Episode 17 - Last Exit to Springfield
6 July 2011
Synopsis: Lisa needs braces just as Mr Burns tries to claw back the dental plan from his workers. Homer objects and is voted in as the Union President. Mr Burns attempts to corrupt him but Homer is too dumb to follow that logic. Burns shuts the plant down but Homer stands firm and wins the plan back. Lisa is relieved to drop her hideous cheap braces for some discreet ones the plan can now afford her.
The Good: On the surface this is a straightforward focussed story as Homer stands firm and secures the dental plan for his fellow workers. Under the surface though this is one of those episodes where the writers cram every joke and reference they can possibly come up with into the story. The results are good and there is sure to be more than one sequence which sticks in your memory.
The story was very focussed as Lisa's "B plot" was the cause of Homer's "A plot." Her misery while wearing the cheap braces kept Homer's emotions engaged in the need to stick at his Union work. His inability to fully grasp the bribes Burns kept offering him was quite fun and avoided him having to deal with thoughts of corruption which would have got in the way of the plot. I enjoyed the escalation of the plot as Burns turns off the electricity but the workers won't relent. Lisa's song encouraging the strikes was a nice touch as it showed her supporting them for what they were doing for her. Finally Burns insisted that Homer quit as Union boss which neatly put the world back to normal.
As for the references, I'm not exaggerating when I say there were a lot. Without counting them all there were references to The Godfather (Homer's donut daydream), Citizen Kane (Burns' lookalike bird), the Grinch (Burns caving in to the Union), Yellow Submarine (Lisa's gas-induced daydream), Batman (Lisa smashing the mirror and laughing), Moby Dick ("From Hell's heart I stab at thee") and Jimmy Hoffa (the body on the football field). Most of these were nice nods which fitted well into the plot. Mr Burns is a most flexible character whose wealth and eccentricity can lead to almost any silliness seeming vaguely plausible. The most random reference was when he showed Homer a thousand monkeys writing at a thousand typewriters in an attempt to write the greatest novel ever. Regular parody target McBain popped up too for an amusingly bloody cameo.
The character comedy was solid too (see Best Jokes) as Burns and Homer matched wits. You can't beat Homer desperately searching for a toilet and then returning with a deeply suspicious "Yeah" to the question "Find the bathroom alright?" The writers showed good self awareness when Smithers listed off all the previous interactions Burns and Homer had which Burns had no recollection of. Lisa was well characterised as her fragile self esteem was pushed to the brink by the ugly braces. The Dentist with the poor bedside manner was a nice touch. His "Book of British Smiles" took a certain stereotype to its natural extreme and I loved the exaggerated simulation he showed of Lisa's teeth growing through her face. Bart's ingenious suggestion to the younger children that the rattle in spray cans comes from children's teeth was very clever.
I liked the longer glimpses we got of both the Plant and Burns' house. One of the fun moments was Burns and Smithers walking through a series of elaborate security measures to reach the nerve centre of the plant which had a broken door open to the outside world. That kind of satire was present throughout including the townsfolk looting the second the electricity went out and then celebrating when fake vomit production was able to continue.
The Bad: There's nothing wrong with this episode but I think a word of explanation is needed for why I don't rate it more highly. For one Homer's story is fairly unemotional. The focus is never on him protecting his daughter. It isn't even on his desire to save money. Instead we just get the repeat joke that he is too stupid to understand how corruption works. That makes the story feel a little bit like a vehicle for the jokes rather than having much substance to it. Similarly many of the references (e.g. Lisa under the influence of gas) feel like they are there to amuse the writers. Some don't serve the plot and would go over the heads of those who don't get them. Again I should stress that neither complaint makes the episode less enjoyable. They just prevent it from rising higher in my estimation.
Best Joke: Homer's misunderstandings with Mr Burns begin at their first meeting:
B: "We don't have to be adversaries Homer, we both want a fair Union contract."
H: (Thinks) Why is Mr Burns being so nice to me?
B: "And if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."
H: (Thinks) Wait a minute, is he coming on to me?
B: "I mean, if I were to slip something into your pocket, what's the harm?"
H: (Thinks) Oh my God! He is coming on to me.
B: "After all, negotiations make strange bedfellows." (Laughs and winks)
H: (Thinks) Aaaaagh!
The Bottom Line: A strong story, filled with jokes and references to keep you happy.
Add your comments on this episode below. They may be included in the weekly podcasts.