159. A Milhouse Divided

(originally aired December 1, 1996)
In case you haven’t figured it out from the other 158 reviews, this series is pretty amazing, and it always seems to come up with new ways to emphasize that fact. This episode’s first act culminates with an aggravated back-and-forth conversation involving two characters we really don’t know anything about, but thanks to great solid writing, we completely understand these people, their personalities and their motives. The set-up is Marge’s desire for social, adult conversation through having a dinner party, inviting the Lovejoys, the Flanderses, the Hibberts and the Van Houtens. Groundwork is set throughout the evening with the latter couple getting increasingly at each others throats before they’re cut off by Marge, moving onto another activity to sweep the unpleasantness under the rug. But a game of Pictionary becomes the Van Houtens undoing, as Kirk and Luanne have it out. Hank Azaria and Maggie Roswell give dynamite performances, both hilarious and absolutely dramatically believable. That’s why this scene is so insane, it really feels like a heated argument, and you can feel the incredible awkwardness of the other couples witnessing a marriage fall apart at the seams, especially from Marge, who is running out of ways to divert attention away from this elephant in the room. It’s really one of the best scenes of the entire series, I think, since the show has managed to create something from nothing in the most engaging way possible.

So Kirk and Luanne break up and begin to form their own separate lives. While Luanne is more than pleased with being single, hooking up with an American Gladiator, Kirk’s life isn’t going so hot. He gets fired from the cracker factory thanks to his divorce (“Crackers are a family food. Happy families. Maybe single people eat crackers, we don’t know. Frankly, we don’t want to know. It’s a market we can do without,”) he lives in a seedy apartment complex, and his car gets stolen by a dirty floozy. We do feel bad for Kirk, but he is really a pathetic character by nature; he muses about how he should have seen the signs that this would all happen, which new pal Homer believes will never transpire with him and Marge. Meanwhile, groundwork has also been set through the episode of Marge constantly being disappointed and fed up with Homer, so when the telltale signs finally permeate Homer’s skull, he freaks out, believing divorce may be coming his way any time soon. So he does the most rational thing he can think of: get divorced himself and throw a lavish second wedding.

I think there’s plenty of unmined gold to be had from the Kirk and Luanne story, examining their new lives more and potential awkward run-ins with each other. Also barely even touched upon is its effect on Milhouse, which we only see in like one scene. That could have been a whole story in itself. On paper, it might seem like a rich meaty story quickly diverted to be yet another Homer-Marge marital woes episode, but it really doesn’t feel that way. Firstly, as mentioned, the stage is set through the episode of Marge’s quiet displeasure over her husband, and second, Homer’s troubles set in from his reaction to the main story, or rather overreaction. It also ties in with the Van Houtens plot anyway, as Kirk figures if a big romantic gesture works for Homer and Marge, it could work for him too. With as much gumption as he can muster, he belts his love ballad “Can I Borrow A Feelin’?” to his former wife, asking him to marry him again. She says no. This ain’t TV, Kirk, not every story has a happy ending. Pouring salt on the wound, Luanne’s new boyfriend escorts him outside and shuts the door. Kirk vows he’ll be back… prob-probably. I was surprised just how much I loved this show; it’s surprisingly tense and dramatic at the start, and keeps the laughs and energy up even with the third act plot shift, still keeping with the themes and brings the main story back for a satisfying ending. And we fleshed out two tertiary characters to boot. What more could you want?

Tidbits and Quotes
– Marge wishes for more conversational engagement at home, but the family is stuck eating dinner glued to the TV. Homer moans the plates aren’t see-through as he attempts to lick it clear whilst still staring at the screen, Bart’s down to his skivvies at 5pm, and even Lisa can barely put together sentences, too absorbed with the idiot box.
– Another great store name, “Stoner’s Pot Palace,” of which Otto walks out quite disappointed with the false advertising. Easy joke, but effective.
– I do like whenever Marge gets into something, she puts her all into it… almost too much, like when she puts another glaze on the already blindingly bright ham. And of course seconds before the party starts, Homer is in his underwear in the living room playing with slot car racers (“Just gotta put my shoes on!” “The only thing I asked you to do for this party was put on clothes, and you didn’t do it.”)
– It really is a bit disconcerting that Kirk and Luanne look exactly the same. I wouldn’t want them to address it on the show, since it’d be way too creepy, but there must be some kind of weird intentional or unintentional inbreeding going on there. Like imagine being sexually attracted to yourself, but if you had the body and minor features of the opposite sex.
– I fucking love the uneasiness of the episode, it’s done so well. (“Marge, I know I haven’t eaten that well since the army.” “Or that noisily…”) I love Azaria’s low “Alright, that’s it…” before Marge cuts him off.
– So yeah, the Pictionary scene is absolutely stellar. I love the frequent cuts back to Marge, nervously wringing her napkin, then later when Luanne mentions how Kirk’s incompetence plunged his cracker company to tie with Table Time and Allied Biscuit, to which Marge discreetly tosses a plate of the latter crackers back in the box and tucks it under the couch. Luanne goes on (“I love having to borrow money from my sister. I love having to steal clothes from the church donation box.”) Such devastation in her voice too. Cut to Lovejoy (“Oh sweet Jesus…”) Even better that he had alluded to the ransacked clothes earlier. So many minor bits that are amazing: Gudger College, Luanne’s unseen perfect representation of ‘dignity,’ Lisa coming in singing “You’re A Grand Old Flag,” and Kirk’s horrible drawing skills.
– First appearance of Kearney’s kid (“I sleep in a drawer!”) I guess that would make him at least 20. And now I’ve just pictured Kearney having sex. Brilliant.
– Great reference to the audience when Luanne tells Marge to forget everything she used to know about her, to which Marge honestly responds that she doesn’t really know anything about her.
– Kirk shows off his new digs to Homer (“You get your own bed. I sleep in a racing car, do you?” “I sleep in a big bed with my wife.”) I love the sound effects of the establishing shots too, lots of sirens and gunshots.
– The bit we do see of Milhouse does work perfectly, with Luanne fawning over her perfect son who is currently destroying the house.
– After breaking a chair on Luanne’s gladiator boyfriend, Bart tries to do the same with his father… less effective. This is a Homer-gets-hurt scene that works, as it has a motivation and works in the scene. Plus it’s so unexpected, for us and Homer, who is blissfully taking a bath when he gets socked, and so hard that the chair breaks to pieces. Castellaneta’s scream is hysterical (“What the hell is wrong with you?!” “Jeez, sorry. It’s a pretty standard stunt, Homer.”)
– As Homer bemoans how crummy his marriage began, we get a clip from “I Married Marge,” which is also paired with new footage of Marge less than thrilled at her marriage at Shotgun Pete’s. Most of what we’ve seen of their past, the two are fairly happy, but as has been implied, there’s an underlying sadness to Marge. Homer tries to smooth things with a cake, “To A Whale of a Wife,” I assume a reference to Carvel’s Fudgy the Whale.
– Homer tries to smooth things over, but fails in every way. He also stops in to give her an impromptu hair cut at the Perm Bank (another amazing store name.)
– I love how happy Homer is to tell his wife that they have to get married again since he got them a divorce (“I didn’t want a hokey second wedding like those ones on TV. This one is for real!”)
– Homer’s vows are amazing of course, hilarious read by Lovejoy (“Do you, Marge, take Homer, in richness and in poorness… poorness is underlined… in impotence and in potence, in quiet solitude or blasting across the alkali flats in a jet-powered, monkey- navigated… and it goes on like this.”)
– The smooth jazz end credits theme may be my favorite variant, tied with the “Mad Mad Mad Mad World” version. It’s just so mellow and cool.

7 responses to “159. A Milhouse Divided

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bigger laugh from the folks on the DVD commentary than when Homer gets nailed by that chair. I love that he screams, then pauses briefly upon realizing what the hell just happened, and screams again.

    This is probably the last you’ll see of Kirk Van Houten as a real person. After this, Flanderization hits him hard, and he turns into a walking stereotype of a hard-luck single dad. This episode, though, portrays his sorry state in a much more subtle way. Just look at his apartment complex, for starters. We don’t need to be told outright that Casa Nova is a depressing place to live – it’s suggested through things like the sirens in the background and the fact that it’s next door to an Arby’s. It’s all funny and sad at the same time. Compare that to later episodes like “Three Gays of the Condo”, where the sign out front says “3 Days Without a Suicide” and it’s filled with the sound of its male tenants crying themselves to sleep every night. The subtlety is gone.

    • “This is probably the last you’ll see of Kirk Van Houten as a real person. After this, Flanderization hits him hard, and he turns into a walking stereotype of a hard-luck single dad.”

      Like, I presume, when his arm is sliced off in the following season’s “Realty Bites”.

      Another hilarious bit: before Lovejoy reads Homer’s vows, Homer says he wants one last chance to enjoy single life. He promptly scratches his butt and belches, then says, “Okay, ready.”

  2. I found the third act to be really dumb. I guess in a Homer logic kind of way it makes sense but I dunno, are second marriages even a thing?

    I always laugh at the bit where, after failing to get a conversation from anyone else thanks to the television, Marge heads into the kitchen and begins talking to herself.
    Marge: Hello Marge, how’s the family? I don’t wanna talk about it, mind your own business.
    Homer: Keep it down in there everyone!

  3. I would like to see this one again, since for some odd reason it’s one Sky just have never shown much on tv over here.

    one thing I can confirm though is that yes, second weddings are a thing.

  4. What’s makes this episode refereshing is how it breaks the status quo permenantly. You expect everything to be all right by the end and Luanne is like, “NOPE!” Totally thew me off.

    There are a lot of great jokes to be found in this episode as I am always laughing. I love how she puts all of Kirk’s stuff in a box and sets the box aflame, and then later he asks when he can have his stuff.

    Although, my favorite scene has got to be when Bart hits Homer with the chair in the bathtub.

  5. I’m curious just what kind of divorce laws Springfield has where one person can get a divorce in an afternoon without the other spouse even knowing about it.

  6. Another solid gem. This episode does a great job at subverting sitcoms. In most sitcoms, the couple gets back at the end of the episode and remarried. Here, the Van Houtens don’t do that. It’s brilliant. I also like the dynamics with the characters. The argument between the two feels pretty realistic even with all the jokes.

    Is the episode funny? You bet it is. There’s Stoner Pot Palace, “I haven’t eaten that well since the army.” “Or that noisily.”, the drawings of dignity (especially love that you don’t even see Luann’s version), “I love having to steal clothes from the church donation box.” “Oh sweet Jesus.”, the fact that they lampshade how little we know Milhouse’s parents, “I sleep in a big bed with my wife.”, “I don’t recall saying good luck.”, Bart hitting Homer with the chair (“It’s a pretty standard stunt, Homer.”), “I don’t want a hokey second wedding like the ones on TV. This one is for real.”, and the brilliant “Can I Borrow a Feeling.” It’s a very strong episode that also breaks the status quo in an interesting way.

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