Has the idea of the big reveal completely lost its effectiveness on South Park? Because after a season packed with them, the plot device does nothing for me. Tonight’s revelation that Troll Trace’s CEO, Bedrager, is actually a troll himself should have been the biggest bombshell of the season. But instead, it lands with shrug—its surprise ruined by the simple fact that we’ve seen too much of this sort of thing already. From Gerald being Skankhunt42 to the Member Berries being more intelligent than we initially thought, this has been a season filled with characters fooling others about who they really are.

While that’s not always a bad thing (those first two reveals were some of the strongest plot points of the season), the comedic gut punch devolves into a one-handed shove when it plays out the same exact way every single time. Zoom in on the character’s face. Ominous music. A wicked smile as they reveal their true intentions. Repeat next week. What could be a resonant running theme is now nothing more than old hat.

Also, Bedrager being flat-out malicious instead of just misguided strips Troll Trace of much of its terror. Yeah, his final speech about purposely riling everyone up and preying upon human beings’ ugliest instincts is a somewhat chilling reference to Donald Trump’s rise to power. But we already have a suitable Trump surrogate on the show, and Troll Trace was always a hell of a lot scarier when it came from good intentions. Before, it was an innovation that supposedly sprung from Denmark’s desire to fight online cruelty. It was ill-informed—not just spiteful—and that’s what made it so frightening. You could see how it could happen in real life. You could see how oversensitivity and the desire to protect one’s self could lead to a serious threat to free speech.

Now though, it’s just another troll move in of itself (albeit the ultimate troll move), orchestrated the entire time by someone who gets off on fucking with humanity on a global level. Its power relies on the goals of a single supervillain, and that suddenly feels lazy—an unfortunate symptom of the fatalistic everything-and-everyone-sucks outlook that South Park sometimes falls back on in its weaker storytelling moments. To be fair, there are some isolated stretches that work well within it, particularly Gerald’s cowardly backpedaling. Not only does his groveling expose common internet trolls for what they really are; it shows how weak the case for detached, ironic humor truly is, even when it gets passed off as half-baked intellectualism. The more Gerald tearfully tries to defend his despicable behavior as some kind of socially important satire, the more pathetic he becomes.

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Mr. Garrison has a similar unraveling, proving himself to be more and more childlike as he grapples with whether or not to bomb Denmark. True to the real life Donald Trump, he’s easily swayed by whoever taunts hims the loudest and most recently, vowing to attack when Mr. Slave says he doesn’t have the balls to do so, then backing down when Kyle uses the same tactic. It’s one of the episode’s few moments of laugh-out-loud humor, tinged with a bitter sting since we’re witnessing this sort of behavior from our president-elect literally every day.

The Cartman/Heidi storyline also continues to make headway, becoming one of the only threads where a clear endgame is in sight. When Heidi’s Emoji analysis allows her to actually figure out the necessary trajectory to Mars, Cartman can’t handle it. He only likes the superficial idea of Heidi being intelligent, not her actually being intelligent and all the complexity that comes with it. It’s much easier for him to laugh at the same dumb vagina reference over and over rather than take her seriously as a person.

But that’s only one of many disparate subplots that has to reach some kind of satisfying conclusion in just one more episode’s time. What about the Member Berries? Where the hell did Hillary Clinton go? And like everything else, the Cartman/Heidi relationship still gets steamrolled by “Not Funny”’s dud of an ending. I suppose one could defend it as being slyly metafictional—this idea of everyone’s inability to stay away from the internet leading to all of us getting trolled all the time, even by the show itself. But as I said, that feels like a copout. South Park has proven time and time again that it can do better than the rehashed “gotcha” moment. Hopefully next week’s finale will get away from this conceit, which seems to be turning into the default strategy for the season.

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Stray observations

  • It seems strange that Mr. Slave would be on the side wanting to bomb Denmark. He’s always seemed more rational than that. Then again, this is a man who shoved Paris Hilton up his own ass.
  • Was anyone else reminded of Charlie Brown and Linus’ brick-wall conversations when Butters and Cartman talked about girlfriends while leaning on the railing?
  • For a minute, I was hoping we’d get another episode centered around Harrison Yates.
  • I don’t know if Gerald’s ever been more horrible than when frantically throwing his own sons under the bus.
  • “Could you just do that ‘my vagina’ thing for them? Could you just say ‘my vagina?’”
  • “And you shit out your dick!”

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