Even if you’re unsure of who or what Trey Parker and Matt Stone are targeting at the beginning of a South Park episode, it usually becomes clear by the end. Not so with “Truth And Advertising.” In fact, it’s a chapter of the increasingly epic season 19 that relies almost entirely on cryptic intentions, shifting allegiances, and general confusion among the characters as they try to unravel who’s really behind the recent madness around town.

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This lack of resolution results from everyone constantly getting distracted by advertising, which is revealed to be more sentient than ever during a Matrix-esque narration sequence from Jimmy. We witness the ads’ power firsthand when the boys, after reading a bogus story in the school paper about PC Principal taking Jimmy and Leslie on a Disney cruise, start to research why they really disappeared. Although none of them believe the explanation from Nathan—who now runs the paper in Jimmy’s absence—that doesn’t keep them from getting sucked down a rabbit hole of pop-ups and sponsored content that eventually leads them away from the computer. As they relax at an ice cream parlor, then a shoe store they saw marketed online, they start to realize the powerful grip advertising has on them, even wondering if one of them might —like Leslie—be a walking, talking ad. This leads to intense paranoia and a fistfight between Stan and Kyle, all of which is revealed to be part of Nathan’s plan to keep them from finding out any answers.

Mr. Garrison, Principal Victoria, and Caitlyn Jenner face a similar problem when, decked out in unconvincing disguises, they infiltrate South Park to take down the gentrified regime instilled by Randy, Mayor McDaniels, and the PC Bros. After interrogating (then recruiting) Randy—so broke from Whole Foods that he can no longer afford to live in South Park—they sneak into the frat house. However, right as they’re about to discover important information about PC Principal on the computer, they get lured into the same ice cream and sneakers trap as the boys. Once again, nothing gets resolved.

The most information we get comes from Jimmy’s time with Leslie, but even that may not be what it seems. Believing her to be an altruistic enemy of PCP, Jimmy helps her escape the newsmen with some assistance from Officer Barbrady, only to be viciously assaulted by her at the school. It appears that she’s in cahoots with Nathan, who seems to serve the ads the same way Gollum serves the One Ring or Harold Lauder serves Randall Flagg. Then again, maybe she’s actually duping Jimmy’s arch-rival and her offering to reveal the truth to Kyle in the episode’s final moments is sincere. Or maybe it’s all of these things. If science fiction’s taught me anything, it’s that androids (sorry, ads) are capable of severe inner conflict.

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As imperative as all this ongoing mystery is for a satisfying finale next week, it also makes “Truth And Advertising” a little weaker as a standalone episode. There are definitely laughs to be had (I could watch Caitlyn Jenner kick the shit out of Randy and obliviously mow down joggers for hours), but the disparate story threads make them feel isolated. Except for the idea of advertising distracting us from getting any work done, there’s just not much of a thesis to latch on to.

That lack of a final statement is a rarity for South Park, even if it’s by design since we’re not supposed to know who to trust at this point. Is PCP or Leslie the true villain of the season? Or is it both of them? Or neither? If the finale unveils PCP as some sort of secret hero, then… well I won’t know what to think. Regardless of what the final reveal ends up being, I’m betting it will make “Truth And Advertising” more narratively satisfying in retrospect. For now though, the episode serves as a solid—if scattered—setup for the home stretch.

Stray observations

  • As Principal Victoria points out, many places across the globe now have their own version of SodoSopa. My favorite title (and probably yours, too) was Auschwitz’s NoMoAuchie.
  • That reminds me, have any of you Chicagoans been to NewCity? I definitely get some serious SodoSopa vibes from it. Still, I do love the Arclight Cinemas. And Nando’s!
  • Bill Hader really knows how to rock that soft, buttery newsman voice.
  • Hateful as they are towards others on the show, did anyone else find Mr. Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner’s rapport kind of…sweet? I love the little smirk they both do whenever they’re ribbing each other.
  • Of course the PC Bros’ idea of a hunger strike is going two days without eating any pussy.
  • That beatdown of Jimmy was definitely an homage to Ex Machina, right?
  • “So, uh, South Park kinda sucks now. You guys wanna bail?”
  • “Check his ass!”
  • “His dick is compromised. Stay back!”
  • “You are such an asshole.”

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