(originally aired May 6, 1993)
By the end of a long production season, the writers must be running on fumes and going a bit mental. I’ve noticed with other shows, and with my own work as well, when you’re at the tail end, you get a bit wackier and more impulsive, producing some unusual, but great stuff. “Marge in Chains” is 20 out of 22, and it’s a real silly episode. Not silly in the ways of “Marge vs. the Monorail,” but in a more grounded sense. Marge going to prison for petty shoplifting is a pretty easy surmising for this episode, but it doesn’t account for the ridiculousness that exists throughout, from the visible and vindictive flu clouds at the beginning to the really stupid, but hysterical ending.
We open with another great infomercial tag team with Troy McClure and Dr. Nick, but an ill factory worker from Osaka, Japan causes a nasty flu to invade Springfield. Marge is seemingly immune, but has her hands full with the demands of her sick husband and kids. Run ragged, she leaves the Kwik-E-Mart, accidentally not paying for a bottle of bourbon, and an unusually vindictive Apu presses charges. I guess my only gripe with the episode is how petty Apu appears to be in persecuting Marge. At this point in the series he wasn’t quite family friends with the Simpsons, but he at least acknowledged Homer as one of his best customers. However, hearing Apu say to Homer’s face that he’s going to “put this bitch on ice” is a pretty extraordinary moment. After a spectacular legal battle (one of Lionel Hutz’s best, if not the best), Marge is sentenced to thirty days in prison. The payoff of a Springfield-less Marge is absolutely ridiculous: without her lemon squares, a local bake-off is fifteen dollars short. Unable to buy a statue of Lincoln, they settle on Jimmy Carter (with the amazing “Malaise Forever” placard,) leaving the town to violently riot.
As retarded as the ending is, there’s a running theme of mob rule and the evils of gossip. An frantic, inattentive mob desperately beckons Dr. Hibbert for a cure for the flu, only to go mad and knock over a truck carrying boxes of bees (one even eats one: “I’m cured! I mean, ouch!”) In the main story, hearsay spreads through the town regarding Marge’s crime, from the highest rung of society in Mayor Quimby’s soapbox proclamation to town busybody Helen Lovejoy. Spectacle always seems to overshadow fact, and it’s sort of a subtle message to the episode, and gives some explanation for Marge’s conviction. The final mob scene responding to the Carter statue is one of the most insane in the series; they get so infuriated so quickly by the unveiling (best line of the show is from one particularly irate crowd member: “He’s history’s greatest monster!”) The scene moves so quickly; in ten seconds they’re using the statue to smash into stores and look, fires are started, and chaos ensues. It’s absolutely nuts, but hey, that’s Springfield for you. Truly an underrated episode.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I’ll be honest, not one of the best infomercials. I think they pushed it too far by only having the machine produce one droplet of juice from a bag of oranges; I don’t think even Homer could overlook something like that. But the additive product is great: Sun-and-Run, the suntan lotion that doubles as a laxative. McClure, having just applied it to his face, dashes off-camera upon hearing this.
– The visible flu germs are pretty silly, almost like out of a Halloween show. I do like the POV shot of the germ pursuing Wiggum, who attempts to open fire at the illness, and then later the POV of vomit falling from the sky on an unfortunate suntanning Otto.
– “Germs of Endearment” is one of my favorite Itchy & Scratchys. Jumping out the window, Scratchy manages to cram his internal organs back in his body, in a reverse manner with the brick still tied to them. Of course, that makes things okay… until he lands on a cactus. The spikes piercing both his eyes is pretty gruesome.
– Great line from Grampa demanding Marge get him bourbon: “Stir it into my mush! Either way, just gimme gimme gimme!”
– I like that Apu felt the need to get Marge’s height (with hair 8 1/2 feet). What other woman is going to have a three-foot beehive of blue hair?
– Great Psycho parody of Maude peering in on Marge using her bathroom.
– Hutz’s genius is all over this one: the smoking monkey, his dread over Judge Snyder, his vision of a world without lawyers, his attempt to intercede the jury’s verdict with his own (“This verdict is written on a cocktail napkin! And it still says ‘guilty’! And ‘guilty’ is spelled wrong!”) The best scene is his attempting to discredit Apu’s memory by asking him what tie he’s wearing, and his lengthened stall as he attempts to remove it. His tie-less reveal shocks the jury, even though they must have seen Hutz removing it.
– Before being escorted to jail, we get a ridiculous fantasy of a crossdressing Bart seducing the warden to get his keys, and a sweet goodbye from Homer (“I’m going to miss you so much. And it’s not just the sex. It’s also the food preparation, your skill with stains of all kinds, but mostly I’ll miss how lucky I feel each and every morning.”)
– Great winking line from Lisa, commenting she’s felt like she’s been wearing the same red dress forever. Homer recommends she check the attic, as he walks down with full wedding regalia, clearly Marge’s from the rips and tears to fit his frame. He even put on the garter, and daintily lifts his skirt as he walks down the stairs. It’s obvious that he just wanted to wear the dress.
– I kind of wish the Carter statue with Marge hair had become a staple item like the Olmec head, where it would pop up every now and again in the background. Alas, it’s never been seen again.