(originally aired January 5, 1997)
Apparently the plot for this episode was originally pitched as far back as season 3; it was viewed as way too bizarre for the show at that point, but it wasn’t thrown away entirely. But now that we’ve had runaway monorails, killer theme park robots, and Homer fighting ex-Presidents, a hallucinogenic psychedelic trip doesn’t feel too alien now. Even after twenty years, this remains one of the show’s strangest episodes, and that’s made it one of the most famous ones too. Homer is all revved up for the annual chili cook-off, but Marge isn’t so thrilled, making her husband promise he won’t drink and make a fool out of himself. Of course that latter point proves to be impossible: the pope of Chili Town is bested by Chief Wiggum’s Guatemalan insanity peppers, but finds he’s able to down them by coating his mouth with wax. Unfortunately he finds that they’re called insanity peppers for a reason, as he quickly loses grip on reality and finds himself in a strange mythical desert all alone. It’s there that his spirit guide, a coyote voiced by Johnny Cash, tells him he will achieve inner piece if he finds his soul mate.
There’s a lot to love about this episode. The chili cook-off set-piece is fantastic; just the right event that Homer would go ape shit over much to Marge’s chagrin. Any time we see Homer truly in his element, it’s really enjoyable; he’s really cocky with his harsh critiques of all the dishes, but there’s nothing much else he knows better than food. Chief Wiggum also works so well as his adversary, a man of high stature but garnering little respect, hoping to be at the top of the heap at the festival. These two characters are usually so comical and non-threatening, but to each other they absolutely mean business. When Homer goes into his trip, the episode becomes an animation tour de force. The deformed, bizarrely styled citizens from Homer’s POV is a great start, then at the second act we devolve into madness, with Homer deforming against live-action clouds with snakes and giant CG butterflies peppering the barren landscape. The angular look and stylized backgrounds give Homer’s trip a unique view apart from the normal series. Johnny Cash is also fantastic as the Space Coyote, giving such a solemn, serious air to the character, an animal of true wisdom.
As bombastic as this show is, you break it down and it’s really a gussied up Homer-Marge episode: Marge is upset with Homer, they make up at the end. The only difference is it’s handled really well: Marge witnesses Homer about to down some beers, not realizing he only wishes to soothe his incinerated tongue. There’s also the great, almost haunting scene in the hallucination where Homer encounters a vision of Marge who dissolves before his eyes. When Marge chews Homer out for disappearing over the night, Homer begins to doubt if his wife really is his soul mate and goes off into the world to find some answers. There’s a bit of malaise that sits in with the third act since we know what the ending is going to be, but it’s distracted with enough great jokes that I didn’t mind much. You could also say it’s silly for an episode to examine the deeper meaning of the life of a big dumb oaf like Homer, but really, why not? Everyone has a purpose, and Homer’s is to ultimately be with the woman he loves. It’s an iconic episode worthy of its title, with a solid plot, good jokes and bits of visual wonderment to go around.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Nice bit at the beginning: Homer flips through his newspaper, dismissing “World,” “The Arts” and “Religion,” to the fluffiest section of all, “Kicking Back.”
– Great flashback to the last chili cook-off: a drunken Homer wallowing naked in a cotton candy machine. He jumps out and ends up rolling on the floor surrounded by dogs licking him. In the present, Homer chides Marge’s memory (“Well of course, everything looks bad if you remember it.”)
– Love Marge’s incredulous nature toward a rack with eight spices (“Some must be doubles. Ore-gah-no? What the hell?”) and Homer’s childish impatience (“Marge, we’re missing the chili? Less artsy, more fartsy!”)
– Classic scene of Flanders breaking down before Homer, admitting his chili is falsely advertised as “five-alarm” so he could impress his boys (“Daddy? Are you going to jail?” “We’ll see, son. We’ll see.”)
– Alone at the line dance, Marge encounters Smithers acting unusually masculine in an incredibly gaudy cowboy outfit. If someone would like to make heads or tails of this scene, be my guess. I guess since his get-up is so over-the-top, it’s still another Smithers-is-gay reference, but it’s so extremely bizarre…
– I love Homer taunting Wiggum (“Uh, Wiggy? My chili’s getting cold.”) and then later Wiggum’s inflated ego when Homer returns for seconds (“Want some more, do you? Well, sure! Heck, it’s not my job to talk people out of killing themselves.”)
– An odd moment where Ralph appears and acts somewhat normal, innocently informing Homer he’s about to drink a candle. Remember when he was a real character and not a dim non sequitur machine?
– I like how they had Castellaneta talk like his mouth really was full of wax, and the gulping noises Homer makes swallowing the peppers whole. The crowd is absolutely aghast (“By all medical logic, steam should be shooting out of his ears.” “His ears if we’re lucky!”)
– Nice performance with Homer’s absolute impatience of dealing with the tortoise. And of course nice revenge as he is now forced to climb a gigantic flight of stairs due to his inflicted abuse.
– Like the stupid back-and-forth with Bart and Lisa regarding Bart’s “Time for Chili” hat (“You’re just mad ’cause there’s no clock in your hat.” “What hat?” This baby’s wasted on an idiot like you.”)
– Cash really did do a great job. And they got him to make gnawing noises. Fantastic. (“Knock it off!” “Sorry. I am a coyote.”)
– Homer wakes up on the country club golf course, thinking his whole trip was just a dream. The desert was the sand trap he was lying in, the pyramid was a pro shop (sitting atop a giant pyramid for some reason), and the talking coyote was just a regular talking dog (“Hi, Homer. Find your soulmate.” “Hey, wait a minute! There’s no such thing as a talking dog!” “BARK!” “Damn straight!”)
– Great scene where the denizens of Moe’s all tell Homer who they consider themselves as, but none of them soul mates, ending with Moe (“I’m a well-wisher, in that I don’t wish you any specific harm.”) Also Kearney is there drinking a beer for some reason. And he considers himself Homer’s “associate.”
– Funniest scene hands-down is Homer’s call to “GBM,” unfamiliar with the concept of “looking for” classifieds (“Uh, no, I don’t like that… Or that… No, it’s not that I’m afraid. I’m going to hang up now, bye-bye.”)
– Homer steps in front of the light in the lighthouse, casting his silhouette across the town. Bart and Lisa take notice (“Hey look! Is that Dad?” “Either that, or Batman’s really let himself go.”)
– Another line I find myself using sporadically for some reason: “In your face, space coyote!” Perfect for any accomplishment.
– The short shorts ending is kinda dumb… but I still laughed.