(originally aired December 9, 2001)
So here we have the last Scully produced episode, and thank fucking God. These last few episodes between the end of last season and the start of this one have been staggering; it’s like he saved the worst for last. This episode is of course no exception, as the show attempts to craft a foreshadowed and meaningful mystery, but fails miserably. But first, our completely unrelated opening: Marge develops a fascination with the strapping lumberjack mascot for Burly paper towels. And by fascination, I mean sick, insane obsession. I get that she’s a sad, lonely housewife and that’s the joke, but when she builds a Burly pyramid and writes a letter to “him” like he’s a real person, it just goes too far. Homer plays a prank on Marge, making her think “Burly” is coming to dinner, then to make up for his transgressions takes her to dinner and a show. At said show is magician Mesmerino, who hypnotizes Homer, triggering a repressed traumatic memory that leaves him unable to stop screaming. Castallenta sure earned his check this week.
Through a series of flashbacks, we find out what really happened to Homer in his youth. We see that he, Lenny, Carl and Moe were best buddies hiking and camping out in the woods. I’m immediately put off by this; I hate in shows or cartoons when they look back at their youth, everybody knows each other and acts exactly the same. Homer and Barney were high school chums, but there’s no reason why he should know the others. And then Fat Tony, Legs and Louie are there too. What? It’s just so uninteresting; why bother having a flashback at all when the character dynamics are exactly the same? It’s lazy more than anything. So what’s the big reveal? Homer unsticks the piping off the drained quarry, letting loose what was blocking it: a human corpse. That’s a fair enough resolution. Then the show becomes the Simpson Family Mysteries; apropos of nothing the family is all on board with going out to the quarry and figuring out what happened. Stilted dialogue abound! (“This sounds like a case that only the Simpson family can solve!”)
With assistance from Chief Wiggum, the Simpsons travel through the piping until they reach the end of the line. A hatch that leads directly to… Burns’ office. Which is multiple stories off the ground. Whatever. Then we get our explanation: the corpse was that of Waylon Smithers, Sr. He worked for Burns many years ago, and managed to keep the volatile reactor core from exploding, but at the cost of his own life. In the flashback, we see that Smithers is caring for little baby Waylon, Jr., who is given off to Burns when he goes into the core. I have the same problem with this as the other flashback stuff: Smithers’ father worked for Burns? Burns knew Smithers as a baby? No. That just makes his relationship with Burns weird and creepy. Why do all these characters need to be connected throughout their entire histories? I get that Springfield is a jerkwater burg where people tend to stay put for generations, but there’s bound to be change over the years of who you associate with. That the writers seem to not understand this or care to come up with new angles to present our characters in is very disheartening.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The only thing I like from the Burly “plot” is Homer’s fake name for the model portraying him: Chad Sexington.
– In the same vein as Hank Azaria’s then-girlfriend Helen Hunt having a guest role, here we have Harry Shearer’s wife Judith Owens. Though basically all they did was play one of her songs, they could have just ripped a CD. Or that’s probably what they did. But what the fuck’s Judith Owens doing performing in Springfield? And why is she the opening act for a hack like Mesmerino? Whatever.
– They try to lay groundwork at the show by having Smithers announce that his father died, but it’s completely unneeded and worthless. Before this, Mesmerino is incessantly heckling Mr. Burns and he just sits there and takes it. More neutered Burns! Did they just forget who this character is? Real Burns would have this man executed.
– Homer gets a flood of memories coming back, starting with the much repeated clip of his jump over Springfield Gorge. Lisa cuts in, “No, Dad, everyone’s sick of that memory.” Speak for yourself. I’d much rather be watching that episode than this slop.
– I’m not a stickler for continuity, but this bugged me a bit. Young Carl mentions that the power plant had just opened, meanwhile in “The Way We Was,” the guidance counselor tells teen Homer that the plant isn’t even open yet. It’s more organic in that episode too; I know we see the plant and the cooling towers ejecting fire, which is revealed later as Smithers, Sr.’s doing, but it kind of bothered me for some reason.
– The whole third act is so alien to me, it really feels like a completely different show. And hey, we have a Burly callback, where a few rolls of paper towels drain a fucking quarry. Fuck you, writers.
– As if the creepy Burns-Smithers back story wasn’t enough, we have another tired Smithers gay joke, where Burns says he told Smithers his father was killed by a tribe of savage Amazon women (“I hope it didn’t affect you in any way.” “We’ll never know, sir.”) This shit isn’t funny anymore; at this point just flat out say he’s gay, it’d be a lot more honest and open the door for some interesting stories. But nope, let’s just beat this horse until it’s a bloody corpse.
– Homer saves Smithers Sr.’s skull in a box, which is not creepy at all, and then we have Hank Azaria fumbling through an ad-lib over the credits. I couldn’t turn the episode off fast enough.
Quick announcement: after half a year, I’ve finally managed to start my DreamWorks blog, Desperately Dissecting Dreamworks, where I’ll be reviewing all of the films of the DreamWorks canon, similar to what I did in the past with the Disney films. I’ll be updating every week or so with a new movie. The link’s on the right if you care to check it out.