(originally aired November 9, 2003)
It’s undeniable that “Mother Simpson” is one of the most touching episodes of the entire series; to me it’s only second to “Lisa’s Wedding.” The question of what happened to Homer’s mother had really been untouched upon prior to that, and that episode illuminated her character, her backstory, and her heartbreaking relationship with her son. So now eight years later we have a followup with the return of Mona Simpson, an opportunity to tell another story and showcase a different side to her character. Or, we’ll just repeat the same beats. Things start on thin ice immediately with how Mona contacts Homer: desperately searching for a newspaper headline gaffe to win a T-shirt, Homer discovers a hidden message in an article by highlighting the first letter in each column, the note telling him to meet under a local overpass at midnight. This plan is absolutely asinine, the chances of Homer getting the paper, reading the article and decoding this bizarre puzzle are essentially slim to none. She had her friends at the “liberal media” (groan) pick an article about food to catch Homer’s eye, but I guess she also didn’t figure that her son is a complete dunce who could never figure this out unless by plot convenience.
Mona is still wanted for her attacks on Burns’ germ warfare plant decades ago, and it isn’t long before she’s caught and finally stands trial for her actions. The jury is touched by a blubbering testimony from Homer, and Mona is found not guilty, free to live and catch up with her family. The middle act serves as an indicator of how much the show has strayed, because invariably you have to compare it to “Mother Simpson.” Genuinely sweet moments like Homer and Mona chuckling about dresser drawers and Lisa connecting with her intellectually mindful grandmother are replaced with stupid shit like forcing Marge to recreate the birth of Bart and Homer somehow ripping the entire guest room from Flanders’ house to affix to his. When your show is filled with so many ridiculous and weird gags and set pieces, it’s hard to really get any emotional reaction from anything because whatever moments like that there are, they’re given no breathing room. Upon meeting his mother again, Homer has an internal dilemma about whether he should open up to the woman who left him twice. He then proceeds to hug her… then it’s revealed to be a bum. And Homer steals his wine. It basically obliterates any positive response I might have had.
Ever vindictive, Mr. Burns ends up getting Mona sent back to prison on a technical charge, and Homer can come up with no better plan than to bust her out by hijacking a prison bus. To save her son from facing a prison sentence himself, Mona pushes him from the vehicle and evades the police, before the bus careens off the road and into a lake. It then explodes, and is completely buried by an avalanche, all of which Homer sees with his own eyes. Yeah, we know she’s not dead, but this is fucking horrifying for Homer. During her funeral, Homer tearfully holds his mother’s casket, saying that at least now he’ll never lose her again. Then the casket rolls away down the hill. I guess this is supposed to be a gag, but it’s just so absolutely terrible and in bad taste. Then the episode ends with Homer frantically looking through articles to find another coded message, and the family humors him by agreeing that Mona is still alive. It’s a really unsettling ending that doesn’t feel handled that right way, considering how jokey and callous the show is now. But in summation, this episode is basically running on nostalgia fumes, since it essentially just retells the same stuff we saw in the first Mona show (on the run from the law from Burns), except much more clumsily and crassly. But it’s nothing compared to the third Mona show. My God… more on that dung heap later.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The Oops Patrol opening is basically an act-long extension of the “Ketchup Truck Hits Hamburger Stand, Three Dead” gag from “Lisa the Treehugger,” and the shot of Homer’s brain filled with black and white 30’s cartoon characters is straight from “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala-D’oh!-cious.” Hooray for recycling!
– Honestly, Mona could have just showed up at the Simpson house in a simple disguise. But then again, Lou instantly recognizes her and Eddie has her wanted poster in the car for some reason. In “Mother Simpson,” it made sense since Burns saw the poster on the old post office bulletin board, but here, not so much.
– Homer crashes his car through the police station, but of course there’s no repercussions for it. Although later he admits he’s due back in court multiple times the day of his mother’s trial, so maybe that’s part of it. But then, again, Homer’s gone from everyman to a maniac with repeat felonies who damages property and torches blood banks (!)
– Nice 19th century woodcut of Burns preying on young children.
– I really like Judge Snyder, I don’t know why. I also like we find out about his taunting sister and that he just got divorced, there’s a lot more to learn about him. Except now his airtime’s been cut down since we got Judge Judy… I mean, Judge Harm. This is the first time we’ve seen him since that episode, actually.
– The “I’m not a man who’s good with words…” silence bit goes on soooo long. Which then is immediately followed by Homer’s sniveling plea to save his mother. The two bits don’t gel together at all.
– Mona signing her name as “Anita Bonghit” is kind of juvenile, but I can see her having a raw sense of humor and doing that as a young woman.
– The flipping though the highway warnings is another joke that goes on far too long. Know when to quit.
– “Mom, I’m gonna hide you where there’s no one around for miles: Disney’s California Adventure!” Shot number two! Scathing! Again, no one besides theme park geeks like me knows or gives a shit about California Adventure.
– Mona’s funeral consists of each Simpson family member saying a punchline, instead of it actually being, you know, a heartfelt scene with a deeper meaning.