This is yet another “Marge And Homer In Crisis” episode – we’re far enough in that we can say “yet another [x] episode”! – but it finds new nuance, not just in the final emotion of the episode but in the comic potential. Marge is excited about throwing a dinner party, but the whole thing is ruined when Homer gets very drunk, picks fights, plays obnoxious jokes, and tells off complete strangers mistaking them for someone else. Marge is so furious, she signs them up for couples counselling with Reverend Lovejoy for the weekend, leaving Grampa in charge of the kids.
That dinner party is great, by the way, filled with so many details that give it life, from Homer’s very specific dead-fly-in-the-ice-cube joke (Dr Hibbert observes it would have been more sanitary to use a real dead fly), to the tone of the conversations Homer interrupts. This was before every character was either an iconic Springfieldian or a celebrity guest star, and while that’ll have its own greatness when we get to it, for now Springfield has this sense of reality informing it.
The retreat, unfortunately, is at a lake renowned for good fishing; Marge’s resolve that they will spend all their time working on their marriage does nothing to stop Homer from bringing his fishing gear, and it’s only made worse when he discovers the fabled General Sherman, a fish so large and so difficult to catch that it has become legend.
Meanwhile, back at the Simpson home, Bart convinces Lisa to take advantage of Grampa and eat and do whatever they want. For the most part, this is a fairly slight and fairly predictable plot, where the kids have fun right up until they see Grampa crying and their consciences get the better of them, though it’s a fairly absurd and imaginative take on the plot. What it’s really notable for is being a rare early example of taking Lisa’s central contradiction, that she’s both a source of moral goodness and an eight year old girl (“Five bucks? Where did you get five bucks? I want five bucks.”), and makes a moral conflict out of it. She might be a source of moral goodness, but she also loves eating ice cream and doing what she pleases; this pushes her kidness until she can’t take it anymore and her goodness wins out.
Back at the retreat, Homer discovers that both the Flandereseseses and a couple parodying the main couple of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? will be at the retreat with them. This scene apparently underwent heavy rewrites, shifting in the Flanders to replace Mr Burns/Mail Order Bride and Mrs Krabappel/Mr Krabappel; I think what we get works the best because it really puts into perspective the whole Worst Family In The World thing. The Flanders, of course, are a picture-perfect family that can do no wrong (I nearly made “It’s a good thing you don’t keep guns in the house” my biggest laugh); the hateful pair are made whole simply by looking into each other’s eyes. Marge’s problems with Homer, by comparison, are limitless, taking up hours upon hours of the retreat’s time.
In the morning, Homer tries extremely hard to get away with fishing (this is the first of many gags where a Simpson throws off the blankets to reveal they were wearing a full set of clothes all night), but Marge catches him and is furiouser. Despondant, Homer decides to go for a walk and clear his head; a misadventure with an abandoned fishing pole gets him caught onto General Sherman. As Homer spends hours fighting the fish, Marge is furiouser and furiouser, until she yells at him for abandoning their marriage for a fish.
So, in a rage, Homer throws General Sherman back into the lake. For most shows and too many real people, this would be a moment of resentment – “I threw my fish in the lake for you, and this is the thanks I get?”. For Homer, it’s a moment of clarity. He really does value Marge over literally everything else, and he really will throw away fame for her based on one word. Marge recognised this in “The Way We Was”, and now Homer recognises it himself; he will no longer resent when Marge asks him to do something he doesn’t want to, because he knows now that pleasing her is all he wants, and he’ll give up fame and fortune to do it.
You know, until next week.
Chalkboard Gag: I will not do anything bad ever again.
Couch Gag: Homer knocks everyone else off the couch.
This episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Mike Kirkland; this was his last episode of the year, which lead him to put everything he could into it, and it resembles Classic Era Simpsons more than any other episode this season thus far. Kirkland based much of the area on where he grew up; the bait shop is an exact rip of the bait shop he often visited.
As said, the other couple at the retreat are a reference to Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?. Homer’s false memory of the party is based on the Algonquin Round Table. Marge turns on the Mexican Hat Dance to cover up her and Homer’s arguments, which only serves to traumatise them with the song. A flashback of Bart scaring a babysitter is a reference to The Omen. Homer quotes The Old Man And The Sea when catching General Sherman. The picture of General Sherman is a reference to the famous hoax of the Loch Ness Monster. When Flanders mixes drinks, it’s a reference to Cocktail.
First Appearances: Snake Jailbird, who shows up at the Simpson’s dinner party, presumably scoping out the place
Biggest laugh: “Remember, I said ‘if’.”