(originally aired December 6, 1998)
It’s usually a good idea to keep your protagonist likeable. Now of course you don’t want to keep him a saint, and there’s something to be said about the benefit of having an antihero lead, but in the case of a series like this, it helps if you’re on your main character’s side as he struggles with life’s many foibles. For almost the entirety of this episode, Homer is an awful, awful, awful human being. It’s this black cloud that hovers over the whole show; with all of the bizarre plot twists and poor attempts at humor through the tense situation, all I could focus on what a colossal ass Homer was. Going back to the antihero thing, one of my favorite episodes of South Park involves Kyle needing a kidney, and Cartman, being the only blood type match, says he’ll only give it up for ten million dollars. Cartman is a selfish, immature dickhead, but we still love him for it; he’s one of the greatest antiheroes in TV history. But seeing Homer act like this? Granted Cartman is an extreme, but Homer is absolutely the most despicable we’ve ever seen him here, and that’s not a trait you really want associated with your hero.
The only serviceable part of the show is the beginning at the ghost town, but even there the jokes are hit and miss: for every great line from the tour guide and the ridiculous gun fight, there’s all the dumb robot jokes and Homer acting like a asshole. Grampa ends up tagging along when the Simpson car stalls in front of the retirement castle, a bit that could have been funny on its own, but it only serves to remind me how much worse Homer’s treatment of his father will get. On the way home, Homer ignores his father’s begging and pleading to stop to use the restroom, ultimately causing both his kidneys to burst. This early on, I felt like checking out. Seriously? I don’t expect realism from this show, but come on. So Homer is already pretty goddamn deplorable at this point; giving up a kidney for his father is pretty much the only way he can get redemption, and at least he promptly agrees to it when Hibbert brings it up to him. A talk about the danger associated with the operation at the bar gets Homer worried, and on the operating table, right after his father tearfully says he loves him, Homer leaps out the window and runs off in cowardice.
I don’t even know what to make of the third act. Ashamed to go back, Homer becomes a sailor for two minutes aboard the ship of lost souls, who each have their own tale of debauchery, but Homer’s story enrages them all and they cast him out. My mind is so wired on concern for Grampa and absolute hatred of Homer, I’m in no mood for this wildly out-of-left-field shit, so whatever. Homer eventually goes back to the hospital, gets back on the operating table, and… runs off again. When that car fell on him at the end, I was so happy. At that point, it would have been a more satisfying ending if he had died and Grampa had taken both kidneys. And in the end, Homer is furious at his newly recovered father, a saint till the end. After watching this episode, I had to listen to the commentary to hear the defense. Of course being a Scully-era commentary, there wasn’t much information to be had, but boy did they laugh loud and hard: after every dumb Homer line, at the ship of lost souls, each time Homer runs off… During the driving home sequence, Ron Hauge comments Homer’s behavior is “awfully cruel, it borders on making Homer unlikeable.” Borders? And in response, Mike Scully just laughs. It’s pretty incredible to hear the people responsible for the show whooping it up over scenes you’ve just watched mouth agape. Bar none the worst episode so far, and probably one of the worst in the entire series.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I really do think the bit with Grampa walking to the car like a zombie and Homer desperately trying to start the car could have been funny, but in any other episode that didn’t involve Homer willfully leaving his father to die.
– Bloodbath Gulch is rich in its history (“Founded by prostitutes in 1849, and serviced by prostitute express riders who could bring in a fresh prostitute from Saint Joe in three days; Bloodbath Gulch quickly became known as a place where a trail hand could spend a month’s pay in three minutes.”) Marge isn’t thrilled (“I never realized history was so filthy!” “First on our tour is the whore house; then we’ll visit the cathouse, the brothel, the bordello, and finally the old mission.” “Oh, thank heaven!” “Lots of prostitutes in there!”)
– The robot jokes here are nothing we haven’t seen before done better like in “Radio Bart” and “Selma’s Choice.” Also it doesn’t seem to make much sense that they have the robots just sitting out in the open for visitors to go up and mess with. And the saloon dancers have flesh colored robot asses? I guess maybe it makes sense given the seedy history of the town, but I dunno. This opening bit is the only thing this episode has going for it, and there’s still lots of stuff about it that seems wrong to me.
– The number of horrible Homer lines in the show is staggering: assuring Hibbert he knows more about medicine than him, telling Marge to blow up the hospital, and Homer moaning, “This is everyone’s fault but mine,” when really it’s nobody’s fault but his. Really, did no one notice just how much of this episode comes off sour?
– I do like the flashback of how great a father Abe was, using NyQuill to knock out little Homer.
– Homer washes ashore to conveniently witness a father and son building a sand castle. He vows he’ll go back to the hospital and go through with the operation. And just if you thought he wasn’t enough of an asshole, he walks right through the castle, destroying it.
– That car lands right on top of Homer, he didn’t even have time to duck, it crushed him. It seems if it was not fatal, he should be way more banged up than he was. And really, he’s got a kidney shaped scar on his side? I know some of these are jokes I’m picking at, but this episode doesn’t even come close to earning laughs from absurdity. Never watch this episode, ever.