The best South Park season in a decade ended on Wednesday. The show has never been so serialized, and the finale threw together several different plot strands — hello, Butters’ Canadian girlfriend! — into a wild, invigorating, incoherently final act. Season 19 climaxed with various characters raving like ’90s Oliver Stone movie characters about various Big Bads. P.C. Extremists! Gentrifying aliens! Sentient ads!
This all happened at a Gun Show parodying the Westminster Dog Show. There was also a running joke about a hooker named Classi. Somehow, it was all Mr. Mackey’s fault.
Like I said: Wild, invigorating, incoherent. The episode started with paranoia running rampant through town. Kyle spread rumors that Jimmy was dead: A victim of PC Principal’s murderous rampage. (PC Principal was actually on the other side of the world, in the Book of Eli corner of the former Soviet Bloc, killing neon-blooded assailants in a revitalized arts and food district.) Who was to blame for all the changes in their charming mountain town?
Kyle blamed Stan’s father, Randy, and suggested that everyone get ahold of guns. Cartman: “How are we all gonna get our hands on guns?” CUT TO: The children, with brand new shiny guns. America! We’re terrible!
There’s been a lot of talk about the serialization in this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if all the gun stuff was a last-minute addition. The show had some fun with the firearms — everyone winds up pointing a gun at everyone, but nobody ever actually fires, because all those guns somehow lead the characters into actual thoughtful dialogue. It was a fun gag, but it lacked any real punch: Topicality for its own sake.
And I’m not sure the show ever quite figured out how to weave all its disparate plotlines together, but it was fun watching the great experiment in long-form narrative reach a grand finale. Mostly, that meant Nathan — the one-jokiest of one-joke characters given hilarious new life — saying lines like “What is PC, but a form of verbal gentrification?” The point seemed to be that advertisements are everywhere, which you know, since you’re using the Internet right now. And advertisements have started to use political correctness for their own gain. Jimmy made an impassioned speech to Classi: “In a world where ads control the news, there’s no way to be sure anyone’s ever hearing the truth!”
Lines like that sound like they could’ve come from Kyle, formerly the show’s moral compass. In this finale, sentient ad Leslie actually tried to co-opt Kyle’s ability to give act 3 speeches. “I gave up giving speeches,” Kyle admitted. He never quite got around to giving one: All the season’s major characters wound up at the gun show in a hundred-way standoff. It climaxed with a revelation: Mr. Mackey got Principal Victoria fired, thus setting this whole season in motion. Then PC Principal punched Leslie through the face.
That was the end of the sentient advertisements. Then the towns’ Whole Foods was flying out into space, ending the gentrification reign of terror. But PC Principal got to stick around, delivering an impassioned speech to the town about how everyone needs to stay “as politically unbiased as possible.” This, while America stares down a presidential election in 2016.
This season was serialized, and the finale felt oddly like a cliff-hanger. Mister Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner are still plotting a presidential campaign; if the show’s normal schedule holds, it will return just in time for that miserable moment when primary season ends and the real political media nightmare begins. I can’t wait. Almost two decades deep into its existence, South Park just wrapped up a revitalized, crazily overstuffed season of television.
And, God help me, every time Caitlyn Jenner said “Buckle Up, Buckaroo!” before running people over with her car, I burst out laughing. South Park‘s season finale was messy. But few shows are more engaged with the Big Ideas of our moment — and few shows have ever made low comedy soar so high.