300. Strong Arms of the Ma

(originally aired February 2, 2003)
I started out dreading this one immediately, because all I could remember is it involved roided-up muscular Marge pumping with insane rage. But shockingly, contained within the first two acts of this episode is an actually serviceable and satisfying story about Marge overcoming her anxieties. Then they had nowhere to go and slapped on one of the most ridiculous and uncomfortable plot turns ever. We start at a yard sale spurred by Rainier Wolfcastle filing for bankruptcy, where Homer picks up his original weight set, thinking it may go up in value. On their way home, Marge stops at the Kwik-E-Mart to change Maggie, but is accosted by a mugger in the alleyway, who grabs the pearls off her neck and flees. Marge is understandably shocked and devastated, and soon after develops a severe case of agoraphobia. There’s a nicely animated sequence of Marge unable to leave the front stoop into the whirling, dangerous vortex that is the outside world.

What works here is that for the large part Marge’s condition is treated seriously; Homer and the kids are genuinely worried about her and try to help her get back into the world. Eventually Marge becomes so far gone she takes up living in the basement. The scene of Homer finding his wife nervously hunched in a corner down the stairs is pretty disconcerting; I was surprised how on-the-level they kept this story, but then I guess it’s hard to crack as many jokes when it’s at Marge’s expense. With nothing else to do, Marge ends up weightlifting, and in a few weeks is getting pretty bulked up, and is filled with energy, so much so they she runs outside to get a lemon without a second thought. I really like the shot where she’s standing outside frozen, finally processing what she just did, overcoming her fears without even realizing it. Her triumphant run through Springfield is cut short when she encounters the mugger, who she then proceeds to beat the shit out of, Godfather style. So there you go, the main catalyst of the episode has been dealt with, Marge is cured and the story is basically over, let’s go home, everybody. …wait, we have seven minutes left?

All the good will earned by the first two acts is dragged down an awful lot by the third. Marge encounters her old neighbor Ruth Powers on the beach, who encourages her to enter a bodybuilding competition, with some performance enhancing “assistance.” Now, it doesn’t make sense for her to want to compete in anything, and as a PTA mother, she would never, ever take drugs, ever. Her walk on the wild side with Ruth in “Marge on the Lam” actually made sense given the backstory, and that she was mostly dragged along for it, but this is like apples and oranges. Plus Ruth is barely in this episode, and she basically doesn’t matter here. So Marge roids it up and becomes a hulking, scary mass of a woman, who ends up destroying everything and everyone in Moe’s after winning second place. A genuinely fear-struck Homer tells her how much she wants her sweet, caring Marge back, which permeates her drug-addled brain, leading her to dispose of her barbells. Except they were never the problem, it was the steroids. There’s actually a really solid story here in the first two acts, nothing amazing, or laugh-out-loud funny, but watchable and sensible, but then everything goes to shit in the end when they have nowhere to go. A promising, ultimately sloppy episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The Eye on Springfield opening is kind of depressing. It’s recycled from an older episode (season 3, I think?), and it’s been used a few times, but here it starkly contrasts with the newer animation, and the new bits they added aren’t even jokes. Kent washes his car. Kent bites into a sandwich and the contents fall out. Okay?
– I kind of like Homer filling up his car Tetris-style, but that’s basically it for the whole beginning. Besides that we have him eating a sword and Rainier’s past in gay porn. I’m guessing that’s a Schwarzenegger reference, did he act in gay porn? I dunno.
– The little Kwik-E-Mart play they set up is pretty cute. And I liked how Milhouse acted as the robber, but seemingly of his own volition. Bart probably told him about it and decided it would be a funny prank, not realizing how devastating the situation actually is.
– The show plays Marge’s condition fairly straight, save Hibbert’s slightly antagonistic speech to her, and this rough line she gives (“What to do now… too crazy to go outside, not crazy enough to have imaginary friends.”)
– I really don’t have anything to say about Ruth’s reappearance. She just kind of shows up, barely a mention of where she’s been, where’s her daughter, she’s basically the episode’s excuse to put a friendly face in to convince Marge to do the steroids. And since Marge really has no friends, they had to drag Ruth back out again.
– “Man, what am I smoking? …oh right, pot.” And with that, any semblance of subtlety in Otto’s character is lost forever. From this point on, he’s just a guy who takes drugs. Lots of drugs. Let’s do a bunch of drug jokes, we can get away with them now! Yeah!
– By the time we get to the bodybuilding competition, I have no idea what I’m watching. It all feels so completely alien to me; I get that Marge has completely roided out, but I still don’t buy she would do this at all in the first place. Then she brutally beats up everyone in the bar, in a manner that many of them must be seriously injured, or possibly even killed. She smashes the record player over Disco Stu’s head, he must have some sort of brain damage now (“Disco Stu should have Disco Ducked!”) Then the ending is so fucking serious, with Marge still in a rage and Homer nervously trying to calm his wife down with maudlin music in the background… Jesus Christ, a few scenes earlier we were making jokes about buffed up women, now it’s a drama all of a sudden. I really hate this third act, it’s awful all around.
– I think I’ve covered just about everything. Yep, no stone left unturned. Mmhmm. …oh wait, one more thing, in this episode, Marge rapes Homer. Yep. She rapes him. And of course it’s played off as comedy, because as we all know, rape is okay if it’s female-on-male. A buffed-up Marge accosts Homer in bed (“Let’s do it!” “Listen, my bulky flower, I have an early day tomorrow…” “I wasn’t asking.”) Next scene Homer sits at the kitchen table, clearly sore and out of sorts with a glazed look in his eyes. Just terrible. I can’t believe they did this. Now I’m a big fan of dark comedy, and I’ve laughed at some pretty horrid shit, but when it comes to joking about really severe topics, context and delivery are absolutely key, and can make or break your gag. So what’s happening in the scene? Homer is nervous and whimpering, being pinned down by his muscular wife, then we cut to the next day of him barely being able to walk. So yeah, the joke is that Marge had rough, raw sex with him against his will, so much so that he’s having trouble moving. That’s fucking terrible. Hands down, the most terrible, tasteless joke the show has ever, ever done. If anyone has the DVD and could tell me what the crew says about this part on the commentary, if anything, I’d be interested how they could possibly defend this deplorable “joke.” I’m sure it’ll go something like this: someone will off-hand say that possibly it was in poor taste, then they’ll all laugh about it.

22 thoughts on “300. Strong Arms of the Ma

  1. I have the DVD. Al Jean doesn’t acknowledge that it was a rape at all. He just talks about how it’s some sort of shout-out to any man who has sex with an Olympic-athlete-style woman and “gets crushed and just devastated like Homer has”. Writer Carolyn Omine then talks about having seen footage of female bodybuilders and their husbands, noting that the husbands seemed intimidated. The two of them then have a small back-and-forth about how female bodybuilders look like men. Hilarious, right?

    1. It’s so stupid, The Simpsons used to be more a show about disturbing the status quo. It was pretty left-wing, though rooted in some traditions such as the nuclear family. Now it resorts to “difference” jokes, like Family Guy. “Women shouldn’t bodybuild! They’re supposed to be feminine, get back in your place.” “Hahaha, Carl is black!” Um, hilarious?

  2. This episode is so disgusting and creepy. It is even worse when you realize that this is the 300th episode of the series and not “Barting Over.”

  3. Hmmm, no way to edit my response…

    Well, anyway, for your question about commentary, I am not sure. Honestly, Season 10 and 11 were filled with so much lackluster commentary and dead air that I stopped caring. If I wanted to here people laugh at the show, I would either have my friends over or I would watch a show with the laugh tracks added to it. Commentary is supposed to be informative, not full of, “Well that is classic John, this is classic John, that is funny, that is hysterical.”

    1. At least when they do that they talk about the episode. We’re lucky if they spend 25% of the commentary actually commentating on the episode. Most of it is spent talking about what the writers are working on now or whatever anecdotes they come up with. Oh, and heave help if they have one of the celebrities from the episode with them on commentary; they spend nearly the whole episode just fawning over the guy. It kind of puts the treatment of celebrities in later episodes into perspective, though.

  4. We’re in complete agreement, Mike. The first two acts aren’t half bad and are an effective character study on recovering from a trauamatic incident. But then, the third act comes along and Marge is just frightening and out-of-character.
    (By the way, regarding the rape scene, Family Guy did the same kind of joke first, and funnier.)

      1. lol

        Honestly, yeah, I am not a big Family Guy person. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good episodes, and I own all three of the Star Wars paraodies on BD. However, my problem with Family Guy comes from them dragging jokes out way too long (how long do I have to see someone hold their knee and screech?) and have way too many sex jokes in it. Plus, often they will have a really great joke and they will either kill it with a bad joke or they go and show a scene depicting the joke as if we are idiots. I don’t mind the depiction if it did not happen 85% of the time.

        I actually thought American Dad was a better show than FG, but the ones that were airing in the middle of last year really ruined the show for me. Roger just got way too weird and the one where he ****s Snot was completely overboard.

      2. Family Guy has some clever moments but I just can’t get into the show because I flat-out hate almost every character. Same reason I don’t give a shit about South Park. Both shows clearly have clever people involved in their creation but if I don’t give a fuck about the characters and what they’re dealing with, then there’s no point in me watching.

  5. Yeah, I hate these episodes and hate rape “jokes”, even the supposedly “funny” ones. As someone who has friends who have been through this, even a supposedly lighthearted joke can be a horrible trigger for them to go into a spiral of bad feelings. So yeah, I was really disappointed that The Simpsons went there, it was so unnecessary. The only “joke” is that it’s a man getting overpowered by a woman, for once. Hahaha? Homer has lost his manhood? I doubt even someone with a really immature sense of humor would find that funny. It’s just lame.

  6. “Man, what am I smoking? …oh right, pot.”

    Yeah, Simpsons writers, what was that line you uttered in a later season?

    “If you have to explain the joke, it’s not very funny.”

    Yeah, maybe you guys should follow your own advice.

  7. It seems like the only thing the writers knew how to do with Marge this season was severely augment her body. If it’s not breast implants, it’s roided-up muscles. Agreed that the agoraphobia stuff is surprisingly well done (it’s still pathetic that good writing is considered a surprise at this point in the show, however), but when Marge becomes a full-on bodybuilder, I’m checked out. It’s like they literally grafted two different episodes together here, one well-written, the other a chunk of shit they turned out in a weekend. Awful.

  8. I never really took it as a “rape joke”, more so a joke that Homer — who usually always wanted to have sex… er, snuggle — was intimidated because of how dominating and forceful Marge is or probably will be. Many healthy sexual relationships involve domination — as long as it’s consentual (I know that sounds like a contradiction, but you know what I mean). I mean, Homer got fat in a classic episode and Marge talks about how unattractive he is to her now; Marge is roided up and Homer is scared to have sex with her. They’re both scenes involving physical appearance and attractiveness, this one does seem a bit more disturbing but I’d hardly call it an intentional rape joke. I get that the line “I wasn’t asking” seems to suggest something more perverse, but I always took it as… you know… Homer got dominated.

    Sylvester Stallone did gay porn. Wolfcastle is mostly Schwarzenegger of course, but he’s also an amalgam of other “action hero” types (couldn’t you see Wolfcastle being in the movie “Cobra” for example?) so I’m guessing it’s just a reference to that. Or the writers just got confused… shrug.

    1. I get what you’re saying, but there’s no scene in “King Size Homer” where fat Homer rolls over on Marge and demands she has sex with him against her will.

  9. Otto’s line about “What am I smoking?” is way funnier if he doesn’t include “Oh, right, pot.”

    And that’s what the series lacks now that it had before: Subtlety. Later seasons of the Simpsons, their idea of subtlety now is a a guy in a bright yellow shirt ringing a bell and shouting “I AM BEING SUBTLE.”

  10. Thank you for the condemnation of the female rape scene. I followed a link to this blog posted on malesurviver.com, a site devoted to recovering male victims of sexual abuse.

    It is very good to know people who have not themselves been through sexual can find female on male rape appauling rather than just pretending it doesn’t happen, or still worse, pretending that it is some how good for the man in question.

    Very horrible that the writers this was funny, though sadly not a common attitude, but very good someone actually recognized such hurtful crap and called them out on it.

  11. I just watched this one about two weeks ago and I did think the first two acts were pretty enjoyable. There were a couple of times I even laughed. I’m not sure why Marge didn’t use her cop training on the dude though. Surely she should still be able to pull off those moves, right?

    The last act is where the plot completely derails and I’m not sure what they were thinking here. We just had a story about Marge changing her body. The fact that she rapes Homer is just disgusting and terrifying. I can not believe they went there, but then, they had Homer get raped by a panda a few seasons ago, so yeah…

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