(originally aired July 11, 1991)
We end this glorious second season with a real treat, a spectacular finale that dances around issues of morality, human nature and goodwill, but ultimately is a story of our bone-headed hero’s impulsive actions and repercussion. We open to find Mr. Burns in need of a blood transfusion, and Homer is ecstatic to find that Bart shares his boss’ rare blood type. Homer is by no means a heartless monster: in his words, “There’s a human being out there with millions of dollars who needs our help!” He’s more than ready to accept the waves of riches coming his way, but instead receives a piddling thank-you card from the old man. Beyond his wholly selfish expectations, you can’t help but feel for Homer, but in an impassioned rage sends off a scathing letter to his boss, which despite his reconsidered efforts to retrieve it, ends up in the fuming hands of Burns.
If I’ve learned anything over this season, it’s how much I truly love Mr. Burns as a character. He, like many others, has been cheapened and watered down a bit in later episodes, but he’s in true raging form here. A man of true power and vast, somewhat antiquated vocabulary, whose only hindrance is his withered ancient mortal vessel holding his greedy evil soul. My favorite moment in the whole show occurs when Burns feels better than ever after the blood transfusion, telling Smithers, “I tried every tincture and poultice and tonic and patent medicine there is, and all I really needed was the blood of a young boy.” During that last bit, there’s a cut to a close-up on Burns’ face, a slight push-in and he says it with particular emphasis. It’s a wonderfully bizarre moment; you almost expect it to be a tipping point from the show, like the second half is going to consist of Burns harvesting young children for their blood like a vampire. But no, that would have to wait another three seasons.
This show skirts around a few issues, on one’s obligation to help one’s fellow man and acts of compensation for one’s actions depending on their magnitude, but ultimately the characters’ actions fall in a mysterious gray area. Smithers calls off Burns’ ruthless tirade against Homer, mollifying him to the point that Burns decides the Simpsons deserve reciprocation after all. And boy do they get it, in the form of a gargantuan ancient Olmec head of Xtapolapocetl (the god of war). Later the family debate the fact that they would have gotten nothing had Homer not written the angry letter, and Marge’s efforts to dispense a moral to the story are met with disapproval. Homer dismissively puts it, “It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.” And while there’s a bit more going on here, it’s a brilliant summary of why this episode succeeds: it’s all focused on the character’s expectations and reactions, with some wonderful comedic bits and true-to-character moments, and an absolutely splendid way to close out the season.
Tidbits and Quotes
– We get a great bit at the start with the unveiling of the power plant warning sign, instructing motorists of any possible dangers, each increasingly serious one met with less and less applause from the crowd (“Relax. Everything is fine,” “Minor leak. Roll up window,” “Meltdown. Flee city,” “Core explosion. Repent sins.”) From the peanut gallery, Homer is quite amused (“Joke’s on them. If the core explodes, there won’t be any power to light that sign!”)
– A very sweet moment when Marge says that a mother knows everything about her family, and answers every small question they can throw at her. And now I always remember Bart’s allergies: butterscotch, imitation butterscotch, and glow-in-the-dark monster make-up.
– I love Homer’s over-enthusiasm over Bart’s procedure (“You’ve got a date with a needle!”) as well as his damage-control explaining to him the situation (“It’s not like I’m asking you to give blood for free. That would be crazy!”) Then he regales his son with the story of Hercules and the rich lion, which of course, is a classic moment.
– This show contains one of my most quoted lines of all time, when a rejuvenated Burns approaches an employee, quipping, “How about that local sports team?” I say that all the time when I run into someone and don’t have anything particularly interesting to talk to them about.
– The first part of this show is all about build. From the moment Homer hears about Burns’ ailment, he immediately has it in his mind that the donor will be given mounds of diamonds and rubies as reward. By the time he receives an envelope from Burns, he’s absolutely overwhelmed and can barely contain himself. Even with a light envelope, and later no check, he is still optimistic, all of this makes the let-down (and inevitable “D’oh!”) even more fantastic.
– Homer’s letter is so epic, that it bears to be reprinted: “Dear Mr. Burns, I’m so glad you enjoyed my son’s blood. And your card was just great. In case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic. You stink! You are a senile, buck-toothed old mummy, with bony girl-arms, and you smell like an elephant’s butt.” It’s even more dramatic when Burns angrily repeats it out loud.
– Homer’s attempts to retrieve the letter with Bart standing by as the voice of logic is almost like something out of a Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo cartoon. But we do get the classic bit where Homer attempts to get the letter from the post office, using a disguised voice. He knows exactly what Burns sounds like, but uses the most phony bizarre, and of course hilarious, voice possible, and, the kicker, doesn’t know Burns’ first name.
– I feel I also have a greater appreciation for Smithers during this season; later he would just be the show’s not-so-subtly gay avatar, but here he exists not only as Burns’ long-suffering toady yesman, but as his one and only trustee and voice of reason. The scene where he must begrudgingly hire a hitman to pummel Homer is fantastic, where he’s in a moral qualm about whether he should go through with it. And of course, when he doesn’t, Burns cries “Judas!” complete with lightning striking. Phenomenal.
– Always love Burns’ Seuss-ian dialogue: “We’ll get the Simpsons a present. An extravagant present. A mad, unthinkable, utterly impossible present! A frabulous, grabulous, zip-zoop-zabulous present!”
– Lastly, let’s talk about the head. First, how did they ever get it through the front door. Doesn’t matter. It remains a permanent fixture in the Simpsons house seasons to come, appearing in the basement, and sometimes even the attic. How it got around the house is also a mystery.
– Oh yes! And Burns’ memoirs! The scenes of him writing by stormy night with a quill are perfect, and the immortal title, Will There Ever Be a Rainbow?
Season 2 Final Thoughts
I feel oh so ashamed that whenever I’d site the classic years, I’d instinctively leave out 2 and just go for 3-8. Season 2 is where the show truly came into its own, fleshing out its characters, the rules, and the entire Simpsons universe. Leaps and bounds were made from the first season; we saw shows of tremendous scale, plot-wise (“Two Cars”) and emotionally (“The Way We Was”). We got a better sense of the world the Simpsons live in; their neighbors, their friends, their extended family all get their moments to shine, and they’re so good we heartily await their return. We start picking our favorite characters, our favorite moments, favorite shows, and each moment is so great that’s it’s so very hard to choose. And as shocking as it may sound, it only gets better from here. I can hardly believe it! Season 3 must be some insane, crazy super awesome collection of episodes! Well, I guess we’ll see, now won’t we?
I’m going to be dreading these season wrap-ups… I’m going to limit myself to five favorites, but goddamn is this gonna be hard…
“Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish,” “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “Brush With Greatness,” “Three Men and a Comic Book,” “Blood Feud”
Again, not the “worst,” just the not-as-good, which in classic years means merely fantastic, but not legendary. This season, three shows fit that bill.
“Dancin’ Homer,” “Bart’s Dog Gets An F,” “The War of the Simpsons”