Season 2: Episode 22. Original airdate: July 11, 1991.
The Simpsons has already had its share of episodes with characters grappling with their morals, but “Blood Feud” might be the first that’s a full-on morality play. Of course, this was never a show that shoved a message down its audience’s collective throat, so we’re instead treated to a dissection of Homer’s horribly misguided decision-making process, as well as the lengths to which he’ll go for what he feels he deserves.
When Mr. Burns falls ill with an ailment I’m too lazy to look up, he can only be cured with a transfusion of his rare blood type. Word spreads around the nuclear plant, and Homer is taken with the idea of saving his boss. He obviously is not thinking altruistically, as he proclaims to his family, “There’s a human being out there with millions of dollars who needs our help!” Homer is not driven by the salvation of a human life; he’s in it for the money, but there is still a spark of humanity propelling him to do good. Marge, in her motherly all-knowingness, tells him that Bart has the same blood type, and Homer drags his son to the hospital for the transfusion with no concern for Bart’s opinion on the matter.
Mr. Burns is cured, and he returns from the brink of death stronger than ever, and all he needed was “the blood of a young boy.” Soon after, he writes a letter to the Simpson family, thanking them for their act of decency. Now, Homer’s expectations in this first act build slowly, from his initial excitement over a potential reward to a feverish zeal once that envelope from Mr. Burns arrives. When he opens it, the discovery of a mere thank-you card infuriates him, and prompts him to write a scathing letter to his boss:
“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.”
“In case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic” instantaneously lodged itself into my psyche, and I’m sure I’ll be using it as soon as I can. This episode is brimming with quotable lines, perhaps the most of the entire season. But to reconnect to something resembling a point, Marge talks Homer out of sending the letter, explaining that the charitable act he did needed no reward, and Burns’ thank-you letter should be reward enough.
Because an 8 minute episode would be rather boring, Bart finds the letter and delivers it himself. Upon finding out, Homer reaches a new level of fury, giving Bart a classic strangling and rushing to the mailbox to retrieve the letter. Homer’s altercations with the postal service are riotous. While trying to stick a hose in the mailbox, he is confronted by a mailwoman, who he is convinced has omniscient powers and knows his name and address just from his face. Even better is his attempt to pose as Burns at the post office. When asked his first name, Homer mumbles “I don’t know…” and slinks out—another line reading I’ll be adding to my vocabulary.
Eventually, Burns gets his hands on the letter and reads it, dramatically as usual. He has Homer escorted off the premises, and orders Smithers to have him beaten to a bloody pulp. Instigating another moral crisis, Smithers struggles over whether issue the order. After all, Homer is the man who helped save Burns’ life; isn’t that worth something? Smithers does talk Burns out of the bloody-pulp beatdown, and in a massive change of heart, Burns decides to reward the Simpsons for their act of charity.
The family got more than they bargained for when Mr. Burns arrives with a titanic bust of Xtapolapocetl, the Olmec war god. Worth a staggering $32,000, it’s certainly a generous gift, but Homer’s biggest concern is what the thing does. Nobody can quite give him an answer, as the massive head is meant to just sit there, a decoration fit to fill the entire living room. Burns seems pleased with his generosity, and Smithers is relieved of his moral dilemma, leaving the Simpsons with their new Olmec knicknack.
In the closing scene, the family discusses the moral quandaries they just went through. Marge keeps trying to pin a specific moral to their story, but in a meta-textual moment for the ages, Homer shoots down her ramblings, arguing “it was just a bunch of stuff that happened.” As a guy writing to pick apart and understand the underlying morality and messages behind each episode, this moment feels like it was directed straight at people like me. TV criticism as we know it didn’t exist in 1991, but Homer’s closing statement here hilariously adds a new perspective, or non-perspective to my writing. So I’m going to judge this episode on its face value: was it funny?
Yes, yes, yes it was. This was a damn fine episode to end a damn fine season of television.
[Hey, y’all, check in tomorrow for an updated version of the Season 2 page on the site. I’m going to do an overview of the whole season, as well as add an overview to the Season 1 page. Look out for that, as well as the beginning of the amazing Season 3, all happening tomorrow!]