American Dad: Mine Struggle Review

American Dad turns up the madcap factor this week by reminding us all about the importance of salt.

This American Dad review contains spoilers.

American Dad Season 12 Episode 18

 “Is salt valuable?”


If this episode of American Dad leaves you with any message, it’s that lawns are the glue that hold together America. Who’d have thought that such simple pastures could be sanctuaries for all of the best memories a family could experience?

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American Dad has explored so many topics at this point that an episode that sees the Smith family arguing over ownership of a salt mine seems just as plausible as any. Things start off innocuously enough with Stan attempting to scrub away 20 years worth of filth from the aforementioned lawn before falling upon this salty discovery. For the amount of time that American Dad will sometimes take with assembling its stories, it’s a little surprising how quickly this one comes together. In fact, the entire episode’s confidence in embracing this salt story is a little disarming. While it’s certainly far from the weirdest thing that this show has attempted, you can feel the lack of a B-story this week. This salt madness could work a whole lot better when sharing time with other developments, but instead everyone is left feeding the salt business, which becomes problematic. 

Once the news that the Smiths are in possession of something with legitimate worth, the real question becomes who is actually in ownership of it. Due to some childhood games shared between Stan and Steve, it turns out that Steve is actually the owner of the very expensive mine, which gives him the power. This develops into the typical story where Steve’s family are all pushing him to sell on the matter and give into the persistent Gordon Salt and his Salt company, while he wants to hold onto his memories and not trade in his childhood for a big price tag. 

This might be a story that has a lot of familiar beats to it, but that doesn’t stop it from making up its weirdness in other areas. For example, we’re shown just enough details of the inner workings of the villainous Salt company to know that there are some deeply messed up things going on over there. The idea of Roger’s personae becoming so accomplished at this point that he’s literally becoming objects, like a safe, is a beautiful evolution of the Roger mythos that probably won’t be played with in any real way, but should. Add to that a steady runner of grade-A Klaus burns throughout the episode and a bizarre extended gag about who the salt’s real owner is (while also providing a nice shout-out to any Cleveland Show fans that are still out there) and there’s still plenty of absurd humor that helps elevate the episode’s material.

For as ridiculous as it is to spend so much time and energy of an episode on salt, this installment is of course really all about family and the sanctity of the memories that you build with them—you know everything that a lawn stands for. It even manages to be a reasonably touching tale on the matter, too. Those 20 years of family mischief that need to be dug through in order to find this salt mine in the first place end up being what this is all about. The goldmine—so to speak—has been there the whole time.

As the episode ping-pongs between playing with the idea as to whether Steve might sell out to Gordon Salt or not, it still manages to say some astute things about parenting. So much of “Mine Struggle” might take the typical structure of a Stan versus Steve episode of the series. As the episode continues to pair them against each other, it simultaneously shows us examples of how similar the two of them are. Steve’s total manipulation of the Salt company is only possible because of Stan’s total manipulation of him when it came to their childhood games. As much as Steve might want to fight that he’s different than his father, this episode makes a number of surprising points towards generational learning and how this is all part of a pattern. In its own perfect American Dad way it also subverts all of this father-son love with the beauties of recycled parenting. There’s going to be a whole future of whiny Smith kids that fight their family over selling their salt mine or not.

As the pressure of the decision weighs on Steve, he eventually comes to the conclusion of giving in. What’s the point of hanging onto all of the memories that he’s made with his family if that entire family is in opposition to his decision? It’s once Steve has made this breakthrough that the episode pulls the carpet from under you in one final way, keeping the ownership of the salt mine in question—and interesting—up until its final moments. 

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Once again, this salt fodder is completely serviceable for the series and ends up becoming more poignant than it originally lets on, but is the definition of a B-story rather than something to anchor an episode. The beauty with this show is that sometimes those deviations lead to challenging, unexpected storytelling, and other times you’re left with a giant mine of salt. You just need to dig in and see which you’re dealing with.


3 out of 5