bed… I think Dennis has moved beyond merely wanting to coerce or even rape women into wanting to imprison them. “Remember, if you’re having too much fun, it ruins it for me.”
- Dee says she did an escape room with her friends. Everyone laughs at her. “All right, I did it alone.” Moe Szyslak, eat your heart out.
- The escape room is Sherlock Holmes-themed, so Amanda does an accent, and Dee tries to respond with “a’tuppence to you, madame.”
- “Why do you have a lock on the outside of your door?” “The point is, Dee’s not getting out of there.”
- Mac says Dennis is the smartest person he knows, and he’s met, like, a hundred people. Charlie: “I’ve met, like, a hundred and five…” “YOU HAVE NOT!”
- After Charlie mentions “minimal violence,” we get Dennis looking at Mac and Mac turning to reveal Dennis scratched his face, making good on an earlier threat.
- “You figured out the only loophole in my carefully curated and well-researched bondage facility.”
- “A female leader, that feels wrong to me.” “We had a vote in America, we made it pretty clear.”