“The Battle Of Thanksgiving” arrives at an extremely difficult time in the United States right now. I don’t want to get into a whole thing comparing Son Of Zorn to the recent presidential election (that would be just asinine), but in a few weeks, millions of people will be visiting families for Thanksgiving, and there’s no doubt that many of those dinners will be deeply uncomfortable. This is an episode that, in its own warped, ridiculous way, taps into that kind of awkwardness that feels both familiar (to a portion of the population) and specific (to the situation here). I would never say that Son Of Zorn has become some sort of barometer of cultural insight. But I will say that the show has begun a very welcome shift towards something more… worthwhile of commentary, particularly how it now seems to be attempting to explore how a specific culture–even one as ludicrous as Zephyria–is embraced and/or dismissed through various lenses, such as the workplace, the society at large, and, most pressingly, the family unit and the family legacy.

When Son Of Zorn began, it was primarily about a hot-headed, egotistical warrior who forced his way back into his ex-wife’s and son’s life, who mostly spent his time throwing pot-shots at Alan’s perceived fragility and attempting to influence Edie back into his life. Zorn’s more abhorrent behavior was downplayed so as to fit it in a basic sitcom template, in the sense that all those problems could be resolved by a quick, maudlin talk. It didn’t work. Now it feels more like a show about a small family trying to take stock of not only Zorn’s return, but his whole Zephyrian background. It’s all in the little things–Alan’s legs, Edie’s personal decision to run away with Zorn to Zephyria, the social “bigotry” always thrown in Zorn’s direction. Now, it’s in Edie’s mother, whose passive-aggressive putdowns towards Zorn are revealed as an attempt to “expose” Zorn for who he really is (or, more accurately, to expose Zorn for what she believes are natural, negative truths about Zephyrians). And Zorn, in trying to show everyone that he changed, is forced to put up with it.

Admittedly, this is a jarring shift. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that “The Battle Of Thanksgiving” is meant to elicit deep sympathy for Zorn, who spent most of the season being some variation of “asshole.” I would say though that the episode shows a side of a cruel world from his perspective, a perspective that’s a lot more personal than what we’ve seen in “A Taste Of Zephyria.” It’s a perspective that feels darker, too. It begins with Zorn going to work instead of going to Thanksgiving dinner with Edie, Alan, Craig, and Edie’s mom, Roberta (Jenny O’Hara), only to see a lonely Linda there as well. He rushes to the dinner soon after, desperate to show that he changed, to show that he’s capable of being a stable figure for his family. Yet there’s a marked difference in between a stable father figure, and the active denial of being an actual Zephyrian. As Roberta throws more shade towards Zorn, Zorn is expected to stay complacent. Suck it up. She tells him that she surprised that Zephyrians can even learn, a more blunt example of bigotry than any nonsensical, fictitious hate-phrase like “greasy elbows” or “fried hay.” And he’s supposed to maintain his composure? His ex-wife and son buy into this? They then watch a Zephyrian documentary (narrated by Sarah Koenig) that depicts a villain as a misunderstood soul. A piece of media normalizing a villainous figure? Sounds familiar. Even Zorn is righteously mad, even though he appreciated how good the documentary was on the whole.

Even outside of the current political landscape this is deeply uncomfortable. It’s hard to tell how much the episode understands all that, but Jon Kern’s script feels like it acknowledges that Edie and Alan are in the wrong for catering to Roberta actions. I don’t think Craig recognizing Roberta’s baiting is a coincidence either (of course, Craig is such goofy pushover that he’s dismissed). It’s all couched in a generally funny dinner table scene, and it grows to those dark places when Zorn accidentally kills Roberta with a pie as a peace-offering. Don’t worry: they bring her back with a potion and an awkward kiss from Craig, but it’s a development that leaves Zorn deeply guilty. It also allows Edie to discover Roberta’s true intention, and in a short but quietly powerful scene, Roberta says what she truly thinks of Zorn and Edie (“you were such a needy child”), and Edie demands her own mother to leave. Hines and O’Hara make the scene work so well despite its brevity, and I hope O’Hara returns in some capacity, if only to add more tension to disrupting this weird, newly-developed family. Even when Zorn curses out Craig when he, Alan, and Edie stop by his apartment at the end, it feels affectionate, at least in Zephyrian terms.

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Stray observations

  • Zorn’s jock itch story didn’t go anywhere. It was a bit odd it kept coming up as a gag.
  • It did allow the show to introduce Dr. Klorpins, voiced by Nick Offerman, who was perfectly low-key and funny with his matter-of-factness, Offerman’s speciality. His command that Craig needed more tongue and had to bite Roberta’s bottom lip was hysterical.
  • They never show how Alan gathered all the ingredients to make that cure for Roberta’s death. I get the time restraints but I feel like a silly, quick montage would have worked there.
  • I like that Alan and his love for music is getting more play, and his attempt to convince Roberta to pay for music camp gave Pemberton something solid to do. Yet I don’t think it was the best use of that plot, especially since we really don’t get a sense of what Alan really thinks of Roberta’s “catch” in never seeing Zorn again.
  • Craig’s father has cancer and apparently some of his patients killed themselves. Like I said, dark places.

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