(originally aired December 5, 1991)
For almost all TV series, status quo is God. However outlandish and mixed up the universe may get over the course of twenty-odd minutes, things always end up right back where they started, or at least they will for sure in time for next week’s episode. But a show like this one uses its tried-and-true format to explore a deeper meaning behind these mechanics and how they’re not too far off from our own feelings, about being comfortable of where you’re at and how fragile one’s existence can be. Both Homer and Mr. Burns in their own different ways realize how valuable their roles are in this ballet of life and how much they both need their lives at the nuclear power plant.
We open with a melancholy Burns musing about the missed opportunities of his bygone years, ultimately deciding to sell the power plant to a group of efficient Germans. As he puts it, the world is his oyster, and he sets off into the world to conquer it. However, Burns quickly realizes that without a position of power, he’s nothing more than a withered old goat, puttering about without a purpose. Seeing him tend to bee hives and attempt to box just seems wrong; Burns is a man who needs others to cower before him, but now, even a young whippersnapper like Bart can take full advantage of him. As he succinctly puts it himself, “What good is money if it can’t inspire terror in your fellow man?” Without the power plant, he has nothing.
Homer, meanwhile, is terrified about the regime change. He’s well aware of his limited intelligence regarding his job (he can barely even remember what position he holds to begin with) and knows those crafty Germans will be able to see right through him, kindly and welcoming as they may be. Every one of us gets that nagging feeling from time to time that we’re getting by a bit too easily in our lives, but Homer’s been living that for his whole life. Naturally, he is the plant’s only lay-off, and the Germans slowly learn that the plant is more unkempt and disastrous than they thought. A woefully unemployed Homer and a woefully purposeless Burns are simply no good, so the episode ends as it should: Burns takes the plant back and rehires Homer, under the adage of keeping one’s enemies close, biding his time before it’s time to strike, which as status quo dictates, will never, ever happen. Ever.
Tidbits and Quotes
– We’ve been seeing more developments in the Smithers-Burns relationship. Smithers is the ultimate sycophant: he loves his boss more than anything, because he’s the hyper-charged caricature of the spineless yesman. An affection exists between the two, but there’s nothing truly overt about Smithers’ sexuality. It’s secondary, if anything.
– Very brief, but wonderful appearance by Homer’s stock broker (voiced by Phil Hartman), a pale, broken husk of a man hunched over in a dank office. Since he hasn’t called up his client in years, they have a brief catching up, and I really mean brief. Homer foolishly cashes in his stock too early, blowing twenty-five bucks on a fancy bottle of Duff, when he could have had a cool six thousand.
– Those Germans have some wonderful penmenship, writing “$100,000,000” in distinctly European font. Even a man as wealthy as Burns has his price, apparently. I also love how a German flag immediately ascends a flagpole upon the announcement, complete with a dramatic sting. This doesn’t bode well…
– Great reference to Alexander Graham Bell in Burns’ call to Smithers, as well as his great Elvis impression/mockery.
– The runner of one of the Germans repeatedly rephrasing asking Homer to have a meeting, thinking his English is poor, and Homer getting increasingly more freaked out is fantastic.
– Of course, of course, the Land of Chocolate! One of the show’s most classic and immortal sequences. It feels out of place from the rest of the show, something I’d normally call out, but for some reason it still works. It makes perfect sense to me that hearing “Land of Chocolate” would send Homer into a feverish daydream, delirious from excitement over the prospect. The giddy music, the glorious animation, and the kicker, Homer’s most excited when he passes a chocolate shop with a half-price sign.
– The announcement of lay-offs is hilarious. I just love the brief pause before “that is all.” Reminds me of a similar bit later in “Cape Feare” when Bob lists off the Simpsons that he will not kill.
– I feel a later Simpsons episode would have loved to shock Homer repeatedly with the malfunctioning toaster, but here the gag is left by itself, since Homer has enough problems on his plate without getting surges of electricity through him.
– Another spin on the crank calls is Bart having to set foot in Moe’s moments after he’s sent him into a rage. Moe, of course, is completely clueless, amused at Bart’s admission to making crank calls. It’s a great bit, which also leads into the final scene with Burns entering the bar and Homer confronting him. With Burns out of power, Homer has the ire to step up for himself, and that’s a world that’s just no fun.
– And what better way to end an episode than with Mr. Burns screaming at young children? “This is a place of business, not a pee-wee flophouse!”