Episode 20 - Whacking Day
16 July 2011
Synopsis: The Annual Springfield tradition of "Whacking Day" approaches where snakes are rounded up and beaten to death. Principal Skinner hears of a surprise inspection from Superintendent Chalmers and decides to trick the five worst students into spending the day locked in the basement. Bart is one of them but escapes and drives Willie's tractor into Chalmers. Bart is expelled and Marge begins home schooling him. Meanwhile Lisa is miserable because she thinks that it is wrong to kill snakes.
The Good: This is a very interesting episode which manages to cover a lot of ground with its satire while not being entirely satisfying as a story.
Let's start with the Principal Skinner storyline which was pretty fun. He comes up with the cunning idea to hide his most troublesome students from Superintendent Chalmers and then forgets about them. It's a terrific end to the episode because the "Whacking Day" storyline had taken over so completely that it would be easy to forget about Nelson, Jimbo and company. The story also skewers the education system with some strong satire. Faced with severe punishment Nelson and Jimbo have both reached emotional realisations about their bullying. Meanwhile Bart actually becomes interested in learning once he is removed from school. As Marge knows her son and can give him her complete attention he has no one to act out for and she can finally get through to him.
The school satire storyline had plenty of good humour and nice details. Marge actually enjoys the new role and giggles at the thought of playing teacher while Homer forgets what is happening and twice drives into the garage without thinking. Grandpa pops in to tell a ludicrously amusing story about dressing up as a woman to avoid Hitler during the war. This is the first appearance of Chalmers and his banter with Skinner begins to take its familiar shape. The conceit is almost always that Chalmers spots something genuinely amiss and is far too easily convinced by Skinner's lame explanations.
Bart's new book smarts play into the "Whacking Day" story too. There is more satire here as Bart uncovers the lies being told about Jebediah Springfield (which will be explored further in future episodes) and of course with the barbaric "pest control" being exposed as cruel and unnecessary. The build up to "Whacking Day" was a lot of fun with Homer showing off for Marge, Apu foolishly allowing whacking in his store and a fun dig at Richard Nixon. Nixon has already been mocked on the show and it won't be the last time as he becomes a regular punching bag for the writers. There's something so potentially plausible about his aid holding down a snake while Nixon misses and just repeatedly whacks the aid on the head. Bart and Lisa save the day of course with the help of Barry White and the snakes leave for the happy ending. The way the people of Springfield change their mind about the snakes is so flimsy that the writers acknowledge that. In another recurring theme on the show, the mob can be easily led and just as they've changed their minds Mayor Quimby arrives with his pre-wacked snakes trying to impress them. They boo him and he turns on them pointing out their flip-flopping. Surprisingly they agree with him leading one man to shout "Give us hell Quimby!" It was certainly an unexpected moment of self reflection.
The Bad: But as I said, the ending was flimsy in the extreme. There are two anecdotes about why snakes aren't so bad and the crowd flips. Surely there was time a tiny bit more to help make this change seem convincing?
Best Joke: Homer is all for "Whacking Day" but Lisa is not. She claims that it is evil to kill snakes. Homer, rattling off a hastily constructed justification says it's all part of human nature. "Inside every man is a struggle between good and evil that can not be resolved" he claims. We then cut to a shot of Homer's mind where a grave reads RIP GOOD HOMER. Homer in a devil suit shaking maracas then dances on the grave singing repeatedly "I am evil Homer! I am evil Homer!" It's one of those unexpected jokes that an animated comedy can pull off and it's very memorable.
The Bottom Line: The material here is very strong, both the whole concept of "Whacking Day" and the school satire. The ending could have been stronger though.
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