Season 3: Episode 12. Original airdate: December 26, 1991.
Life never really goes according to plan. While we’re perfectly capable of micromanaging our day-to-day existences, nobody has complete control over the grand scheme. If that were the case, the world would be full of winners and become devoid of losers. I don’t expect everybody to believe in the same sort of vast cosmic forces that I do, but there are certain milestones in life that can irreversibly alter the course of a person’s life. Unplanned pregnancy is one of them.
There are two such surprises in “I Married Marge,” both in the framing scenes and the flashback inspired by the runners. Marge thinks she may be pregnant with a fourth child, and rushes to Dr. Hibbert’s office, leaving Homer to reminisce with the kids about the circumstances surrounding Bart’s birth. We flash back to 1980, the year when Supertramp was at the peak of their popularity, and The Empire Strikes Back owned the box office. Marge and Homer have been dating for a few years, and Homer has already stagnated in a banal job at the putt-putt course. A romantic evening of Star Wars, no doubt helped by Homer’s smooth lines (“you’re as beautiful as Princess Leia and as smart as Yoda”), leads to an evening of sexytime in the “impregnable” mini golf castle. A few days later, Homer finds out that the castle may have, in fact, been “pregnable.”
The story of Homer and Marge is a tragic one, full of sacrifices and abandoned dreams, which we’ve discussed before. However, “I Married Marge” was startlingly familiar to me, as I saw many of my peers growing up follow a fate similar to the Simpsons’. In the area I’m from, getting married is considered the paramount life goal, but an unexpected pregnancy elevates the need for wedlock even more. I watched as kids from my high school got married mere weeks or months after graduation, setting the course of their lives at age 18. It’s a terrifying prospect, but in Homer and Marge’s case, there is no choice, and they have to hope that they really do love each other.
Obviously they do, and we’re treated to some achingly romantic scenes like Homer’s proposal. He loses the card he’d written his script on, and Marge picks it up and reads it right at Homer’s ass as he fumbles around in the backseat. Julie Kavner really sells the flurry of emotions in this moment, even if she’s reading the proposal to an audience of one rear end. There’s something truly touching about the love between Homer and Marge, that even in these hilarious moments, there’s a real sense of pathos and love between the two. Even on their wedding night, their inability to afford anything beyond Marge’s mother’s living room doesn’t stop them from basking in their love.
Though they love each other so deeply, there’s an underlying sadness to all the proceedings here, much like the sadness I feel for my high school mates who squander their dreams to settle for a moribund life. Marge’s sacrifices for Homer are much greater, but he arguably has a more difficult challenge—to become a man. After all, his job at the mini golf course won’t provide for a family, so he sets out to find a real job. He is rejected from everywhere he applies, including the nuclear plant, where Smithers really steals a scene with his old fraternity brothers competing for the job against Homer.
Dejected, Homer feels like he has no choice but to leave Marge to find a job, and hopefully find the money to help raise their baby. The note he writes is profoundly sad for the show, and it’s hard not to get choked up. It’s heartbreaking to see Homer at this level, but it’s even more heartbreaking to see Marge read the note and potentially lose Homer. It’s a testament to Marge’s devotion that she would not only give up so much potential for Homer, but also keep faith in the oaf even when he leaves her. Eventually, Selma and Patty find Homer working at a taco shop, which they reluctantly inform Marge of. She rushes to the restaurant and, in another touching scene, professes her love for Homer once again and begs him to come back.
He obliges, and soon after storms into the nuclear plant asking for a job. He demands a job from Mr. Burns, in a surprising show of confidence, by boasting that he would be the world’s greatest sycophant (next to Smithers, of course). Burns is impressed by Homer’s gall, and gives him a job, saying that he’ll always remember the name “Simpson.” Homer’s hot streak continues, and he shows up to the hospital right before Bart is born, even going so far as to attempt to deliver the baby himself. Dr. Hibbert objects, as does Marge, and before long the Simpsons go from being a couple to a full-fledged family.
In the present day, Homer tells the kids how meaningful that day was to him, and how Lisa and Maggie’s births were equally important moments in his life. Marge bursts in and proclaims she isn’t pregnant, and Homer turns on a dime and shouts for joy. It’s a clever Simpson-y button to place on the end of an episode. Even though we may be grateful for the gift of parenthood, the fear of another unplanned child can outweigh any positives. This final tag is fairly representative of Homer’s evolution as a man. He didn’t really make any progress in 1980, other than getting a job and being thrust into parenthood. He didn’t grow up at all; he was merely thrown into responsibility, a man-child who suddenly finds himself a father.
Despite how sad “I Married Marge” is in its depiction of young love, it also extolls the virtues of Homer and Marge’s relationship. After “The Way We Was,” I almost would have been satisfied without any more flashbacks, but this episode adds even more color to this fantastic love story. Even if Homer and Marge weren’t necessarily ready for parenthood, that’s the hand they were dealt. Sometimes life seems cruel by throwing us such curveballs at such inopportune times, but without that fated pregnancy, who knows whether the Simpsons would have lasted? We may have detailed plans in life, but sometimes the universe gives us what we really need, before we even know we need it.