This is an interesting situation where the premise is so amazing and fun and yet the pay-off just doesn’t work at all – I would call this my personal “Fear Of Flying” because the first two acts are deliriously amazing and the final third simply can’t live up to it. I heard that if you swap the protagonists of Hamlet and Othello, both plays are over in ten minutes, with the point being that they’re put in stories that accentuate their weaknesses; Hamlet is savvy enough to think over whether he’s being lied to, and Othello would straight up chop his uncle’s head off as soon as his ghost dad told him to. That factors into here in how Homer is such a great comic character to send on a vision quest; his fumbling boobery is hilarious in the context of trippy visuals, and he’s much less likely to listen to a ‘spirit guide’, making it more meaningful when he does; Futurama often sent Bender on its more philosophical journeys like “Godfellas” to the same effect. Him tripping the light fantastique is one of the best sustained comic sequences the show has ever done, undermining the seriousness of the situation even as the effects get ever more spectacular. The problem is Homer’s quest for a soulmate has an obvious solution and the journey to get there is basically him wandering around. Marge revealing the logic of how she found him is a genuinely sweet payoff, but I feel like Homer’s search for a soulmate had fairly little substance to it.
It’s worth comparing not just with the sheer joy of the vision, but the opening act. I’m not a fan of spicy food because I don’t understand the appeal of food that hurts you, but this episode plays it as an act of raw ownage, a constant battle between a silver-tongued cowboy and amateur cooks trying to knock him down a peg, and the mythical status the show confers upon the chilli cook-out is a lot of fun, especially when it comically subverts it (“They say he carved it himself… From a bigger spoon!”). It’s also a genuinely good setup for the Marge/Homer drama; it plays out plausibly without making Homer too much of a jerkass; he bears some responsibility for what Marge sees but he wasn’t aiming to hurt her, break her rule, or being actively thoughtless, so we’re rooting for his redemption and the restoration of the Simpson marriage. I don’t normally like to criticise something by arguing what it could or should have done because there’s a point where you’re just writing a new story and I prefer to deal with what a story is, but in this case I feel like making it the story of Homer finding his soulmate was a mistake.
There are certain things a show can’t really do when it reaches a certain age; we’re inching ever closer to “The Principal & The Pauper”, which I feel was exactly the mistake of doing something the show was too old to pull off, and this has a conflict we know is going to be resolved by the end of the episode because of the show’s status quo. Generally the show is good about creating convincing conflict where the characters could absolutely win or lose, and even when it’s an obvious return to the status quo, it’s usually funny enough to get away with it. One of the flaws of post-Golden-Era Simpsons is that the conflict driving the story is usually arbitrary at best, with arbitrary resolution (and this is something I find continues to be true well into its mediocre recent years), and this is an early example of that. I feel like if Homer’s quest to find the meaning of his life, that would lead to better storytelling; it’s a conflict that doesn’t necessarily end in one direction the way Homer’s soulmate does.
Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: The family parachute in, except for Homer, who hits the ground with a “d’oh!”.
This episode was written by Ken Keeler and directed by Jim Reardon. The plot had been pitched by George Meyer as far back as season three. David Silverman animated most of the vision alone. Johnny Cash guests as the coyote, with the producer’s other choice being Bob Dylan; they’d tried to get Cash many time since season seven and were very pleased to nab him – for good reason, seeing as how the sheer gravitas of his voice makes his every line so much funnier (“This is just your memory. I can’t give you any new information.”). The Fox censors sent a note to the producers regarding Homer drinking wax; they didn’t insert Homer screaming, but they did throw in Ralph questioning Homer when he tries it. Homer waking up on a golf course was a reference to something that happened to a friend of the producers.
The main plot is a reference to the works of Carlos Castaneda. The lighthouse keeper being a computer is a reference to the Twilight Zone episode “The Old Man In The Cave”. The main theme of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly plays as Homer enters the chilli cook-off. “At Seventeen” plays as Homer searches town for his soulmate. The end of Homer’s vision is a reference to the opening titles of Soul Train.
Iconic Moments: 5. “Of course everything looks bad if you remember it!” | “I hope I didn’t brain my damage!” | “So then I says to Mabel, I says.” | “I’m a well-wisher, in that I don’t wish you any specific harm.” | “This is just your memory. I can’t give you any new information.”