If nothing else, we can rest easy knowing that Eric Cartman didn’t unwittingly destroy the wormhole to Plymouth when he shot Polly Prissy Pants last week. Amen for small miracles. Tonight’s South Park spent absolutely no time dwelling on the events of last week, favoring instead an attack on The History Channel, apophenia, and Natalie Portman’s vagina. (Just like a few of you predicted in last week’s comments. You all are incredible.) Things started slow, but picked up in the second half of the episode. When people think back on this season, this won’t be an episode that will immediately spring to mind by any stretch. But as far as silly episodes written and drawn by people who have seen a shitload of Thor recently, this wasn’t bad.
Events kick off tonight when the boys get assigned a school project related to Thanksgiving. Rather than actually do the required research, Cartman suggests they just watch a few hours of The History Channel in order to get the needed information in a quick manner. What follows is a parody of that channel’s recent foray into quasi-history programming, such as “MonsterQuest.” But rather than accuse The History Channel of acting in bad faith, tonight’s episode suggests they are just eager, albeit incredibly stupid, students of history themselves. They literally don’t know anything, and so they soak up any crackpot theory in an attempt to fill in their own gaps of knowledge. That’s both a kinder and crueler assessment of the History Channel brass than simply accusing them of actively appealing to the lowest common denominator. In essence, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are saying, “Look, these people are too stupid to know what the word ‘denominator’ even means.”
The History Channel executives get wind of the boys’ report (lovingly done in crayon) and start incorporating their views into another special. What follows is a feedback loop in which 1) the kids parrot back information learned from The History Channel, and then 2) the executives take it as new information that confirms they are actually something. In this case, that “something” is an alien-infested inaugural Thanksgiving dinner. Kyle spouts mounds of bullshit in the hopes of opening everyone’s eyes to the historical inaccuracies on display, but all he does is provide great talking head footage for the channel.
Kyle’s anger is only slightly removed from the typical rhetorical trick on display in these specials: rather than refuting the impossible, these “experts” simply point out that it’s impossible to actually disprove certain things. This puts an unfair burden of proof on realists, who get frustrated at having to prove things like “stuffing is not alien technology.” (It’s a favorite technique of certain political movements as well, though tonight’s episode sidesteps that connection altogether.) However, in a typical South Park twist, it turns out that everything Kyle makes up to disprove the existence of aliens in 17th century New England is in fact completely and utterly true. He also gets the honorary title of “Professor of Thanksgiving: DeVry University” for his efforts.
Kyle obtains this perceived level of academic authority through the aforementioned apophenia. Apophenia refers to the tendency to see patterns that don’t actually exist. Kyle uses a hand-drawn turkey as a fake example of such a pattern, but the five fingers of that turkey in fact describe a series of planets connected by wormholes. (Those planets: Earth, Plymouth, Indi, Colthenheim, and Green Lantern Planet. Poor Green Lantern.) Plymouth resembles Asgard, which stands in détente with Indi over the all-important stuffing mines. “He who controls the stuffing, controls the universe,” declares Pilgrim leader Miles Standish. When Standish is pulled through a wormhole to Earth, he runs into Natalie Portman (Thor alert!) in the desert, the stuffing supply on Earth starts to run out, and the Plymouth/Indi war erupts anew.
(Just look at that fucking paragraph. Wow. If you are reading this, and didn’t see the episode, no…I’m not making any of that up. It happened on my television, and now I’m writing about it on Al Gore’s interwebs.)
Everything before Standish’s arrival was OK, but fairly limp. Having The History Channel’s ineptitude and David “Running Horse” Sowinski driving the comedy didn’t really hit any high notes. But Standish employing “Professor” Broflovski to help get back to Plymouth was top-notch all the way. From incinerating Sowinski, to commenting on Kyle’s anger (“He almost seems like a Puritan lady, whose period has stopped.”), and simply giving the plot some manic energy throughout the back half, Standish’s presence elevated the proceedings beyond its mediocre start. Of course, there was one thing he couldn’t do: open Natalie Portman’s wormhole.
Full disclosure: I haven’t see Thor yet. I know enough to recognize Asgard, The Destroyer (aka, The Anti-Indian Device), and Portman herself. So I’m not sure if her shy act tonight was representative of what she does in that movie or just a representation Parker/Stone thought would be funny. Either way, it was deeply wrong but deeply amusing, so I don’t really care either away. Sorry, Winona Ryder: your ping-pong ball trick from Bigger, Longer, Uncut just doesn’t seem impressive anymore. Watching Kyle pretend to be interested in her dual citizenship so she would agree to spread her legs at Plymouth Rock isn’t something you’re going to see on The Middle anytime soon. So thank South Park for scratching an itch I’m not sure anyone knew they had.
In the end, are lessons learned? Just like in this season as a whole, not at all. The History Channel goes even further down the conspiracy hole, adding ghosts to the Thanksgiving alien mix. If you wanted to go deep with this episode, you could argue that tonight’s edition represented the ability to actually transcend imagination by turning thought into actualization. But even I wouldn’t go that far, and I’ve been willing to go a lot further than many in terms of attempting to extract meaning from a (Plymouth) stone. I guess I fashioned myself a type of Keeper of the Portal with these reviews. But after tonight? That’s a role I don’t need to occupy. It was hard enough being The Keymaster back in the 1980’s. Not sure I’m willing to take up that type of mantle again. For now, I’ll forgo heavy analysis and just wait for next week’s season finale.
- The parade of “experts” on The History Channel was brutal. A high school teacher, a member of the Culinary Associates of America, and a professor at The University of Phoenix all came on with triple, quadruple, and quintuple negatives at the ready.
- Having had a college roommate who was 1/16th Native American, yet constantly called me “racist” for not sharing my Doritos with him, I could relate to the boys as they dealt with “Running Horse” tonight.
- In the world of South Park, The Jonas Brothers have videos on MTV. That might have been more unbelievable than the idea of a corn-laden Asgard-esque planet inhabited by Pilgrims.
- While I picked up on the Thor parody fairly quickly, when Standish first landed on Earth, my first thought was, “Holy shit, they are doing a Starman parody and that’s Karen Allen in the truck.”
- The designs for Plymouth, while ridiculous, were also ridiculously beautiful. The corn-infused décor was silly but gorgeously rendered.
- “I do not give three bowls of stuffing, what sayeth you.”
- “Look, if anyone knows about stuffing, it’s Natalie Portman!”