Of all the things that South Park has hit on over a 16-year period, religion has been the most fascinating. Instinct assumes there is going to be something to offend a portion of the audience as was the case a few years back when the show accidentally offended Muslims to the point that said episode has never been re aired on television. In most cases religion on South Park is viewed through a hopeful yet mocking and cynical standpoint. The show always likes to push boundaries but it keeps its purpose on track. This season has been fluctuating greatly with its logic, meandering between short bits of laughs and too much plotting to actually be straight and narrow. “Ginger Cow” has a lot to work with but instead of having only a few great ideas there is plenty of them here. But, the end result is easily misinterpreted and in the grand scheme of things keeps the episode from being brilliant.
The premise lays the cards out perfectly from the beginning. Cartman storms into the lunch room apologizing to Kyle for not believing that anything other than humans can be gingers. His evidence lies on a farm where a cow sits decked in ginger hair, thick rimmed glasses and red polka dots used to resemble freckles. Everyone is in awe except Kyle who can once again see right through one of Cartman’s many lame brain schemes. He warns of the smallest lie having bigger consequences and needless to say he is right. The Judaism, Islam, and Christianity faiths all take this cow as a sign of the end of times something that is apparently a belief in all three cultures. Instead of taking it as a sign of the end they see it as a sign of the end of war and a time of peace. The prophecy is obviously not true and Kyle spends the rest of the episode keeping the peace instilled by caving to the person who started the reuse as a one off joke.
If you take away the obvious points of humor, like Cartman farting in Kyle’s mouth and Israel’s love of Van Halen during celebration, you are not looking at a very funny episode or a clever one. What makes this episode funny all lies in the Meta nature of the situation and the varying degrees that the characters take to indulge egotism, frustration, and denial. Kyle and Cartman centric stories always draw that line of Cartman coming out on top and having Kyle as the one abused and here is no different. To keep the false prophecy of peace Kyle endures a series of degrading situations at Cartman’s feet and as always it infuriates you to see Cartman be this way but you can’t help but laugh at Kyle being introduced as “fart boy.”
Stan’s intervention and attempts to reason with Kyle feels too late and while this episode features all four key players this aspect of the storyline doesn’t get time to flesh out. Kyle seeing himself as a martyr works well because it’s a state of being delusional that makes what Cartman thinks here much less thought provoking. You will never have him learn his lesson fully so ending the episode on the image of Cartman smearing a whipped cream infused fart on Kyle’s face is perfect. When the realization comes that the prophecy is not that the ginger Heifer means the end of time but that “a fat kid with a small penis will dress a cow up like a ginger” it takes a big chunk out of the episode’s momentum. It stunts Kyle and brings him back down to Earth which is probably more the point than trying to punish Cartman for his erroneous ways.
The resolution of the episode may come off a bit less than satisfying as it has happened many times this season. However, most religious based episodes of South Park tend to avoid idealism and the logical solutions because all religion is idealistic. By taking a firm stance that doesn’t encompass all religions makes the show preachy and implies the morals of the creators rather than leaving it open for the viewers to interpret. If “Ginger Cow” doesn’t succeed in being fully realized or overly hilarious it still succeeds in getting across some great points despite never getting all the way there. It comes down to how you take your South Park and this episode had a bit of everything but that bit of everything should have been explored more. It’s a highlight of this rather up and down season but it lacks a memorable quality across the board.