191. The Joy of Sect

(originally aired February 8, 1998)
Cults prey upon the easily manipulated, laying out ridiculous and empty promises to mush-headed masses to lap up and give their all into, mentally, and especially financially. As such, the town of Springfield is a prime target for such chicanery. This show is already an all-around satire on American culture and its many aspects that a show like this seems unique in targeting something specific, almost in a way a show like South Park would. And while they had their own spectacular Scientology show, this episode is equally as biting and effective, with an overall strong premise and amusing payoff. Incredibly thick and dumb Homer is here, but in the context of the show he’s used effectively, almost like his role in “Homer’s Enemy.” He proves to be completely unfazed by any of the cult leader’s attempts to convert him, remaining as boorish and dimwitted as ever. Homer is a man who can absorb concepts and information, but has humungous mental blocks, that if broken, can get him completely on another path. Once they dissuade his mind with a mindless chant to the Batman theme, he’s the cult’s biggest supporter.

The Movementarians spew typical nonsense about pleasing the almighty Leader and the promise of a mothership to take them to a wonderful far-off planet Blisstonia. Their tactics are subtle and abrasive at the same time, insisting that people are free to leave at any time and do as they wish, but ultimately enslaving its members to lives of bean picking and brainwashing. Once converted, Homer is swift to sign over his house and possessions to the cult, much to Marge’s chagrin. It isn’t long before the kids are turned as well: Bart’s comes quickly when his desire to create mischief is bested, while Lisa’s is quite interesting as her desire for perfect grades forces her to change her beliefs. The sole holdout, Marge makes her escape and seeks the help of Reverend Lovejoy to rescue her family. I love the character interactions toward the end with Lovejoy and Flanders serving as the righteous, and Willie’s steadfast attempts to deprogram the Simpsons. The kids are easily tricked with the promise of hover bikes, and Homer is eventually tempted by the sweet taste of the forbidden beer.

As with any heavy-duty cult, the Movementarians have a heavy duty legal team, and manage to haul Homer away, reclaiming their property. However, one sweet drop of booze hitting his tongue was all Homer needed to see the light about the fraudulent nature of the cult. But, it would seem they were telling the truth, as Homer flings open the doors of the forbidden barn to find a massive spaceship. But, it was all just an elaborate ruse once again as the cult leader gets away with all of their money. It’s such an unbelievably stupid ending, but that’s what makes it great. The whole operation seems so efficient, but then became so ramshackle in the end, which would become the leader’s undoing as his unstable aircraft lands him smack dab into trouble. This is the first season 9 (production season wise) that I really liked; there are a few issues here and there, but it took a topic and skewered it well, provided enough laughs and interesting, true-to-character stuff to keep it going to its ridiculous end. Long live the Movementarians.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The airport set piece at the beginning is pretty good, the best part probably being Moleman at the “Just Crichton and King Bookstore” (“Do you have anything by Robert Ludlum?” “Get out.“)
– The town’s mob mentality is illustrated immediately in showing them rioting against their losing football team right after they land. It’s great how first we see Bart thanking Homer for letting them come there to see the team back from the championship, only to see it was to haze them. Then the mob flips over the entire plane, causing it to erupt into flames. So crazy.
– The Movementarian orientation film is wonderfully crummy, and by the end of its long duration, the masses are absolutely brainwashed by it. Especially spot on is the shaming spotlight that shines on anyone attempting to leave, keeping them in their place. I especially love Otto’s cover, that he was just attempting to readjust his underwear.
– Bart seems generally unmoved by Homer’s decision to join the Movementarians (“Church, cult, cult, church. So we get bored someplace else every Sunday. Does this really change our day to day lives?”)
– Bart goes off to raise some hell with his Li’l Bastard Mischief Kit, but is brought back within seconds completely brainwashed by one of the cult leaders, brandishing his own Li’l Bastard Brainwashing Kit.
– Brilliant bit from Lovejoy’s sermon to an empty church (“This so called ‘new religion’ is nothing but a pack of weird rituals and chants designed to take away the money of fools. Let us say the Lord’s prayer 40 times, but first let’s pass the collection plate!”)
– I like Marge’s complaints in the fields (“When we got married you promised by our harvesting days were over!”)
– Nice brief sidebar of Burns attempting to get tax exempt status in forming a new religion, with himself as the Almighty of course. He goes through a few prototype symbols, all of which are trademarked (“We’ll use this special K!” “I believe that’s already a breakfast cereal, sir.” “Do people worship it?” “In a way,”) but eventually falls victim of his own theatrics. Lenny is unimpressed, vowing to just stick with his Special K. He holds that thing right up to camera; I hope the writers got a few boxes of cereal for that free advertising.
– Marge must go through a veritable death maze to escape the Movementarian compound, ending in a giant bubble chasing her from The Prisoner. Seems kind of silly, but in a few seasons it would be the basis of a third act of a particularly horrible episode.
– I love Marge getting her kids back to normal, getting them off loving the Leader and onto loving the hoverbikes, which are revealed to be just normal bikes that are on loan. I also like how Ned’s comb sound effect thing is later reused by the Leader during his getaway.
– Great direction on Homer fighting his temptation, and just as the camera whips around to show the one drop of beer hit his tongue, the lawyers burst in and take him away. Ned is pretty steamed (“You know, I pride myself on being a good host, so I’m obliged to offer you a beer, but I’m so darn mad, it’s going to be mostly head!”)
– Willie proves to be kind of a lousy deprogrammer, becoming devout to the Leader after hearing Homer talk about him for a few seconds. Also great later when he attempts to chase after the just exposed fraud as he flies away.
– I love the crazy contraption the Leader is escaping in, it’s just so ridiculous and unsafe. And of course the money isn’t put in a bank or a safety deposit or anything, it’s in big bags with dollar signs on them. But ultimately he lands in Cletus’ yard, and is held at gunpoint for his ill gotten cash, so all is well.
– We end with a repeated joke from “Treehouse of Horror III,” but that’s okay. At least it fits with the theme, I suppose.

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7 responses to “191. The Joy of Sect

  1. “This is the first season 9 (production season wise) that I really liked”

    Funny; it’s also the first showrunned by someone other than Scully (David Mirkin).

  2. I think Burns formulating a plan (complete with evil laugh and music) but forgetting to tell Smithers is the best part of the episode. I just love how it jump cuts to later that day. I wonder how little long Smithers had been standing there.

  3. I honestly do not like this episode. I find it to be stupid, not all that funny, and boring. I mean, it has some good parts to it, but in the long run, it doesn’t hold up well over repeated viewings.

  4. “Marge must go through a veritable death maze to escape the Movementarian compound, ending in a giant bubble chasing her from The Prisoner. Seems kind of silly, but in a few seasons it would be the basis of a third act of a particularly horrible episode.”

    Seems hard to believe, actually, that “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” aired less than three years after “The Joy of Sect”…

  5. This is easily one of the best of Season 9. Even as a kid, I loved this one, since I’ve always been taken by stories about decent characters getting brainwashed into doing someone else’s bidding. And I love that it’s Cletus, of all people, who basically saves the day at the end. In terms of a story about everyone in Springfield falling victim to the oppressive whims of an unstoppable outside force and the Simpsons having to band together to rescue them, I greatly prefer this episode to The Simpsons Movie.

  6. It’s worth noting that this episode is where the “jerkass” in “Jerkass Homer” comes from. An odd running gag in the episode has Homer shove people out of way while shouting, “Outta the way, jerkass!”

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