165. Mountain of Madness

(originally aired February 2, 1997)
Homer and Burns snowed in and start getting rampant cabin fever? Almost seems like a silly plot out of a Saturday morning cartoon. I remember Rocko’s Modern Life had an episode like this, as I’m sure many other shows have. It could almost be viewed as an alteration of the “trapped in a small space” trope where two characters are stuck having to resolve their differences, but in this case they want to kill each other. After a disastrous fire drill, Burs arranges a company retreat in the snowy terrain of Mt. Useful. There, employees are paired up and given the task of finding a far off cabin using teamwork, and the last ones there are to be fired. Burns ends up paired with Homer, who of course get to the cabin first by use of snowmobile. As bizarre and improbable as it may seem, I kind of like the odd camaraderie the two have in this show. Putting himself in the competition, Burns has leveled himself down to the place of the common worker, able to enjoy the cozy cabin with a fellow chum. Homer is hesitant at first, but then realizes being with Burns is a guaranteed win for him, and is much more complacent on getting chummy with the boss.

An avalanche gets the two snowed in, and their successful escape attempt is thwarted by a continual string of more avalanches. A stigma is set in almost immediately as each holds the other to blame for their predicament, and they grow more and more resentful toward each other. I think part of why this somewhat tired plot still works for me is it seems to be conscious of itself; the two build snowmen, comment on how they’ve managed to stave off cabin fever… then agree they need to dress the snowmen. It’s tricky to comment on predictable plot twists, sometimes you just end up making it worse, but I thought it was handled well here. I like the climax where each envisions the others army; Homer sees Burns with an battalion of snowmen, and Burns takes Homer’s bizarre threat (“Stay back! I have powers! Political powers!”) as a cavalcade of historical figures like Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Gandhi. The music swells as the two armies prepare for war, then they dissolve as we see the scene for what it is: two insane, feeble men attempting to best each other. Who are then saved by the cabin becoming a rocket, a stupid plot twist absolved by a single hilarious line (“Something’s wrong with its brakes!”)

There’s some small side plots and runners that are sort of interesting and funny as well. Homer brings the family along, not realizing he wasn’t supposed to, so Marge and the kids are left to their own devises. Bart and Lisa end up tagging along with Smithers, who is the odd man out with no partner. I like seeing Smithers, who always has things calculated and under control, out of his element and visibly frustrated at his boss’ betrayal, and on top of that he has to deal with these two kids’ childish antics. I especially love his annoyance at Lisa’s constant retrieval and concern over injured animals (“Aren’t there any healthy animals in this forest?!”) We also get another look at Lenny and Carl’s relationship, something that would soon grow and spiral out of control into this weird subtly gay co-dependency nonsense. For now, they’re just two work and drinkin’ chums, and we see Carl holding an unusual grudge against Lenny for some strange reason. It’s not explained, it’s just a gag, something the show would take oddly serious now. This show may not have the most original plot, but it gave enough humor and good characterization to keep it interesting and fun.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great stuff with the fire drill; the alarm sounds and no one is the wiser at first, with Carl thinking it’s the microwave for his popcorn, and he just dumps a bag full of kernels into the bowl. When they finally realize what it is, the entire plant goes nuts of course. Strangely, Homer is the first one out, using a bench to barricade the door, hustling up to Burns and Smithers asking what he’s won. Next scene we see the aftermath, with the windows on the lower floor smashed and a man using a rope to climb out to join the rest of his co-workers to be yelled at by Burns.
– Homer bemoans having to go on the teamwork retreat, leading Bart on a rant about various topics that interest his father (“Sharing is a bunch of bull, too. And helping others. And what’s all this crap I’ve been hearing about tolerance?” “Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.”)
– Great animation of the family car skidding on the ice in the parking lot, hitting basically every single car before coming to a stop near the center.
– I will say Homer’s commentary during the explanation of the retreat feels kind of forewarning; standing near the front with his childish interrupting comments feels very latter Homer. Though I do like the scene with the time dissolves of Smithers reading off partners, with Homer just standing in the center dumbly as everyone else has left around him.
– Classic bit with the Smokey the Bear robot (“You pressed ‘you,’ referring to me. That is incorrect. The correct answer is ‘you.'”) I also love the bit with the off-screen film featuring a rambling, possibly drunk and muffled John Muir, which Marge watches blankly before slowly backing out of the room.
– Great scene with Burns building Homer up to believe that cheating is fine to do; Homer is hesitant at first, mostly due to not wanting to set off his boss, but Burns is very persuasive (“If you can take advantage of a situation in some way, it’s your duty as an American to do it. Why should the race always be to the swift or the jumble to the quick-witted? Should they be allowed to win merely because of the gifts God gave them? Well, I say cheating is the gift man gives himself!” “Mr. Burns, I insist that we cheat.” “Excellent.”)
– Love Burns’ incisive comment about sitting (“From the mightiest Pharaoh to the lowliest peasant, who doesn’t enjoy a good sit?”) and his incredulous reaction to Homer’s amazing tactic of retrieving dip from the table.
– Stupid, but I do like Homer opening the door, which lets in all the snow, then going to try the window, same result, then thinking… then trying the door and letting more snow in, burying him slightly.
– Just a random thought… the mountain is so unstable that Burns and Homer’s whispering trigger massive avalanches. And the ranger says there’s going to be a music festival there? The band would play one note and everyone would be buried.
– Great bit with the ranger openly announcing he’s going to humor the children (Bart and Lisa), which he does, before telling the crowd they’re searching for two dead bodies and to bust out their corpse-handling gloves. Bart is none-the-wiser (“You hear that, Lis? Dad’s gonna be just fine.”)

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4 responses to “165. Mountain of Madness

  1. “Did you hear something?”
    “No.”
    “Hm. Did I?”
    “I dont know!”

  2. This one grew on me after several repeat viewings. It is a story as old as the hills, but they still kept it interesting. Homer’s childish interruptions at the retreat don’t feel particularly foreboding to me – I always laugh at “Um, I lost my map.” “You haven’t been issued a map yet.” And I’m still hoping to be subjected to a fire drill someday so I’ll have an excuse to run around in a circle and go “Fire fire fire fire fire fire…”

    On a tangential note, the “Cabin Fever” episode of Rocko’s Modern Life episode is one of the greatest. I still live in fear of the Abdominal Snow Monkey.

  3. O Lord please bless this rocket house and all those who dwell within the rocket house.

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