In the penultimate episode, “For Your Consideration”, Principal Scudworth (Phil Lord) takes advantage of the Annual Crab Fest for the Board of Shadow Figures to propose “Cloney Island”, a pet project introduced in episode 2 of MTV’s original series, but it’s of little consequence. The event was a formality to open the floor for ideas, but since Cinnamon shanked it, Candide Sampson (Christa Miller) is doing things her way.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Butlertron gets the verbal boots to him, medium style. Mr. Butlertron holds his own, though. He reminds his boss/friend of an enormous promise that was made, but Scudworth ain’t honoring shit. One can’t help but feel for Mr. B. He’s the truth to power, he’s l’esprit d’escalier, and he’s the fly on the wall. This makes him the final proton torpedo in the X-Wing. Now? He feels less than others. Flotsam. He does find a kindred soul in Joan (Nicole Sullivan), going through a breakup of her own. Lonely hearts club and all, right? Mr. B does have a tale to tell and a set of ears to receive, so we set out on our hero’s journey…
Back when Mr. B was still on training wheels, he and human “identical twin” Wesley happened upon a ham farm. What’s more salad days than enjoying a ham, fresh from the garden under the midday sun? Their story is classically picturesque but ends in abject loss as Junior B cannot be cleaned in Baptismal waters because a soulless “robit” would just rust. Rust doesn’t sleep and neither does bearing the burden of being just a box of bolts.
Mr. B’s late realization hit me hard as an adopted son. I’ve not had to live through something so devastating, but there are adopted kids that do. To be fair, his parents were douche-nozzles to their human son, too, tricking him into thinking Butlertron was his real brother.
Catching a bus, and leaving it all behind, it’s so fucking sad my heart wants to burst, but my own animation-loving brain does instead. With an alarmingly spot-on homage to Ralph Bakshi, we next find Mr. B’s “whore” period more fruitful. The daring to dream does not go unpunished, as his blinders are once again ripped off, so it’s back on the road, this time to where it all started: Wesley.
With their parents deceased, Mr. B is given the salvation his parents could never provide through Wesley performing his baptism. Rowing out, red vest on (I’d hate to call it now, but I say one last tragedy is before us), Wesley is determined to get Besley a soul. The Heaven that Mr. Butlertron is so desperate to get, however, has other plans. The one thing that won’t leave ever leave Besley’s side? That bus. Sometimes, you just have to keep it moving. Next stop? Hollywoodland. He lands an acting gig playing a stereotype, but it pays for the drugs. He’s a mess on set and at home until Scudworth shows up with an even bigger family, the clones. His advice to Joan is simple but profound: To thine own self be true. With his energy reserve dangerously low, he charters a bus to his final act: to see the sunset one last time.
Like a Hollywood ending, Scudworth redefines “Jumpers Cliff” by powering up his former partner-in-vision with some car battery and the revelation that we’re all soulless. That shit never mattered. What does matter is Scudsy kept his promise, bringing Wesley back, going all The Prestige in the process. He ultimately makes a choice between desire and necessity when Scudworth and test-tube Wesley find themselves in death’s snare, favoring Wesley by revoking his chance to be anything less. Why mess with success?
Breaking up Mr. B and Scudworth would have really jumped the shark, so I’m glad they stuck on the now instead of longing for the past.
It’s Yearbook Signing Day in the season finale titled “Clone Alone”. Yes, that time-honored day when a person’s worth is measured in ink. With the couples too preoccupied to go for Joan’s yearbook, Abe (Will Forte) jumps at the opportunity before Topher (Neil Casey) comes in with the block via blackmail/white leverage. For someone that’s a clone of a world leader and avid basketball nut (look it up), Abe doesn’t go hard in the paint at all. The only person showing Joan love is fellow “lone wolf” Glen the Janitor.
Cinnamon and Candide use the congregation as an opportunity to put on the Ritz for the students for their next endeavor: Clone High College. After extolling the majesty of partying in poverty, the students are summarily directed to the entrance exam, like bovine to the abattoir. They may as well be now that Scudworth and Mr. B are handed their walking papers.
Confucius (Kelvin Yu) ain’t sweating flunking but his better half Harriet (Ayo Edebiri) isn’t giving his lackadaisical attitude oxygen. Frida (Vicci Martinez) assures Joan nothing will divide the “Four Amigas,” and she’s basically right. The students are launched to a facility where none other than the guy that keeps all moms well-lubricated, Michael Bolton welcome them to the aptly named Death Maze. Harriet breaks up with Confucius, and JFK (Christopher Miller) loses the Brontë sisters all before the games begin.
The Board of Shadowy Figures grows bored with JFK and Abe hashing it out as the only action on screen, so Candide turns up the heat with the Manchurian clones, but Bottomless Pits and white leverage have nothing on a lone she-wolf in disguise. A little bit of Rambo with a dash of McCallister, Joan leads the clones to their presumed deaths.
Bodies of Shadowy Figures line the sports bar as Scudworth’s intended target, Candide is nowhere to be seen. She’s too busy congratulating her foster daughter Joan on being the sole survivor. Her friends are alive, but they’re about to get their collective memories wiped.
With the Board inadvertently done in by his lack of marksmanship, Scudworth rushes to save the clones with Joan, but not before Candide can seal the deal. Luckily, the yearbook files still exist on CD and with Abandoned Pools providing the soundtrack to a very Life Aquatic finale moment, the minds of some of the best and brightest are saved.
But this is Candide we’re talking about, an implemented override is just Villainy 101, and evidence of the beast inside Joan without the need for a flute turns her fellow friends ‘former’ with a deliciously cruel cliffhanger. Come on, it’s the triumvirate of Lord/Miller/Lawrence; their attempt to match perhaps one of the most poignant season finales in television history in my purview, their own, never out of the question.
For their final day of high school, these two episodes were anything but a cheat day for the clones. I did love the contrast between Mr. B’s depleting energy in the previous episode and the rising energy in the brain-wiper in this one. Both episodes are inextricably linked through certain threads, but I also began to notice an interesting through-line this season: pairing. At first, I thought releasing episodes as a couple was odd, but as the clones explored new relationships throughout the season, I stopped looking at the connective tissue so closely and began to zoom out and the theme emerged like a Magic Eye picture.
With that enlightenment in mind, I feel that this very clever device may have not been initially intended, possibly implemented during the breaking-the-back of the midseason writer’s room slump, because I feel like it undercuts the emotional pay dirt that should have been their one-two combo of literal and figurative cliffhangers.
That being said, attempting to capture lightning in a bottle isn’t a fool’s errand. David Lynch did it with Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime), and that was a twenty-five-year gap, a mere five more than Clone High. What a difference five years make. Much like Lynch, Lord/Miller aren’t unafraid to take risks, and to be quite honest, I was never the biggest Lawrence fan, but that’s only because I never really sought out his oeuvre. The world of Twin Peaks, however, uniquely exists in a vacuum, a chaotic stasis where time holds both irrelevant and prevalent. It is art made by the artist, with the artist in mind, not the audience. Its plaudits were fucking rare for the stakes against it, but it wasn’t merely a revival. It was an 18-hour movie.
This I liken more to the revival of Community (Yahoo). Both worlds existed in their own vacuumed microcosm and dealt with close-knit relationships among classmates. Both didn’t shy away from reminding the audience of their ever-changing world through the words and actions of their very memorable characters under one roof. Raising stakes and moving goalposts is essential to art, but staying true to thine own self is the most significant tenant in art.
Seek to tweak and make artistic choices because you want to, not because you’re told to. But Twin Peaks was also five years ago. What a difference five years make. It was pre-pandemic, post-Game of Thrones. Showtime opened up the purse strings because the risk assessment said Lynch’s vision could be worth it and the time was right. Lord, Miller, and Lawrence aren’t playing in that ballpark anymore. They don’t have the luxury of experimenting to their heart’s content, they debuted on a messy rebranding, and with the WGA striking for streaming residuals, they’re far from sitting pretty. But pressure moves water through pipes. Pressure creates diamonds.
Whether Herculean or the pieces just falling into place, the effort to get this made after two decades was completely worth it. I’m sure a limited budget clipped their wings, but they injected a campus life that was effortless to fall for. It’s unfair to hold this Clone High to the one of twenty years ago, so I’m not. I will rate it on what was stacked up against the creators versus the final output.
This new season had potholes, not plot holes. They focused on the main cast instead of showing the immensity of Clone High (MTV) proper and introduced a boss in Candide, a simp in Scudworth, a villain in Joan, allies in Frida and Cleo, representation in Harriet and Confucius, satire in Topher, redemption in JFK and the human condition in Abe. The end result feels like a product of resolution. We get a mixture of the old and new that feels fresh and ever-relevant, but we lose the scathing cynicality freshly post-9/11 world. This revival feels more Boutique than Big Box, and that’s far from a bad thing.
Lord, Miller, and Lawrence resurrected Clones successfully the first time. A second time was always in their DNA.
5/5 Stars. (“For Your Consideration”)
4/5 Stars. (“Clone Alone”)