Oh look, another day another one of my favorite episodes of all time. Seriously, this episode is great. Seeing Moe’s struggles to become a successful restaurateur is some of the most compelling stuff this show ever created. Just kidding, that stuff’s fun, but it’s the soul plot that’s the real draw for this episode.
Things start off with everyone showing up to the Church for their Sunday sermon, and man do I love that the Church’s sign says “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Salvation.” And right away we see that Bart is up to something, since he’s passing out the hymnal sheets. We then see Reverend Lovejoy introduce the hymn, “In the Garden of Eden,” by I. Ron Butterfly, because Lovejoy apparently isn’t that familiar with seventeen minute acid-jam songs. So the congregation begins singing “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” while the poor old organist gets most of the trouble. She soldiers through the epic song, while the congregants are starting to lose their minds at the length of the song. Lovejoy gets suspicious when he notices it sounds like “rock and or roll,” but doesn’t put a stop to things until the hymn ends and the organist faints.
Lovejoy then brings all the kids together, knowing it was one of them who pulled the prank, and makes them recite some horrible paragraph about going to hell and having crows eat your soul if you lie. This freaks Milhouse out enough to rat out Bart, and Lovejoy sends Bart and Milhouse to church detention. They have to clean the organ while Lovejoy is busy raking in the money from the collection plates. The boys start to talk about souls, since Bart thinks Milhouse ratting on him was super shitty. Bart explains that he doesn’t think souls are real, while Milhouse tries to come up with all sorts of justifications, including the soul being able to swim and having wheels so it’s good for all terrains. Bart gets irritated with Milhouse’s naivety, and uses the wonderful insult of “how can someone with glasses that thick be so stupid,” and makes his case for why souls aren’t real. Milhouse then takes advantage of Bart’s statement, and proposes that Bart sells his soul to Milhouse for five bucks. Bart takes him up on the offer, and writes “Bart Simpsons’ Soul,” on a piece of paper, and gives it to Milhouse.
We’re then introduced to the crazy B-plot, with Dr. Hibbert and his Cosby Show family driving around looking for somewhere to have dinner. They find Moe’s, and assume it’s a restaurant for some reason, and head on in. They’re shocked to find it a gross bar, and leave, making Moe sad. He decides that all the real money is in family restaurants, and begins planning on changing the Bar to a restaurant. But after that we pop over to the Simpson house to see that Bart wasted his five bucks on some dinosaur sponges that he assumed would turn gigantic and eat Lisa, but actually just puffed up a bit and went down the gutter. He complains about the waste of five bucks, and Lisa gets interested, and is then horrified when Bart announces he sold his soul. But, just like with Milhouse, Bart mocks Lisa for believing in a soul, confident that nothing bad will happen to him.
But that turns out to not be the case, because right after that he starts to notice weird things happen. Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II both get really mad when he’s around, the automatic doors at the Kwik-E-Mart won’t open for him, and he’s unable to get his breath to frost on the ice cream freezer. Which is odd. We briefly look over at Moe, who is trying to get Homer and Barney to help him come up with restaurant names, leading to Chairman Moe’s Magic Wok and Madman Moe’s Pressure Cooker, before Moe settles on Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag. But after that diversion we check back on Bart, and see a new symptom. He can’t laugh any more. He watches Itchy and Scratchy and doesn’t find it funny, and Lisa even pulls a prank that ends with Homer stuck in the banister while getting his ass bit by Santa’s Little Helper, all to no result.
This has all freaked Bart out enough to go confront Milhouse about the trade. He tries to get the paper with his soul back from Milhouse, but he’s gouged the price up, making Bart leave empty-handed. And that night Marge even notices something is missing from him when he gets his nightly hug, really freaking him out. And as a cherry on top, Bart has a crazy dream that night about all the kids in Springfield playing with their souls, and him being alone, not allowed to hang out with them. Bart’s obviously not doing very well, and things escalate the next day when the family heads over to Moe’s restaurant.
They get to Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag, and it’s hilarious that Homer sees Moe as a celebrity, and that Marge finds all the goofy crap on the walls, like a TGI Friday’s, hilarious. But while we see the Simpsons get ready for their meal, we see that Moe is having a hard time being a pleasant person to his customers, and it’s wearing a toll on him. But we’re back to the Bart plot when we see Lisa picking on him for not having a soul during her Grace, which pushes him over the edge and causes Bart to go running off into the night to find Milhouse and get his damn soul back.
Bart gets to Milhouse’s house, only to find it being fumigated, and the Van Houten family gone. The exterminator tells Bart that they went to Milhouse’s grandma’s apartment in Capitol City, so Bart heads off to the big city to get his soul. We finish up the Moe plot at this point, by showing him get increasingly frustrated at his customers, especially the kids ordering the birthday fries that he has to wear on his head. And he finally blows his fuse when a little girl, who looks like Samantha Stanky, complains about the ice in her soda being too cold, and ends up yelling at all the customers. They get mad about this, and everyone leaves, ruining Moe’s business.
But enough about Moe. We see that Bart has gotten to Capitol City and is trying to find his way to the apartment, and even gets his bike run over by a street sweeper in an incredibly bizarre scene that ends with the evil street sweeper driver steering his vehicle down into a subway entrance. And it’s great. So Bart begins skulking around the streets of Capitol City, and ends up coming across Chief Wiggum and Ralph. Wiggum has gone to talk to a crazy derelict, and while Ralph is unattended Bart gets into the car and tries to steal his soul. This doesn’t work and Bart runs off, finally getting to the Van Houten apartment. He asks Milhouse for his soul, and Milhouse reveals that he actually sold the soul to Comic Book guy, in exchange for some Alf pogs.
Bart is incredibly depressed at that point, but still isn’t giving up. He makes his way back to the neighborhood, and gets to the Android’s Dungeon, sleeping on its doorstep until Comic Book Guy shows up. He assumes he’s there for a Hi and Louis signing, which is hilarious, and Bart explains what he’s there for. But unfortunately Comic Book Guy announces that someone else already bought the soul, and he won’t tell Bart who it was. So Bart heads home, depressed, and makes his way to his bedroom, since apparently Homer and Marge didn’t go look for him. He then starts praying, doing his best to get his soul back, leading to some incredibly sad dialogue:
Bart: [praying] “Are you there, God? It’s me, Bart Simpson. I know I never paid too much attention at church, but I could really use some of that good stuff now. I’m…afraid. I’m afraid some weirdo’s got my soul and I don’t know what they’re doing to it! I just want it back. Please? [starts crying] Oh, I hope you can hear this.”
Jesus. But as Bart is openly weeping while praying, the paper with his soul in it comes fluttering down from the sky, and we learn that Lisa was the person to buy it. Bart grabs the soul, ecstatic that he has it back, while Lisa begins to talk about souls. She says that some people believe no one is born with a soul, that they have to earn it, which is a pretty heavy thought to have while Bart is shoving the paper into his mouth, getting his soul back where it belongs. Bart is whole again! And we see that by having him have that same dream again, but this time he has a soul, and the two team up to prank Martin and his soul.
This episode is great. I’ve talked a lot during this project about my thoughts on religion, as it pertains to the Simpsons at least, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about souls. I certainly don’t think that there’s any Heaven or Hell, but I do have a kind of notion about souls. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I kind of see things like the Force. Not Jedi’s and stuff like that, but that there a Force that keeps the universe together, and when we die we become part of that Force. And that’s pretty much a soul, to me at least, but I think another important part about my thoughts on the soul come from this episode. I definitely saw this episode at a young age, and I think Lisa’s final thoughts, about earning a soul, really played a part in my theological evolution. It thinks about the soul as this thing that doesn’t require a religion to maintain it, you don’t need to follow Commandments or religious rules, you just need to be a good person. Bart had to want his soul, to work for it, and I actually find that kind of inspiring.
Take Away: Soul’s are complicated business. As are family restaurants.
“Bart Sells His Soul” was written by Greg Daniels and directed by Wesley Archer, 1995.