“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
A beautiful thing happened on Wednesday night: The Washington Nationals won a playoff series, advancing to the NLCS for the first time since the franchise relocated to the nation’s capital in 2005. It was one of those tragicomic playoff curses that seemed impossible to quash, like the Toronto Raptors repeatedly getting spanked by LeBron James after buying into their own hype machine and DeMar DeRozan’s midrange game. Well, we know how the Raptors’ season ended—and it’s only fitting that the Nationals’ breakthrough came during a season when the team barely scraped into the postseason at all. The Nats euphoria was a reminder that, simply, life can be surprisingly good sometimes. Leave it to The Masked Singer to bring me back down to earth.
Thankfully, I DVR’d the singing competition so I could watch Clayton Kershaw implode for the umpteenth time—but Thursday morning, the costumed reckoning awaited me. Even though it feels like I’ve been covering the second season of the show since the dawn of the millennium, we are—somehow, through alchemical means perhaps?—only on Episode 3. The final four contestants who’d yet to perform made their debuts this week: the Eagle, the Flower, the Penguin, and the Fox, with one elimination in the cards. (At which point the remaining contestants will hopefully compete in a Hell in a Cell–style showdown—and, sorry, I keep getting distracted by the show endlessly promoting WWE’s SmackDown, but there’s serious crossover potential here.)
At one point, host Nick Cannon said The Masked Singer is “all pleasure and absolutely no guilt,” which, aside from being a strange and unnecessary admission, didn’t ring true. Let me explain: When the contestants are introduced for the first time, a graphic pops up displaying their strengths and weaknesses—which is typically a play on the costume the anonymous celebrity is wearing, not an actual clue to their identities. This week, the weaknesses shown for the Eagle and Penguin both referred to climate change.
The Masked Singer is either attempting gallows humor, or hoping a reminder that we’re rapidly killing our planet and the amazing creatures that inhabit it will serve as a call to action when we’re not trying to figure out whether a masked penguin is actually Raven-Symoné.
Watching this and nearly having an existential crisis, I felt like Ethan Hawke’s character from First Reformed, and briefly considered mixing together a Pepto-whiskey cocktail. Is this really the best way to engage in climate change discourse, with animal jokes on a dystopian singing competition? Perhaps not, but to quote my man, well, somebody has to do something! (Sidebar: Ethan Hawke should appear this season as a guest judge, but only if he’s in character as the priest.)
Elsewhere—as usual—the actual judges panel of Robin Thicke, anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy, Ken Jeong, and Nicole Scherzinger continued with a stream of questionable guesses for the contestants. The best among them: positing that the Flower could be Mariah Carey. Disregarding the fact she wouldn’t be caught dead putting on a mask and singing for these plebes, it would be hilarious if the Masked Singer producers actually did this to Nick Cannon. (He and Carey were once married.) Imagine the Flower getting eliminated and Cannon having to be like, “IT’S … my ex-wife …” Alas, The Masked Singer is not Nick Cannon’s personal hell. It is mine.
The judges have also gone a little pun-crazy this season; after the Flower performed some Dolly Parton, Scherzinger said the performance was “heavy petal.” That pun should be tried at the Hague; furthermore, it was a Dolly Parton song, not fucking Avenged Sevenfold. If the Flower smashed a guitar while singing “Bat Country,” you [Bane voice] have my permission to say “heavy petal.” Clearly, Ken Jeong’s cringey humor is having some effect on the rest of the panel, and the solution is to get rid of him—and also Jenny McCarthy, because anti-vaxxers don’t deserve any kind of platform, and Jenny, listen, we don’t give a shit that you’re married to the Wahlberg from Blue Bloods.
When it came down to the “smackdown” elimination showdown, the Penguin bested the Eagle, which I also had some issues with. The Penguin’s vocals seem, well, Auto-Tune-y. The Eagle is by no means a professional singer, but he had a soulfulness to his voice that rang authentic. Alas, the Penguin had more physical theatrics—and that seemed to woo the judges, who vote on the smackdown instead of the audience. It’s probably not a good sign that the judges can be swayed by stage presence more than vocals—then again, as Nietzsche might say were he forced to watch any of this, nothing matters. So the Eagle was unmasked—and after lots of clues implying he’s worked alongside rock stars, he was revealed to be Dr. Drew Pinsky of Celebrity Rehab and Loveline.
McCarthy got closest of any of the judges by guessing that the Eagle was Adam Carolla, who was Dr. Drew’s former Loveline cohost. Thankfully, it wasn’t Carolla—he also doesn’t deserve a platform, and I’m sure his singing voice sounds like a frog choking on peanut butter. I’ll say this for Dr. Drew: He wouldn’t be mistaken for a rock star, but he wasn’t all that bad of a singer, either. I take some solace in that—and in the fact that every week The Masked Singer is on the air means one fewer week until our national nightmare is over. Until 2020, at least.