Lifetime of Simpsons

S14 E09 – The Strong Arms of the Ma

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What the hell? Am I being pranked? Two weeks in a row I start off with super weird episodes about Marge getting some sort of physical transformation? That doesn’t seem likely. And it’s kind of the 300th episode? At least as production goes. Weird stuff folks. At least it’s better than “Large Marge.”

The episode starts off with Eye on Springfield, which is great because we haven’t seen that in forever. Although it’s kind of ridiculous to see how different the animation is between all of the old stuff and then the random new addition of Kent and Fidel Castro on a roller coaster. And after that we see that Kent is interviewing Ranier Wolfcastle because he’s going bankrupt. Which obviously means that he’s going to hold a huge bankruptcy garage sale, and everyone in town will be there.

So the Simpsons, and everyone else in Springfield, get to the mansion and start buying stuff. Homer eats a pie with a sword in it, Lenny buys a robotic arm to scratch his ass with, and Moe buys Playdude models. But Homer isn’t satisfied with the normal stuff, and asks Wolfcastle for something personal and sentimental. The two men don’t act like they know each other, but Wolfcastle is down for that request, and sells Homer his first ever weight-set. So Homer buys it, they load the car up like he’s playing Tetris, and finds that there’s no room for him, causing him to get carried home by Wolfcastle in a giant baby Bjorn.

Which means that Marge is going to drive the kids and all the crap home. So they head home, but their trip is derailed when Maggie has a blow-out diaper, and they need to stop at the Kwik-E-Mart to change her. It’s apparently so bad that Apu lets Marge use the employee bathroom in the alley behind the store, but when she’s leaving disaster strikes. A weird mugger with a Goofy hat approaches Marge and demands her purse. Unfortunately it’s just a diaper-bag, so he steals Marge’s necklace instead. He runs off into the night, and Marge returns to the car, weeping.

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So Marge returns home and is incredibly shaken by her mugging. She’s terrified of everything, and after a disastrous second trip to the Kwik-E-Mart ends with her spraying Ralph with pepper spray, she comes home and decides not to leave. Yep, Marge is agoraphobic now. And that’s confirmed by Dr. Hibbert, who comes to do a house call. He also tells the family that the best way to fix her new disorder will be to slowly desensitize herself to the outside world.

Which doesn’t go well. Homer and the kids give her a suit of armor made out of pillows and slowly bring her out into the front yard, which doesn’t go well when some horrible insect attacks them. Next up they make a little fake Kwik-E-Mart, but when Milhouse shows up as a robber she just beats him up and runs to the basement. So that didn’t work. They completely screwed up this immersion therapy, and have made her agoraphobia even worse, because she’s refusing to come out of the basement now.

And the family kind of makes that work. They radio her into church, they eat meals in the basement on the air-hockey table, and they’ve moved the kitchen, dining room, and her room down to the basement. But she’s super bored. So Marge decides to find something to do, and the only thing down there that’s interesting is the weight set that Homer bought. So she gives it a shot, and slowly starts to get into it. She begins lifting like crazy and slowly but surely gets stronger and stronger.

And it turns out that that’s the best thing for her, because one day after a great workout, she decides that the meal she’s preparing needs some lemon, and just runs outside to grab a lemon from their tree without thinking about it. The rest of the family run out to see her, and she’s initially shocked that she made it outside, but then she realizes that she’s cured and strong now, and decides to roll with it. So she starts running through the city, yelling that she’s not afraid, and then ends up running into the mugger. So she beats the bajesus out of him like Sonny from Godfather, and is officially cured.

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But that’s not the where the episode ends. It should have been. It would have been a great episode. But we need to take a hard turn. Because Marge isn’t done working out. Not by a long-shot. She decides to keep doing it, and even finds a place on the beach where people lift weights, and she runs into her old neighbor Ruth Powers, who is now huge. The two strike up conversation, and Ruth encourages Marge to a) start competing in weight-lifting competitions, and b) start taking steroids to accomplish that.

Marge starts really getting into supplements and steroids, making increasingly insane shakes to keep up her muscles. And it starts working. She becomes a terrifying Hulk that can stop the bus with her bare hands and pressures Homer into terrifying sex. And things just get worse when she participates in a lady body-building competition, and ends up coming in second, which terrifies the family, because now she’s going to go even crazier.

Which is completely correct, because after the competition Homer takes Marge to Moe’s, and she reveals that she’s going to double down on her workouts, and become even crazier to win. And when Homer goes to the bathroom, the shit hits the fan, someone makes the wrong comment, and roid-rage Marge freaks out and begins beating up all the men in the bar. And she only stops when Homer comes out of the bathroom and talks her down like she the Incredible Hulk. And he succeeds. She calms down, realizes that she’s been acting a little crazy, and heads home to destroy the weights so she can return to normal by the next episode.

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This episode is really weird to me. I really like the first two acts. The idea of Marge being thrown into some sort of criminal-fear has happened before, but last time she got a thrill for justice, and this time she went the other route and became a shut-in. Which I think is really believable and interesting. I’ve mentioned it on here before, but I was held up while working a menial job a few years ago, and I can tell you that when something like that happens you become really fearful of everything, and don’t really want to put yourself out in the position to be taken advantage of again. And I really liked the idea of Marge finding something that made her feel powerful. The whole weight-lifting thing is a little on the nose, but it works great. However, the episode took a weird turn with the steroids in the last act, and that’s where the episode loses me. It had been a really interesting and beautiful look at fear and helplessness, but then out of nowhere it became this farce about weight-lifting and steroids that really didn’t go anywhere, and was then swept under the rug at the last second by Homer’s weird speech. It just feels strange to me. And really emblematic of the whole problem with the show from this period that I’ve discussed before. She show used to be unafraid to have an emotional episode that didn’t have a lot of goofy jokes, and that relied on the character’s growth. But this period of the show seems terrified of that. They couldn’t have an episode that was all about Marge’ personal growth, so they slapped this weird steroid plot on at the end and filled it with as many gags about women body-builders and steroids as they can to undercut the message and make it goofier. Which I guess is what some people want, but I personally will take an episode that ends more like act two of this episode than act three.

Take Away: When you’re feeling helpless the best thing to help you would be to find something to make you feel strong again. That can take many shapes and forms, but once you find it, don’t let it take over your life.

“The Strong Arms of the Ma” was written by Carolyn Omine and directed by Pete Michels, 2003.

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