Your regularly scheduled South Park duo are busy covering some silly little music festival in Austin tonight, so while Josh and Sean are off eating tacos and being total hipster douchebags, I’m stepping in to ask the question that’s been plaguing all of us for the past 23 minutes or so: Who is Mysterion. Or, uh, the Coon. Or whatever.
Tonight’s episode turned out to be another one of South Park’s signature “fuck you, audience” episodes, but not before it turned in a solid half-hour of superhero parody. “The Coon” used Watchmen, The Dark Knight, and a couple of other comic-book blockbusters to frame a pretty standard Cartman story: After discovering that no one is interested in the superhero identity he’s fashioned for himself—a masked raccoon character who punishes would-be “rapists” with some mildly vexing face-scratching—our favorite fatass sets out to find and destroy the guy who aped his shtick, some butt-pirate in underpants who calls himself Mysterion.
The setup was pretty tame, both in terms of target (ooh, a superhero parody, don’t hurt yourselves, guys) and Cartman’s antics—though I guess he can’t always be killing his enemies’ parents and inciting genocide. Not that those are necessarily negatives: The specter of big, satirical bogeymen (Scientology, Family Guy, whatever) on South Park can get tiresome, and I’ve always preferred the low-stakes assholery of Cartman to his more malicious escapades. (Sure, he was about to blow up a hospital, a la The Joker, but since he never actually got the detonators from ACE Hardware, I’m choosing to chalk that one up as an empty threat.)
Personally, I think one of the funniest gags on South Park is Frustrated Cartman, so I got a kick out of his continually foiled efforts to become “the symbol this town needs,” from his über-fail of a convention (which led to a fun callback to the Ginger Kids and AIDS episodes) to his frustrated “I got boned, that’s what I did mom!” That it led to him eventually teaming up with Chaos and General Disarray in a plot to force Mysterion out from behind his (her?) mask, culminating in an epic slap fight high above the city, was a nice bit of icing on the cake.
I’m glad “The Coon” didn’t turn out to be a full-blown Watchmen parody, as it initially seemed (that opening shot…). That would have opened the doors for all sorts of sermonizing, rather than the fun character-based story we got tonight. Instead, the incorporation of The Dark Knight, The Spirit, and Spider-Man 3 (Am I missing other references? I’m sure I am.) led to a lot of funny, if maybe a tad obvious gags, my favorite of which was the gravel-voiced showdown between the Rorschach-y Coon and the Batman-ish Mysterion. (The self-important voiceover was a hoot, especially when it switched over to Mysterion in the second act.) Plus, it let the animators have fun with some really cool shots that were obviously lifted directly from those films.
Then there’s that ending. I suppose I should have seen it coming, but I’ll admit was duped into thinking Mysterion’s identity would indeed be revealed. Well, it was revealed, just not to us. It’s really not important who it is—knowing wouldn’t really add another layer to that character, which was pretty much just a one-dimensional excuse to make Cartman angry. But I’ve never been a fan of South Park’s “aren’t we clever” non-reveals—though I’m sure many of you will have the exact opposite reaction—so this was just a sad trombone of an ending to an otherwise really likable episode.
• Another great gag: Chaos’ Mysterion suspects wall panning over to his puny Coon suspects wall, consisting of only Bruce Vilanch and Harvey Fierstein. The kicker, during the rooftop battle later on: “Isn’t that Bruce Vilanch?”
• Maybe I’m missing something, but what was the point of Mysterion visiting Kyle, beyond showing us that he wasn’t Kyle? Mysterion enlisting him to help do “background checks” didn’t actually lead to anything, did it? Ugh, cartoons are hard.
• “I hate the world and all its puny inhabitants and all that, but blowing up a hospital, it just seems mean.”
• OMG, did Mysterion just die? No, he just fell into a pile of burlap sacks. Phew.