The Story of “Mother Simpson”

March 10, 2010

One of the greatest influences on my life comes not from a hero or a parent or a mentor, but from a television series. An unfortunate product of our age, perhaps, but I have no qualms admitting it and accepting it. For better or for worse, I grew up watching The Simpsons, and was shaped and molded by what I saw. The jokes of The Simpsons became my humor, the style became my sensibilities, and the dialogue became my vocabulary. Someday I hope to catalogue everything I learned and gained from watching the series as an impressionable youth, but this is not the time or place. Now I’d like to examine one episode from the seventh season of the series entitled “Mother Simpson,” original airdate November 19th, 1995, directed by David Silverman, and I will attempt to follow much the same format as I did in my previous entry.

The episode opens with an elaborate plot employed by Homer to skip out on a day of community service. The main conflict, however, is not introduced until the second act, and actually has nothing to do with Homer at all. The main external conflict is Mother Simpson vs. Mr. Burns, and it is established via flashback to the day when Homer’s mother was forced to abandon him. Ostensibly, the internal conflict arises once Marge announces her reservations regarding Homer’s mother, and Homer’s joy turns to anguish as he comes to the assumption that his mother must have left because he was a horrible son and she didn’t love him. Homer is perhaps too slow and naïve to jump to such a conclusion on his own, but he still carries that sadness with him until the situation is resolved.

Both conflicts come to a head at the same time in the final scene. Mr. Burns’s wrath once again sends Mother Simpson on the run, and she manages another successful evasion of the tyrant and the law with some help from a familiar ally. Before she does so, however, she takes the opportunity to give her son a proper good-bye, one for which he is actually awake and reciprocal. She assures him that she will always be a part of him, which is further illustrated by her annoyed grunt as she clumsily hits her head on the van, and Homer can live happily knowing that his mother is still alive and indeed truly cares for him.

Although the first act of the episode wildly differs from the latter two, it still contributes integrally to the main plot. In fact, this is an episode which probably qualifies as having only an A Story; one could argue that the two conflicts mentioned above naturally imply an A Story and a B Story, but the two are so intertwined that they can easily be considered part of one driving narrative. The first act takes a long time to set the stage for where the plot is headed, but everything that happens is related and relevant to the next thing that happens, or at the very least something that happens later on, thus establishing good cause and effect as well as important elements that will recur in the final act.

The climax of the story occurs when Homer and his mother say good-bye. The scene recalls the flashback of Mother Simpson kissing her sleeping boy at her initial departure, and Homer even explicitly mentions how he’s glad he’s awake this time. The emotional moment between mother and son is punctuated by the gag of Homer’s mother hitting her head, but even this bit of slapstick serves to create a sweet bond between the two and reinforce their powerful connection. The scene also features significant moments of silence, which can be found elsewhere in the episode, too; simple slow zoom reaction shots go a long way to convey their emotions without words, and Alf Clausen’s musical cues always enhance the moment. The story concludes with a gorgeous shot of Homer sitting on the hood of his car watching the stars twinkle in the sky, and the credits roll over the landscape with an extremely subdued and intimate closing theme. It is endings like these that illustrate why The Simpsons is more than a funny cartoon or an animated sitcom; the show takes silly characters in crazy situations and somehow still touches the viewer on more levels than the vast majority of other shows could ever hope to achieve.

“Mother Simpson” may therefore be easily classified as a work of art. To take a twenty-two minute timeslot and construct a complete narrative with as many complexities as this episode has is an incredible feat, and it is something that The Simpsons has been able to do over the years on an impressively consistent basis. In my next entry I will delve further into these complexities and provide a side by side comparison of “Mother Simpson” with my last entry’s topic, Family Guy’s “Road to Rhode Island.” I realize that a comparison of two episodes does not equal a good assessment of the two programs as a whole, but it will at least allow me to explore a few fundamental differences between the two and draw conclusions from there. Though my proclivities for The Simpsons over Family Guy and just about any other series that isn’t The Simpsons ought to be evident, I will continue my efforts to be as objective as possible.


One Response to “The Story of “Mother Simpson””

  1. […] The Story of “Mother Simpson” – This is about the driest recap of a Simpsons episode I’ve ever read.  It was sort of strangely fascinating though.  […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: