(originally aired September 17, 1995)
And now… the spine-tingling conclusion. If anyone reading this watched these episodes firsthand, I’d like to hear what you thought the ending was going to be, because I can’t see how anyone saw it coming. The 1-800-COLLECT contest, with the prize of being animated into an episode, was a bust (although according to commentary, someone did guess correctly online, but wasn’t eligible) and I’m sure the big reveal infuriated a lot of people. But I’ll get to this in a bit. This second half focused on Wiggum’s manhunt for Burns’ shooter, with most of the key suspects getting crossed off quickly. Smithers, a drunken wreck, did indeed shoot someone that night, but it ended up not being Burns. That leaves Homer, who, after finding Simpson DNA on Burns’ suit and the old man waking from his coma shouting his name, is promptly arrested. But in the end, Burns reveals the shooter is none other than… Maggie Simpson. Attempting to relinquish the baby’s lollipop in the town hall parking lot, Burns’ revolver fell into her hands and unloaded.
Considering the build-up and all the promotion, I guess there’s no way part two could not be a let-down in some regard. Part one was just so strong, with the drama just building and building until the very end. It was sort of exciting to see our beloved characters appear bloodthirsty, that any one of them could have been fired up enough to be attempted murderers. On top of that, Burns’ condition was in question, the old man could have been dead, which would leave a lasting impact on the series. Part two starts out affirming that Burns is in fact alive, which pops that bubble. Act one is about Smithers believing he had done it, but that leads us to believe that of course he didn’t, and act two quickly absolves all of the other characters. Then we get to Homer, who we know couldn’t have done it, which leaves us with… Maggie. While there were a few clues within these two episodes that might have pointed you to her, it’s such an out-of-nowhere choice that one would make that the mystery of it all becomes a red herring in itself. While this is a little unsatisfying, I absolutely love it at the same time; it was all a big unsolvable goof. There were some tricks pulled, but it all makes sense within the story; there weren’t any purposely misguiding clues or incorrect information, it all pointed to Maggie, you just didn’t know it.
With the plot pretty thin, we end up with a lot of great free-standing scenes, and also a lot of cultural references. We ingeniously start off with Smithers finding Burns in his shower, referencing the episode’s precursor Dallas, when they wrote over an entire season claiming it was all a dream. There’s also a great send-up of Twin Peaks where Lisa appears in Wiggum’s dreams to give him a subconscious clue, which is incredibly eerie, as they had Yeardley Smith speak her lines backwards then play it back, just like they did with that dwarf in the show. There’s plenty of funny jokes here, many coming from Wiggum’s rampant incompetence in his investigation, and of different characters like Moe, Skinner and Willie proving their innocence (the latter in a hilarious Basic Instinct parody). While it may not be as perfect as part one, it’s definitely what one could have hoped for in a satisfying conclusion to this two-part epic. “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” is one of the cornerstones of the Simpsons library, and for damn good reason too.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I love the beginning, focusing on an empty bottle of Vagrant’s Choice Fortified Scotch (may cause ejection of stomach contents), then turning about to reveal Smithers’ completely trashed apartment. He awakens, coughing up cigarette butts. He then finds Burns in the shower, which we know is ridiculous, but then they just push it even further with Speedway Squad! In Color! (“The year is 1965, and you and I are undercover detectives on the hot rod circuit. Now, let’s burn rubber, baby!”) Of course it was all a dream, but to Smithers’ chagrin, his apartment is still a total wreck. And he still coughs up cigarettes.
– Great reporting from Kent Brockman: “Burns was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was then transferred to a better hospital where doctors upgraded his condition to ‘alive.'”
– Grampa gets up to use the outhouse, which causes Homer to leap up (“My tool shed!”) Kinda lowbrow humor, but the callback of Homer hosing out the tool shed is damned funny.
– The flashbacks to part one, I suppose are necessary to highlight on important incidents, particularly “It’ll be like taking candy from a baby,” but are a tad less effective when watching each one back to back.
– Following his dynamite one-scene-wonder in part one, Sideshow Mel comes back with a vengeance here. I absolutely love Mel; like Sideshow Bob, he’s a culturally high-minded thespian stuck playing second banana to a buffoonish clown, but he takes it with a more quiet dignity. Here, he unravels the mystery that Smithes couldn’t have shot Burns, as he left the town hall meeting early to catch the show “Pardon My Zinger.” I love how dramatic he takes it, and how Krusty ends up becoming his tag-along, the best is when Mel bursts into the police station, introducing himself, and Krusty as his associate. Krusty, bewildered by what he’s got wrapped into, musters a confused, “Hey hey.”
– Turns out the man Smithers shot was Jasper, who was none too pleased at Smithers’ drunken staggering (“Sidewalk’s for regular walkin’, not for fancy walkin’.”) But, he was just shot in his wooden leg. And plus he’s senile (“Who shot who in the what now?”)
– Great quick line from Grampa: “You never know what you’re capable of. I never thought I could shoot down a German plane, but last year I proved myself wrong.”
– Of course the police immediately start with the most high-profile suspect Tito Puente, who has chosen to enact his vengeance through song. “Senor Burns” may feel a bit like a time killer, but it’s such a great song that who cares. Also interesting is the singer is the lounge singer from all the way back in “Homer’s Night Out.” In all, Wiggum is won over (“Okay, I believe you’re innocent. Gee, I hope all our suspects are this much fun.”) That leads us right to Skinner, who spends a long period of silence attempting to recall his whereabouts that night. Eventually he remembers: he was going to ambush Burns, going to the bathroom to apply his camo makeup, but ended up taking his mother’s. Chalmers walks in on him, and things immediately become awkward. Skinner attests Chalmers can confirm this story (“But anything else he tells you is a filthy lie.”)
– Willie proves his innocence thanks to his arthritis he got from playing Space Invaders, which prevents him from firing a pistol (“That was a pretty addictive video game.” “Video game?”) Best of all is Moe, who’s hooked up to a lie detector, and ends up ultimately confessing his later day plans (“I’m gonna sit home and ogle the ladies in the Victoria’s Secret catalog!” BUZZ. “…Sear’s catalog.” DING. “Will you unhook this thing already please? I don’t deserve this kind of shabby treatment!” BUZZ.)
– Great act break joke by Wiggum after arresting Homer: “Yeah, that’s what they all say. They all say ‘D’oh.'”
– Wonderful parody of The Fugitive when Wiggum’s paddywagon tips over as he attempts to reach out the window at the Krusty Burger drive-through. Jasper make a return appearance (“Dang fools. Drive-through’s not for a-parkin’!”) ramming his oldsmobile into Wiggum’s, as Homer in chains hobbles to safety, just like the train derailed in the film. The pimply faced teen has seen enough: “Diane! I’m going to take my break now!”
– Lisa isn’t convinced by the evidence; that could be any Simpson DNA, except Marge’s, but she attests anyway (“When I took your father’s name, I took everything that came with it, including DNA.”) And Homer’s fingerprints could have gotten on the gun any other way, which we see as Homer feels around under the car seat to relinquish a fallen ice cream, only to find a sticky lollipop (which will come into play later of course).
– First mention of Marvin Monroe Memorial Hospital, meaning I suppose the good doctor is dead now for no explainable reason, other than Harry Shearer hated doing his voice. He comes back in a much later episode for no apparent reason other than to annoy the fans.
– The resolution really fits if you think about it. And I love Burns’ recalling the story: “Smithers had thwarted my earlier attempt to take candy from a baby, but with him out of the picture, I was free to wallow in my own crapulence.” I tend to quote that last part quite a bit. I also like how he immediately deflates the significance of collapsing while pointing to “W” and “S,” which was considered a big clue, but really, would a dying man really think to do that. Of course not, Burns explains what he really did with his last ounce of strength: “I sucked out my gold fillings and swallowed them. Those paramedics have sticky fingers.” He insists that the police arrest Maggie, but Wiggum explains no court system would ever convict a baby… maybe Texas. Then we go out with some dramatic Maggie suckling. Fantastic.