“How much longer can we keep doing this? It’s like, the same shit just happens over and over and then in a week it just all resets until it happens again. Every week it’s kind of the same story in a different way, but it just keeps getting more and more ridiculous.” — Sharon to Randy, Season 15, Episode 7
On the South Park mid-season finale in June, things got dark. Stan’s life fell apart. His parents divorced. He had a falling out with his best friend. Everything, he thought, had turned to shit. After speculation that perhaps that this was the beginning of the end of the series, Trey Parker and Matt Stone returned last week, chalked Stan’s existential crisis up to a Matrix-like situation, and reset everything back to normal. It’s almost an election year after all — naval gazing is only novel in brief doses, and we’re going to want more biting satire than last week’s passing references to HPV and vaccination hysteria. So thankfully this week, Parker and Stone chose to take on the border and U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn.
“The Last of the Meheecans” begins with the boys playing a deadly serious game of border control. Cartman and his crew are the Texas Border Patrol, while Butters, Kyle and some others are the Mexicans trying to get to the other side. The game ends for all but Cartman, resentful that his team failed, and Butters, still in character as his alter ego, Mantequilla, the Mexican patriot, who gets lost and taken in by a clenched jaw couple intent on saving him from a miserable life in Mexico through unpaid house and yard work.
Eventually, Mantequilla ends up inspiring a group of cooks at El Pollo Loco (where the clenched jaws took him to “be with his people”) to leave the US (“A WHITE American kid wants to be Mexican?”), inciting a mass exodus of Mexicans to Mexico. Annoyed by this development and foreseeing potential implications for the country, the Border Patrol institutes a new policy - keep the Mexicans in the United States. Ultimately Cartman joins their ranks, Mantequilla returns to the US, and there’s a showdown between the two at the actual border. Cartman’s vile nature and arrogance are perfectly suited for his role as the merciless border guard, both in play and reality, and Butters makes a great unlikely leader. One of his friends noted earlier in the episode, “he’s one of those guys who you can never remember whether or not they were there.”
With so much of the political rhetoric focused on keeping illegal immigrants out, we’re presented with a situation where illegal immigrants decide that they’ve had enough and choose to leave. Inspired no doubt by the evacuation of Alabama’s Hispanic immigrant classes after Judge Blackburn upheld an invasive immigration law last week, they leave no stereotype unturned from the “Work, Mexican, Work” theme song, to the characterization of the easily swayed and overly excitable beer drinking Border Patrol volunteers, and successfully poke fun at border hysteria.
Still, this could have been a grander episode. Parker and Stone kept things small, never straying much from the immediacy of Butters and Cartman and their game. Besides passing moments with border guards, cheesy newscasters (“You’ve heard of Mexican salsa, but Mexican pride?”), and Randy Marsh, who delivers a Vader-like “Nooooo” when he realizes that no one is left to rake his leaves, we don’t see the economic and societal implications of the departures. Already in Alabama, there have been noticeable absences from schools and work. People aren’t waiting for the appeal to make it to the Supreme Court because the risks seem too high.
Maybe Parker and Stone wanted to keep it light, though, opting for an upheaval via self-empowerment and not restrictive laws. In real life, they move to Tennessee. In South Park land, they give the US the finger and go back to Mexico. But fifteen seasons of subversion and irreverence later, it’s hard to believe that there is any real reason that they held back from addressing or at least thinking about what happens to the US as a result.
Lindsey has written for The Atlantic and contributes to The Junior Varsity. She lives in Chicago.