Can 'South Park' Season 20's Remaining Episodes Redeem Gerald Broflovski?

Kyle's dad Gerald enjoying his evening with some online trolling and Whole Foods' wine. South Park Digital Studios

Despite destroying his computer, smashing apart his iPhone with a hammer and launching his hard drive into Stark’s Pond with a homemade ballista, Gerald Broflovski will probably still get doxxed by angry Danes for his systematic online trolling of women that resulted in the suicide of Olympic athlete and breast cancer survivor Freja Ollegard. Gerald is about to have the very bad time he deserves (and then some, probably, knowing South Park). But can this man we’ve known for two decades — recently revealed to be a wretched, egomaniacal troll, indifferent to the suffering he causes — find some redemption in the remaining episodes of South Park Season 20?

Sometimes South Park’s chosen targets feel like nothing more than provocations, the show practically daring you to get offended. South Park, as we are endlessly told, “goes after everyone,” suggesting a scattershot approach that targets almost at random, like a force of nature. But South Park Season 20 has embarked on a different, more targeted quest, with a message that doesn’t seem opportunistic or indiscriminate at all.

There are few characters in our society more unsympathetic than the troll. Cruelty is their method. They tailor their messages to be hurtful enough to earn a reaction, combining sadism with a self-centered need for attention that’s far more brazen and self-centered than seen in the face-to-face interactions we’ve been socialized to handle.

But South Park is laying the groundwork to explain, if not forgive, the troll. In South Park Season 20, the weight of world events and the mundane cruelty of our day-to-day societal design has conspired to make life suck (in keeping with the common social media refrain that 2016 is a uniquely awful time). Gerald Broflovski’s trolling is infecting our discourse and making the world more oppressive and bleak. But for Gerald trolling is a narcotic, insulating him from life’s petty irritations. It’s his outlet (now that he’s given up cheesing), one that South Park equates with the anesthetizing member berries or Randy’s over-identification with politics. Gerald is a monster who watches blankly, revelling inside, as the people around him express their pain at his actions. But he’s maybe also a little bit of a victim, or at least an explicable symptom of our stressors.

Gerald’s downfall is in motion, but South Park Season 20 still has seven episodes left. Will they spend that time tormenting Gerald like the people profiled in Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed? And can he be redeemed after all, emerging from that gauntlet a character we can empathize with once more? If Game of Thrones can make us like Jaime Lannister, maybe South Park can save Kyle’s Dad.

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