Lifetime of Simpsons

S21 E14 – Postcards From the Wedge

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Yesterday I intimated that were up for a great week here on Lifetime of Simpsons, with one noticeable clunker. Luckily, today isn’t that clunker. But it’s also the episode I was most conflicted about. The bad episode I hated from the get go, and never had a doubt. But today is weird. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. Hopefully by the end of the article I’ve made a decision!

The episode begins with a thoroughly hilarious film strip from the 50’s talking about the man of the future. It’s mainly propaganda about how horrible public transportation is, and that the man of the future should insist on driving his own personal car while ignoring his son. It also mentions a vast subway system under Springfield, but ensures us that cars are way better, and that we should all abandon the subway.

This turns out to just be something Mrs. Krabappel is making the kids watch to fill up time, and once it’s done Krabappel moves on. She tells them that they’re supposed to turn in a project all about indigenous peoples and their ways of life. The other students have made amazing cliff dwellings and adobe houses, and Bart has completely forgotten about it. He tries desperately to make on out of the junk in his desk, but to no luck.

In fact, Bart does so bad that she decides to write a letter to Homer and Marge, telling them how badly Bart’s doing. She then sends Martin out with the letter, giving him the task to put it in the mailroom as quickly as possible. Bart then triggers a fire alarm, trying to catch up to Martin and stop him in the process. He fails though, and the letter ends up being picked up for delivery, and is sent off to be seen by Homer and Marge.

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So Bart does the only thing he can, and fakes an illness to stay home. This requires some inventive use of his own body heat to trick Marge’s thermometer, but he gets to spend the whole day at the house, waiting for the mail delivery. Unfortunately Homer comes home right as the mail is delivered, and he’s able to get his hands on the letter before Bart, and is able to read it. And he is not happy about what he’s reading.

Turns out that Bart is a month behind on homework, and Homer and Marge have to go see Principal Skinner to talk about it. But while they’re in their conference Marge finds out something horrifying. Bart is being given an absurd amount of homework, to an extent that she never realized. She then becomes concerned that all of this homework is what’s turning Bart off from school, and tries to make it heard that she thinks he should have much less homework. Homer does not agree.

So that night Homer basically locks Bart in his room with the stack of homework, and demands that he gets to work cranking it all out. However, as soon as Homer is gone Marge sneaks in with cookies, and tells him not to worry about it. This confuses Bart, so he goes to talk to Lisa about the conflicting advice. Lisa explains that this is a wedge issue in Homer and Marge’s marriage, a weird conflict that they completely disagree on, and will fight over.

Which proves to Bart that he should play Homer and Marge off each other. So Bart begins goofing off all the time, using Marge’s guilt to shield himself from Homer’s anger. And it works pretty well for a while. Until Bart goes too far and pushes Homer and Marge into a huge fight about their marriage, and the fact that Marge is always undermining him. And this snowball rapidly rolls downhill, getting Homer and Marge into the biggest fight they’ve ever had.

The fight spills over several days, and Homer ends up going to work angry. But that day they both realize that they shouldn’t be fighting like this. Marge talks to Ned who tells her about how he and Maude had a minor fight the day she died, and he’s never forgiven himself, while Homer has a daydream about Marge dying in a tragic float incident during a parade, and realizes that he can’t stay mad at her. So they race to each other and have a passionate reconciliation in the middle of the road.

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However they also both realize that Bart’s discipline is a major issue between them, and that for the sake of their marriage they should just let Bart alone for a while, and let him fend for himself. So Bart no longer has any supervision. Which leads to chaos. It all begins when Bart and Milhouse are harassing Principal Skinner on the weekend, spraying sugar water at him so that hummingbirds will attack him, and they have to flee.

The two run through the streets, trying to escape from Skinner when they come across something shocking. An overgrown entrance to a subway. Yep, the subway system from the beginning of the episode. Turns out it’s real, and it’s been abandoned for decades, just sitting underneath Springfield. Bart and Milhouse begin exploring the station, and come across a train that’s somehow still active. So they fire it up and begin racing around the system, causing massive tremors to the unsuspecting city above.

This massive prank delights Bart, and he heads home to see if he’ll get punished. Unfortunately when he gets home he finds that Homer and Marge couldn’t care less. They’re still working on their marriage and don’t care about what Bart was up to. Which makes him feel kind of weird. He had fun during the prank, but something feels off about it. He talks to Nelson about it the next day, and realizes what the issue was. The prank isn’t as fun if no one is mad about what he did.

So he needs to escalate things. And it just so happens that he’s found the perfect answer. During the subway trip it turns out one of the tremors dealt massive damage to the school, and one more could cause it to collapse. So Bart decides to do just that. He heads on down into the subway, ready to cause massive havoc and destruction.

Homer and Marge obviously have no idea what’s going on, until they find a letter written by Lisa explaining the whole thing. They’re obviously terrified, and end up racing to the subway entrance, heading down into the system to stop Bart. He’s turned the subway on, and it’s beginning its horrible trip, but Homer is able to stop it at the last second, keeping the school safe. Until a flagpole taps the school and it falls apart. But we aren’t going to talk about that. What does matter is that equilibrium has been restored, and Homer and Marge are mad at Bart. Oh, and it turns out that Bart actually wrote that letter, not Lisa, because he wanted to be caught. Sure.

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This is a very odd episode. I’ve traditionally not been a fan of episodes that revolve around Bart being an unrepentant asshole, but there’s something about this one that works for me. It’s very muddled, and has a lot of ideas going on that probably could have been their own episodes, but I liked it. Kids do have too much homework, and that premise could have paid off in an interesting way, but their decision to instead focus on Bart trying to game his parent’s relationship ends up working out. I still can’t stand Bart in this episode, especially his pathological need to get caught, but the episode ended up working for much better than most similar ones have. It may be the fact that it’s just a very well-written episode, taking what seemed like a throw-away joke in the beginning and having it play a huge role in the climax. It’s just interesting. Despite the fact that the school literally falls apart in this episode, which we’ll never discuss again. But that’s kind of par for the course.

Take Away: Don’t mess with your parent’s marriage for your own personal gain. That’s despicable.

 

“Postcards from the Wedge” was written by Brian Kelley and directed by Mark Kirkland, 2010.

 

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