Well after the sort of sour taste that yesterday’s episode left in my mouth, let’s see if we can have something more light and palatable. Ah, how about an episode all about the simple people of Springfield being taken in by an evil cult? That sounds like a fun romp!
The episode starts off with Homer and Bart going to Springfield’s disgusting little airport. Which leads to a scene that the Simpsons really loves to do, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense. We just get a collection of sight-gags about what it’s like in an airport, but it seems like everyone in town is hanging out in the damn airport. The bullies are stealing some luggage that has a Faberge egg and a human liver in them, Moleman is shopping for books, and Barney is getting drunk alone in the lounge. I guess they’re all there for the same reason as Bart and Homer, to see the local team get back from the “big game.” But as they’re getting to the tarmac to great the team, Homer runs into a weird trope that definitely don’t exist anymore, a line of religious wackos trying to proselytize. He walks past a Hare Krishna, a conservative Christian, and some people from a cult called the Movementarians. And after getting some literature from the cult, Homer and Bart join the rest of the crowd in pelting the returning team with rocks.
Later that night when Homer is back home, he starts telling the family all about the cool cult he learned about, and the weekend retreat they’re hosting at the compound in the woods. The rest of the family is a little concerned about Homer’s susceptibility, but he says he can control himself, and goes to the retreat that weekend. Homer initially is just going to mooch a fun fishing trip off of them while singing the Batman theme, but the Movementarians convince him to go watch their special brainwashing movie. So Homer goes and learns all about their glorious Leader and his spaceship to Blisstopia, while everyone else is kept in line through the power of public awkwardness. And in the end, everyone but Homer who watched the video is brainwashed and ready to join the cult.
But the Movementarians are desperate for Homer, so they try to find a way to crack him. They have him get ridiculed by the rest of the group, and try to weaken him with low-protein gruel. But in the end, the thing that worked was using the Batman theme to incorporate the Leader, causing Homer to be their strongest supporter. So he heads home and tells the rest of the family about their fun new life as members of the cult, and how he gave their house to them. Marge is obviously a little concerned about the whole thing, while Bart simply says “church, cult, cult, church, so we get bored someplace else every Sunday,” which I loved. But in the end, the family is dragged off to the Movementarian compound with pretty much everybody else in town.
The family start to acclimate to their new life as their resistance slowly gets whittled down. Bart gets brainwashed when trying to commit mischief, and Lisa is swayed by the power of positive grades, leaving Marge the only sane one of the family. Around now we briefly get a super weird scene where Mr. Burns decides he wants to make his own religion, and comes up with an elaborate and fascist cult where he’s God, but that scene just feels super out of the place, regardless of how funny it way. But once that’s done we see just how crazy the Movementarian cult is getting, as they spend most of their time picking lima beans and hoping to catch a glimpse of the Leader’s limo. We also see a mass wedding, where Barney and Otto, Skinner and Agnes, and Comic Book Guy and a random lady get married. And while the rest of the family get all on board with the cult, Marge keeps her resistance, and finally escapes. She makes it out of the compound, over a river, through a minefield, and escaping the dreaded Rover, and gets back to Springfield.
Marge makes it back into Springfield, looking for someone to help, and ends up coming across Reverend Lovejoy, who is busy getting ready to torch the church for insurance money. Marge talks with him, and they enlist Ned and Willie to help save the Simpsons and expose the cult. So they get in a limo and drive through the lima bean farm, getting Bart, Homer, Maggie, and Lisa into the limo, only to knock Homer unconscious with a bat and kidnap them back to town so they can be deprogrammed.
They take the Simpsons to Ned’s rumpus room, and start working on them. The kids are easily taken care of, since they’re swayed by the prospect of having brand new hover bikes, but Homer is a tougher nut to crack. Willie gives it his best shot, but ends up just believing in the Leader more than Homer. But Marge and Ned have a good idea, and try to give Homer a beer. Unfortunatly the cult’s lawyers show up right as a drop lands on Homer’s tongue, and drag him back to the compound. But it turns out that was a potent drop, because when Homer gets back he’s back to normal, and gets ready to expose the cult. But when he opens the Forbidden Barn to show them how it’s all a scam he ends up instead finding one hell of a spaceship. Which turns out to be a crude helicopter the Leader is using to get away with all their money. That doesn’t work, he crashes into Cleetus’ house, is robbed, and everyone returns back to Springfield, comfortable in the knowledge that the one true cult is the Fox network.
This episode is so silly, and I love it so much. It’s goofy as all hell, but it has some of my favorite stupid gags of the entire show. Homer singing the Batman song is so great, and something that me and my college buddies still quote. It definitely isn’t an emotional episode or anything, but it’s expertly crafted in it’s silliness. It’s also great to see an episode about something stupid, like cults, where Lisa isn’t the voice of reason. Lisa gets swayed just as easily, and becomes a zombie just like everyone else. It’s Marge’s time to shine, and I really liked seeing her be the one to save the family from their own stupidity. Plus it’s great to see the show’s feelings toward cults and religion, and the hazy line that separates the two, especially since it lines up with my thoughts so often.
Take Away: It’s really easy to be dragged into a cult, especially when you’re too awkward to not just leave their sales pitch.
“The Joy of Sect” was written by Steve O’Donnell and directed by Steven Dean Moore, 1998.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons