Well everyone, our week of largely fine but overly mediocre episode is continuing today with an odd little story that end up forking into two very different directions. One a pretty fun Lisa plot and the other a very strange Bart episode that kind of derails the rest of the episode. You know, one of those?
The episode begins with the Simpsons heading down to the Springfield Town Hall to participate in a strange little competition put on by the school. Various Elementary School kids have been tasked with trying to create little go-kart powered by alternative fuels, and they’ll now be racing them to see who designed the best vehicle. They have a lot of different ideas, like karts powered by wind, hydrogen, Hans Moleman, and prayer.
Lisa is also participating, and has designed a solid solar-powered kart, and she likes her chances. The race then begins, and Lisa almost immediately starts winning. Her kart is doing amazing, and she pull ahead right away. Unfortunately, a Duff Blimp shows up at that moment, and the shadow it casts causes her kart to stop moving, and the rest of the competitors drive right past her. Lisa is distraught about this, because she thought she designed it in a way that would not be affected by random shadows, but she apparently built it wrong.
And, because a girl made a slight error in science, that means she must be demeaned. All of the nerdy boys start making fun of Lisa, pointing out that she never would have built a functioning kart because of her gender. And, obviously, she’s despondent. She starts crying, and no one seems to care. Well, except for the Old Jewish Man and some other random old dude. They walk up and tell Lisa that she should be proud, because she’s just like Amelia Vanderbuckle.
Who is Amelia Vanderbuckle? Well, she was an inventor from Springfield in the late 1800’s who defied her male contemporaries to create all manner of scientific innovations. But, she was also crazy and sent to an asylum. Lisa becomes very interested in this woman, and heads home to research her. And, it turns out that Amelia was not crazy, she was instituted because she was a woman with ambitions, and she spent her life in the asylum continuing to invent things in secret.
Lisa decides that this Vanderbuckle woman is her new hero, and that she needs to make it her new goal in life to find Amelia’s last inventions and show the world that she’s someone who needs to be respected, and that women are perfectly valid scientists. She just needs to get into that asylum. Bart is obviously down with helping her break into an abandoned asylum, so the two head over to it and very easily get inside.
Lisa and Bart wander around the asylum, looking for some sort of records. And, in a ridiculous stroke of luck, they find an old office full of patient records and old inmate diaries that have apparently been sitting around in this old asylum for more than a hundred years. Lisa finds a wax cylinder from Amelia that details a hidden invention that’s underneath a Suffererage museum. Oh, and Bart finds a diary written by a serial killer.
And, just like that, Bart’s plot is more important to this episode. Because he’s fascinated by this weird diary of a killer’s mind, and brings it to school to show the guys. He rips out several of the pages and passes it around with the other boys, letting them read the inner thoughts of this madman. And it really freaks Ralph out. He gets very distraught, and when Chief Wiggum shows up to pick Ralph up from school Ralph tells him all about the diary, and even shows him some of the pages.
There’s just one problem. Ralph says that this is Bart’s diary. So, when Wiggum looks at the pages, and doesn’t notice the fact that the pages are several hundred years old, and starts to get worried that Bart is a sociopathic killer. He then immediately heads over to the Simpson’s house, and tells Marge that her son is a lunatic. He shows her the pages, which she also doesn’t think look strange, and becomes terrified that Bart is a sociopath.
Meanwhile, back in that noble Lisa plot, things are starting to percolate. She’s figured out where the old Sufferage museum is, and is saddened to find that it’s now a Hooters knock-off. She and Milhouse try to get inside the building to poke around their basement, but they won’t let them inside. So, gaining some help from Groundskeeper Willie for some reason, they manage to break into the basement and use a jackhammer to break through the foundation of the basement to find the secret invention of Amelia Vanderbuckle!
But, before we see what that invention is we have a whole lot more Bart to deal with. Because Homer and Marge are now terrified that Bart is a sociopath, and think they need to do something about it. They end up finding a sociopath test online, and print it out for Bart. But, figuring that Bart won’t take it if he knows what it’s really about, they put a sticky note over the title, and tell him that it’s actually about dirt bikes and jet skis.
Bart takes the test, but Homer and Marge’s cunning plan fails when he looks past the sticky note, and sees that it’s actually a test for sociopaths. He Googles the word, and learns what a sociopath is, and gets really irritated that his parents think he might be one. So, to get back at them, he decides to answer every question with the most sociopathic answer possible. He then gives them the test, and they’re horrified to learn that he’s aced it.
At this point Homer and Marge are now terrified that Bart is a sociopath who could become a killer at any moment, and end up letting him do whatever he wants to keep him happy and sane. Which Bart loves. He becomes an absolute lunatic, getting away with all sorts of terrible behavior. But, it eventually becomes too much for Homer and Marge. They call the people who made the sociopath test, and ask for help with Bart.
Which is when the trap is set. We cut to a few days later when Bart wakes up, and finds a huge party waiting for him in the back yard. He’s obviously wary, but Homer and Marge fake that it’s a surprise birthday party, and he hops into the bouncy castle. Which was a trap. Because as soon as he’s in there the family drive off with the castle dragging behind them, sticking Bart in a bouncy cell.
They then drive Bart to a large building full of other children who have been abducted by their parents. The other kids are all sociopaths too, and they’re brought into this facility for their training. Yeah, not treatment, training. Because this is a center run by the US Military, who are very much in the market for sociopaths.
Anyway! Let’s finish off that Lisa plot! Because it turns out that she’s discovered Amelia’s secret invention, and is ready to demonstrate it to the world. She somehow draws a crowd in the Town Square, and shows off Amelia’s invention. And it’s a loom! But not a normal loom. It’s essentially a rudimentary computer. By putting in punch-cards the loom can process mathematical equations, and the crowd of weirdos who gathered around to look at the invention are moderately impressed.
That’s it for Lisa though! Time to get back to Bart. He’s still at the facility, and it turns out that this whole thing is about drones. Bart and the other sociopathic children are put in modules that let them bomb places, and Bart is having a blast. Until the officer in charge lets them know that it wasn’t a practice, it was actual bombing. And Bart is freaked out. He doesn’t want any part in killing people, and says he wants to leave. Which is good for him, because this was apparently a test. It actually was a practice, they just wanted to see if any of the kids would freak out. And, because Bart did, they know he’s not actually a sociopath, and they don’t want him. So, Bart’s kicked out of sociopathic drone testing, and returns home, where everyone is happy now.
The more I think about it, the more I think this episode kind of bugs me. Because I think that the Lisa story is actually really interesting and compelling, and it ends up getting completely sidelines by a story that we’ve seen a million times before where Bart learns he can do something shitty, and thus becomes as shitty as possible. The Bart plot does toss out some interesting commentary there at the end with the idea that the military only is interested in sociopaths to kill people, but it’s a long way for this plot to go. Why did no one notice they were looking at a diary from the 1800’s? Why did no one ask Bart what was going on with it? Why did Homer and Marge give Bart to the military because they couldn’t figure out what to do with him? It’s all just kind of weird. Which is a shame, because that Lisa story is really interesting. The idea that a bunch of shitty dudes are telling Lisa that she can never be a scientist because she’s a woman, which causes her to go on a journey to shine a light on a mistreated and forgotten female inventor is an incredibly solid one. But, it’s relegated to a B-Plot by the end of the episode, and every Springfield citizen who hears about Amelia’s invention couldn’t really care less. It’s just kind of demoralizing and weird, and makes it really hard to like this episode.
“Paths of Glory” was written by Michael Ferris and directed by Steven Dean Moore, 2015.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons