South Park Reveals [Spoiler]'s Tragic Future in Return of COVID Special

South Park Return Of COVID

We should have known it would all come down to a fart.

South Park officially wrapped its Post COVID saga on Thursday with The Return of COVID, a one-hour followup to the futuristic feast Paramount+ served us this past Thanksgiving.

Before resuming the story at hand, we’re treated to a flashback of a seemingly average day at South Park Elementary School. Cartman is thrilled to announce that he took a picture of Heather Williams farting during gym class, one they can use as blackmail to score Denver Nuggets tickets from Heather’s well-connected mom. But before Cartman has a chance to confront her, the school announces a two-week shutdown, allowing the fart to remain unexposed.

Then the misery of quarantine sets in. Stan’s parents start fighting, he’s depressed all the time, he accidentally burns Shelly alive, his mother kills herself — the whole nine yards. The memories still haunt Stan’s nightmares as an adult, especially now that he’s found himself in a second quarantine; due to the recent discovery of the McCormickron strain, no one is allowed to enter or leave South Park for 20–30 years.

Gaining access to Kenny’s time travel technology requires a vocal scan from his apparent associate “Victor Chaus,” whom Stan and Kyle discover to be Butters when they reunite at South Park Mental Asylum Plus. (Side note: The Chaus/Chaos reveal at the end of Post COVID really was just the best, wasn’t it?)

South Park Butters FutureBut much has changed about the one they called “Butters” since we saw him in 2021. Even after the first quarantine orders were lifted, his parents apparently kept him under lock and key. They even grounded him, then completely disappeared, leaving him in his room for 16 years. Now, he’s a mustachio’d NFT grifter whose methods — which usually involve getting someone so deep into the currency that they kill themselves and possibly others — are rightfully deemed “unspeakable.”

Meanwhile, Cartman has formed a modest rebellion determined to prevent Kyle from traveling back in time. Convinced Kyle is solely out to destroy his family and prevent him from ever meeting his beloved Yentl, he hides them in the church attic. (The fact that his daughter starts keeping a diary about Kyle’s injustice feels like low-hanging fruit, even for South Park.) When Cartman catches wind that his enemies are working with Butters, he seizes the opportunity to shut their operation down from the inside and steal the equipment for himself. The recruitment process includes a moment where Butters accidentally pees all over Cartman in the bathroom, which barely missed the cut-off for our annual Scenes We Wish We Could Unsee list.

This is where Cartman’s messaging suddenly changes. Instead of stopping Kyle from going back in time, he convinces Clyde to go back in time and kill Kyle in the past. He trusts Clyde to carry out this mission because, as an anti-vaxxer, Clyde has proven that he’s willing to stand by his beliefs even if it means other people will die. Cartman’s family, on the other hand, doesn’t support this violent plan. They believe that reuniting with Kyle has brought out the worst in Cartman, and she has faith that they will still find each other in a different timeline. Honestly, it’s kind of beautiful.

But because Cartman’s baby is chaos in its purest form, he pulls the lever and sends Clyde back in time before Cartman tells him about the change of plans. So Cartman, Kyle and Stan also have to go back to stop Clyde from killing Kyle. It’s a whole thing, one that ends with Cartman blowing Clyde’s brains out and dropping him off a bridge.

And yet… nothing changes. As the guys begin to face the possibility that they’re now stuck in the past as adults, they individually admit that they screwed up. Because Randy will always make love to that pangolin in every conceivable timeline, it’s impossible to prevent COVID from happening. What they were able to control, however, was their reaction to the pandemic. They were scared, confused and didn’t know what to believe, so they all took different paths — and they need to start cutting each other some slack.

Craving one single “precedented time,” the three grown men pay a visit to young Heather Williams, showing her the picture Cartman took of her farting in gym class. And just like that, their younger selves are being flown off to a Denver Nuggets game in Heather’s mom’s company helicopter. Future Stan makes one more change, sending a tegridy bud back to Randy which produces a strain potent enough to get Randy to apologize to Sharon for how he acted in the pandemic. He gives the weed out for free to everyone in town, and relationships are magically mended to the tune of Kelly Clarkson’s “I Forgive You.” But most importantly, there are no more Space Jams.

South Park Cartman HomelessWe’re then given a glimpse of the character’s bright new futures: Stan is in the (space?) military, Kenny wins the Nobel Prize for combining dark matter with breast implants, Jimmy is back to doing raunchy comedy, Shelly and Sharon are alive, and Wendy and Stan are spending New Year’s Eve together. Yes, all’s well that ends… oh, right. Cartman.

“Poor Cartman. It’s so sad, he never did anything with his life,” Kyle and Stan lament as a drunk, destitute Cartman curses at them from across the street. But not even Butters has any sympathy left. “Come on, fellas, we can’t spend another holiday feeling bad for Eric,” he says. “There’s nothing that could have changed the path he was on.”

Uh… so much for Yentl, we guess.

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