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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

PC Principal rides the line between hero and villain on the season finale of South Park

Illustration for article titled PC Principal rides the line between hero and villain on the season finale of iSouth Park/i
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Last week, South Park started dropping bombshells all over the place without actually letting them hit the ground. The biggest one, of course, was the true motivation/background of both PC Principal and Leslie. Many of you suspected that they were working together, while others (myself included) thought the show was hinting that PC Principal may actually be a hero by the end of the season. Tonight’s finale revealed that both theories are correct—sort of.

Although the PC bros are definitely helping the Ads (it feels right to capitalize them now) achieve world domination, they’re doing so inadvertently, as every character—all of whom are chasing a different red herring for most of the episode—discover by the end. The most coherent explanation comes early on from Nathan, who’s lounging around his Ad-provided penthouse with a hooker named Classi (spelled with an “i” and a little dick that hangs off the “c” and fucks the “l” out of the “a-s-s”) as he rubs the whole conspiracy in Jimmy’s face. “What is PC but a verbal form of gentrification?” he asks his enemy. “Spruce everything up, get rid of all the ugliness in order to create a false sense of paradise. Only one thing can actually live in that world: Ads.”


Schematically, the Ads have begun their takeover by commodifying PC culture, which, in the wrong hands, is already a commodification of empathy, tolerance, and the crusade for social justice. That’s resulted in the several global variations on SodoSopa we saw in “Truth And Advertising”: highly expensive urban centers that will gentrify the entire Earth until no one—the poor nor the rich—can afford to live on the planet anymore. That’s when the machines (I mean the Ads) will take over. Nathan, fulfilling the Joe Pantoliano role from The Matrix, is following them straight to the top, riding the digital coattails of Leslie and the other Ads until they inevitably get rid of him.

In what’s perhaps the biggest twist of the season, it’s PCP who first starts to figure this out, having grown suspicious after the pussy-crushing article hit the press in “Sponsored Content.” Even though it was Jimmy—a non-Ad—who was behind that article, it was enough to get him looking in the right places.

So yes, the man poised to be the show’s most dangerous villain all season ends up leading the takedown of the Ads, although he doesn’t know that they’re Ads right off the bat; just that they’re not human. After a pseudo-rōnin quest where he travels the world, violently picking off Ads and their human lackeys at the assorted gentrified districts (I was really hoping we’d get to see NoMoAuchie), he confronts Leslie during the episode’s climax at a local gun show. Rather than resort to firearms (would a gun even work on an Ad?), he plows his fist through her face and out the back of her head, his knuckles dripping and glowing with blue cybernetic goo.

That’s definitely not the resolution I would have expected a few weeks ago, and I’m still marinating on how it plays into the final statement of the season. There’s no mistake that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been making fun of the bullying, mob mentality, and oversensitivity that often accompany political correctness (as well as the fanaticism of the far right with Mr. Garrison’s Trump-like ascent) throughout most of their 19th year. But the final three episodes set up PC culture as nothing more than a pawn of a greater evil. The show’s creators have now moved past simply making fun of social-justice warriors in favor of examining how the SJW mentality can leave one vulnerable to corporate manipulation. That’s a far more complex message than “PC culture = stupid and bad.”


The episode gets even more complicated in its final moments. Since PCP has saved the day, he’s asked to stay on as principal of South Park Elementary. Just as it seems that normalcy has been restored in the community, he’s giving one of his trademark inspirational(?) speeches to a gym full of blank-faced students. However, his demeanor is somewhat different. He seems quieter, less aggressive, and not as much of a violent goon as when we first met him. The differences are subtle, but if you watch the two clips back to back, it’s clear there’s been a change.

It’s way too early to declare PCP a fully transformed man—he may be just as bad next season as he was for most of this season—but since his call for unity among everyone in order to fully defeat the Ads is less forceful than his previous speeches, perhaps he’s slowly hoisting himself up to a more open-minded middle ground. Also, his following line plays over a shot of Mr. Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner preparing for their U.S. presidential campaign in 2016: “A lot of changes will happen in the coming months. The bottom line is that the only thing that distinguishes those who want to kill us from those who don’t is that we have the burning desire for social justice.” Are Parker and Stone implying that PCP will also be the one to take out Garrison and Jenner, should they ascend to office? Or are they saying that he’s still just as awful as those two, that, when it comes to leadership in South Park, everyone will once again be forced to decide between a giant douche and a turd sandwich?


The mysterious nature of the ending all comes back to Parker and Stone’s refusal to be politically pigeonholed. It’s easy to twist South Park into a screed for your political beliefs, whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian (a party of which Parker is a registered member), or something else, and yet the show is never simple enough to adhere to one ideology. Just look at how “PC Principal Final Justice” treats guns. On one hand, it makes fun of how absurdly easy it is for someone to purchase a firearm in the United States, cutting immediately from Cartman asking “How are we going to get our hands on guns?” to the boys cocking newly purchased weapons on the basketball court.

Then again, not a single gun gets fired in the episode (not even by Officer Barbrady!), and they’re instead used as tools that inspire thoughtful, if tense and heated, conversation among all of the characters. Does this mean that Parker and Stone—despite having always stood up for gun rights—believe that all debates should be settled with a stadium full of people engaged in a Mexican standoff? I highly doubt it. But it certainly drives home their staunch belief in the right to bear arms.


And that’s okay. Given the uptick of mass shootings in the U.S. in recent years, I’m someone who believes that we should have way, way stricter gun-control laws. But that doesn’t mean I can’t laugh at a show that has a different point of view, especially when that same show doesn’t take its own politics too seriously. Even the gun-friendly Parker and Stone recognize the obsession and fetishization that gets attached to weapons, setting a cheerful montage of South Park’s citizens buying guns to runway music, then treating the gun show itself like the Westminster Dog Show. Contestants trot onto the arena floor with rifles and pistols at their sides like purebreds, going as far to pet them while the announcers declare the make and model with the same relish usually reserved for dog breeds.

Or maybe the bit has nothing to do at all with the obsession and fetishization of weapons. Maybe Parker and Stone just wrote it because it’s surprising, and all great comedy has an element of surprise. The same goes for the aforementioned ambiguity of the episode’s ending. “The only way to win this war is to be as understanding, non-biased, and politically correct as possible,” PCP tells the kids, prompting Stan to look sideways to Kyle. “This is gonna be really hard,” he says. Is he referring to the fight for a better, Ad-free world (and the eventual fight against Garrison and Jenner) or the fact that the town is going to continue to be under the influence of PC Principal and his frat brothers? Like everything else in the 19th season of South Park, the line of dialogue is more layered than it seems. Try twisting it to your own agenda, and you’ll come up empty.


Stray observations

  • I didn’t get into as many of the plot details as usual in the above review, but there was a lot of ground to cover.
  • I’m glad Classi had a visualization of the letter-fucking in her name emblazoned on the side of her car. As soon as I saw it, everything became clear.
  • Was the sailor named Weathers supposed to be Carl Weathers?
  • I appreciated that Kyle, one of the most sensitive, intelligent characters on South Park, was swayed by Leslie to be anti-PC.
  • “I ain’t no Mimsy asshole. I’m a classy bitch.”
  • “I don’t care if they’re aliens or they’re vampires. We need to round ’em up and fuck ’em until they’re dead.”
  • “We’re going to kill him with kindness. But instead of kindness, we’re going to use guns.”
  • “There will be so many guns that nothing bad can happen.”

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