#33: The War of the Simpsons

Season 2: Episode 20. Original airdate: May 2, 1991.

I think I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but it’s some sort of miracle that Marge has stayed with Homer. There’s no rational reason the two of them should work, let alone continue to work, aside from their repeatedly professed love for each other. There have already been a few tests of their commitment, some (“Life on the Fast Lane”) more than others (“Homer’s Night Out”), and my one problem with the marriage-crisis episodes so far is that Marge has usually been the one in the wrong. It became a little tiring for me, but I understand the intent. Making Marge an unsympathetic character is much more challenging than doing the same to Homer, and while I like that sort of ambition, I really wanted to see Homer really in the doghouse.

Well, I got what I asked for. I’m glad that Homer had a moment of triumph in the closing moments of the last episode, because he’s absolutely deplorable here. The Simpsons are having a party for their friends, and both Marge and Homer are paranoid about their hosting abilities. Everything seems to be going smoothly (especially the Simpsons’ dynamite taste in music) until Bizarro Flanders shows up. I’m going to refer to him as such until he becomes the character we all know him to be. It’s fascinating to see the show struggle with how to depict Flanders, from his zealously materialistic persona early on to what’s on display tonight, a sort of party-animal guy who has a “Ph.D in Mixology” and can leave Homer completely sloshed. It’s weird to think I’m describing “howdily-doodily” Ned Flanders.

Homer the drunk is quite a sight to behold. He’s even more boorish than he is normally, and completely out of his mind. He’s a tool to most of the party guests, but is particularly horrible to Maude Flanders, who he makes bend down to reveal more from her low-cut top (wait, Maude Flanders in a low cut top?). At that point, he moves from just being a drunken mess to being a certifiable creep, and even worse, Marge sees it all. She’s mortified by her husband, and rightly so. At least in “Fast Lane,” her dilemma was mostly private, while Homer made a fool of herself in front of everyone they know.

I can’t blame her for wanting to go to Reverend Lovejoy’s marriage counseling retreat, but I still feel like there’s a disconnect between wanting to go to counseling and actually doing it. Before the party incident, their marriage was solid. I’m certainly not knowledgable about marriage, but I have to imagine that one night isn’t enough to put a couple on the rocks. I have to defer to the idea that Marge has been stewing about this for a long time, which she reveals to the group after she ropes Homer into going to the lake retreat with her. There’s some real gold from the other couples there, particularly the British pair who I don’t believe we’ll ever hear from again.

Of course, Homer goes on the retreat with ulterior motives, mostly to catch the mythical General Sherman, a catfish of gargantuan size that resides in Catfish Lake. Homer does seem fazed by Marge’s laundry list of quibbles she has with him, but his mind is obviously elsewhere as he generates a scheme to sneak out of the cabin to go fishing. When Marge catches him, he comes back to bed, but asks if he can go on a walk for a while. Marge allows it, and I expected Homer to immediately run to his fishing boat. Instead, he seemed honestly upset, and passed by a lonely fisherman who left his rod at the dock. Homer grabs the rod and accidentally hooks General Sherman, leading to a hilariously pratfall-filled chase in the boat.

Marge is furious, and confronts Homer on the dock as he pulls in triumphantly with his catch. He knows he is caught red-handed, but is still oblivious to Marge’s threats that their marriage is at stake. Out of the blue, he seems to finally understand, and selflessly dumps the fish in the lake in favor of keeping his union intact. Marge seems to instantly forgive him, and she leaps into his arms, and the status quo is restored. Truthfully, this feels a little unearned. Marge had a ton of complaints about Homer’s behavior, his selfishness obviously paramount, but a single selfless act doesn’t seem like enough to mend so much damage.

At some point, I need to learn not to doubt the resilience of this marriage. There’s obviously deep affection and true love that can defeat any minor issue. As long as The Simpsons are around, there will always be threats to Homer and Marge’s relationship, but their bond is deeper than those trials. It’s predictable, sure, but unlike most sitcom couples, this is one that I can believe in, even in episodes like tonight’s when I feel the conceit is stretched too thin. More importantly, this is a couple that I want to believe in, and that counts for more than any minor issue I’ll ever have.

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