How is it possible that nearly two decades into its run South Park is better than ever?
Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s animated comedy series ended its 19th season Wednesday night with an episode that not only tackled America’s gun violence epidemic at exactly the right moment but also tied together disparate strands from throughout the previous nine episodes in a way that brought home their underlying theme: How “P.C. culture” is destroying America.
In September’s premiere, South Park wasted no time setting the tone and the stakes for the season. Viewers were introduced to South Park Elementary’s new P.C. Principal, a muscular white frat bro who cares almost as much about protecting minorities as he does about drinking beer and “crushing puss.” His first order of business was to suspend Kyle from school for refusing to call Caitlyn Jenner anything but “stunning and brave.”
By Episode Two, the show had moved on to Donald Trump, who’d reached what many believed was the height of his poll numbers. Parker and Stone used their powerful platform to warn America about what might happen if he is elected.
During the episode, Mr. Garrison channels Trump as an anti-Canadian immigration presidential candidate who asks “Where My Country Gone?” and advocates a “Fuck Them All to Death!” policy. Later, we meet the Trump-esque Canadian president, a “brash asshole” who no one took seriously until he was being sworn into office.
Later episodes took on the gentrification of South Park, which was transformed by the creation of a new, hip neighborhood called SoDoSoPa. A Whole Foods opens up in the revitalized CtPa Town (read: “Shitty Part of Town”) and soon residents decide they no longer need police officers after one of them accidently shoots a 6-year-old Latino boy. And on top of that, there’s a conspiracy brewing where shady government officials are disguising manipulative advertisements as people.
While in previous seasons, these myriad issues may have been dealt with in their own distinct episodes—owing to South Park’s grueling and often down-to-the-wire animation schedule—this year the team has managed to pull off something even more remarkable: by continually returning to the idea of how “P.C. culture” is destroying the town, the show has not only observed something important about our current society but also created a genuine cliffhanger for this week’s finale.
The episode opens with the kids all too easily getting their hands on guns in order to protect themselves from whatever secret cabal has been trying to take down the town. “I already feel a lot safer,” Butters remarks with a brand new firearm in his hand. Soon, Cartman and his mother get in an armed standoff over what time he has to go to bed.
Meanwhile, Randy Marsh and his new friends, Mr. Garrison, Principal Victoria, and Caitlyn Jenner, are getting closer to uncovering the non-human entity that’s behind the mass gentrification effort. “They’re trying to price our species out of existence,” Randy realizes, before getting into a gun face-off with his own son Stan, who discovers what he’s been up to.
Yet somehow, rather than cause mayhem, guns end up bringing the people of South Park together, allowing them to communicate with each other in a way they haven’t been able to all season. After all, when someone’s pointing a gun at you, you have to listen to them. “Wow, these things are amazing,” Randy marvels.
The episode—and the season as a whole—culminates in the South Park Gun Show, a place, in Kyle’s words, with “so many guns that nothing bad can happen.”
Ultimately, more seemingly unconnected plot strands than we can list here converge at the Purina-sponsored gun show, in which members of the town compete with their firearms like dog-handlers at the Westminster Dog Show. With guns in literally every attendee’s hands, the event turns into one enormous standoff in which we finally learn who was responsible for getting Principal Victoria fired and bringing P.C. Principal into the fold in the first place.
But while P.C. Principal seemed like a villain all season, he ends up being the hero, successfully punching ad-in-human-form Leslie in the face with a powerful blow that destroys her forever. And then the Whole Foods detaches from the earth and flies off into space.
It may not have been the anti-gun message so many of the show’s liberal fans were probably hoping for, but it was a satisfying conclusion to what was arguably one of South Park’s strongest seasons ever.