#15: Simpson and Delilah

 

Season 2: Episode 2. Original airdate: October 18, 1990. 

So far, The Simpsons has tackled Homer’s relationship with his wife and his children in fairly great detail. However, until “Simpson and Delilah,” the show hasn’t explored his internal motivations, or his relationship with himself. That changes in tonight’s episode, in which Homer’s insecurities and anxieties come to the forefront. Of course, this psychological journey is prompted by none other than a TV spot, advertising in this case a “miracle breakthrough” in hair growth technology. Understandably, Homer is hooked at the first mention of “miracle” and “breakthrough” in the same sentence.

I really hate having hair. It’s a pain to keep up appearances, it never looks quite right, and part of me thinks my weird-shaped head would be better off without it at all. Homer’s torment from being bald erases all the complaints I’ve ever had about my hair—it’s far better to have awful hair than be forced into baldness. The quest to get a prescription for Dimoxinil leads Homer to defrauding the nuclear plant’s insurance regulations for $1000. He gets his hair product, and awakens the next morning with a flowing mane on his head. He rushes to the streets, in full It’s A Wonderful Life mode, and gleefully celebrates his overhauled image.

This episode establishes that in Springfield, having hair is akin to being of royal descent in England, or a Kennedy in Massachusetts. Homer is immediately promoted by Mr. Burns to an arbitrary position seemingly created because of his new hair. Mr. Burns is infatuated with this version of Homer, and even accepts his ideas for improving the workplace, including a demand for more tartar sauce. In an incredible bit of voice acting from Harry Shearer, Burns hisses “let the fools have their tar-tar sauce,” a line that perfectly balances hilarity and terror.

Homer’s rise to the top affords him the opportunity to hire an assistant. After seeing multiple unsatisfactory candidates, the mysterious Karl appears. Karl, played by Harvey Fierstein, is a mystical, raspy-voiced life coach who offers to improve Homer’s life even more for no apparent reason beyond his own charity. It is heavily implied throughout the episode that Karl’s obsession is grounded in a (completely inexplicable) crush on Homer, but it being an unrequited infatuation doesn’t bother Karl in the slightest. He is the most purely-motivated and altruistic character The Simpsons has yet created, and Fierstein’s voice adds to the mystery and allure of his character.

Speaking of unreciprocated love, this episode is also the first to discuss Smithers’ infatuation with Mr. Burns. Seethingly jealous of Homer’s ascent to power, Smithers is desperate to prove his new enemy’s guilt in defrauding the company. Mr. Burns is a malleable character in these early episodes, willing to follow anyone’s advice as long as he isn’t directly hurt by a decision. Despite that, he is unwilling to acknowledge Smithers’ attempts to get closer to him, merely brushing off his assistant and ordering him to do more of his bidding. This makes Smithers quite a tragic character, a condition that does not get fixed when he confronts Homer about the insurance fraud.

Terrified of losing his job, Homer tries to pretend the insurance bill isn’t his. Karl martyrs himself for Homer by claiming the bill is his, even going so far as to give Smithers $1000 to pay the company back. Smithers fires him, unsure of what this enigma is even doing at the plant, and Homer is left alone, in over his head at a job he doesn’t begin to understand. To make matters worse, Bart’s dreams of facial hair prompt him to raid Homer’s Dimoxinil, but he spills the entire bottle. Homer enters and panics at the now-imminent loss of his hair. He tries to strangle Bart, but is dissuaded by his son’s proclamation of love for him (a “dirty trick”) as Lisa comments that Homer is handling his loss in a less than heroic fashion. The family gathers around Homer as he weeps and tries to spread the last remaining drops on his head, but to no avail.

Upon awakening the next morning bald once again, Homer must go to the nuclear plant to give a presentation on the future of the facility. As one last act of kindness, Karl appears to give him notes for the discussion. As a final farewell, Karl gives Homer a kiss on the lips, in what my Googling shows is the first gay kiss in the history of primetime television, a full ten years before the famous kiss in Dawson’s Creek. I’m shocked that this scene doesn’t get more attention within Simpsons history, as it’s a watershed moment for the medium of TV that is apparently overlooked.

Homer gives his lecture and is completely ignored due to his now-lack of hair. Even Mr. Burns can’t recognize the man he was obsessed with 24 hours prior. In an uncharacteristic act of humanity, Burns offers Homer his old job back, recounting his own tales of having beautiful hair. The two share a compassionate moment in what I can only surmise as a rare occurrence, and the status quo is restored. By the next episode, Burns will forget Homer’s name, Smithers will still have a tragic love for his boss, and life in Springfield will be normal.

But what makes a seemingly-average episode like this stand out is the unexpected beauty of the story, like Burns’ moment of caring, or Homer’s frolic in the streets, not to mention the enigmatic brilliance of Fierstein as Karl. If this episode ends up forgotten due to the sheer scope of my undertaking, it will not be because of its faults, of which there are few. It’s just the gold standard set by other episodes. Perhaps I was let down by the initial hopes of psychoanalyzing Homer’s self-image, only to be teased at the possibilities. Maybe I wanted the episode to feature the Burns/Smithers dynamic more. Either way, a forgettable episode of The Simpsons isn’t exactly a letdown, it’s just a slight lull in an unparalleled series.

 

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