I had been catching up on my South Park since it’s now available on HBOMax. Thus, I had been eagerly anticipating the newest season for a while, although the last seasons had been a bunch of hits and misses. The starter episode entitled The Pandemic Special probably has hit home harder a lot of the key points since the COVID-19 started.
I feel that the last few seasons of South Park had been the writers grasping at anything. While probably the biggest subplot has been Trump as seen through the portrayal by Mr Garrison, most of the seasons felt dry and energiless compared to past ones.
But when a major issue like COVID-19 comes up, I think South Park truly can shine. Here, it feels the writers not only had a ton of material to work with, but a lot of pent up frustration shared by everyone in the world, especially for Americans who aren’t used to the prison-like conditions of the pandemic.
There’s a lot of meat in a variety of issues packed into this episode. Obviously, the biggest is how the world has changed. Everyone in the show are wearing masks at first with a few being conflicted. We start off seeing Butters being depressed while his father, wearing a mask, yells at one of the other parents for covering only half his face.
This reaction is absolute truth. From my own experience, my friends are all on extreme sides of the equation. Some of my friends express their outrage like Mr. Stotch where they openly criticize others for not wearing a mask properly (often using Facebook). Others feel no need to wear the mask, claiming that their own healthy lifestyle make the situation absurd.
Right after, the town holds an informal meeting where Randy Marsh gloats over his success of being a weed seller, making snide, passive-aggressive remarks to those individuals within the town who lost their businesses due to COVID-19. While Randy Marsh isn’t an inherently evil person, Randy Marsh’s character over the seasons has become more outlandish and annoying, almost worse than Cartman in terms of being insensitive.
On the other hand, his family members all have been slowly distancing themselves from Randy over the past seasons, especially his wife Sharon. Sharon effectively has become the voice of reason in their household and is probably what the audience is thinking whenever Randy does something stupid.
Contrasting everyone else’s attitude towards the pandemic’s isolation is Cartman. Cartman has fully embraced social distancing where he subverts the idea of six feet distancing towards even his mother and uses “bad internet” as an excuse to effectively play hooky during the virtual classroom.
Now, before going more into the plot, I just want to say that I still believe the showrunners of South Park have a secret camera hooked into my home along with reading this blog and other outlets of social media that I use and possibly interviewing friends of mine. I mean, Cartman, for all intents and purposes, is me here. I love the stay at home policies because it has reduced traffic, crowds and let me work from home for the most part. Not only that but I ended up taking cooking up as a hobby and have made my time effective. So my life has not been ruined at all.
However, Cartman is still a child and has to deal with the other children and that world, unlike me (in terms of his general existence) So that’s one area that I lack a certain type of perspective, which will be important down the line in the plot.
At any rate, Cartman’s mom points out that the school is trying to get the kids back into class, which destroys this new glass cocoon of peace and happiness Cartman finds.
In the meantime, we learn that Jimbo is in the hospital with COVID-19 and practically dying, which is something that Randy Marsh denigrates as Jimbo’s fault for being a fat alcoholic instead. Still, as they watch TV, it’s revealed that the disease was first discovered in Wuhan.
Here, Randy, who had been doing business with the Chinese, reminisces about his night life with Mickey Mouse while in China. He recalls in a haze how they both ended up fucking a bat, which possibly had started the outbreak. Then he contacts Mickey Mouse about they had started it all.
Despite hating Kyle and wanting to stay away from Kyle, Cartman actually visits Kyle to protests the idea of returning to school because he wants to use Kyle’s father as a lawyer. Of course, Kyle points out the irony, which is something Cartman can’t deny (which is odd and almost out of character for him).
A Zoom call between the parents and Mr Mackey go on with a near riotous result. It forces Mr Mackey to mute people individually and prevent them from arguing. But we learn that the school allowed the teachers to stay away which would force the school to hire new, recently “out of work” people. And those people are the police, who lost their funding from the protests of violence.
At the farm, Randy and family watch the news to discover that the virus was pinpointed to a pangolin and Randy recalls that he had sex with one (which was wrong in all sorts of manners, but I digress….)
At the school, things try to resume with the police now being the instructors (complete with them still bearing arms). Cartman is hauled like a piggy into class then pretends to vomit on Kyle. Kyle no longer can take Cartman’s intolerable action and they break into a fight. The police, of course, react by opening fire into the classroom and only hit Token.
We see that the pangolin is kept at a science facility in the US where scientists attempt to figure out a cure. Among a group of science tourists is Randy, who steals the pangolin. However, he receives a package from Mickey Mouse and a call with Mickey saying Randy is a dead man. However, Randy figures out that he could use his own DNA to infuse with the weed he’s growing to create a cure. He does this by masturbating and placing the remnants into a jar then sees the huge collection of jars, which makes him pull down his pants since he has a lot of work to do.
He visits Jimbo, masturbates once more into a fresh batch of weed (which is odd since supposedly he had all the jars already prepared beforehand) and forces Jimbo to smoke a blunt. Apparently, Jimbo recovers and Sharon is able to retrieve him from the hospital. This deludes Randy into thinking that he has in fact created a cure and he starts to freshly masturbate for his customers in a little shed similar to Cartman’s for his assburgers.
But there is a side effect where Jimbo grows a Randy Marsh-like mustache. Although Sharon doesn’t seem to recognize the shape of the mustache, Randy does making him even more paranoid and wanting to destroy all his products. At the hospital ward, the spread has gotten worse with everyone now sprouting a mustache, even the women.
Back at the school, the kids have been quarantined as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak. Stan calls out the police saying that their incompetence in shooting Token is what really occurred. But they deny everything and blame the situation as a leap in logic to COVID-19, which means that the kids are forced to live in what Cartman effectively and not-so-ironically had described the situation earlier as slavery.
Butters has a nervous breakdown about the Build-A-Bear situation, which is what he was demure about at the beginning of the episode. The mood in the school is more akin to a prison ever since the police had taken over (more on this in a bit). Butters is taken away while Stan has an epiphany that the kids need to help Butters.
So the police state of the school is very much a calling out to the reaction of many states initially to the pandemic, especially California where Trey Parker and Matt Stone, I think are currently based. California Governor Newsom, while some have felt being progressive on the issue, was probably the most radical in handing down very imperialistic edicts towards people here, which only resulted in a lot of resentment (heck, at one time the protestors marched onto Mayor Garcetti’s property, even though it all was after the start of the BLM movement gaining a large amount of traction for George Floyd)
The best part here is where Stan, who effectively acts as a voice of reason at times and generally Trey Parker’s own feelings in my opinion, assaults the lack of logic in the police’s arguments. Anyone who has been keeping up with events in the country will see the flaws and lack of accountability in the current police system. The show portrays them quite brutally more than ever in this episode as mindless warmongers, who have enough of a low cunning to justify their malpractices.
There is a cameo by Dr Fauci who instructs people how to wear the “face diapers” properly. At this point, it is Mr. Stotch, who now defies the face mask procedure and basically says “fuck you!” to the useless Dr.
Here, I found it funny how Mr. Stotch made a 180 in his position about the masks. We never see the actual reasoning behind his switch in attitude, but my best interpretation is that a lot of people probably either got fed up or switch sides.
During this, Butters starts to bemoan the fact that he’ll never get a chance to have his Build-A-Bear experience while Stan starts getting anxiety and feels the need to defy the rules. He calls up Mr Garrison (i.e. the president) directly, using duplicity from name dropping Mr Slave but only finds out Mr Garrison’s true intention of letting the pandemic destroy the country: to get rid of the Mexicans as part of his campaign promise.
I have to pause again here to say that when you look at how things have evolved, it certainly looks like Trump has been doing something fishy in not reacting to the pandemic up to this point (outside of getting it; but that’s another story). Part of it might be the writers alluding to some of the conspiracy theorists (me!) in believing that Trump is actually trying to destroy the country by remaining impotent.
Either way, Stan and the rest of the students stage a break out, which causes a mass riot in the town as fear of super spreaders by the kids makes the news. All Hell breaks loose and the mayor gives the police their armaments back, allowing them to kill the innocents in very violent manners (Kenny among those).
Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Butters make it to the Build-A-Bear where they’re denied entrance as a result of someone being stricken by the mustache plague entering the establishment. Nonetheless, Stan is not perturbed and sneaks the group inside where he takes it upon himself to try to make Butters a bear.
Meanwhile, Randy tries to dispose of the evidence in stacking the jars up in his truck. However, Sharon stops him because their son is missing and tells him, “Fuck you!” so that they can rescue their boy. As the go through the wreckage of town, Randy discovers Applebee’s take the fall (along with Red Robin earlier). He mourns the loss of yet another business that he liked personally and decides that he needs to rectify things.
At the Build-A-Bear store, Stan continues to fail disastrously at making the bear to the point where his friends question his actions. But he remains determined as a tank pulls up and is ready to murder Kyle. At that moment, Randy comes clean with the pangolin without fully disclosing the source of the DNA.
As the main scientist for COVID-19 accepts the pangolin, Cartman rushes out to snatch the creature away and threaten to burn it in the do-over machine. However, here’s where the show gets real.
Stan reveals the entire reason for his actions is his own fear at what’s become of him and what the COVID-19 response has done. He simply wants his life back and cries because he cannot see a future anymore.
At that point, an obviously distraught Cartman silently returns the pangolin back to the scientist, to which even Kyle is caught in awe and disbelief. However, the celebration is for naught as Mr Garrison burns the scientist and pangolin with a flame thrower and even tosses in a “vote!” while a shocked crowd stare at what just happened.
We’re left with Randy back at the farm with his wife who is sleeping. He’s ready to repent about everything and admits how the whole weed business had distorted him. However, Sharon turns around with a mustache, implying that she smoked some too, even though she denies it. Then Randy concludes that he’ll make a few more specials and says that she has some on her face.
Wow, what an episode. There’s just so much to process that I had to type up the entire thing to grab all the details once more. Honestly, this episode reminded me a lot of the earliest episodes in terms of the raw energy, the ideas and the gut punching shocking humor.
However, unlike the earlier episodes, this one was definitely more refined. The one thing that this episode had that I feel the earlier ones actually lacked was a soul. Stan’s speech about returning to normal was very heartbreaking and to me it’s how I imagine a lot of people feel right now.
During the episode, Stan reiterates how he is strong but in the end we learn that he’s attempting to hide his fear from himself by trying to help Butters. We see how the chaos has created this war among ourselves and put people into a duress that no one has experienced before (even episodes like where the kids are interned is not like this one). This chaos is what Stan fears because he cannot fathom what it is nor what will happen.
The way the town breaks into chaos also is far different than previous episodes because in those dark periods, it was a localized event. This chaos, while dramatized as usual, was a reflection of the writers’ and many peoples’ darkest fears of how the world is turning into this massive prison.
The mask portion, while trivial, isn’t because it’s almost like an act of condemning or shaming. In reality, there is nothing that terrible about it outside of being uncomfortable but the ridiculously of people’s attitudes have taken to the point where irrational fights break out on both sides.
The police brutality aspect is heightened more than ever in this episode as well. Most of the times in the past, it just felt like simple parody. This one felt really personal. The amount of police incidents this year have generally been of the worst behavior that normally would (and should) be associated with a felon. Here, we see them as brazen murders, who not only are senseless, but take glee in what they do. The part where some kid dropping a snowball and being disintegrated almost is like the guy who was shot in the back 7 times.
Also, the part with Mr Garrison burning the scientist and pangolin was a pretty clear statement from the writers about which candidate to vote for. Despite their general stance on the choices between a Turd Sandwich and Giant Douche, there’s no question who the writers are siding with here. It’s very hard to deny the problems in the US government at the moment to all but the completely stupid and those that are unfailingly loyal.
But I think the clear message 99.9999% people will agree upon is that most people just want some semblance of normality to return. I think when Cartman returned the pangolin it was one of those statements where all but the biggest shits in the world (i.e. Trump here) would want anything else. And that’s a huge statement considering what Cartman represents in the show.
If there’s anything that’s clear, it’s the distinction that Cartman’s choices are always done through the viewpoint of a child, who has yet to fully form a real consciousness. On the other hand, Mr Garrison is an adult and by associating him to Trump on a very overt level, you can say that Trump too must be held accountable for his behavior in effectively “burning away” opportunities to treat the situation.
At any rate, this was probably one of the most inspirational South Park episodes. I think it fully voices a lot of the frustrations, fears and problems going on at the moment with the pandemic at the center of everything. It is nihilistic in many ways with Mr Garrison burning the pangolin and scientist, but there is a voice of hope in Stan crying, trying to unify the harshest critics of what’s going on and speaking from out hearts (those that have one anyway).