Well, let’s forget yesterday’s awkwardness and move on to today’s episode. And folks, it’s a lot of fun. I do understand why tomorrow’s episode is the season closer, but taking aside tomorrow’s gimmick it really feels like today’s episode is a perfect season closer. It’s big, crazy, and a whole lot of fun. So, with that praise right up top, let’s dive on in.
The episode begins with Homer and the kids shopping for returned wedding cakes in some depressing store that specializes in cakes that were brought back after something tragic happened to ruin the wedding. But Homer and the kids don’t care about the backstory of the cake, they’re just looking for something tasty and cheap. So they buy a large multi-tiered cake and head on home to presumably gorge themselves.
However, as soon as they leave the store they realize that there’s some absurd traffic going on, and since they really need to eat that cake as fast as humanly possible Homer decides to take a short cut. Which involves driving off into the woods with no real strategy in mind. It’s a pretty dramatic short cut, involving a lot of driving alongside cliffs, but eventually they get back to the house, safe and sound, and head into the house.
Unfortunately no one was paying attention after all the stress from the short cut, so they locking the car with the keys, the cake, and Maggie still inside. Everyone start panicking, primarily about Maggie, and they go get Marge to help out. So while Maggie is eating the cake all herself the family race into the kitchen to open up some absurd drawer they have that’s just full to the brim with random keys. They pour the keys out on the table, assuming that one of them must be a spare key to the car.
But it’s a rather impossible task, because there’s a staggering amount of unmarked keys in this drawer. Lisa is pretty baffled about why they have so many keys, and they struggle to find explanations. They mention they got some from a key party they attended before realizing what a key party was, and explain away a large bulk of them by saying they’re keys from Homer’s various alternate professions he’s acquired over the years.
Luckily around this time Maggie comes strolling into the house, having eaten the whole cake and used the car to free herself, so that threat is finished. But now everyone’s pretty intrigued by all the damn keys. So they divide some up and decide to go have separate adventures. Bart takes a random pile to cause mischief, Homer finds a key to the Duff Brewery he got after robbing Duffman while they were skinny-dipping, Lisa gets one that seems to belong to the school, and Marge gets a strange little one that seems to operate a wind-up toy.
Which means the rest of the episode is going to comprise of rapidly cutting between the various family members and their adventures with keys. This makes for a fun episode, but is probably going to drive me insane trying to describe it. Let’s see how I do!
Bart and Homer’s adventures are pretty simple. Bart heads off into the town, looking to use the keys to cause the most chaos as possible, and keeps finding himself being helpful. He ends up opening up a mailbox, thinking that it’ll make people mad, but they’re all just happy that they can get their shameful letters back. Not much goes on with Bart.
Homer meanwhile has gotten the key to the Duff Brewery, and of course meets up with Barney so they can go on an unofficial tour. They open a side door in to the brewery and begin sneaking around, looking at all of the machinery that make their favorite beer. But there’s bigger fish to fry, because as they’re wandering around they end up coming across the roof, where the Duff Blimp is stored. So, of course, Homer steals the blimp and starts flying it around the town, having a goddamn blast.
Marge probably has the silliest story though, because she looks all over the house for something that could possibly use this little wind-up key, and ends up discovering something odd. It’s a little toy shaped like two fat people using a handcar, and as the little car moves it makes fart noises. Marge finds the thing very silly, but moderately funny. Although, she stops paying attention to it for a moment, and the little thing races out of the house, embarrassing Ned. So Marge heads off after it, trying to catch up with it before it mildly embarrasses more people.
Things are actually going to be very insane for poor Lisa though. She assumed that her task of returning a key to the School to be a simple one. But she is wrong. Because when she gets to school she runs into Nelson, who taunts her into figuring out what the key is for before returning it. Lisa falls into Nelson’s taunt, and she begins wandering the school, seeing what the key opens. And she eventually finds several room in the basement that they key unlocks, including one that claims to be a room full of banned band books.
However, when she opens the door she finds that it actually leads into an incredibly strange classroom. It’s full of work stations, performance art spaces, and all sorts of amazing things that the rest of the school doesn’t have. But there’s also something sinister about the room. Nothing is real. The rulers don’t have numbers, the books are blank, and everything else about the room just feels like a giant IKEA showroom.
And while Lisa is getting thrown into an insane conspiracy thriller we get to check back in on her family, who are having their own silly adventures. Homer is still flying around in the blimp, getting into all kinds of shenanigans. Bart is struggling to find something mean to do with his keys. And Marge is still following the little tooter, and failing wildly. But none of that will really matter for a while.
Because back at the school Lisa has arrived at Skinner’s office, telling him about the crazy room she found. Skinner laughs at her, saying no such room could possibly exist. But he promises to go down and investigate a little later. So, after giving him some time, Lisa, Skinner, and a group of random kids head down to the room, and shockingly find that the door leads to a small closet full of banned band books now. No secret classroom. So everyone mocks Lisa for her insane lie and they leave her down in the basement alone.
Oh hey, something is happening in Bart’s plan! He ends up discovering a window-washing lift attached to a skyscraper, and manages to find a key that activates it. He then raises up along the building, mooning everyone along the way. He’s finally found a prank! That is until Gil throws himself off the skyscraper, and ends up landing in the lift. So Bart has now accidentally saved Gil’s life, and he’s quickly awarded the key to the city.
Meanwhile, Lisa is incredibly suspicious about this mysterious room, and is made even more suspicious when Chalmers and Skinner awkwardly insist that she give the back the key and stop asking questions. So now Lisa is out a key. However, someone took a photo of her holding the key before she opened the door, so she takes the photo to a locksmith and the guy is somehow able to make a replica of the key for her.
With the new key Lisa heads back to the school, and opens the door again. There’s still a bookshelf in her way, but it turns out to be of shoddy quality, and quickly falls apart when she messes with it, revealing the classroom again. She heads back inside to poke around, and ends up finding something shocking. Someone has written a message on the chalkboard reading “The children are on bus 23.” Oh, and the writer of the message is in the room, and flees from the room without Lisa catching of glimpse of them. Shit’s getting weird!
Lisa’s pretty freaked out about this whole thing now though, so she decided to go get Bart and have him help out. He decides that since Nelson has been held back so many times (which should have been Kearney, but whatever) he may know what’s going on. They ask him about bus 23, and he remembers a time when he was much younger when he saw Skinner and Chalmer send off a bus labeled 23, saying that they’re worried the bus will crash off an icy bridge. And the bus was never seen from again.
So now Homer and Bart need to find this missing drowned bus to solve the riddle. Which means they need a higher perspective. So they track down Homer, who is still flying around the blimp, and they get him to fly them to the area where the bus went missing. They canvas the area and find that the bus is still submerged in a lake that normally is frozen over in the winter. So Lisa jumps out of the blimp to investigate the bus, and finds that it’s still full of children.
But don’t worry, things aren’t about to take a horrifying turn. They’re mannequins. The bus is full of mannequins. Lisa and Bart both get into the lake to investigate, but when they open the bus all of the mannequins flood out and end up trapping them under the water. Oh no, Bart and Lisa are about to drown! Well, until that little tooter handcar arrives, and gently taps into a rotten tree. The tree falls over, lands in the lake, and splashes the mannequins out of the way, letting Bart and Lisa escape.
The whole family is together again now, and still pretty baffled about the secret room and the sunken bus full of mannequins. Which is when the writer of that note arrives. And it’s Otto. He tells them that he was the person who drove the bus that day, and he had no idea they were mannequins. He thought he killed a bus-load of children. Yikes. But that still doesn’t explain the room. So the whole group heads back to the school and confront Skinner. Turns out that years ago the Elementary School got a grant from the government to improve the school. But then Skinner accidentally ruined the money from the grant by washing them in his pants, and they had to quickly figure out how to trick the government into thinking they used the money wisely. So they made a fake classroom, filled it with mannequins to take some pictures, and then tried to hide everything so no one can ever learn of the scam. Sure, that makes sense!
Okay, this episode is completely insane. And while that ending maybe isn’t as satisfying as it should be, it doesn’t distract from the fact that this episode is a goddamn hoot. I love episodes like this, taking the family members and having them all go on crazy adventures that interlock and send them all around Springfield. I don’t know why, but I’m a huge sucker for those episodes. Admittedly, Bart’s whole thing is a little dull, and you’d think that him getting the keys to the city would come into the climax, but whatever. Marge’s story should probably be the dumbest, but for some reason I really enjoyed seeing Marge fail to catch this weird little farting toy while making everyone around her embarrassed. That’s just great. Likewise, Homer flying around in a blimp was mostly just silly, leading to a lot of fun gags. But what obviously makes this episode is the insane plot that Lisa gets wrapped up in. Seeing her race around town, trying to some this insane conspiracy theory that all came from her just trying to return a goddamn key. And it’s great. This episode is great.
Take Away: Always keep keys, because they’ll take you on a magical journey one day when your toddler is trapped in a car.
“500 Keys” was written by John Frink and directed by Bob Anderson, 2011.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons