Thus far into the season, South Park has been a series of near misses: not bad and with some solid laughs, but not as on-target as the show can be at its best. So following a short normal opening—albeit a funny one—my hopes were immediately elevated upon the second opening for "Cartman’s Passover Holiday Special (featuring the Jewpacabra)." It’s the kind of episode South Park nails (see: Woodland Critter Christmas), and given Cartman’s hyperbolic racism that yields offensive yet hilarious results, there was every reason to think we were about to get a great episode. (And, oh, hey, another Easter episode! Have you seen our Easter-tainment Inventory entry that tackles two other South Park Easter episodes?)
That initial opening gets the episode off to a good start. Kyle is going about his morning business while elsewhere in the house his mother is explaining the concept of Passover. Only when Kyle walks by a doorway do we see it’s Cartman receiving the history lesson. The reveal is funny, if not unexpected, and is given a bit of a kick thanks to Kyle’s delayed reaction. Kyle kicks Cartman out, knowing he’s up to no good, and that’s when Cartman tells Kyle his true reason for being there: his suspicion of the dreaded Jewpacabra. The short second opening is a fun follow-up, and then we cut to a serene spring scene where the boys are waiting in line to register for the Easter Egg hunt.
The serenity is disrupted by the discovery of a dead bird, a dead bird that must be the work of the Jewpacabra, and Cartman leaps into action. Kyle chastises Cartman for spreading lies, and in quick order, we find Cartman and a terrified Butters determined to go after the Jewpacabra in a send-up of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot. After he claims to have caught footage of the Jewpacabra — or maybe a dog — on video, he convinces grocery store Sooper Foods to go after the Jewpacabra in an effort to save the Easter Egg hunt from becoming a massacre (but not before a trip to the Atlantis resort for a trip down a slide that goes through a shark tank).
The episode, like so many before it, rests on Cartman’s anti-Semitism, which is one of the show’s trademarks, a source of humor that's funny because of how ignorant Cartman is. The writers make it clear that even as he’s smart enough to put together some huge, complex schemes, he’s still a racist kid that completely misunderstands what he’s racist against (a clear poke at all racism, really). The show simply takes it to such extremes that it loses its power to be offensive and becomes absurdly funny. And, more often than not, Cartman never obtains his goals, his schemes backfiring.
With the hunt now fully on, the take-down of Finding Bigfoot commences, the characters from that show represented as slack-jawed yokels who are so deluded they convince themselves that something exists. And this is where the episode turns: Cartman reveals his true motives (the Jewpacabra is a ploy to keep all the other kids out so he can have the Easter Egg hunt all to himself), but the Bigfoot searchers use thermal imaging to prove a creature that Cartman thinks doesn’t exist, well, really exists. This completely freaks out Cartman, who now believes it exists and will come after him for filming it. Cartman is, again, the butt of the joke, a victim of his own racism.
Cartman holes up in church for protection, but it does little good when the Sooper Food guys track him down and chain him up in the park in a bunny costume and smear him with chicken’s blood. Not only is Cartman the victim of his own racism, but he’s now the Jewpacabra bait in a delightfully macabre twist. After the Sooper Food crew alerts Kyle to Cartman’s predicament, Kyle seeks him out and offers to rescue him so long as he renounces the claim of Jewpacabra. But now that Cartman firmly believes in the creature, he’s left shit out of luck. We then get the point of view that looks like it might actually be from a red-eyed monster, but it turns out to just be the Bigfoot searchers, peeping on Cartman, sure they’ve tracked down a bunny man. After they shoot Cartman with a tranquilizer, they’re off to get themselves a show on Animal Planet, the only part of that particular send-up that’s too on the nose.
Cartman falls into a tranq-induced dream in which he experiences the plagues of Egypt and gets another history lesson, this time from Kyle, as the macabre twist goes even further. (It’s worth mentioning that while still done in the typical South Park-style of animation, the coloring and backgrounds of this scene are really well done.) Dream Cartman then tracks down the Pharaoh—who’s his dad—who explains he won’t let the Jews go because it’s an economic issue, you know, like when the North refused to let the Confederacy leave the USA. And then there’s a song and then baby lambs are slaughtered and childrens’ heads explode as Dream Cartman witnesses the final plague—the death of the first-born son—that culminates in his own death as his head explodes.
It’s a sequence that threatens to unhinge the episode at any moment but manages to hold together through absurd humor—the random song moment, the peanut butter sandwich crack—and how quickly it plays out. As Cartman’s dream sequence ends, a restless Kyle lets his guilt get to him, and he returns to the park where he frees Cartman and takes him home to put him to bed, a sweet moment and one that is perfectly consistent with their characters. Cut to a punch-filled Easter Egg that’s interrupted by Cartman, the recipient of a Scrooge-like rebirth, who takes to the stage and, after noting he almost died the night before and was saved by a Passover miracle, asks the crowd to put aside their Easter foolishness. Butters and the rest of the crowd don’t buy it. Still, Cartman seems genuine in his conversion, lamenting what it’s like to be a Jew with Kyle, and the episode ends with him wishing a clearly skeptical Kyle a happy Passover.
What’s surprising is that the episode then just… ends. There’s no joke or reversal, no pulling of the rug out from underneath us to undermine the moment that just happened. If nothing else, it was confusing because of the rhythms we’ve come to expect from the show. Also, because of the context—Cartman’s ongoing anti-Semitism—it’s hard for viewers to buy his genuine demeanor and we’re waiting for something, for anything, to give us that wink that, nope, this is all just a big joke. But it never comes and, while it makes the ending of an otherwise great episode feel a tad clunky, it’s also kind of a mind-fuck.
Still, it’s a solid episode. On first viewing, I thought the episode seemed a bit disjointed, careening from the Jewpacabra storyline to the dream sequence, but after a second run-through of the episode, it actually works really well. It feels like two separate ideas for the same episode crammed into one, but it manages to work thanks to the show's absurd humor, some great lines, and a brisk pace. The episode also stays squarely focused on just Cartman and his plight (whither Stan and Kenny?). Even when other threads are brought in, like the Finding Bigfoot fun, it's only a touch that serves the main story, rather than detracts from it. It’s not perfect, and it’s probably not an “all-time great,” but it’s a rollicking episode with plenty of great moments that's the best offering of the new season thus far.
- Cartman’s anti-semitic beliefs: so wrong yet so, so funny. “You can’t scare a Jewpacabra, Butters. Don’t forget: We’re dealing with a creature that drinks blood, hides in the night, and has absolutely no belief in the divinity of Christ.” And, “I’m going to try the Jewpacabra mating call now. NO CHRIST! NO CHRIST!”
- “I’m estimating somewhere around .000000001 percent.” “Ah, I can’t afford to take that chance.”
- Does anyone here watch Finding Bigfoot? I get the idea the satirizing of that show wasn’t that far from the actual show.
- “It’s all orangey!” “But it’s supposed to be all yellowy!”
- “Maniac” as Kyle’s ringtone was a fantastic little touch.
- Gun-toting Butters: because if there’s one thing Butters really needs, it’s a gun.
- Seriously, the guy splashing bunny costume Cartman with chicken blood made me guffaw because apparently my heart is dark and evil.
- “… But if your people DO have a monster creature that feeds on Easter children, we just wanted to let you that there’s a sacrifice for it in the park that is totally fun and safe to eat. Thank you.”
- “No doubt about it: It’s a three-foot tall bunny man.”
- “Bobo, shoot it!”
- Seriously, the art direction in the dream sequence was really impressive and shows how even though the show has retained that cut-out aesthetic, the animators have found ways to make the show still look better and, at times, really cool.
- “That seems kind of… mean to frogs, Kyle.”
- “You’re wrong, Kyle. God is not a dick!”
- “I’m sorry, God. I’ll be Jewish, I promise!”
- Still a bit confused by the ending and how it might play in to future episodes, if at all, and I'm sure you all have plenty of feelings of your own on it, which you should share in the comments below.