(originally aired October 7, 1993)
This is the final episode of the fourth production season, and as I mentioned in “Marge in Chains,” final creative efforts usually lead to some silly stuff. Look no further than “Cape Feare,” one of the most ridiculous and crazy episodes to date. The show is so great that it can juggle many different tones, sometimes within the same episode. There’s no better example than “Feare;” it captures the grim, suspenseful nature of its parody source material and plot line, and balances it with some really wacky slapstick humor straight out of a Looney Tunes short. The tension doesn’t yield to the comic elements, or vice versa, and the story doesn’t miss a beat in carrying us along to our conclusion. It’s not rich in satire, or emotionally driven; it’s an episode that runs on craziness, and it’s among the best of that variety.
Bart has been receiving mysterious letters written in blood threatening his life, revealed to have been written by an incarcerated Sideshow Bob. The first act sets our dual tone perfectly, in one of the best sequences of the series, where characters appear to be menacing Bart, but end their sentences completely innocuously. Ned Flanders wields razor-tipped gloves and approaches Bart (“Say your prayers, Simpson… because the schools don’t force you like they should!”) We still feel Bart’s increasing paranoia, but we laugh at how ridiculous this human behavior is, that you completely change tone in mid-sentence. The act break, amongst other points in this episode, is brilliantly animated, which shows real effort that they didn’t just phone this last one in. We also establish the “Cape Feare” theme riff from Alf Clausen is Bob’s theme music, which would stick from here on out. “Black Widower” established Bob to be a criminal mastermind and a real threat, but “Feare” shows that the man has a side of him that is truly deranged; his methodical planning and obsession over disemboweling a ten-year-old boy is really sick, but because that boy is Bart, we can sort of understand.
The Simpsons are put in the witness protection program and relocated on a house boat. This doesn’t stop Bob, though, who follows them to Terror Lake and has a final showdown with his victim. The finale is truly spectacular, where Bart uses Bob’s pride and showmanship against him, stalling for time by requesting Bob perform the H.M.S. Pinafore before gutting him. Bob puts on a great performance, putting together props, costumes, and ending with the British flag unfurling behind him as Bart reads a Playbill printed from God knows where. It’s a ridiculous ending, but it works completely with the established tone. A story of an escaped convict’s mission to kill a child needs some wacky relief, making Bob’s quest almost like Wile E. Coyote going after the Road Runner. He’s always thwarted, be it by marching elephants, cactus patches, rakes (classic scene), and ultimately himself. As overly cartoonish as this episode is, it never quite goes far enough to feel unlike The Simpsons. Maybe not the best Bob show, but truly worth its classic status.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The opener “Up Late with McBain” is a great TV bit, from the opening announcer (complete with visible Nazi armband) to Rainier Wolfcastle’s complete inability to deliver jokes or respond to a crowd (“Maybe you are all homosexuals too!”)
– Lisa’s pen pal letter is a classic bit (“Dear Lisa, as I write this, I am very sad. Our president has been overthrown and [voiceover changes] replaced by the benevolent general Krull. All hail Krull and his glorious new regime! Sincerely, Little Girl.”) Hank Azaria’s read for Krull is great, but this is another joke that has fantastic implications. This oppressive dictator marched into her house and killed this girl mid-sentence, and had the consideration to finish and send her letter, if only to self-aggrandize himself to a foreigner. Amazing.
– Love Bob’s overuse of writing in blood: he uses it for his grocery list, and later for his further letters, at least until he passes out (Snake comments, “Use a pen, Sideshow Bob!”)
– Moe’s backdoor shenanigans is another joke with seedy implications. Was he trying to sell this pandas on the black market? What industry does this service?
– Bob’s court case is hilarious beginning to end. Selma attests that Bob tried to kill her, but Blue-Haired Lawyer rebuts in revealing most everyone in the court room also wants to kill her, including Patty (“She’s always leaving the toilet seat up.”) Bob attempts to play dumb regarding Bart, but quickly lowers his voice in menace over his role in sending him to this “urine-soaked hellhole.” A parole board member takes issue with this, having not used the more appropriate “pee-pee-soaked heck hole.” Bob concedes (“Cheerfully withdrawn!”) In the best one-two punch ever, Bob reveals his tattoo “DIE BART DIE” is actually German for “THE BART THE.” Another parole board member comments, “No one who speaks German could be an evil man!” Parole granted.
– “Cape Fear” parody aside, never quite got why Bob is laughing so uproariously at an Ernest film, considering his high-minded tastes. Perhaps he was already staking out Bart and knew they were behind him. Also, why didn’t Bart and Lisa recognize Bob’s hair instantly? Pretty unique, if you ask me.
– Bob in the ice cream truck is absolutely ridiculous, but I absolutely love it. The pause right after the four Simpsons were announced, then the “That is all” kills me.
– The “Hello, Mr. Thompson” sequence is amazing. I love how exhausted and fed up the two agents look after the time lapse, and how they’ve simplified the response to a smile and nod after stepping on Homer’s foot, like they’ve slowly but surely reformatted the simple input-response, desperate to get it through Homer’s thick skull. Homer’s loud whisper, “I think he’s talking to you,” is the perfect end.
– As random as the ending is, it’s sort of referenced early on with the Simpsons listening to Gilbert & Sullivan on the way to Terror Lake.
– Great change of the intro with “The Thompsons,” with a nice couch gag.
– The rake scene… I do think it goes on a bit too long, though I know it was only extended to get the show to air time. I like it though; the overarching theme of the show, and a lot of Bob episodes, is that Bob may be a fanciful cultured genius, he is stuck in a world where fate treats him like the kicked-about sidekick from the job he loathed so much. So getting trampled by elephants and stepping on rakes is like life’s ongoing cruel joke to him.
– Sort of like the stuff with Marge and Flanders at the beginning, Homer bursting into Bart’s room with a butcher knife, only to be revealed as him offering his son a brownie, is hysterical. Homer claims to understand Bart’s paranoia, only to be followed by, “BART YOU WANNA SEE MY NEW CHAINSAW AND HOCKEY MASK?!”
– Bart kind of got away by pure luck: he bought enough time to run ashore in Springfield, but as Chief Wiggum said, “It’s a good thing you drifted by this brothel!” But with Wiggum and the other cops in bathrobes, I wonder what the boys in blue were up to… We also get the great line, “Bake ’em away, toys!”