Since its sixth season, South Park has gotten a lot of comedic mileage out of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. First, the show riffed on Lord Of The Rings, with the boys embarking on a quest to return an adult videotape rather than destroy a piece of enchanted jewelry. In the very next episode, a gerbil traveling up a man’s ass took its cues from Rankin/Bass’ animated version of The Hobbit.
These early forays into Tolkien’s storytelling were effective yet surface-level parodies of their source material, simply relocating the epic tropes and whimsical balladry to more disgusting scenarios. But as South Park soldiered on through the years like a band of fighting Uruk-hai, the Middle-earth references got deeper and weirder. By the time Trey Parker and Matt Stone reached season 17, they were using Hobbits to comment on body-image issues and once again take the piss out of Kanye West.
But of all the outstanding Tolkien episodes throughout South Park’s history, I’d be hard-pressed to find one as funny and insightful as tonight’s “The Big Fix,” in which fantasy mythology and weed-farming come together to take on the hefty task of satirizing performative allyship.
It all begins when, after attending a seminar at a Cannabis Cultivators Expo, a very high Randy feels that he needs to diversify the workforce at Tegridy Farms. Naturally, the moderator’s finer statistical point about communities of color being kept out of wealth creation in the marijuana industry goes right over Randy’s head. Like many white people before him, he operates solely from a place of fear, only hearing the part about his business being boycotted if he doesn’t do something about the imbalance. In a panic, he invites the wealthy Black family over for dinner in an effort to bring their sons even closer than they already are and hopefully partner up with the father, Steve. Almost immediately, Randy’s taking selfies of the entire table in hopes of showing off his new Black friends on social media.
Stan has a similar storyline with Token, although his desire to be a better ally to the Black community seems to come from a more genuine place than Randy’s—or so it appears at first. While at dinner, he discovers that his friend’s name isn’t actually Token at all, as he’s thought for so many years, but Tolkien, as in the surname of one John Ronald Reul. It turns out that Steve is such a big J.R.R. Tolkien fan that he named his son after the author.
Stan feels horrible for not knowing this, especially when it becomes clear that everyone else in town—even Cartman!—was aware of the true meaning and spelling of Tolkien’s name. Stan, Randy, and—let’s face it, the audience (more on that in a bit)—seem to be the only ones who assumed his moniker was solely meant to be a joke about race. Unsure of what to do, Stan confides in his doctor, who accuses him of being racist and forcefully urges him to do “a lot of reading… from the perspective of a Black person.”
There’s a brilliant bit of meta humor in this scene when, while shaming Stan for assuming Tolkien’s name is racially motivated, the doctor looks directly at the audience and addresses his lines to them. The joke is that of course that’s why Parker and Stone originally gave Tolkien the name that they did. By now retconning it, they’re getting to have some fun with wordplay and South Park’s lore, as well as poke fun at how, as white people, we often scramble to “fix” often unfixable issues of social justice and race rather than address them thoughtfully and effectively.
Despite how horribly misguided it is, Stan takes the doctor’s advice quite literally and reads the entire Tolkien canon, but imagines the text being narrated by a racially caricatured Black man. He makes an even bigger misstep when he tries to convince his class that the Lord Of The Rings trilogy should be required reading so that they can all understand what Tolkien is going through and that he won’t feel left out. Never mind that Stan doesn’t even let his friend into the classroom to be part of the conversation. And as we eventually discover, Tolkien never even liked Lord Of The Rings all that much anyway. None of this is as much about truly listening or helping out a friend as it is Stan becoming obsessed with his own guilt and atonement.
In that regard, Stan proves to be no better than Randy, who quickly commodifies his new partnership with Steve without actually letting him make any business decisions. While supposedly fighting for inclusion, the Marsh men end up excluding the very people they claim to be helping. The cherry on top comes at the end of the episode when, after splitting from Randy, Steve moves his family right across the street from the Marshes and starts his own marijuana farm. To Randy’s dismay, Steve calls it Credigree Weed, leaning into the idea of “street cred” so that he can capitalize on the increased number of patrons who want to support Black-owned businesses. When he adopts an AAVE dialect that he’s never used before, Randy accuses him of being a phony (all while touting his own fake, folksy accent, of course). It was okay when Randy commodified Steve’s blackness. But for Steve to do it himself is, in Randy’s eyes, unforgivable.
In the episode’s final moments, it seems that Steve and Randy are on the brink of some kind of war straight from the pages of The Return Of The King or The Silmarillion. Although “The Big Fix” and last week’s “Pajama Party” are both self-contained episodes, maybe South Park will once more be dipping a toe into longer-form storytelling this season. Maybe Parker and Stone aren’t done with Tolkien—or the messy racial dynamic between the Marshes and the Blacks—just yet.
- Between it being Black History Month and Amazon just announcing the title of its Lord Of The Rings series, the two main plot interests of tonight’s episode feel timely.
- I was thrilled to hear another nod to Rankin/Bass’ The Hobbit when Randy burst into “That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates”.
- Speaking of knockout musical moments, Parker and Stone really outdid themselves with the boneheaded metaphor of “Black Puppy, White Puppy.” Also, I wonder if the courtroom scene is meant to imply that they tried and failed to secure the rights to Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s “Ebony And Ivory” for the episode, so they just penned a shameless ripoff instead.
- “I thought I told you to get out of my office because you seriously make me sick. I’m gonna shit my fucking pants right now.”