Original airdate: November 28, 2021
The premise: When Homer is triggered by traumatic memories of his mother on Mother’s Day, an impromptu therapy session causes him to recall a lost memory: a postcard he received as a teenager confirming his mother was alive, leading to a road trip with his father to Utah to track her down.
The reaction: This episode marks Glenn Close’s eleventh guest appearance as Mona Simpson, and while most of those have been one or two line cameos, a couple of them featured Mona in a significant role, both living and in flashback after her death. Of course, all of these episodes sit in the enormous shadow that is “Mother Simpson,” one of the most emotionally impacting episodes of the entire series, one that established who Mona was and why she was absent for most of Homer’s life. This episode attempts to stay true to this continuity, all while wedging a new story in the middle of it that kind of breaks apart the established history. Now, I try not to be a purist of Simpsons continuity, because even as big a fan as I am, it’s pretty stupid to get hung up on what is or isn’t “canon.” But it’s a little different when an episode is attempting to piggyback off such a landmark episode and rewrite its history; if you’re going to do that, you better have something really important to say, or some interesting or entertaining twist to it. And wouldn’t you know it, it doesn’t! Here, we find out that at sixteen, Homer received a postcard from his mother, telling him she’s in Utah. As he and Abe drive out to find her, they’re being tracked by the FBI, hoping it will lead them to Mona. First off, the one FBI agent comments, “Letting that postcard go through was the smartest thing we ever did.” So they’re able to track all sent mail in the country, and rather than intercept the postcard, go to its point of origin and investigate, they just trusted that this dumb fuck kid could find Mona for them? And pretty easily, as it turns out, as all they did was ask a waitress at a truck stop if they’d seen her and she led them right to her. And why would they be actively tracking her after all these years? The agents make a joke about it at the very end, but it just feels incredibly stupid. But never mind all that, this episode is now saying that Homer knew his mother was alive from sixteen to the “present” where he was reunited with her in “Mother Simpson.” He didn’t think she was dead, he knew that she was hiding out from the law all this time. Their Utah reunion gets botched, only being able to see each other from afar before the agents close in, resulting in Mona hopping into the VW van we saw at the end of “Mother Simpson.” If that’s not bad enough, Homer reveals another memory near the end: the night after Bart is born, Mona sneaks into the hospital dressed as a doctor to hold her grandchild, tell Homer she’s always with him, before leaving him once more. That feels even more traumatizing than just being gone from his life for twenty-five years. “When I heard about the baby, I just had to come and see him,” Mona tells him. How did she hear about it? Does the Springfield Shopper have birth announcements? And does she pay to have it delivered to her to God knows where? Has she kept special tabs on Homer for all these years? In the deleted scene from “Mother Simpson,” Mona told Homer she knew he went into outer space, a national news item she could have seen from afar and be filled with pride about. Here, I guess Mona has followed Homer’s life achievements his whole life and could just pop into his life at will, but chose not to. It’s just really fucking bad. Nothing has been added to Homer’s story whatsoever, just some lame reconciliation with Abe, as flashbacks continue to depict his younger self as nicer and nicer, where Homer sacrifices catching up to his mother for saving his now-loving and caring father. Again, I’m not a continuity stickler, but Homer growing up without a mother and his father being an uncaring asshole are pivotal backstory elements to who he is as a character, a source of a lot of his insecurities and character quirks. If you want to make an episode that negates those elements, you’re basically tearing apart his entire character. Al Jean himself wrote this one, who has written some pretty awful scripts over the recent years, but this has got to be his worst one yet. That such an incredible mishandling of a story from one of the most important episodes of the series comes from a man who’s been with the show from the very beginning is pretty stunning to me. Despite some fans calling for Al Jean to leave the show in favor of Matt Selman fully taking over as show runner, I’m pretty sure Jean is going to be with this show until the very end, ready to go down with this decrepit sinking ship that he helped to crash and decimate. I guess there’s some kind of honor in that, somewhere…
Four items of note:
– The episode barely started and it was befuddling me. While channel surfing, Bart stumbles upon “Muttflix,” a cable channel made for dogs. Then we see the screen and see that it’s a streaming service UI, which seems obvious given the sub-MAD Magazine-level riff off Netflix. So is it a channel or a streaming service? This may seem like nitpicking, but when what I’m hearing is immediately contradicted by what I’m seeing, it just feels like they just don’t give a shit. Then we get our triumphant return of She Biscuit, Santa’s Little Helper’s mother, last seen in the nauseatingly treacly season 31 finale “The Way of the Dog,” where she sits next to SLH and does nothing. In that episode, we saw She Biscuit living with the Simpsons, but now Bart says SLH “invited her over.” What? From where? I honestly couldn’t give a shit if she ever reappeared again, but they couldn’t even be bothered to write any kind of explanation of where she’s been. And why did she even need to be there anyway? The Muttflix sequence would have played exactly the same if it were just Santa’s Little Helper. Just dumb, lazy shit.
– “Oh my God! Dad’s reliving the great tragedy of his life!” “Let it out, Dad. Studies show losing a parent is the most traumatic thing that could happen to a child.” These are lines said by Lisa in immediate response to her father suffering an emotional breakdown. I literally said, “SHUT THE FUCK UP” at my computer screen. I remember Lisa had some similarly awful dialogue in the last Mona episode “Forgive and Regret,” clinically summarizing the situation rather than react like a child concerned for her parent, but this felt even worse than that.
– The wraparound story involves Homer telling this story to an online therapist over the app Nutz, where we get in plenty of jokes that I assume are taking shots at similar therapy apps like Better Help. They’re all pretty lame and boring: Homer attempting to use emojis during his session, alerts about in-app purchases and ads… Also, the family are just there while Homer is having his one-on-one session, something that could have been made into a good joke but was ignored. There was some attempts to scratch at the topic of quick-service psychotherapy in a satirical way, but it all felt very easy and surface-level, as always with this show in its attempts at satire.
– The ending features Homer dreaming a black-and-white sequence of a bunch of characters dancing in a circle, including multiple different variants of himself, bookended by some kids and his younger self playing instruments on a stage? I have absolutely no idea what that was a reference to, does anybody know? Regardless, it was confusing and I couldn’t make sense of it not knowing the reference, and it wasn’t funny, so chalk that up a a big failure in my book.