15. Last Exit to Springfield
Season Four, Episode 17
Premiere Date: March 10, 1993
Writers’ Room: Although written by Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky, the show’s initial story came from showrunner Mike Reiss, who was eager to see what screwball antics would ensue if the power plant’s workforce went on strike. The title itself is a play off Last Exit to Brooklyn, a rather gritty and controversial novel by Hubert Selby, Jr. about a corrupt union leader during a strike. It’s a supremely solid episode that maintains as much humor as it does heart, with Lisa showcasing truly horrific braces and Homer winding up in charge of his union so he can save their dental plan.
Essential Quote: There are a lot of funny moments here, from Homer dreaming of a life as an Italian mob boss to Grampa purposefully telling a story that doesn’t go anywhere, but the most memorable quote comes from a rather sincere Lisa — and in song form. Even though she’s had a rough go of life recently, given that she’s donning the world’s most horrifying braces, the little poet strums a guitar and sings for her father and his striking union comrades. The folk melody is catchy and the chorus is simple: ”So we’ll march day and night by the big cooling tower. They have the plant, but we have the power.” In the end, when the lights go out, the power plant employees join in and that marks the change of heart in Mr. Burns.
Right before Burns gives up, though, he majestically transforms into Springfield’s version of The Grinch, down to his Seussian movements and expressions. He even yanks on Smithers’ bow-tie like he were Max the Dog and bellows, “Look at them all, through the darkness I’m bringing! They’re not sad at all; they’re actually singing! They sing without juicers! They sing without blenders! They sing without flunjers, capdabblers, and smendlers!”
Best Visual Gag: While showing Homer around his extraordinary mansion, Mr. Burns reveals his room of a thousand monkeys working at a thousand typewriters, which will surely one day produce “the greatest novel known to man.” When Mr. Burns checks on a monkey’s work, only to reveal it’s pretty much a typo-riddled rip-off of Charles Dickens, we see that some of the monkeys are smoking pipes and cigarettes too. The lives of the wealthy are so curious.
D’oh! Moment(s): At the meeting for the International Brotherhood of Jazz Dancers, Pastry Chefs, and Nuclear Technicians, Homer’s made president of the union after a fiery speech. Naturally, he immediately asks what the job pays, only to find out the answer is, “Nothing.” His obvious reaction is “D’oh” until Carl clarifies, “Unless you’re crooked.” Then comes Homer’s other catchphrase: “Woo-hoo!” No one can bounce through emotions as seamlessly as Homer Simpson.
Shortly thereafter, at the kitchen table, Homer tells the family about his new gig. Lisa is especially excited for him, as he explains that it all comes down to who’s a better negotiator, him or Mr. Burns. Bart then suggests that Homer swap out “his crummy old danish” for a “delicious doorstop,” which Homer readily accepts, only to realize the obvious folly with a resounding “D’oh.” Lisa’s hopes are dashed.
Welcome to Springfield: On the Smartline episode “The Power Plant Strike: Argle-Bargle or Foofaraw?”, host Kent Brockman welcomes three guests: plant owner C.M. Burns, union kingpin Homer Simpson, and talk show mainstay Dr. Joyce Brothers. Brothers voiced herself and only had one line: “I brought my own mic!”
Episode as a GIF: Burns and Smithers have the time of their life running the plant alone like they’re renovating a damn beach house.
Analysis: As Springfield’s population has a tendency to assume it’s being grifted—truly, it’s a town stacked with people believing they’ve pulled one over on each other and the world at large—aloofness can be mistaken for cunning, misdirection, or even skill. No one proves this better than Homer Simpson, a scammer with practically no common sense and an oddly anchored morality. He takes one confident step and arguably smarter characters believe he’s already 10 steps ahead. That’s the beauty of The Simpsons, that the world appears eternally for the taking, somewhere you can fall up, while nothing ever really lasts. This episode is a perfect example of that phenomenon. So, of course, Homer initially agrees to trade his dental plan for free beer, only to make the right decision out of self-interest (avoiding the bill for Lisa’s braces), with his union naming him leader and Mr. Burns declaring him a “brilliant tactician.”