A disastrous game night pushes a dejected Francine to develop a little mystique and form the perfect poker face that will make her unreadable to her family. Francine’s pursuit to be indecipherable turns her into a surprise poker legend who becomes in danger of anteing up too much when her success puts her entire family in jeopardy.
American Dad has its share of wild cards that have helped the series evolve over the course of its run. Francine is frequently treated like a passive individual and one wouldn’t suspect that she’s the secret ingredient in many of American Dad’s best episodes. Francine-centric episodes are nothing new and they have a reputation for being standout character studies. “The Pink Sphinx Holds Her Hearts on the Turn” decides to use poker as Francine’s means of deconstruction and rebirth, which happens to pay off with rewarding results. “The Pink Sphinx Holds Her Hearts on the Turn” doesn’t go full Molly’s Game with Francine, but it still finds a captivating way to turn this gambling game into a character-building exercise that’s both fundamental and funny.
“The Pink Sphinx Holds Her Hearts on the Turn” is definitely a Francine-centric story that focuses specifically on her growth as a person, but this episode wisely operates as a two-hander between Francine and Roger. Or rather, Roger’s “The Gambler” persona who’s the true story behind the Kenny Rogers hit. There are plenty of all-time classic American Dad episodes that are purely devoted to Francine. The rare combo of Francine and Roger is equally magnetic whenever it’s turned to and it gives this episode a lot more emotional and comedic mileage than if Francine were to experience this journey alone.
More than anything else, “The Pink Sphinx Holds Her Hearts on the Turn” really succeeds on a dialogue level and the confidence that it exhibits towards Francine and Roger’s chemistry. The pacing is somewhat slow for American Dad standards, yet these longer, methodical sequences never drag on because everything between Roger and Francine is pure gold. There’s the perfect level of synchronicity and dissonance between the two of them. One of the episode’s most entertaining elements is Francine’s increasing frustration as Roger’s inherently convoluted nature threatens to derail her pursuit to better herself. It’s the right combination for this American Dad episode rather than someone like Principal Lewis, Tuttle, or Bullock stepping in as Francine’s poker mentor.
“The Pink Sphinx Holds Her Hearts on the Turn” keeps tensions high as it shuffles through the deck and makes the most of the cards that it gets dealt. An episode that’s about confidence and poker takes an unexpectedly wild turn where Francine becomes a cursed, brain-dead servant in a purgatory-esque illegal swamp casino that’s run by none other than Froge Rose, herself. These heightened tropes are so ridiculous that they work and clearly meant to be radical plot developments that American Dad doesn’t want the audience to scrutinize too deeply. It’s a lot better than a finale that’s set in Buckle’s treehouse. Supernatural circumstances aside, Francine’s imprisonment just becomes an opportunity for Steve, Hayley, and Roger to come together and aid in her rescue. They quickly right their wrongs and allow Francine to lead them to success rather than further fray and split apart.
Much like any good game of poker, “The Pink Sphinx Holds Her Hearts on the Turn” is an American Dad episode that does a lot of bluffing, but ultimately comes out with a winning hand. American Dad puts Francine in the spotlight and plays to its strengths when it comes to her relationships with the rest of her family. “The Pink Sphinx Holds Her Hearts on the Turn” could have made some bolder gambles, but the hands that it plays work out in its favor. Character-driven American Dad episodes that still dip their toe in the absurd and surreal are exactly what this season needs as it comes to a close.