Cartman shows Stan, Kyle, and Kenny a series of humiliating photographs he has taken of Butters during sleepovers at the Cartman house, and says he has a "coop de grass" planned for their next sleepover that night. The next day, he triumphantly shows off a picture in which he has put the sleeping Butters' penis in his mouth and is smiling at the camera and giving a thumbs-up, which he says implies that Butters is gay... whereupon the other three point out that Cartman, as the one doing the simulated fellating, is the one who looks gay. Kyle convinces Cartman that the "gay polarity" can be reversed if he tricks Butters into fellating him, but just as Cartman carries out this plan, Stephen walks in on them. Cartman flees, while Butters is diagnosed by his father as "bi-curious" (a word he doesn't understand) and packed off to a conversion therapy camp.
The counselors at Camp New Grace euphemistically describe Butters as "confused" (having no idea what's going on, he readily agrees), and tell him they will use the power of Christ to resolve his confusion. The camp is shown to fall victim to regular suicides, while the counsellors are are all hypocrites (including the effeminate Pastor Phillips, who claims to be evidence that conversion therapy works). Butters becomes the Accountabili-buddy of a homosexual boy called Bradley, who finds himself attracted to the oblivious Butters. When he confesses his feelings and Butters, still unaware of what the camp is or why he's there, "reciprocates", Bradley becomes convinced he is incurable and decides to jump off a bridge, but Butters is able to talk him down while eviscerating the camp's philosophy. Though he still has no clue what "bi-curious" means, he decides that if that's what he is, then he's okay with it, and Stephen says he's okay with it as well (and implies that he's bi-curious himself).
Meanwhile, having learnt that putting Butters' penis in his mouth does not make either him or Butters gay, Cartman says if the boys ever tell anybody, he will Photoshop Kyle's face in place of his own and show off the picture. His plan hits a snag when the photo goes missing, and he becomes convinced Kyle has stolen it. He tries reporting the theft to the police (they aren't interested), then getting his mother to call Kyle's mother (they believe Kyle's denial). So Cartman decides to print off another copy and beat Kyle to showing it off at Show and Tell on Monday. But just as the whole class is reeling in shock from the sight (which Cartman tries to pass off as a critique of the war in Iraq), Mr. Mackey arrives with a message from Liane: she found the photo under Cartman's desk. A humiliated Cartman can only mutter, "Lame."
"Cartman Sucks" contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Butters' parents don't seem to grasp that Butters has no idea what's going on, or make any attempt to explain anything in any way. Butters doesn't even know what bi-curious means. They send him away to that horrible camp without a second thought.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Gay conversion camps do exist. Contracts of confidentiality must be signed before you can enter. And the episode doesn't even scratch the surface of claims of their methods of 'treatment', probably because it would have been just too hard for Butters to remain oblivious if he was undergoing physical torture.
- Analogy Backfire: The camp leader says that the boys have to be made straight "like a paperclip", apparently not realising that a straightened paperclip is totally useless.
- As the Good Book Says...: Played for a mix of drama and horror - Bradley quietly mutters Bible verses every now and then.
- Black Comedy Rape: The plot kicks off by Cartman inviting Butters over for a sleepover, just so he can take pictures of Butters with his dick in Cartman's mouth while Butters is asleep. Then, Kyle jokingly tells Cartman the only way he can avoid looking gay is for Cartman to get his penis in Butters' mouth, saying it will "Reverse the gay polarity." Cartman then tries to trick Butters into doing just that. Cartman molests Butters in his sleep and Kyle convinces him to do it again with the positions reversed.
- Bland-Name Product: In the scene where Cartman threatens to Photoshop Kyle's face into the photo of Cartman simulating sucking Butters off if the other boys tell anyone about it, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny are seen playing a game called Living. The name and the setup of the board are clear references to The Game of Life, although Living appears to involve more dice-rolling and card-swapping than Life.
- By-the-Book Cop: As crazy as it sounds, Sergeant Yates actually followed a reasonable protocol for once. He tells Cartman that arresting Kyle for stealing a photo is petty because he can just print another one, and when Cartman insists he does he explains he would need a search warrant approved by a jury. When Cartman says that will take too long, Sergeant Yates explains there's nothing else he can do.
- Camp Gay / Camp Straight: Pastor Phillips makes claims that his conversion therapy has been completely successful, but his extremely effeminate mannerisms go to show that just because you're not having sex with men doesn't make you less gay.
- Cassandra Truth: Kyle really did not steal the picture and Cartman discovers this too late.
- Driven to Suicide: Several boys are shown to have committed suicide during their stay at the camp and given the counselors' reactions, this is common. This is just barely an exaggeration of real-life conversion therapy.Camp Director: We've got another one. Room 22.Camp Staffer: Ah, darnit!
- Get Back in the Closet: An In-Universe example. A former camper at the conversion therapy claims to have been made straight by the camp, but it seemed it more or less performed this trope on him.
- Hidden Depths: It's quite nice to learn that Cartman is almost a genius when it comes to artistic photography, which lends depth to his usual character of being a Jerkass.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Cartman's prank on Butters combined with his antisemitism come back to bite him in the butt hard in the end.
- An Accountabili-buddy is... a boy with your own sexual issues, whom you are supposed to share a room with and stick beside and support constantly on your shared journey to the salvation of your soul. Really, it's just the counselors' way of foisting any responsibility for safety onto the boys.Director: Bradley is your Accountabilibuddy, Butters! That makes you Accountabilibuddyable!
- Stephen Scotch is disgusted at the thought of having a bi-curious son, despite "Butters' Very Own Episode" revealing he's a Depraved Homosexual. He admits he's bi-curious at the end, but it's far more likely that he's either bi-sexual or homosexual. Butters does comment on this.Butters: Wait... now I really am confused...
- The camp has at least one gay counselor for whom Conversion Therapy has clearly failed; Pastor Phillips.
- The counselors quickly claim credit (or credit by proxy) for Butters talking Bradley down.
- An Accountabili-buddy is... a boy with your own sexual issues, whom you are supposed to share a room with and stick beside and support constantly on your shared journey to the salvation of your soul. Really, it's just the counselors' way of foisting any responsibility for safety onto the boys.
- Insane Troll Logic: Stephen inadvertently lampshades how little sense it makes to try to cure bi-curious boys by making them all live together in a secluded area cut off from the rest of society.
- Karma Houdini:
- Besides being accused of being closeted gays and clearly shirking their responsibilities to keep the boys in their custody safe, the counsellors of Camp New Grace face no punishment for their inhumane treatment of the boys.
- Kyle is basically the reason Butters ended up in that camp in the first place, because he convinced Cartman in order to not look gay he had to get Butters to put Cartman's dick in his mouth. For the sake of making Cartman look like an idiot, Kyle pretty much told Cartman he had to molest Butters.
- Obliviously Evil: A subtle but extremely disturbing example - the counselors at Camp New Grace do show vague concern over the suicide epidemic in their camp, but they see no connection whatsoever between this and their conversion attempts, and don't seem to have any serious interest in protecting the boys who are in their custody. They just clean it up and move on. If anything, they seem to think that it's a good reason to reinforce said conversion attempts.
- Oh, Crap!: Cartman ends up with the expression of someone who knows they're screwed several times in this episode.
- When he shows Stan, Kyle, and Kenny the picture of him fellating Butters, Kyle points out that contrary to what Cartman thinks, this doesn't make Butters gay, it makes Cartman gay. Cartman's triumphant look vanishes and he starts panicking over how to "reverse" what he's done.
- When the photo goes missing and Kyle denies all responsibility, Cartman assumes he's going to make good on his threat to show everyone the picture, so he decides to beat him to it by including it in a slideshow of his photography during Show and Tell. The students are dumbfounded, and Mrs. Garrison demands an explanation. Cartman is about to offer one when Mr. Mackey shows up with a message from Liane saying Kyle didn't steal the photo after all; it was under Cartman's desk, meaning Cartman showed off the photo for nothing. Cartman spends nearly ten seconds in mortified silence before finally muttering, "Lame..."
- Parental Obliviousness: Even for someone who is Pushover Parent, Liane is surprisingly unfazed by the fact Cartman had a picture of him sucking Butters' dick.
- Police are Useless: Though Yates is right to dismiss Cartman's attempts to get Kyle indicted for theft, child pornography, even if it was produced by the children in question, and sexual abuse warrant a bit more urgency.
- Poor Man's Porn: Bradley is caught with a men's underwear catalogue.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Butters gives the counselors a well deserved one at the end.
- Scenery Censor: When Cartman is showing off the photo of him appearing to perform oral sex on Butters as part of a slideshow, his head covers the part of the picture depicting his mouth and Butters' genitals, reducing them to indistinct fuzz.
- Take That!: A very heavy handed one towards conversion therapy, portraying them as doing nothing more than making young boys who are at a very delicate stage in hormonal development feel like terrible people, and simply assuming that they are gay just because they're sent there. In Bradley's case they strive to force them into a lifestyle that doesn't suit them at all. In Butters' case, it might leave a confused child even more confused.
- Too Dumb to Live: Cartman for not realizing his "prank" on Butters would make him look gay instead, and for automatically assuming Kyle stole the photo after he couldn't find it when it was under his the desk the whole time. This leads to Cartman thoroughly humiliating himself in a vain attempt to rob Kyle of the opportunity.
- Truth in Television: It just seems so ridiculous that you can rid a boy of sexual feelings for other boys by sending him to a camp full of boys with exactly the same issue, right? Well, pretty much all Real Life Conversion Therapy camps do exactly this.