Well here we are, the end of Season Eight. I’ve done eight seasons of this stupid project. I’m glad to see I do seem to have people reading this, and I really hope you guys are enjoying this crazy ride with me…which is getting closer and closer to what will probably be a slow decent into madness as the quality starts to drop rapidly. So! Let’s dive on in to the last episode of season eight…which really should have been “Simpsons Spinoff Showcase,” but whatever.
We start off with what probably has the potential to be the most interesting field trip the poor fourth graders at Springfield Elementary have ever gone on, checking out the police station. I mean, yeah, it doesn’t end up being that interesting, but it has more potential than a goddamned box factory. And things don’t start that well when they get there only to find the police station locked up, and no one there because Chief Wiggum is late to work. He finally gets there, clears all the obnoxious messages 911 got while he was gone without listening to them, and starts the lackluster tour. There’s not much there to check out, except for the hilarious Museum of Crime, which is just some mannequins of a “Hippie Pot Party,” which features a woman eating a California Cheeseburger, which is a baby in a bun.
But this wasn’t one of the field trips that the entire school went on, because Lisa and the second graders are still trapped inside the building, watching old film strips the whole day. After checking out some crazy movie about the importance of sand they end up getting to watch an amazing one about the moon, which is solid gold. We learn that America owns the moon, and that by 1964 we’ll have at least 10 colonies on the moon. Go us! But when the strip ends Lisa starts to get irritated about how little work they’re doing, and when she starts to complain to Ms. Hoover she finds that during the moon one she apparently just peaced out and left the class. So Lisa heads on down to Principal Skinner’s office to complain about the lack of rigor and challenge in the school, which he just kind of brushes off by explaining that the school is run to cater to the dumbest kids, because otherwise all the dumb kids would come complaining, and there’s more of them than smart kids. Which is a pretty massive bummer.
Meanwhile, as Lisa is losing her faith in humanity, Bart is also bored at the police station, and starts trying to find some mischief. And he comes across a room full of bullhorns, and comes up with a brilliant idea. After realizing that the sound produced by the bullhorn is magnified when two are put up to each other, which I’m not sure is scientifically accurate, Bart gets to work putting all of the damn things together, creating a massive sound canon. He then simply says “testing” out of the window, causing a shockwave to envelope Springfield, destroying every bit of glass in the town. So Wiggum brings Bart back to the Simpsons household while the town is rebuilding from his attack, and the three start to spitball about how to punish Bart. And after blowing down Wiggum’s suggestion of mood-altering drugs, they decide military school may be the best bet.
So seemingly the next day the family heads off to Rommelwood military school, which they hilariously trick Bart into going to by saying they’re actually going to Disneyland. And when he figures out where they’re really going, he’s horrified. And that just gets worse and worse when they get there and start touring the grounds with the Commandant. We get some great gags during the tour, like Homer throwing rocks at the children who are at attention to test their resolve. And after seeing the rigor, discipline, and intellectual discussions taking place at Rommelwood, Lisa decides that she too wants to stay at the school and go there two. Which absolutely baffles the Commandant, who just can’t wrap his mind around the concept of letting a girl into his military school. But after realizing that there are female singers and motorists nowadays, he decides to let Lisa in. So the Simpsons kids are staying in military school!
And things start going poorly immediately, because having a girl in this school for the first time is destroying the school. There aren’t female barracks, so all the boys that Bart has to live with now get kicked out of their barracks so she can take them, which definitely isn’t a way to make friends. Not that things are going great for Bart either at the beginning, because all of the other boys decide that they need to haze the siblings, making them do pushups in the mud, clean the statue of their founder, and get strapped to the propellers of a plane while it’s going. And in the end of it, Bart is accepted by the idiot boys and let into their world, while they continue to shun and ostracize Lisa. And Bart just goes right along with it.
And from there we start to see how horrible life is at military school as the kids start to actually do stuff. Which is probably most hilariously displayed by watching them learn to fire guns, which Lisa is terrible at. Although we do get the amazing line when the guy running the firing line tells Bart “since you attended public school I”m going to assume you’re already proficient with small arms.” But since Lisa is so bad at the guns, and is being mocked so ruthlessly by the other kids, and teachers, she starts to doubt herself, and thinks about going home. But first she calls Grandpa, and lets him ramble about nonsense until he literally has nothing else to say, because she’s that starved for human conversation. And it gets worse when she gets a package from home, containing a cassette from Marge, telling them how much she loves them. Lisa tries to get Bart to come hang out with her and listen to it together, but he blows her off, choosing to hang out with the boys instead. So in the saddest scene of the episode, Lisa sits alone in her barracks, listening to Marge tell her how much she loves her, and singing a song.
But as the school year comes to an end, Bart finally realizes what an ass he was ditching Lisa, so he tells her he’ll do anything he can to help her in the school, short of being seen with her, because Lisa doesn’t want them both to be pariahs. And things get even worse when the Commandant tells them about the graduation test. Apparently they used to make the kids have a two day battle royale to prove that they’re worthy of graduating, but that got shot down by the government, and now they have to crawl across a rope suspended dozens of feet above a patch of thorny plants like it’s goddamn Sleeping Beauty. Which Lisa is not excited about. But Bart offers to help train her, so the two sneak out in the middle of the night and start practicing, trying to get Lisa ready for the test. And when she’s ready to give up, claiming that she came here for “a challenge she could do,” Bart starts to pump her up, and get her ready for it. And when the day comes, and all the other kids get across it, Lisa gets her chance to prove herself. And when she starts to falter half-way across the rope, Bart breaks rank and starts cheering Lisa on, giving her the boost she needed to finish the challenge. So she succeeds! Homer and Marge then pick the kids up, telling them that they’re actually going to Disneyland for real this time, before actually taking them to the dentist, in a joke so mean-spirited I laughed for like five minutes.
I really like this episode. It almost fell into a pattern with the way Season Seven ended with “Summer of 4 ft 2,” having Lisa and Bart go somewhere different for a while, Lisa tries to be someone different, Bart is a dick, and then Bart redeems himself. But whereas that episode really made me mad at Bart, and was focused way more on Lisa and her struggle to be someone different, this one had them paired together more, and worked a lot more at Lisa proving herself in ways she’s never done before. Lisa so often is the big fish in the small pond, blowing everyone in Springfield out of the water. Which has been a theme in the series for a while. We’ve seen that Lisa is destined to escape Springfield, and be a better person out there, but I think this is the first episode, besides maybe “Lisa’s Enemy,” that shows Lisa struggling when taken out of Springfield, and put with her equals. Lisa is so bored in Springfield at the beginning of this episode, and then is super cocky when she starts at the military academy, assuming she’ll knock it out of the park too. But then she realizes that she’s actually being stretched to her mental and physical limits in this school, and she almost gives up. Which I think is a really relatable idea. We always say we want to stretch out limits, but when we’re actually put against difficulties, it’s really tempting to just give up, and go back to succeeding in mediocrity. Lisa’s going to have a lot of struggles in life, but in the end she’s going to succeed. But one of the things that really moved me was that she didn’t succeed alone. Yeah, Bart was a bit of a dick in this episode, when he stops associating with her, but in the end it’s his support and love that gets her through it. Bart probably isn’t going to succeed in life. It’s a sad concept, but I really doubt he will. In the end, Bart’s greatest accomplishment in life may be that even though he’s occasionally a shit, he’s always going to be there for Lisa, pushing her to better herself. One of the saddest parts of “Lisa’s Substitute” was Homer’s realization that Lisa is destined for a better world without him, but that he’s happy to get her there, and I feel like Bart fulfils a similar duty in her life. Who knows, I may be looking way too deep into this episode, but I found the ending, and Bart’s support really moving.
Take Away: Don’t give up just because something is difficult, because if it’s easy, it’s not something worth doing.
“The Secret War of Lisa Simpson” was written by Richard Appel and directed by Mike B Anderson, 1997.