311. Brake My Wife, Please

(originally aired May 11, 2003)
It’s no picnic being married to Homer, more so in the last few seasons, anyway. Marge acts more of a smiling Stepford wife, cleaning up the messes created by her husband’s wacky schemes with little more contention than a slight protest or irritated murmur. This set-up always made you feel bad for Marge, but those shows were always so hyper-focused on Homer, there wasn’t really any time to dwell over that. Here, the show takes focus on this issue they’ve callously joked about of Marge secretly resenting her husband, then proceed to wrap the story up in four minutes at the very end. It really is a big issue, one that you can fully sympathize with Marge given how Homer has acted in this episode, and for the last few seasons. In this show he buys a bunch of useless appliances for his car, which cloud his vision and his mind, causing him to drive off the pier. With his license revoked, Marge ends up having to do all the driving for the family, while Homer discovers the joys of walking.

Marge flat-out describes in this episode how typical this conceit is, where Homer gets in a mess and she has to clean it up, and that he’ll eventually bounce back better than ever to wreck more havoc. Homer’s compassion for his wife’s newly frazzled state is basically slim to none. He does nothing to help the situation, no attempts to try to get his license back, he just sits back and watches his wife slowly but surely have a meltdown. It really is uncomfortable to watch him act so callously to her, considering she’s stressed out as a result of his imbecilic actions. I picked that particular image above because it encapsulates this episode, perhaps even the Homer-Marge dynamic for the last decade. Homer is joyous and upbeat and pulls off moronic stunts and mayhem, while Marge fixes everything. Whenever Homer spends a good amount of screen time smiling, you know you’re in trouble; it’s a lot more interesting when your character goes through a gambit of emotions rather than just blissful ignorance.

The end of the second act is where shit gets serious, when Marge seemingly accidentally mows down Homer with her car, and from that point does things to hurt him still, like spill hot soup on him and kick his cane over. Homer suspects that she secretly hates him, to which she explodes at her husband, saying she hates him. This is an unbelievably serious situation to spring so late into the episode, but off we go to a marriage counselor. This basically encapsulates the later season mentality: the counselor had asked Homer to write down the most important people in his life, and Homer has written himself down three times. Remember the Homer that would do anything for the sake of his family? The Homer that not only loved Marge with all his heart, but knew that he doesn’t really deserve her? Well that Homer is long gone, his wife and kids are now like his roommates, or potential pawns in his zany schemes. Marge is understandably upset (“I care so much about you, Homer, but I’m not even on your list!”) It’s kind of heartbreaking, and this whole thing just kind of opens the floodgates of thinking of all the shit that’s happened over the past five years that she’s had to put up with. But hey, we literally have four minutes and change left, so Homer can make one big romantic gesture to make everything okay. What is it? A big fancy backyard banquet, with special appearance by Jackson Browne, which makes as much sense as Marge being able to get Weird Al a few shows ago. And even when Homer is singing his make-up song to Marge, he mentions how they should have sex, something that he would like. His whole mentality for the ending feels more like him trying to cover his ass more than realizing what he’s done wrong and wanting to make amends with his wife. The episode is pretty cringe inducing leading up to the final act, but then dives into depressing territory after that. You realize how far Homer has fallen that one of the core elements of the show, one that really helps elevate his character for just being a dumb oafish boob, that he loves his wife and will do anything for her, is tossed around and played with callously. It’s about as sour an ending as it sounds. One of the worst third acts in the history of the series.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I actually like some of the aquarium stuff at the beginning: the irate tour guide, showing that sea lions feed off of the food left behind by documentary crewmen, fish being held in little baggies while their habitat is being cleaned, and while Bart horsing around in the aquarium itself is kind of hokey and dumb, I was surprisingly fine with it, seeing it as a callback to one of the old Tracey Ullman shorts.
– We’ve established at this point that Homer goes and gets drunk in the mornings instead of going to work, but this time for some reason he was out picking out a video, where he got stuck in a feedback loop watching a comedy and a drama in the store at the same time. It’s a sequence the writers seem to think is a lot funnier than it actually is.
– Lindsay Naegle appears from nowhere to get Homer a cell phone. I get this is supposed to be her thing, but when she showed up on top of the ramp at the end of “Barting Over,” it was just getting goddamn ridiculous. And normal characters are starting to do it too, so it’s just whoever we need for what scene, just have them show up.
– Carl, Lou, Dr. Hibbert and Drederick Tatum, despite having jobs at different locations and being in different income brackets, carpool together. It’s just, let’s group all of our black characters together for one shot because Homer has to make the black power salute. Yep. All four of ’em.
– I like the salesman referring to the cigarette lighter as the car’s “dash hole.”
– Homer’s car chock full of appliances really goes too far; it’s not even absurdist funny, it’s just dumb. He comments to that effect himself (“Even think this is crazy,”) though he still continues to drive after that anyway.
– Now banned from the road, Lisa suggests Homer use public transportation. Homer retorts (“Public transportation is for jerks and lesbians!”) If someone can explain this joke to me, go right ahead, but it feels kind of offensive. But even if that’s the case, at least Homer has his latent homophobia back. It makes more sense than the “I LOVE GAYS NOW!!” Homer from “Three Gays.”
– Homer walks all the way to Moe’s, which is revealed to be a mere three houses down from his house. Now, I’m really not a stickler for this shit, getting bent out of shape about buildings showing up in different places in different episodes. But this feels like such a big, big cheat. Unlike the bit of showing the power plant parking garage right behind the house, this time the joke doesn’t feel worth it.
– Ruthless, heartless bureaucrat Mr. Burns stands at the door of the plant, ready to congratulate the first employee to clock in. Then he proceeds to attempt to “walk” and falls down on his face like a pathetic old man. Everything I loved about old Burns is pretty much dead at this point.
– I really like when the Peruvian fighting frogs go at it, they play their typical fighting music, but now with a more bluegrass twang to it. Hey look, a compliment!
– Homer’s walking son is quite boring. Also a great actor like Steve Buscemi is wasted with a nothing part. At least he’d come back in a few seasons playing an actual role. I did smirk at the visual of Homer and Buscemi skipping hand and hand across the globe together though.
– Homer gets hit with the car rather forcefully, yet the start of the third act he’s sitting in bed with his head wrapped up still with a smile on his face. It’s really bizarre, it’s almost unsettling now whenever Homer is smiling for so long.
– I really like the voice of the marriage counselor, I’m surprised after fourteen seasons, Azaria can pull out a voice I haven’t really heard before. Also bonus points for hitting Homer with the clipboard and calling him an idiot. If I can’t do it, thankfully someone in-universe can.
– Pointlessly long cutaway showing that Homer has called Flanders away to Montana to supposedly meet Jesus to keep him out of Marge’s banquet. It only lasts about seven seconds, but it’s the longest seven seconds ever.
– This is supposed to be the chipper ending where Marge gets her accolades, yet we squeeze in a joke where Captain McAlister gets pissed off and curses her for not making a bigger deal out of the platter that he had his men die for. Also the Mayor and his wife are there for some reason. So are Patty and Selma, who you’d think would have had something to say about this episode, but at this point they’re glorified background characters. Also they’re sitting with Rainier Wolfcastle. Whatever.

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6 responses to “311. Brake My Wife, Please

  1. Matt Wilson of Toonzone really summed up this episode nicely:
    “3 bad unrelated stories that smash into each other to unveil a new level of incoherency. Awful.”

    Also, I agree, the third act was one of the worst in the show’s history. But I hated it for a different reason than you: It’s just so THIN. It’s pretty much just Homer and Marge’s backyard party, and just goes on and on with no point other than bad jokes and guest stars. It’s the equivalent of ““Homer’s 305th Everything is Back to Normal BBQ” stretched to three or four minutes.

    The first three minutes are decent (I love Milhouse getting pummeled by the bullies for saying he would be a nurse shark), but boy does it plummet once Homer gets the devices for his car.

    “I really like when the Peruvian fighting frogs go at it, they play their typical fighting music, but now with a more bluegrass twang to it. Hey look, a compliment!”

    I dunno, I never cared for that fight music, especially when Alf Clausen just recycles it into various episodes. The riot music heard in “The Cartridge Family” is much funnier.

  2. Another episode that I keep forgetting exists. Even when I first watched it in 2003, I remember thinking “Well, this came right the fuck out of nowhere” at the twist in act III. And then it’s all smoothed over with a pointless dinner party and equally pointless Jackson Browne. Whatever.

    In fact, from the second half of Season 14 up until the point I quit watching three years later, I barely remember anything about any of the episodes that are coming up. Granted, I only watched most of them once or twice, but still, that speaks volumes about the state of the show. It goes in and out without ever leaving a trace of having been there. It’s the animated equivalent of Velveeta.

  3. Wait, I watched this episode like 3 weeks ago and none of what you said rings a bell to me. That IS bad.

  4. forbidden donut

    I agree this is an incoherent, unfunny episode with a ridiculously cheap ending. However, I actually thought Homer’s characterization was mostly fine until the 3rd act; I didn’t have the same issues with him as you did. He just seemed dim and very oblivious to what Marge was going through, rather than cruel and uncaring. I don’t think his portrayal was that different from, say, Homer Alone or Some Enchanted Evening, where Homer ignores glaringly obvious signs that Marge is under stress until she gets to the point of a nervous breakdown. The main difference is that here, Homer’s redemption/reconciliation feels rushed and insincere since it happens so late in the episode.

  5. Homer and Buscemi skipping around was the only part I like.

  6. “So are Patty and Selma, who you’d think would have had something to say about this episode, but at this point they’re glorified background characters. Also they’re sitting with Rainier Wolfcastle. Whatever.”

    And this is part of the problem with the whole recycling familiar faces. Remember when Troy McClure was such a big celebrity to the small-towners of Springfield that Selma was awe-struck to even be in his presence? And McClure was always portrayed as a terrible B-movie actor.

    Patty and Selma would be fawning over Wolfcastle. And Wolfcastle would never be at this party anyway. It’s the same with Tatum riding with Carl, Lou, and Dr. Hibbert. Dr. Hibbert I could MAYBE see, since maybe he’s Tatum’s physician. But Carl? A lowly power plant worker who has watched Tatum’s championship fights on TV? And Lou? Why is Tatum riding around with a police officer anyway? Every indication is that Tatum tends to lean toward the seedier side of law and order. He wouldn’t be driving around with a freaking cop.

    That’s my problem with these later seasons. It’s not that they’re bad. It’s that they’re bad in such a way it just pisses all over the good seasons, which were some of the best television ever.

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