The ads lost the battle on South Park's season finale Wednesday night—although they may still end up winning the war.
The Dec. 9 episode, "PC Principal Final Justice," brought the Comedy Central show's Season 19 storyline to a brilliant, biting close. While South Park's season-long arc has focused on political correctness and gentrification, the previous two episodes had hilariously worked the advertising community into the storyline as well. The Nov. 18 episode, "Sponsored Content," hysterically satirized ad blocking and sponsored content, while the Dec. 2 show, "Truth and Advertising," blasted branded content and targeted ads.
In the episodes, characters discovered that advertising had become sentient—taking the form of a student named Leslie—and controlled the news, while easily distracting most consumers with targeted popup ads. That theme continued in Wednesday's Season 19 finale.
Student Nathan, who runs the school paper and willingly does the advertisement's bidding ("all I had to do was work for the ads and I got everything I wanted!" he says), explains that political correctness is "a verbal form of gentrification: spruce everything up, get rid of the ugliness in order to create a false sense of paradise. Only one thing can actually live in that world: ads."
The former school paper editor, Jimmy, tries to convince Nathan's new girlfriend, a "high-class prostitute" named Classi (hey, this is South Park, after all), why she should join his fight against the ads. "You seem like a reasonable person, do you really want to live in a world controlled by ads?" he asks her. "In a world where ads control the news, there's no way to be sure anyone's ever hearing the truth."
Classi resists at first, but eventually comes around, attacking Nathan and screaming, "I do not want ads controlling my news!"
For part of the episode, advertising takes a back seat to the gun control controversy, as the townspeople arm themselves—"We have to get guns. It's the only way for us to be safe," explains Kyle—and pulls out their guns for every argument, which finds family members taking aim at one other.
The episode culminates at The South Park Gun Show, which like The National Dog Show, is presented by Purina.
As the public finally learns about the ads' master plan, Leslie remains defiant: "Every time you block us, we get smarter. Every time you try to stop us, we are more. If one plan fails, we will plan another. You will never be rid of ads!"
Soon after, she is killed, and the advertisement's threat is extinguished--for now, but the townspeople know they must remain vigilant.
As PC Principal explains in the closing moments (underscored with "America the Beautiful"), "We have a new enemy out there, an almost invisible foe, that is so bigoted, so racially biased, they actually think we should all die. They are trying to attract our youth, using tactics that are underhanded and unfair''—at this point, the show cuts to a computer user who is bombarded with popup ads.
Parker and Stone's three episodes bashing advertising didn't scare brands away from appearing on the show. Comedy Central said no advertisers asked to have their spots pulled from the show as a result of the storyline—after 19 seasons, most advertisers know what they are signing up for.
The season finale contained a similar ad mix as previous telecasts this season, with a strong presence from the gaming (Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, Rise of the Tom Raider), fast food (Carl's Jr, Taco Bell) and feature films (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Hateful Eight, Ride Along 2, Point Break).
Comedy Central certainly hopes that Leslie's dying vow—"You will never be rid of ads!"—proves prophetic: 2015 advertising on South Park has an estimated value of $217.3 million to the network, according to iSpot.tv data.
The advertising community can rest easy for now: the storyline and season have concluded, which means that Parker and Stone's caustic barbs will cease until at least next fall, when South Park kicks off Season 20.
The season finale can be viewed here.