Well here’s another strange and classic episode. I think it’s handled very well, but man could this premise have been a mess. Although I think the Simpsons always did a great job at making terrible ideas palatable.
Things start off with another great Homer and Bart scheme, where we see all the Nuclear Power Plant employees working on a Saturday to clean up trash on the side of the highway. Mr. Burns and Smithers give a brief interview, before making the real workers do all the cleaning, and as they get started they notice Homer is missing. But they finally spot him, atop the waterfall that they’re working next to. Homer prances around at the top of the waterfall, and ends up slipping and falling down the fall. Lenny and Carl watch as Homer’s body falls and hits rocks, gets snagged on a branch, get stabbed by pointy rocks, and gets bit and robbed by beavers. All before his beaten corpse gets sucked into a turbine, apparently killing him. The Plant workers briefly mourn Homer, before we see that it was actually a very expensive dummy that Homer and Bart bought, and they’re actually going to use his fake death to sneak of and have fun on their Saturday. Which here means Homer is just going to sit in a hammock while Bart hits the ground with a hammer.
Unfortunately Homer didn’t really think about faking his death, and the ramifications that would have, and things start to go wrong. Reverend Lovejoy, Helen, and the Flanders show up to give Marge their condolences, which confused Marge because she wasn’t aware of this whole plan, and they just think she’s crazy when she insists Homer is still alive. Next Patty and Selma show up with Homer’s tombstone, which they apparently bought when the two got married, and Marge gets pissed at them and calls them ghouls before throwing them out. And when the power company comes to cut the power since it’s in Homer’s name, she finally decides to ask him about this whole situation. Homer admits that he used the dummy to fake his death, and Marge sends him down to the hall of records to get this sorted out.
So Homer heads down to the Hall of Records, and very easily gets his death rescinded, without even having to fill out any paperwork. And since that was so easy, Homer demands to check his government file, and is shocked to see that it claims his mother is still alive. Homer explains to the clerk that his mother died when he was a kid, and that her fancy grave is in the cemetery right outside the record hall. But the clerk awkwardly tells Homer that that can’t be right, and encourages him to go look at the grave. So Homer heads over, and is stunned to see that it’s actually Walt Whitman’s grave. Homer begins yelling at the grave, and wanders around the graveyard before finding his own open grave, which causes him to fall into it. And as he’s in there, an old woman comes up and yells at him, and he finds out it’s his actual mother, Mona, who came when she heard Homer had died.
Homer and Mona talk at the graveyard for a moment, and we learn that Abe apparently told Homer that she died when he was at the movies. Which is horrible. So Homer logically asks his mother where she’s been his whole life, and she just kind of brushes that off, and they’re just happy they’re together. Homer worries that he will ruin the moment, which happens when a pelican drops a fish into his pants, but they ignore that and head home. Mona is then introduced to her grandchildren and sister-in-law, and everyone is stunned. Bart and Lisa are psyched, and Bart tries to get her to give him owed birthday money, while Marge is having panic attacks about finally having a mother-in-law to judge her.
The family then begin bonding with Mona in their own ways. Homer shows her around the house like she’s been living in a cave for years, and ends up showing off like a little kid. But when she and Lisa spend time together, and Lisa realizes that Mona is where her intelligence comes from, something odd happens. A cop car goes by, and Mona instinctively runs away, which makes Lisa suspicious. She goes to talk to Bart in the basement in a hilarious scene where he can’t hear her, and they end up talking about how they don’t think Mona is legit. Especially when Bart says he found a bunch of fake ID’s in her purse. Meanwhile, we see that Marge is also suspicious, and brings up Mona’s absence to Homer, who just assumes that she left because he was a terrible son, which is incredibly depressing.
So everyone ambushes Mona in the living room, and demands that she explains where she was for all of Homer’s life, and after some resistance, she tells them the whole crazy story. We flash back to 1966 where Homer was a dumb little kid, and Mona was doing her best raising him, since Abe wasn’t exactly a hands on parent. There’s a sweet scene where she gets him to fall asleep by singing the Fig Newton jingle, which is super adorable. But when she goes out to talk to Abe, she depressed that he’s so stuck in his ways, while watching the first Super Bowl. And as she watches the Super Bowl, she’s suddenly awakened to the counter-culture when she sees Joe Namoth’s side-burns. This instantly radicalizes her, and she heads out to the college to join in protests. And who are the protesting? Mr. Burns and his germ warfare lab. So she and the protesters break into the germ lab with a penicillin bomb, which they set off and destroy all the germs, including the ones that are giving young Clancy Wiggum his asthma. But as they kill all the germs, Mr. Burns shows up and they all flee, knocking him over. But Mona stops to help him, and ends up being the only one being identified. So she has to flee so that she doesn’t end up getting arrested for the minor terrorism she perpetrated. We then see her watching the news of the incident, as reported by young Kenny Brockelstein (poor Kent Brockman, changing his name to hide his Judaism) and ends up kissing Homer’s forehead while he sleeps, as she leaves forever.
So everyone forgives Mona, and continue to bond with her. And the next thing they do is go to the post office to see where all the carepackages she sent Homer went. Apparently they were just keeping them because Homer never tipped his mail-carrier, and they just hand all the carepackages over. But while they’re leaving they run into Mr. Burns, who is there for the craziest reason:
Mr. Burns: I’d like to send this to the Prussian consulate in Siam by aeromail. Am I too late for the 4:30 auto-gyro?
Wonderful. Anyway, Burns recognizes Mona, and knows he has to do something about her escaping the law. So Burns calls up some Dragnet characters, and gets them to start chasing Mona, while talking about his love of phrenology. There’s then a crazy scene where the guys from Dragnet talk, and they say the line “you haven’t been the same since you son went crazy in Vietnam.” Which is nuts. But they begin investigating.
While the investigation is beginning though, we see everyone still loving Mona, before Grandpa happens to come by and meddle in their lives, and is stunned to see Mona. She comments on how horribly he’s aged, and Abe just begs for sex, because he’s a classy gent. Which I guess implies Abe hasn’t had sex since 1966? Yikes. Anyway, the Dragnet guys have made some progress when they find a gravedigger who saw Mona at the cemetery, and he points them to Patty and Selma, since it was Homer’s grave. They tell them about Homer, even though Chief Wiggum reads the grave upside down as Uosdwis R Dewoh, who he assumes is Greek. So they know where Mona is!
We then see the family hanging out in the house, before Homer gets a phone call from someone, telling him to leave the house with Mona immediately. He tells Mona they have to go, right as Mr. Burns shows up in a tank, with his “Flight of the Valkaries” music as the soundtrack, before it switches to the ABBA Smithers taped over with. So the police storm into the house, and Grandpa distracts them by announcing that he was the Lindbergh baby. But it was a good distraction, because Homer and Mona were able to escape, and end up getting out of town. They stop at a gas station where Homer calls the person who warned them, and it turns out to be Chief Wiggum, who was grateful that Mona fixed his asthma. So a hippie bus shows up to take Mona back to the underground, and there’s an incredibly emotional scene where Mona says goodbye to Homer, and lets him know that “whatever happens, you have a mother, and she’s very proud of you.” She then leaves, and bonks her head on the car door which causes her to say d’oh, which is adorable, and she leaves Homer’s life again. The episode then ends with Homer sitting on his car, watching a beautiful night-sky while the credits roll with some wonderfully melancholic music.
This episode is really great, and honestly shouldn’t be. The idea of finally broaching the topic of Homer’s mom, and revealing that she’s been alive the whole time is a little too soap-operay. It’s basically having her come back from the dead, which is a little too goofy to play seriously. But they somehow nailed it. Mona is instantly charming, and makes everyone in the family love her as soon as she shows up, becoming a really great and beloved character. Plus all the 60s flashback stuff was great. I loved seeing the characters super young, and there was some great emotional stuff in her background. Honestly, the thing that makes this episode is the emotion. Yeah, there’s some real goofy stuff in this one, since it starts with a dummy of Homer getting attacked by beavers, but at its heart it deals with some really heavy emotions. That ending, and the idea that Homer now knows that his mother is proud of him, is wonderful. I feel like Homer has probably built her up in his mind as this monolithic figure, and to find out that she’s proud of the way he’s led his life must be the most cathartic and validating thing in the world. It’s frankly kind of beautiful.
Take Away: Tell your kids you’re proud of them. And don’t attack germ labs in the 60s.
“Mother Simpson” was written by Richard Appel and directed by David Silverman, 1995.