The Simpsons, Season Five, Episode Twenty-Two, “Secrets Of A Successful Marriage”

Season five had the underlying goal of pulling apart these characters and their relationships, so it makes complete sense to finish off by looking in on the central relationship, Homer and Marge. We’re at the point now where it’s really hard to be surprised by the Simpson marriage, both in terms of having reached the end of season five in this series, and in terms of the show being nearly thirty years old in 2018, but nevertheless I did find myself a little more moved by the episode’s conclusion than I used to be. One of the central ideas of the show is that Homer and Marge’s relationship is fundamentally flawed, to the point where a lot of people (including beloved commentor Simon DelMonte) have concluded they really shouldn’t be together at all, and Homer’s conclusion that Marge needs his “complete and utter dependence!” is a really strong argument for that – this isn’t so much a marriage between equals as one person totally dependent on another. But Homer’s true final argument is what makes me think – he’s essentially arguing that he understands Marge’s needs and limitations and loves her too much to ever exceed them.

I think if the show has any one major flaw, it’s that it never quite found the balance between “Homer is selfish and destructive” and “Homer is kind and loving”; I think we’ve all known someone who can be abrasive or annoying, but we forgive them and maybe even love them for their quirks because they know where the line is and don’t cross it, and the problem with Homer is that as funny as he is to watch, he crosses that line on a regular basis. The events of this episode are meant to constitute a major breach in Marge’s trust, but Homer goes too far for most people on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the core idea of this episode is true enough for me to accept it.

What I really like, though, is that this isn’t the only point the show delves into – I find the first act an outright profound exploration of the American condition through Homer. He kicks off the episode insecure about the fact that people think he’s dumb, and initially follows Marge’s advice to take a class. Of course, what Homer really wants is to be loved and respected, and when he sees teachers get that respect, he tries to jump straight into it – it’s outright hilarious that he put a lot of thought into what teachers look and sound like and none into the actual work they have to do (and he even fails at what he tried! – “Correction: two perfectly good jackets!”).

Wanting to be normal and chasing an image is hardly a uniquely American experience; what is very American is the desire to be the best – to not just succeed, but to succeed greater and faster than anyone else. If you make $50,000 a year, I make $100,000; if you were successful in six months, I was in three. A logical extension of this is an obsession with talent, for two reasons: first, it feeds into being the best as fast as possible, and secondly and more importantly for this episode, it means not having to work at all. A culture that values the greatest amount of success and power and has no interest in hard work whatsoever will create a million citizens like Homer. The shame of it is that Homer really does start to drop good relationship advice when he mentions talking out problems with Marge before getting sidetracked by gossip and ego.

Chalkboard Gag: Five days is not too long to wait for a gun.
Couch Gag: The family collide and explode, leaving only Maggie’s pacifier.

This episode was written by Greg Daniels and directed by Carlos Baeza. Daniels was inspired by all the episodes that showed Homer not being good at anything and deciding to jump into the one thing he could be good at. Mirkin was pleased that this had Marge and Homer’s biggest fight.

There are some truly incredible moments of absurdity this episode; most efficient is an addled Homer referring to Marge as “your flesh mother”, and my second-favourite is the utterly gonzo direction the standard “character is spilling their emotional state to an inappropriate person” gag goes (“You were warned about teasing the box!”).

Homer sings the theme to Family Ties. Smithers’ memory of his marriage mashes up the Tennessee Williams plays Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. Homer mashes up famous lines from …And Justice For All, A Few Good Men, Patton, and Chinatown.

Iconic Moments: “Chokin’ on my own rage here!” | “Here’s the 411 folks. Say some ‘gangster’ is dissin’ your ‘fly girl’. Just give ‘em one of these.” | “Two perfectly good jackets!” | “Technically, we’re not allowed to go to the bathroom.”
Biggest Laugh: