This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad!: Season 14, Episode 22
“Why can’t you starve in the desert? Because of the sand, which is there…”
Much like how Roger has a seemingly infinite amount of costumes to try on, American Dad! has slowly refined its ability to transform itself into some outlandish genre spoof at a moment’s notice. Ever since the show’s impressive James Bond parody, “Tearjerker,” from back in season three, American Dad! has been willing to play “What If?” with its cast and premise.
In addition to stylistic departures like “Tearjerker” and its sequel, “For Black Eyes Only,” there have been other installments that get pretty close to embracing a full-out genre parody, such as “Poltergasm,” “Independent Movie,” or “Hot Water,” but they ultimately don’t go as far with their concept as they could. Hell, there’s even been an episode of American Dad! that operates like a lost Pulitzer Prize-winning piece of theater. This is a show that isn’t afraid to dress their cast up in crazy wardrobe and play “make believe” for the course of an episode. In fact, it even welcomes the challenge whenever possible.
A Western might not be the first idea that comes to mind with American Dad!, but it oddly feels like a bit of a natural fit for the series. All of these characters fit into the various Western stereotypes surprisingly well, with this stylistic finale thankfully rising to the occasion and helping the season end on a very positive note. It also helps that the episode doesn’t waste any time trying to establish this premise or set up why this deviation is going on. A simple text scrawl tells us that it’s 1870 in the Arizona Desert and that’s all that’s necessary.
Appropriately enough, “West to Mexico” starts American Dad!’s finale with a rather bloody, action-packed opening scene that sees Bullock and his gang of outlaws execute an innocent family. Just when it looks like the lone survivor of the family, a young boy, may grow old to swear revenge and be the driving force of the episode, he’s immediately shot down and killed. So, much for that. But it makes for a powerful opening that quickly establishes the sort of pastiche that this episode is going for—with the American Dad! flag getting branded not long after. If these guys are going for a Western, it’s going to be the violent, sprawling kind where not even children are safe.
In this new Western backdrop, Roger takes on the form of a bounty hunter who is hot on the heels of the outlaw, Stan Smith. There’s a lot of fun Man With No Name Trilogy references going on here, like Roger dragging a coffin behind him (that’s empty, except for self-important symbolism), or Stan being decked out in a very familiar-looking poncho. Roger’s introduction here is also quite funny as he simultaneously butchers a joke and a gathering of people. It’s an inspired sort of Western slant on Roger’s brand of twisted masochism. Giving him a gun and a license to shoot first and ask questions never is a very dangerous recipe.
Another enjoyable character metamorphosis is Hayley, who comes in the form of a debutante whose entire family is dead of cholera…which she gave to them. That’s what has her traveling West. Stan on the other hand has his sights set on reaching Arizona. Specifically, Consternation, Arizona, due to a promise that was made to him.
Curiously, the episode sees this reality’s version of Hayley and Jeff meeting one another, with Jeff deciding to ease her stress with the wonders of opium. Rather than this leading to some sort of commentary on the idea that Hayley and Jeff are constant soul mates, regardless of the universe, the guy overdoses on opiates and is out of the picture almost as quickly as he enters.
As Stan wanders through Consternation, he runs across troubled dancer Francine, who he instantly falls for. The saloon regulars (ie. Steve and Klaus) warn him that she’s only going to lead to heartache and bullet wounds, yet this rugged take on Stan persists. Stan may have the look and demeanor of a Clint Eastwood character here, but he doesn’t have any of the moves. Bullock’s gang is able to work Stan over without effort, but at least this acts as the catalyst that sees the ersatz Smith family coming together as a unit. The Bullock Gang may hold the monopoly on Consternation, but after Brian Lewis—now a barber—informs the group of what a hero Stan is from the duo’s war days, the town suddenly has the leader they need to win back their freedom.
In spite of there being a rather clear plot here, the episode becomes a little aimless at times by just having too much fun with the Western gags, which honestly isn’t the end of the world. Besides, if it can lead to moments like Steve singing an anachronistic burlesque number while Francine dances, what’s there to complain about?
All of this shooting at high noon and galloping off in the sunset builds up to Roger catching up with Stan and escorting him off to his hanging for having shot a general during the war. As Roger drags Stan off to his execution, the two end up bonding and learning that they actually admire the opposing traits that are in each other. They even have team-based nicknames. As Roger is in custody of Stan, the people of Consternation figure out that Stan isn’t there to act as some sort of symbol of heroism, after all. Rather, Stan’s ineptitude is meant to show the townspeople that they don’t need a hero. They can be their own legends, which is exactly what they try to put into practice as they attempt to rescue Stan.
There’s a rejuvenated energy that helps drive “West to Mexico” forward, but it doesn’t change the fact that the entry’s final minutes are a bit of a mess. Roger puts his incalculable speed into use in order to aid Stan’s marksmanship and a few more hasty actions close out the episode. Then again, this entry just as easily could have had Roger blast everyone to piece and instead just end on that note. Or maybe the production team happens to think The Matrix is part of the greater Western canon.
“West to Mexico” is certainly lighter American Dad! that is more interested in having some fun rather than re-inventing the wheel. The entry is enough of a success that it wouldn’t be a disaster if the show were to ever return to this playground. Plus this is also just a beautiful episode to watch play out. All of these new backdrops, detailed costumes, and vibrant vistas highlight a side of animation that American Dad! doesn’t get to play with that often. These opportunities where the show gets to flex its animation muscle and indulge these impulses are a lot of fun and make this episode resonate even more strongly than it normally would. It doesn’t make this entry an all-time classic, but it does elevate an average offering into something that’s a little more.
Good luck with those pig farms, everyone, and see you next year!