This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 29 Episode 13
The Simpsons season 29, episode 13, “3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage,” revisits old territory to relearn an older lesson: Marriage is like a coffin and each kid is another nail. Marge and Homer rekindle the romance of the DINK, or Double-Income-No-Kids, life. This is beautifully prefaced by the opening sequence, which deconstructs a loving face while Dan Castellaneta sings a symphony divine. The living art puts menace into very permutation.
The episode begins during the closing credits of a superhero movie. Past the cast, best boys and grips, past the caterers, somewhere around the actors’ personal assistants, style consultants and Mark Ruffalo’s anger coach. The Simpsons mock the over-saturation of post-movie filler designed to keep theatergoers tethered to their seats, a function previously performed by sticky and stale spilled Goobers, Raisonettes and congealed popcorn butter. In a subtle toss of foreshadowing, a mid-post-credit sequence reveals that Spiderman’s uncle, who is probably actually his second cousin twice removed, is still alive, and still evil. But he has prescient words of wisdom: With great power comes no responsibility.
The last time Marge and Homer had great power and no responsibility they lived in the now-gentrified Beef Rendering District of Springfield. Life was good then. It was a more innocent time. You could get free glasses of blood. Bart and Lisa’s now-straddled parents were living in sin and loving it. They threw all the best parties with the hippest of their generation. They young urban professionals doing what they did best. Marge wrote a nightlife column for the “Springfield Shopper” that a young Kent Brockman envied, and Homer was the happy face of a tooth-whitening startup, Flashpoint.
Springfield went through its bright lights big city phase and the episode serves up a distinct small town flavor on the urbane landscape. At one of the trendier clubs, Moe plays the fiddle while on skates. He’s very good at both, far better than Homer who slides into a short classic animated sequence of a freewheeling skate ride through the busy center of town. It’s not quite as frenetic as Krusty the Clown’s role in “Queasy Rider,” a psychedelic biker flick the funny man with the surprisingly small feet made during his coopt-the-hippie period. The short skating sequence draws parallels to Bugs Bunny, and conjures even old Popeye short before dropping Homer back at the rink for a well-time punch line. The sequence is a play on tradition that follows all the cartoon rules and works traditionally.
The Simpsons party life comes to a screeching halt when Bart is born and they have no problem remembering it that way in front of the kids. They put up no pretense of guilt, and spill their regrets like so much Duff beer. Marge’s keen eye for the social scene gets baby food in it and Homer is told straight up kids and jobs don’t mix. It sends a bad signal. Having children means there is a master outside of work and is an infection best cured by amputation. This is subversive satire on the business class and the growth of meritocracy. The corporation is king, and the job Homer gives up grows to be a billion dollar property. Even Bart and Maggie realize what a clueless move it was to choose family over money.
Young Bart is a monster, everyone remembers him the same. He makes mincemeat of Kirk Van Houten’s happy slapping palm for a petty slight, and gets banned from every daycare center and baby prison for life after a series of escalating daredevil disturbances. The restless preschooler then sets his sights on deconstructing Springfield’s burgeoning art scene, which is the art gallery and Art’s Deli, which caters most of the gallery’s openings. The future graffiti artist El Barto’s slinging commentary devastates the entire scene, except for the sculpture “Futility Number 37.” The irony is that the irony is not lost on Bart.
To find a cure, the young parents turn to the church. Reverend Lovejoy still has a semblance of the wild haired tent revival charisma he never bothered to attempt. He explains that the problem is that Bart’s an only kid, and an only kid is a lonely kid. Via a videotape, we learn this could only leads to evil. Of course most everything leads to evil in the Presbylutheran Council of Ministers, but children are the worst. The video Lovejoy screens is a worthy horror offering. The “only child” at the center, Jane, is truly one of the children of the corn who grew up in the village of the damned. This reviewer would love to see the full film.
Jane’s problem becomes everyone’s problem. Her progression towards evil mirrors the path Bart is on. The video ends with a long list of warnings, like the ones at the end of medical commercials, but Lovejoy is unfazed. The only cure is a sibling, because without sibling rivalry, when would he get the chance to talk about Cain and Abel, much less kill a fatted cow for a prodigal son. While the option was to encourage Bart to go prodigal, the reverend prescribes another kid. But only the one, after all, the Simpsons aren’t Catholics, even though Homer’s sperm is a communal mass. Out of all the little spermatozoa entreating entry to Marge’s eggs, only the most sensitive one gets through. He is playing the saxophone, which makes sense, but is also wearing glasses, which doesn’t.
Lisa is delivered by Dr. Hubbard, who dresses like Prince. She becomes the best reason to perpetuating the lie that procreation is a good thing. She forces a smile and ends the episode with collusion. The Simpsons put it over on the young couple who are living in their old apartment and feel no guilt. The episode ends with the family making fun of all their past explanatory flashbacks and proving once and for all nobody cares about the origin of Snowball the cat.
The Simpsons have had so many variant flashback episodes over the years it feels like they’re getting as senile as Abe Simpson, who seems to think he has a second coming in him. “3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage” doesn’t uncover anything new, besides adding pacifiers to choking hazards. But it is sublimely subversive. It takes on the family values the Simpson family has battled since coming on the air, and puts a more false face on it, like the deconstructed moving art of the opening sequence.
“3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage” was written by Tom Gammill and Max Pross, and directed by Matthew Nastuk.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum and Moe. Harry Shearer is Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Guest stars: John Baldessari as himself, Kevin Pollak as Ross, Bagel Man and Professor, and J. K. Simmons as JJ Gruff.