Son Of Zorn

“The Battle Of Self-Acceptance” opens on Edie and Zorn’s wedding video, further supporting regular reviewer Kevin Johnson’s assertion that the show has shifted toward a focus on these characters reconciling their pasts with their presents. It provides some over-the-top Zephyrian shenanigans (Zorn has to viciously slay one of Edie’s exes, who objects to the union), but it also sets up the episode’s central plot: Craig sees Zorn defending Edie, and it plants a seed of self-doubt within him. Eventually, Craig asks Zorn to teach him to be more like him. The story moves along neatly, building to its final big moment. But it never really clicks. Since when does Craig care about masculinity? Since when does Zorn get under his skin?

The episode unfolds as if Craig’s insecurities have been a long time coming, but “The Battle Of Self-Acceptance” sacrifices character development for the sake of plot development. Even though on the surface, it seems like this episode is finally letting Craig into the spotlight, everything that happens to him is just a way of moving Zorn along in his character arc. And that has always been one of Son Of Zorn’s most damaging problems: Everyone else on the show exists merely as devices. They don’t stand on their own.

Tim Meadows’ acting and the weird specificities of how Craig is written have been the show’s most consistent strengths. The running gag that Craig is a terrible therapist came to a brilliant head in “Radioactive Ex-Girlfriend.” But when it comes to his more involved storyline in “The Battle Of Self-Acceptance,” the pieces don’t line up quite as well. In some ways, Craig works best as the show’s nerdy jester—doling out one-liners and landing laughs that cut through much of the otherwise obvious and flat humor. Craig stands out. The comedy surrounding the character is unexpected and original, and Meadows heightens it all with spot-on delivery. In “The Battle Of Self-Acceptance,” Craig is shoehorned into a static storyline that can’t even manage to make a training montage funny. And it’s all for the sake of plot.

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Trying to make sense of character motivations on Son Of Zorn might be a futile task. But in recent episodes, it has become a more character-driven show. And it has to make the characters work if it’s ever going to transcend its limiting premise. Son Of Zorn isn’t quite the incisive satire aimed at toxic masculinity that its initial premise suggested. And Edie and Alan have slowly but surely become more important parts of the story. Craig has always been interesting because of his unexpected reactions to Zorn. He isn’t jealous. He tolerates Zorn’s presence in Edie’s life. He goes against all the controlling, rage-fueled masculinity bullshit that Zorn embodies. And to walk that back even slightly takes away from the character’s power in this universe. The show already has too much Zorn going on. It doesn’t need Craig borrowing Zorn’s traits.

Alan’s storyline, at least, does build sharply on the work of previous episodes. Alan’s inability to accept his Zephyrian lower-half has been the most consistent thing about the character. And the storytelling around it has often felt circular, but in “The Battle Of Self-Acceptance,” there is finally a turning point. Alan wins the battle of self-acceptance, finally revealing to Layla (who, at this point, is still pretty much just a cipher, which makes it hard to get invested in her relationship with Alan) his true self. It all comes from a genuine place, and Zorn’s eventual heartfelt talk with Alan about feelings on the inside trumping appearances on the outside rings as emotionally honest, too. Alan’s ongoing identity crisis has real potential for a meaningful story about dual identity, difference, and self-acceptance. But Son Of Zorn isn’t equipped with the nuances and sharpness to really dig into that kind of character-driven storytelling.

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There’s also some workplace drama shoved into the episode. Son Of Zorn often indiscriminately throws family sitcom tropes and workplace sitcom tropes in a way that doesn’t really engage with those tropes or turn them on their head. The show strives for satire but falls short. All that really comes out of the office storyline this week is Zorn’s realization that Linda is a woman…finally. That ends up being crucial to the episode’s emotional climax, but the way the episode gets there is rather roundabout.

Son Of Zorn isn’t a subtle show, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be. “Radioactive Ex-Girlfriend” made its markedly unsubtle premise work. But “The Battle Of Self-Acceptance” hits its plot points as clumsily and bluntly as Zorn’s attempts to “shred” paper, and it sacrifices Craig for the sake of Zorn. The characters are just pawns in Zorn’s story, and it’s increasingly difficult to decipher whether we’re supposed to be hoping for Zorn to change or just accepting that he will always be this barbarian and expecting the other characters to just navigate that. Craig thinks Zorn has changed by episode’s end. And thankfully the episode then takes another sharp turn, veering away from the too tidy conclusion that Zorn is a better man now in favor of a darker, more real ending. Zorn is still Zorn. And hopefully that means Craig will be back.

Stray observations

  • Blake Lively has tentacles apparently.
  • If nothing else, this episode gifts us with Nick Offerman saying “bitch better have my money.”
  • It also gifts us with the visual of Tim Meadows brandishing a Swiffer in a sleeveless tank.
  • “There is a ghost in my chest that scares the blood around my body.” The weirder Zephyrian mythology and details get, the more I like it.

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