Among the most popular complaints levied against South Park as it approaches its 15th—and probably final—season is that the show is essentially running out the clock. For the record, I don’t subscribe to that argument, but man oh man, did this “Coon And Friends” thing really need to be stretched across three episodes? The last-minute revelation that “Mysterion Rises” was essentially an exposition dump intended to set up yet another 30 minutes of superhero parody was kind of a downer, particularly considering it will have eaten up nearly half of this fall season’s new episodes by the time it’s all over. And given how much of “Mysterion Rises” itself felt padded out, that hardly seems justified.
Granted, much of that padding was given over to the all-important (this week, anyway) exploration of the Mysterion mythos—which as it turns out is also a bit of South Park mythos: Since the very beginning of the show, Kenny’s tendency to die violently and then magically reappear has been a running gag, and although it’s inspired plenty of academic musing on its inherent ontological arguments (seriously), much of the joke has to do with the fact that it’s hardly ever discussed. (But when it is, it wins an Emmy.)
So although no one was really asking for it, “Mysterion Rises” opts to explain that joke, and it turns out to be pretty clever: Kenny is Mysterion, and his superpower is that he can’t ever die. No matter what gruesome fate befalls him, he always wakes up in his bed in his same old clothes, and his friends—even if they just saw him get decapitated the day before—never seem to notice that he was gone. To borrow an appropriately pulp fiction term, it’s a neat bit of retcon that, just as appropriately, creates all sorts of conflicts on the timeline, such as why it was that Kenny was actually, really dead for most of the sixth season, or why Kenny’s perpetual phoenix-like rebirth was explained in “Cartman Joins NAMBLA” as due to Mrs. McCormick simply squeezing out a new baby Kenny every time the old Kenny died. But then, to worry about such things is ridiculous, obviously. Perhaps these things all happened on Earth-Two; in other words, nobody cares.
So anyway, that was a satisfying resolution to both the raging “Who Is Mysterion?” argument and also the series-long question of why Kenny is immortal (even if no one was particularly clamoring for an answer to that one). We also got some clearer explanations of who, exactly, Captain Hindsight is meant to represent (besides pretty much everyone): He’s a former member of the press, one endowed even more than the rest of us niggling commentators are with the power of pointing out the way people should have done things.
Captain Hindsight’s prolonged decision to strip himself of the burdens of his abilities and go back to being an ordinary reporter—and Hindsight in general—remained one of the weaker aspects of “Mysterion Rises,” considering he’s essentially a one-joke character. However, I did get a laugh out of the newly normalized Hindsight starting to wonder whether giving up his powers was such a good idea; to paraphrase the South Park episode “Cancelled,” it’s one of those jokes that stops being funny, then becomes funny all over again through dogged repetition.
Even more importantly, we got a clear delineation of who, exactly, makes up the now Coon-less Coon And Friends. (Count me among those who mistakenly thought Kyle was Mosquito, who turns out to be Clyde.) And speaking of mythos, the accidental unleashing of the Dark Lord Cthulhu also revealed an underground, Necronomicon-devoted cult in South Park that includes the shop teacher Mr. Adler (guess that nicotine gum stopped working), the tech geeks from “4th Grade,” and the always-welcome goth kids, who are looking forward to the earth being plunged into shadowy hell because it means no more gym class and the possible end of the Disney Channel. Plus it will be “like a Nine Inch Nails concert that goes on forever.”
Meanwhile, Cartman cozied up to Cthulhu himself with a little baby talk and a tummy rub, and now that the two have joined forces—combining “complete dominance and interdimensionary rule” with The Coon’s “legitimacy and instantly recognizable brand name”—they’re an unstoppable force. In addition to flying around the country like an evil version of The Neverending Story’s Atreyu and Falkor [EDIT: Make that My Neighbor Totoro; thanks, commenters], killing hippies and destroying San Francisco, they’re now determined to take their case of “Coon And Friends” trademark infringement all the way to the Supreme Court of sending assholes to another dimension.
Yet, oddly, for an episode with so much apparent business to attend to, there was an awful lot of dragging going on. Much of the above could have been dealt with in half the time had “Mysterion Rises” not paused for, say, a virtual shot-for-shot remake of LeBron James’ admittedly asinine “What Should I Do?” commercial. (Despite the fact that it was funny to have Cartman articulate that ad’s “Yeah, I’m gonna continue to be an asshole and do whatever I want to do” subtext.) Ditto Cartman’s protracted, peekaboo seduction of Cthulhu or the roundabout revelation of the cult’s existence via the sort-of funny but probably unnecessary encounter with Kenny’s parents. This was all stuff that could have been tightened up considerably to make this whole “Coon And Friends” thing a killer two-parter. As always, I reserve full judgment until I see how everything plays out, but in the meantime, “Mysterion Rises” was sort of the equivalent of the slowly paced, dutifully doled-out origin story you see in nearly every comic-book movie before the real action begins. Hopefully all that good stuff is coming next week.
- I will say this for “Mysterion Rises”: The animation on Cthulhu alone is some of the most sophisticated the show has ever done. I guess you can’t blame them for wanting to linger on it.
- Ditto the cutaways to the lovingly drawn faux-comic-book pages. (I especially enjoyed the rendering of Cartman’s fantasy version of his attack on the little girl.)
- Perhaps this is a comic or cartoon reference that I missed, but what were Captain Hindsight’s “trusty companions” Shoulda, Coulda, and Woulda supposed to be? Frowny-faced seals? Anthropomorphic dicks?
- Is it mere coincidence that “Mysterion Rises” aired right after it was announced that the next Batman film would be called The Dark Knight Rises? Probably not.
- Speaking of jokes that stop being funny and then come right back around to being funny again: Tony Hayward’s apology videos.
- Wikipedia was ON IT TONIGHT.