Regular Show has surprisingly little by way of mythology. All its fantastical craziness notwithstanding, the show tends to avoid connecting these elements into larger stories. The surreal or paranormal elements are generally situational, existing only to serve a particular story rather than to build a larger universe. There aren’t even that many recurring characters, although this season has seen a couple major reunions in “Exit 9B” and “A Bunch Of Full Grown Geese.” Amusingly, perhaps the single clearest mythology element in the Regular Show canon is, of all things, Muscle Man’s special relationship with hot dog eating contests. After all, “Trailer Trashed” revealed that he won his beloved trailer in just such a contest, and tonight’s episode is all about paying off Death’s prophecy from last season, in which he promised Muscle Man would die in a hot dog eating contest. At this point, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the show revealed that Muscle Man was born at a hot dog eating contest as well; perhaps that’s the big secret waiting to be revealed in the series finale.
Anyway, the first half of this episode deftly disguises the fact that the story is an effective sequel to the gang’s last encounter with Death. Hot Buns is only one of a quartet of restaurants that Muscle Man wants to visit as part of his climactic gorging, and he only fulfills his ultimate fate accidentally; the contest is only meant as a way to get his hands on a hot dog before he starts his diet for real. He, Mordecai, and Rigby are all clearly surprised to see Death show up to claim Muscle Man’s soul, as though all of them have forgotten his grim warning. Perhaps the gang figured Muscle Man would only die in a hot dog eating contest under the most epic of circumstances, and it would be clear from the outset that he would actively be choosing his own destruction by participating in such a contest—a hot dog eating contest worthy of the sagas, basically. Mordecai, Rigby, and Muscle Man would have never thought that the latter’s fate could be sealed so easily, so arbitrarily, and as such they didn’t think through the implications of Muscle Man signing up. Or it’s possible they are all just idiots. Indeed, that’s the most likely option.
Then again, Death doesn’t usually show up while soul and body are still firmly attached, which raises the question of just how much of an active participant he is in Muscle Man’s putative death. After all, it’s he who forces our pal Mitch Sorrenstein to compete for real, and it’s he who forces the wager that requires Muscle Man to surrender his soul if he loses. Without either of those conditions in play, it’s harder to see how Muscle Man would have died in the contest, although he has been eating a ridiculous amount of food up to that point. Muscle Man is the architect of his own near destruction, but it’s impossible to discount Death’s role in all this. Really, the guy is just a total jerk, as the only reason he shows up early is apparently to gloat. It seems strangely, perfectly in keeping with all that Regular Show represents for Death himself to be seen more as an obnoxious pain in the backside than anything else.
It can be tempting to lump Muscle Man in the same category as Mordecai and Rigby, as all three appear to be relatively youthful slackers stuck in dead-end jobs. The crucial difference between them is that Muscle Man seems entirely content with that dead end; Mordecai and Rigby rarely talk about bettering themselves, but it was made clear in “Caveman” that neither relishes the thought of still working at the park in a decade’s time. They are still growing into their adult selves, and so the mistakes they make—and they are legion—are the mistakes of immaturity and inexperience. The two, particularly Mordecai, are young adults, and a lot of their problems can be traced to the fundamental insecurity that comes with an uncertain place in the world. Mordecai’s long misfiring pursuit of Margaret and Rigby’s whole deal are both indicative of people who aren’t confident in who they are; for Mordecai, that means general cowardice in difficult social situations, while for Rigby it means a propensity to act like an ass. Crucially, they are still capable of bettering themselves, of growing into better people, as evidenced by Mordecai finally beginning a relatively mature relationship with Margaret.
Muscle Man, on the other hand, isn’t immature, at least not in the sense that he’s still in the process of maturing. He is someone who knows exactly who he is and has worked out how he wants to live his life. Some of the conclusions he has reached may be grossly incorrect, but those are his fundamental mistakes, and there is little reason to think he will change. He trusts Starla completely, and so he promises to go on the diet without argument; he just also decides he needs one final round of gluttony before he’s ready to begin. Even the fact that he forces Mordecai to lie for Starla on his behalf suggests a fully developed set of ethics. Those ethics are almost certainly malformed, to be sure, but it’s a decision he makes with the confidence and certainty of an adult idiot, not a young idiot. I don’t mean to be too ridiculously hard on Mitch; he shows a certain real maturity when he demands Mordecai hand him the phone, because he doesn’t want to die lying to his beloved.
That final burst of honesty is what saves him, as otherwise Starla would likely have never shown up and indirectly knocked Death out of the contest. In a similar situation, it’s easy to see Mordecai hiding his own perilous situation from Margaret, because he believes it’s more heroic or perhaps simply fairer to keep his girlfriend out of harm’s way. That’s certainly a defensible position, but Muscle Man acts like someone who believes in sharing everything with his girlfriend, even if it sometimes takes him a while. This is a problem he could only have solved with Starla there beside him, and that’s fundamentally an adult solution to the problem. “Last Meal” treats love much as an occasionally perceptive fifth grader might; love is yucky and gross, and yet, if one is being totally objective, it’s also pretty damn important, even beautiful when its implications are considered. Both Death and Rigby are completely disgusted by Muscle Man and Starla’s display, and, yes, quite a bit of that is down to the aesthetics of the act itself and those involved in it. But who is alive and happy at the episode’s end? At a certain point, that really has to be the only question that properly matters, and that’s why Muscle Man will likely be just fine, even if he’s always going to be fat. Mordecai was only talking about that hot dog in Muscle Man’s back pocket, but the point stands more generally—Muscle Man will figure it out, sooner or later.
- Carry On movie veteran Julian Holloway returns as the voice of Death, and his interpretation of Death as a working-class British asshole is once again a highlight of the episode. Rigby’s impersonation of him is particularly hilarious, not to mention Death’s rather limp protest that he’s lived all sorts of life.
- Of course you want Hi-Five Ghost driving the cart. That’s just common sense.