114. Fear of Flying

(originally aired December 18, 1994)
Where we took a glimpse at Homer’s past in “Inadequacy,” here we take a look at Marge’s. Now toward the third act of last episode, we got into some heavy material, seeing how psychologically damaging Abe was to little Homer, small bits that really let your mind wander as to how harsh Homer’s youth must have been. Here, we get even more horrible thoughts about Marge’s childhood. I’ve talked about on a few of these of Marge’s sad state of affairs, how she lives a life of eternal under appreciation and toting to her oafish husband. She’s a woman who’s permanently repressed, but more often of her own volition. Why is she like that? This episode gives us a bit more information, perhaps not as much as one would hope, but I’m of the mind that less is always more. The other elements surrounding the main Marge story isn’t quite that strong, but the emotional center of the show is rock solid.

We start with Homer being banned from Moe’s and his fevered search to find a new dive to get wasted in. His last resort is a pilot’s bar, which of course gets him mistaken for one himself and he botches a take-off. What’s great with this is it’s not the usual stupid thing where Homer assumes the role of a pilot to avoid getting in trouble; he flat out admits he’s a fake but no one believes him (“You fly boys crack me up!”) To keep the debacle hush-hush, he’s offered free tickets for the family to anywhere in the US (except Alaska and Hawaii, the freak states.) It’s when they finally get on the plane that Marge begins to have an anxiety attack, and reveals her phobia of flying. It’s here we see how damaged a woman Marge really is: struck with a painful stimuli of her past, she converts more so into a Stepford wife, continuously baking and working around the house, convinced everything is alright. There’s jokes shoehorned in around all of this, some of which work, but I’m pretty invested in the somewhat serious character stuff that some of it comes off distracting.

Marge ends up receiving counseling from accredited psychologist Dr. Zweig, voiced by the great Anne Bancroft. There we see a bit more of Marge’s past, at first not much more than we haven’t already seen. We know her sisters were bullies to her as a kid, as well as her mother teaching her to always bottle feelings and smile incessantly (“People know how good a mommy you have by the size of your smile.”) That scene in “Moaning Lisa” spoke such volumes, of how desperate for love and reassurance Jacqueline Bouvier must have been to instill such values on her daughter. But anyway, we get to the source of Marge’s fear: the shocking revelation that Marge’s father was not a pilot, but an airplane steward. It’s a hilariously stupid explanation, which is piled on more with multiple concurrent memories regarding terrifying airplane-related incidents (Zweig passes them off, “Yes, yes, it’s all a rich tapestry,”) but part of me wishes the story had been dealt with in a bit more serious manner. I love the dumbness of the ending, but it kind of reminded me of “$pringfield” where we have the joke of a serious problem swept under the rug, but that still leaves it a bit unsatisfying. Ultimately, I still like the episode for the devastating look at Marge’s past and present, and the jokes that managed to sneak their way past to make me laugh through the seriousness.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening is pretty funny, with the bar gang pulling very dangerous pranks on Moe, but Homer’s simple unscrew the sugar jar trick is going too far. I particularly love Barney’s prank: the episode starts and you see he’s wearing a new jacket with flower in the lapel, so you know what’s coming. So when he asks Moe to smell it, following the deadly cobra in the cash register, you think maybe it’s got acid in it or something. But no, Barney just lights Moe’s apron on fire.
– I never watched Cheers so I can’t really comment on that whole scene. I know Fraiser Crane was there in the bar, but didn’t speak, perhaps because you would have thought maybe it was Sideshow Bob in disguise.
– I love the name of the lesbian bar, the She-She Lounge, and Homer’s slow realization… that it doesn’t have a fire exit. After his proclamation and exit, a woman going to the bar asks, “What was her problem?”
– Marge’s ramblings of her mother’s advice to be good and never complain are really serious signs of her emotional problems. While part of me likes how this is left to the imagination, I kind of wish they had explored it a bit deeper, and a bit more seriously. I watch the show to laugh, but I could get into a bit more serious territory with characters I’ve grown attached to. Why not?
– I love the Alive parody, with the cheesy title drop, and the unseen gorging session (“Pass me another hunk of copilot.”)
– I do like the runner of Homer’s insane paranoia of Marge going to therapy, that he’ll instantly be villainized, which would lead to a divorce. Funny, but with all the other crazy stuff in this show, maybe a bit too much.
– Though I don’t know if I buy Marge having a Lost in Space dream, I love Dan Castellaneta doing Homer doing Dr. Smith (“As you well know, my back is a disaster area. Oh, the pain. Oh, the pain of it all!”)
– I do like in the end how encouraging Homer is to Marge on her plane ride, and of course how it backfires when the plane fails to take off and lands in the water.
– Hm. This feels like the shortest tidbits section yet. Not a lot of great jokes, I guess, but I like the episode anyway. Whatevs.

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12 responses to “114. Fear of Flying

  1. No mention of Guy Incognito? For shame!

  2. “Where would you like to go?” “Hawaii!” “Alaska!”

  3. GUY INCOGNITO. My favorite part of the entire series.

  4. That dog has a puffy tail! Come here puff.

  5. And I keep telling you you fly boys crack me up!

  6. Danger! My hooks are flailing wildly!

  7. – Frasier doesn’t speak during the Cheers segment simply because Kelsey Grammer was unable to make time to record any lines.
    – I know Simpsons has never been big on continuity, but it bugs me that Marge is afraid of flying here yet had no problems back in “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington.”
    – In Homer’s defense, his paranoia about Marge going to therapy was validated by Zweig calling him a big problem in Marge’s life.

  8. Two tidbits, since you felt you were light on them:

    * Great visual gag during Marge’s freakout on the plane, yelling “LEMME OFF LEMME OFF LEMME OFF” while, from the outside, the viewer only sees her hair through the plane windows as she runs back and forth up the aisle. More inventive direction there.
    * Another “things catching on fire for no reason” gag during the childhood flashbacks: the fake prop engines on toddler Marge’s ride-on toy airplane.

  9. Best joke of the whole episode:
    “This, honey, is what a cornfield looks like.”
    *Fighter plane comes in and shoots up cornfield*

  10. It’s not until years and years later that I read Pat Conroy’s Prince of tides, and actually realized what the lowenstein line at the end was a take off of.

  11. Homer’s paranoia a bit too much? That’s nonsense. Homer is perfectly in his character, he is humble and know how many flaws he’s got.. he’s rightfully terrified. It’s the typical unwittingly egoistic Homer. Perfect.

    Plus, I think this episode is perfectly balanced between jokes and seriousness. Love it.

  12. Did anyone else get the airplane shooting up the corn field as being a scene from North by Northwest? Love it. That’s just another fantastic Hitchcock reference in this season.

    I love the scene when Marge looks to be sitting on the couch, only for it not to be that way once you get a view from the side. Oh, and Marge’s moment when she says the cat and dog never had a wedding.

    Yeah, I gotta disagree with you Mike as I totally agree with Di Ed, it is a perfect balance. It works to a T.

    Oh, and of course, Guy Incognito NOT being Homer was funny too.

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