(originally aired November 23, 1997)
I gotta tell you, we’re barely into season 9 and I’m kind of bumming about the road ahead. At least for the next season or so; it’s just that there’s so much good about these episodes but for some reason or another it doesn’t work as a whole. It makes me marvel at the amazingness of the earlier seasons more, that now if a few elements are removed or dampened the show becomes that less memorable. Lisa arranges an archeological dig on the site of a future mall to make sure no important artifacts are being paved over, and makes a shocking discovery: a human skeleton with wings. The townspeople immediately leap to it must be an angel, a notion that Lisa scoffs at. Homer absconds with it, keeping in his garage and charging admission to see it, but soon it disappears. It turns up elsewhere in Springfield with a foreboding inscription: “The End Will Come at Sundown.” Everyone save Lisa awaits the apocalypse, but ultimately the angel is revealed to be a prop in a cheap publicity stunt for the newly opened mall. But with 20% off everything, including rat spray, the people of Springfield don’t seem to mind.
Premise-wise, this episode is a slam dunk. Heartless corporate entities exploiting a poor gullible populous with their faith to make a few bucks selling loofahs and cheap vases? Perfect. The ending is the best part of the whole show (“Prepare for the end! The end of high prices!”) With the suspenseful tone and dramatic music through the entire episode, it’s just such a stupid but brilliant reveal that almost makes up for everything else. Almost. The running theme before the ending is basically science vs. religion, as blatantly stated in the third act. As such we get fair play by Flanders and Lovejoy, both who are very staunch in their beliefs and frankly kind of act like jerks to Lisa. Once more she’s the town pariah, the bearer of bad news. But I felt it should have come full circle; where are their reactions at the reveal in the end? With all that build-up, you’d think there would be something, but no, the two are running off with the rest of them to lap up sweet, sweet commercialism. Just seemed like kind of a let-down.
There’s also an attempt for a more personal conflict within the story, where Marge puts her faith into the angel, only to be met with confusion and scorn by her daughter. I get what they’re going for, but the result really rubbed me the wrong way. Marge tells Lisa that if she can’t make a leap of faith, she feels sorry for her. Really? To an eight-year-old? Marge never has anything close to a negative thing to say, especially that unprompted. Meanwhile, Lisa, staunch on her beliefs, acts quite horribly to her mother (I always cringe when she rebuts, “Don’t feel sorry for me, mom. I feel sorry for you.”) But, their reconciliation at the end makes up for it, right? Eh. (though because I’m a big wuss, I do like, “Any time, my angel.”) So while the storytelling and some of the characterization sits on shaky ground, there’s some parts of the show that work. We get to see Lionel Hutz again after a long absence, I like the dumbness of the sting at the beginning, and while a completely random-ass guest star, I enjoyed how they made Stephen Jay Gould an asshole for no discernible reason. All and all, I love the idea of this episode a lot more than its execution, but it still ain’t terrible.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer’s in complete idiot mode in falling for the police sting: responding to Marge’s valid suspicions (“You’re the most paranoid family I’ve ever been affiliated with,”) requesting a yellow boat “with extra motors,” screaming about his boating arm upon being cuffed, and after all that, still demanding he get his boat. Cut to him bitterly driving home. When asked where the boat is, he claims the mast had termites.
– I guess the mall planners must have had the angel skeleton in place already made for the building, but impressive that they came up with the ruse of burying it presumably on the spot like that. Clever bastards.
– Great bit where Skinner announces the archeological dig to be a simultaneous reward and punishment depending on the student. I also like Bart shoveling mounds of dirt down the shorts of a sleeping Martin. Crude, but hilarious.
– Moe always seems to be prominent in crowd scenes, the perfect lowbrow dope to sway the mood of the crowd, here shouting that “Lisa” confirms it’s an angel. When she protests that it isn’t, he gives an articulate response (“Well if you’re so sure what it ain’t, how about telling us what it am?”)
– Hutz’s appearance is brief, but he gets in a classic line (“It’s an thorny legal issue alright, I’ll need to refer to the case of ‘Finders vs. Keepers.'”)
– Homer’s safe deposit closet is full of relics from older episodes. Curiously the Dancin’ Homer outfit is hanging on the wall. Guess he must have dug it up. Also another reference to Billy Beer (“We elected the wrong Carter.”) I also like Bart’s response to Homer’s plan of hoarding the angel to wait for it to increase in value (“It’s probably a million years old dad, I think it’s as valuable as it’s going to get.”)
– Love Homer’s horrible decorative arrangement of the angel, with Christmas lights and fuzzy dice, and his recorded anthem (“Here’s the angel, see the angel, it’s my angel, no one else’s, next to the rakes!”)
– Lisa on Smartline is a pretty good scene (“Miss Simpson, how can you maintain your skepticism despite the fact that this thing really really looks like an angel?” “I just think it’s a fantasy, if you believe in angels, then why not unicorns, sea-monsters and leprechauns?” “That’s a bunch of baloney Lisa, everyone knows that lepreachauns are extinct!”)
– There’s a Ned line that I love, but feels kind of forbearing (“Science is like a blabber mouth who ruins a movie by telling you how it ends. Well I say that there are some thing we don’t wanna know. Important things!”) Kind of like “Homer’s Enemy,” it works in the science vs. religion context of this episode, but I can’t help but be reminded of how Flanders would soon devolve into a super-staunch conservative close-minded Christian caricature, and that line fits him to a T.
– The last act is really so heavy-handed. Look! The angel on the hill! Look! There’s a message! Heavy dramatic music abound. At least we got the great ending, but it’s a real heft to get there. I like the quick bit in Vatican City though, with the Pope cavalierly reading the paper in a lawn chair (“Your holiness, there is word from America, they say an angel has foretold the apocalypse.” “Errmm… keep an eye on it.”)
– Having Smithers kiss Burns kind of pushed it too far. At that point they should have just stopped all Smithers gay jokes, because really, where could you go from there? Might as well show him banging a dude. Though I do like Burns’ questioning look when afterward he admits the kiss was “merely a sign of my respect.”
– I keep praising the ending, but one thing to tear it down a bit. I get they had to hide it, but not only is there twine or rope holding the angel up, but it’s also on a giant aerial track that nobody ever saw? Come on.