Hi there folks, and welcome back to another week of Lifetime of Simpsons. And I come bearing good news today everyone. Because we’re in for another surprisingly solid week of episodes of the Simpsons. Which is always good news to my ears. Things aren’t perfect, and there’s one complete dud, but for the most part I think I get to remain positive this week! Always great! And it all starts with today’s episode about slaves. Trust me, it works!
The episode starts off with Groundskeeper Willie trying to remove a stump from the front lawn of the school. The kids are of course interested, especially when Willie is completely unable to remove the stump with his tractor, and of course has to resort to dynamite. He breaks out a box of TNT, which summons Bart like a magic spell. He offers to help Willie out, and they two actually manage to blow the stump up. However, Bart’s influence causes the stump to land right on top of Skinner’s car.
But all that stump talk only exists so that Ms. Hoover can look out the window and decide to tell the kids that they’re going to be learning about family trees now. She tells the kids that she’ll be responsible for learning about their genealogy and giving a presentation about it. However, there’s a slight hiccup for Lisa. When she gets home she finds that every single Simpson is a horrible monster that she would rather not learn about.
Lisa becomes terrified that the Simpsons are a tribe of monsters, which is something that she’s established is a male trait in the past, and decides to find some proof that not all Simpsons are terrible. But she isn’t going to get any help from Homer and Grandpa, who just tell her to embrace the horribleness. So instead she has to go up to the attic in the hopes that there’s some secret information hidden up there. Although this does lead to a pretty great sequence where Lisa can’t get into the attic, and Bart has to help. It kind of doesn’t need to be there, and it’s really hard to describe, but it’s just such a brilliant moment of sibling interaction that I really loved and appreciated.
Anyway, Lisa gets up to the attic, and after walking past a slew of sight-gags and references she finds a big dusty trunk full of stuff. She sorts through the trunk and ends up hitting paydirt. An old journal claiming to be written by Eliza Simpson, and mostly forgotten relative. So Lisa brings it downstairs so the whole family can listen to her read it, and they begin exploring the fascinating history of Eliza Simpson.
And they promptly find a passage that says that Eliza is excited for the family to buy their first slave. Whoops! The Simpsons were slave-owners! However, after that act-break tease, we learn things aren’t as they seem. In actuality Eliza is excited because she’s planning on helping the slave escape to the North to freedom. So that’s significantly better! But when they realize that Eliza wasn’t a monster, and was planning on doing something altruistic, Homer decides that they can’t read the book anymore, figuring that it would be better to end on a high note.
He then puts the book away in a vent, hoping that Lisa will completely forget about it. This is obviously not the case, and that night she sneaks up to the vent to get the book and continue reading. She finds out that Eliza and her parents were invited to a ball at Colonel Burns’ mansion, where they would acquire a slave. And while everyone is busy dancing Eliza sneaks out to the barn, and finds Virgil the slave waiting. Eliza and Virgil then flee into the woods, heading northbound, when they’re attacked by a group of rednecks who attack them.
And that’s where the diary ends. The rest is illegible, and Lisa didn’t get any sort of closure. So Lisa and Marge decide to do the only thing they could think of, and head to the library. They don’t have any books relating to Eliza Simpson, but they do happen to have a cookbook written by Eliza’s mother Mabel. So they check it out and give it a look, reading all the horrible recipes that Mabel cooked back in antebellum society.
However, nestled in one of the recipes is a story. A story that talks about the time that Mabel’s daughter Eliza helped free a slave named Virgil. So they survived! The story even explains that they came across a traveling circus in the woods and Krusty helped disguise Virgil as a clown so the hillbillies wouldn’t find him. They then made it back to Eliza’s house, and after Virgil showed them how to make his trademark donuts, Eliza’s father Hiram agreed to let him hide out until he could go North.
So Lisa’s found a non-awful Simpson! Plus, she no longer cares about her family tree, and is now focused on having a special presentation for Black History Month. So she works up a presentation about how great the Simpsons were, and how tells the whole school the story of how Eliza Simpson saved Virgil. And everyone loves it. Until Milhouse bursts her bubble. Turns out he too found a diary from a distant relative, and inside it tells the story of Colonel Burns finding Virgil hidden in the Simpson’s house, and convincing Hiram to give him back, while Eliza just accepted it.
Whoops. Now Eliza is a coward who let Virgil get sold back into slavery. Not so great. This news obviously crushes Lisa, and she heads back to the library distraught. She’s desperate to find some proof that Eliza wasn’t a coward, and ends up spending the rest of her day going through old film canisters, finally finding an old interview with an elderly Eliza, who admits that letting Burns take back Virgil was the worst mistake of her life.
So that’s not great. Lisa ends up returning home, devastated, when Grandpa decides to let her in on a secret. He knows the truth about Eliza. He just didn’t want to talk about it. But now that he sees she’s so sad he decides to tell her the whole story. Turns out that when Colonel Burns was about to take Virgil back Mabel sprung into action, and held Burns and Hiram up at gunpoint. She then left with Virgil, desperate to get her to freedom. The two then travelled to Canada, and along the way fell in love. Mabel and Virgil them got married, and ended up starting a new family, that eventually made Grandpa. Yep. Hiram wasn’t related to them, and the Simpsons are a little bit black. And they had a happy ending! Score!
I actually really liked this episode quite a bit. It turned out much better than that story from a few season ago where Lisa decided to pretend to be a secret American Indian. This time is was real! The idea of the Simpsons finding out that they were related to some slave owners seems like a pretty loaded topic, but this episode ended up being fascinating. Not only do we see Lisa’s quest to find a Simpson worth emulating, and her horror at finding out that Eliza bowed down to the misogyny of the times and allowed Burns to take Virgil, but we also then got to hear about Mabel’s badass rebellion, and the love that blossomed between her and Virgil. Plus I’m always a sucker for episodes that show people in the past being cast with characters from the show. That always makes me smile.
Take Away: Love conquers all, and slavery/racism is horrible and shouldn’t be normalized.