For more than ten years now, FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has pushed the boundaries of comedy, network sensibilities, and good taste in general. When Sunny first came on the air, the network billed it as "Seinfeld on crack," taking the four utterly repugnant main characters and their rampant drug use, violence, and general debauchery and putting it center stage. And of all the maniacs that have stood behind the bar in Paddy's Pub, none are quite so frightening as the self-titled Golden God himself, Dennis Reynolds.
Longtime fans of the show are by now all too familiar with Dennis's constant brushes with sexual depravity, and his occasional forays into outright psychopathic behavior. For years this was simply one of those thematic undertones peppered throughout each season like breadcrumbs, similar to Mac's repressed homosexuality and the sexual tension between Charlie and Dee. Fans have often speculated on just how far Dennis may have taken this off screen, and upon a recent re-watch of the series I believe I've discovered the first actual murder that he committed. The victim? Brian LeFevre.
Before examining this theory, however, lets briefly go over Dennis's history and the lead up to why I believe that he killed Mr. LeFevre.
This charming little scene actually tells us quite a bit about Dennis's character, and it does so on a couple of different levels. First and most obvious is what we see on the surface. Dennis exhibits some disturbing behaviour here, revealing a plan to get women alone in the middle of the ocean and making them afraid for their own safety for the express purpose of pressuring them into sex. This isn't the only time that Dennis would use fear to get women into his bed either. In the season 10 episode The Gang Group Dates Dennis blames his low rating on a dating website on the women feeling "too safe." Later in that same episodes he flies into a paranoid rage in a crowded restaurant and starts pointing at women and screaming "I'll rate you, I'll rate you!" He does this in such a way that the word "rate" sounds strikingly similar to the word "rape." When explaining the first "N" in the D.E.N.N.I.S. system, he's shown calling a woman up and threatening her life with a voice disguiser, so that he can get into her apartment under the guise of protecting her.
What I find to be of even greater significance here, however, is his word choice in the above video. "The implication," in addition to being a strategy that he employs to get women, also perfectly describes the way that hints are dropped about Dennis's character over the course of the series. These are at first subtle in early seasons, such as the season six episode The Gang Gets Lost in the Woods, when Charlie compares Dennis's methodical nature to that of a serial killer, which Dennis takes as a compliment, or the season three episode Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender (the title of which speaks for itself). However as the show progresses we are more and more directly shown that Dennis may be capable of real violence, culminating in the season 10 episode Psycho Pete Returns, where Dennis is diagnosed by a psychiatric doctor as (according to Dee) an "actual psychopath."
Part of the reason for this is likely chalked up to the show's general descent into chaos, airing material that pushes the envelope a bit more with each season. However, it also fits in with Dennis's character to slowly and methodically work his way up to something. We see this in the season seven episode Thundergun Epxress, where Mac criticizes how long it takes Dennis to sleep with women (we also see this on one of his sex tapes in the season eight episode Charlie Rules the World), and in the season ten episode Ass Kicker's United: Mac and Charlie Join a Cult, where he describes manipulation as a process that takes years of patience. It makes sense then, that Dennis's progression from fantasy to actual murder would be a slow process that happens over the course of several years. Take, for example, the following clip which contains two scenes from seasons seven and eight respectively, and see how he slowly progresses from fantasy to reality.
Dennis and Skin:
As far back as season three, Dennis has shown himself to have a disturbing infatuation with skin, both human and otherwise. The most disturbing example of this is in the video below, from the season ten episode Psycho Pete Returns, where he threatens to skin Dee and turn her into a lampshade. In the season eleven episode Frank Falls Out the Window, Dee confronts Dennis on his dream of being a veterinarian, saying that she thinks he only wants to become a vet so that he can "keep the skins." The conversation quickly devolves into a screaming match when she follows this up by telling him that he's going bald, but not before Dennis admits that he is indeed very fascinated by skins.
One of the earliest references to Dennis's obsession with skin, which I think a lot of people miss, is in the season three episode The Aluminum Monster vs Fatty Magoo. In a brief scene towards the end of the episode, a number of parallels are drawn between Dennis and Buffalo Bill, a serial killer from the movie Silence of the Lambs that wears the skins of his victims.
• Both men are naked and applying lipstick in front of a mirror.
• Both men are about to dress up as women.
• Both men are listening to a song from the 80s about love.
• Both men are softly whispering affirmations of self-confidence about how sexually attractive they are.
• Additionally, Buffalo Bill, according to Hannibal Lecter, wants to wear the skin of his victims to become another person. This, along with Dennis's infatuation with human skin, will be very important in Dennis's possible murder of Mr. LeFevre. But before we get to the reasoning behind Dennis's killing fantasies, let's go back to where they may have started...
Gary the Serial Killer:
Dennis starts out in the beginning of the series as an overly vain womanizer with a frat boy's mentality toward sex. It's only in mid and latter seasons that we are given hints that he may in fact be dangerous. When wondering about the reasons for this, I found myself thinking of a story I heard about a thirteenth century serial killer named Gilles de Rais. De Rais was a French nobleman and the right hand man to Joan of Arc, and by all account a virtuous individual (at least with regards to the way that the gentry viewed virtue in the middle ages). He became one of history's most notorious monsters quite by accident, after a group of con artists masquerading as alchemists convinced him to murder a child while experimenting with necromancy. De Rais discovered from this that he enjoyed killing, and went on to become one of histories earliest recorded serial murderers. If Dennis is the Gilles de Rais of our scenario, then his alchemist would be Dee's former neighbor, Gary.
We first meet Gary in the season three episode, Mac is a Serial Killer, where the Gang suspects Mac of a series of murders that we later find out were committed by Gary when the Gang discovers "about fifteen severed heads" in his freezer. Though Gary is only around for the one episode, after which he is most likely either in prison or dead after Frank attacks him with the chainsaw, I think that the experience had a very profound effect on Dennis in a number of ways.
For one, during the episode itself Dennis and Dee try to "get inside the mind" of the serial killer in order to find out who it is and clear Mac's name. They manage to do this by purchasing (stealing) murder weapons, dressing up as a painter and psycho clown, and going out to stalk a victim. In addition to coming up with a surprisingly feasible backstory and methodology for his killer, Dennis becomes extremely excited about the idea of strangling and dismembering the Waitress. He then gets overtly disappointed when Dee says that they can't really kill her.
We see the episode with Gary referenced most recently in the season eleven episode, Chardee Macdennis 2: Electric Boogaloo, where Dennis sculpts a woman's head in a freezer when prompted to mold something that represents "love." His excuse is that "it represents the preservation of love for ever and ever" (this is important for the section regarding Dennis's psychotic break).
Some have speculated, based on this last fact, that Dennis may have been the real serial killer all along, and that he framed Gary. Personally I don't think this is likely. The whole misunderstanding with Mac and Gary happened because Dennis pointed out that Mac came home late the previous night, causing Frank to suspect that Mac was the killer based on him being out while the most recent murder was taking place. This means that Dennis was home while the murder was happening because he knew that Mac wasn't. I also find it hard to believe that Dennis could have been so easily dispatched by the Waitress with a can of pepper spray if he'd already killed up to fifteen women.
More likely, I think, is the idea that Dennis was inspired by Gary. Almost all serial killers start out fantasizing, and when that doesn't do it anymore, they graduate to the real thing. I think Dennis got such a high off the stalk and planning that he and Dee did to fake-kill the Waitress that he kept running with it, crafting more and more elaborate fantasies, such as storing zip ties and plastic wrap in his car, and describing to Mac what they could potentially do with women trapped out on the open ocean. He did this for five seasons until the opportunity arose for him to kill his first real victim: Brian LeFevre.
In the season eight episode, Frank's Back in Business, the Gang finds the wallet of a man named Brian LeFevre. After boosting the cash, credit cards, and baseball tickets found inside, Dennis, Mac, and Dee soon find themselves in a luxury box with a pair of business executives that are in town to court Brian LeFevre. Dennis takes this as an opportunity to become Brian LeFevre, posing as him for the rest of the week. Dennis also invited Mac and Dee to "get off" with him by taking part in the charade. Some, as it turns out, were willing to take this farther than others...
Dennis describes the experience of "getting off" as the thrill of becoming another person by "getting inside of their skin." The wording of this, "getting inside their skin," recalls to mind Dennis's previously mentioned fetish. Considering this, when we find out at the end that the real Brian LeFevre was murdered right outside Paddy's Pub, it isn't that much of a stretch to suspect that Dennis may have had something to do with it. With this in mind, consider Dennis's reaction to hearing Charlie and Mac recap LeFevre's death.
As Charlie and Mac are describing the circumstances of the real LeFevre's death, Dennis becomes progressively more and more aroused, finally "climaxing" when they show his severed finger (which Charlie cut off in the morgue). This is very similar to the way in which real serial killers gratify themselves when reliving their crimes (also the reason that many of them take trophies, such as the severed finger). Furthermore, his choice of Dee as a companion reflects what may have been his original fantasy, when the two of them stalked the waitress in Mac is a Serial Killer.
Now all of this is plausible, but still probably seems like a stretch. However, the show does drop one MASSIVE clue as to Dennis being the real murderer. When describing how the police believe that the murder went down, Charlie says that the real Brian LeFevre was stabbed to death by "a crackhead." Now you may hear this and assume that there's no real mystery to LeFevre's death and that it was a simple mugging. But let's not forget, Dennis is a crackhead. He became addicted to crack all the way back in the season two episode, Dennis and Dee Go On Welfare, and he's had multiple relapses in Frank's Pretty Woman and Frank Falls Out the Window. While I don't necessarily think that Charlie knows or suspects that Dennis killed LeFevre, I do believe that the show is dropping a hint that points in Dennis's direction.
Dennis's Psychotic Break:
Usually when a serial killer first begins killing, or resumes killing after a period of inactivity, something happens that sets them off; a death in the family, getting fired, getting divorced, something of that nature. In this situation, the event that sets Dennis off is as traumatizing as any of those.
In the episode Charlie's Mom Has Cancer, which takes place immediately before the one with LeFevre's demise, Dennis is stuck in a sort of melancholy slump. He admits to Mac that he's distressed over his inability to "feel things" emotionally. Over the course of the episode he tries a number of remedies, including attending Mac's church and seeing a holistic healer named Doctor Jynx. Unfortunately none of this works, and Dennis resigns himself to feeling nothing, admitting that the church is running a scam and that Doctor Jynx is a "sorcerer" with the name of a monkey. At the end of the episode, however, in what can only be described as a horrific twist of irony, Dennis does manage to unearth his feelings. This happens when Frank tricks him into digging up his dead mother as a means of getting revenge against Dee for insulting him and stealing his money.
When the casket lid opens and Barbara's corpse is revealed, Dennis bursts into tears and starts hysterically sobbing, clutching Dee and screaming "I feel too much!" and "my mommy's a skeleton!"
This would explain Dennis's desire to slip into someone else's skin, as the flood of negative emotions that overwhelmed him upon seeing his mother's dead body made it too painful to be "Dennis Reynolds." The sight of Barbara's body without skin probably also triggered his obsession with human flesh, which ties into his psychotic impulses. This likely brought on some self-loathing, given that his mother is one of the few people that Dennis could be said to love, further contributing to his urge to become someone else. So when he saw LeFevre stumbling around behind Paddy's looking for his wallet, it was too great an opportunity to miss.
In the episode immediately after the one featuring Brian LeFevre, Charlie Rules the World, we see some interesting behavior from Dennis. Throughout the episode he expresses frustrations with the Gang's lack of drive to go out and "live life." He wants to experience things on a more visceral level while the others are burying themselves in social media and online video games. He comes off as manic and overly cheerful, in a somewhat aggressive way. He wants to go out dancing, as if celebrating something, and winds up doing shots until he projectile vomits at the table. Later in the episode he spends some time alone in an isolation tank and comes to the conclusion that he's a god, and the episode ends with him deleting everyone else's game characters because they "irritated him."
Though not entirely new behavior on Dennis's part, he does seem to take his divinity to a more literal level in this episode, whereas in the past he referred to himself as a "golden god" in more of a metaphorical sense. When viewed in the context of our present theory, that he in fact committed his first murder in the previous episode, Dennis's progressing god complex can be viewed as more than simple narcissism, but as the self-aggrandizing mentality of a budding serial killer.
Conclusions and Summation of Evidence:
For those without the time to waste reading this whole article, I'll sum things up here. Consider this the TLDR section.
- Dennis is a diagnosed sociopath that harbors an unhealthy infatuation with human skin.
- Dennis is addicted to Crack Cocaine.
- Brian LeFevre is killed by "a crackhead" behind Paddy's Pub.
- Dennis becomes sexually aroused by impersonating LeFevre, and describes the experience as "climbing into another person's skin."
- In the episode directly before the one with LeFevre, Dennis is desperate to feel some sort of emotion, and has a psychotic break at the end when he sees his mother's skeleton.
- In the episode directly after the one with LeFevre, Dennis wants to celebrate and go out dancing and in the end has a revelation that he's a god.
- Dennis has, in the past, engaged in murder fantasies similar to the way he acted with Dee while impersonating LeFevre.