Lifetime of Simpsons

S31 E22 – The Way of the Dog

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Well folks, we’ve made it through yet another season of the Simpsons. Season 31 certainly had its ups and downs, primarily downs, but we’ve crossed another one off the list. And yet, after a recent string of truly bad episodes, I was pretty eager to wrap this season up. Last week’s episode had its moments, but I figured that there was no way we wouldn’t be ending this season on an incredibly sour note. And yet, much to my absolute shock, we’re getting to finish off the season with a pretty fantastic episode, albeit a strange one, that legitimately brought tears to my eyes. So, let’s dig in.

This entire episode takes place during Christmas, and I’m not really sure what the story with that is, like if this was supposed to air at the end of last year and got bumped to the end of the season or something. But, regardless, it opens up with Santa’s Little Helper sitting in the living room, basking in some sunlight, and having a dream where he’s chasing a butterfly, until he’s woken up by the smell of popcorn.

Marge has brought Bart and Lisa bowls of popcorn in order to decorate the tree, while Santa’s Little Helper looks for a snack. They have some mild chit chat about Christmas, until Marge comes across a Santa hat in the decoration box. And, wanting to get a cute social media picture, she decides to put the hat on Santa’s Little Helper. But, as soon as it’s put on him he ends up getting a strange flashback to his time as a puppy, seeing a vague image and a lot of anxiety, causing him to have a complete freak out and escape the hat.

Marge and the kids are confused by this reaction, but seem to put it out of their minds, going with Homer to pick up a bunch of wrapped Christmas presents. And, as they come home, bickering about the cleaning products that Homer bought Marge, they find that Santa’s Little Helper has completely destroyed their couch, and is now just sitting in the corner, staring at a smudge on the wall and weeping with the Santa hat next to him.

This freaks everyone out, obviously, and Lisa starts suggesting that they look for a dog psychologist. Namely a woman named Elaine Wolff who just so happens to be hosting some lecture in Springfield soon. But, Homer seems to think that this is a dumb idea, until Lisa enlists Bart to help talk to Homer about his problems taking women seriously, telling him that Santa’s Little Helper is in crisis, and needs their help. And, this works.

So, a few days later the Simpsons attend a lecture by Wolff, with Santa’s Little Helper, seeking some help. Unfortunately, Wolff is a pretty unpleasant person, and mainly spend the lecture yelling about how humans suck and how she vastly prefers dogs. She also gets distracted by a phone call from a former lover of hers who is announcing that he’s left his wife to come be with her, which causes her to kind of wrap things up quickly, just telling everyone they don’t deserve dogs.

 

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But, after the lecture the Simpsons approach Wolff in the parking lot, hoping she can take a special interest in Santa’s Little Helper. They tell her about his weird little breakdown, and it makes her so sad that she does try to help, telling them that they need to see the world through his eyes, and understand what’s going on with him. But, she’s unable to give him the help he really needs, and leaves before she can get invested.

So, the family take Santa’s Little Helper home, and scour Wolff’s book, trying to get some insight. Marge starts getting mad that this Santa hat caused so much trouble, and goes to throw it away. But, when she approaches Santa’s Little Helper with the hat, he has another freak out and ends up biting Marge. Homer flips out and yells at the dog, before sticking him outside in the cold.

Bart proclaims that he won’t let Santa’s Little Helper be out there alone, and starts spending his nights outside with him, making Homer realize they need to do something to fix things. And, he accomplishes that by finding a vet that he thinks will have the answer. But, when they go talk to the vet, and he finds out that Santa’s Little Helper bit Marge, he just tells the family that they’re going to have to put the dog down.

The family storm out of the vet’s office and return home, only to find Chief Wiggum waiting for them. The vet apparently turned them in, and animal control is now on the way to come put Santa’s Little Helper down. The family begin panicking, until Wolff unexpectedly shows back up. She’s had a change of heart, and wants to help Santa’s Little Helper find the catharsis necessary to help him. So, she’s going to take him away to her dog hospital, meaning the family have to say goodbye to him.

Santa’s Little Helper is then taken to Wolff’s fancy dog hospital where  she begins examining him while he gets to watch a video about the various amenities offered. And, while Wolff is examining him he ends up falling asleep, and we see him have a dream where he’s a puppy with his mother, helping one of his siblings get some milk, before getting dragged away by the mean owner that he had in the very first episode of the show.

 

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Wolff continues running tests, getting momentarily distracted by the appearance of her lover guy, which is so strange and specific that I have to assume they’re referencing something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Anyway, she ends up finding the little Santa hat hidden in his bed, and sees him freak out when he sees it. So, she takes him back to the Simpson’s house, and asks them what the deal is with the hat.

Bart and Homer have a flashback to Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” where we see them first get Santa’s Little Helper after being abandoned by his abusive owner. And, with the final puzzle-piece that Santa’s Little Helper was a racedog, she realizes that he must have PTSD from his time being forced to run for sport. But, they still need catharsis, so she helps the family track down Santa’s Little Helper’s original owner to confront him.

They find the man living on a greyhound farm, still raising dogs to force into the life. Everyone yells at him a bit, and he invites them in to chat. He explains that Santa’s Little Helper was a great runner as a puppy, because he was always running to his mother. So, they separated him and training him to be a racing dog. He tries to defend himself, but everyone just sees him as a monster, until they’re all distracted by Santa’s Little Helper getting anther flashback. He ends up escaping the house, and coming across his mother, She-Biscuit. The two have an adorable reunion, and Wolff proclaims his catharsis met. The family then take She-Biscuit home, supposedly so she can vanish just like Santa’s Little Helper’s baby-momma did so man years ago.

 

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I find the whole Christmas aspect of this episode, and the question of whether or not this was supposed to have aired months ago very odd. But, putting that aside, this is one of the best episodes of the show I’ve seen in a long time. It may be because I’m going through some stuff with my own dog, who we adopted after becoming a stray following what appears to be a considerable amount of abuse, but this episode absolutely wrecked me. It’s emotional, but not in a manipulative way. It hearkens back to the very first episode of the show, and just really pulls off a beautiful story. Seeing the family just be absolutely gutted by Santa’s Little Helper’s trauma, unable to communicate with him and fix it, is just really affecting, and so well done. The episode has its fair share of jokes, and whatever the hell was going on between Cate Blanchett and Michael York’s characters, but this just generally is a somewhat low-key and sad episode. But, seeing Santa’s Little Helper reunited with his mother, and having some of his repressed issues confronted and perhaps partially healed, was one of the more wonderful moments this show has given in recent memory. This was a rocky season, but it really ended on the highest note it possibly could have.

 

“The Way of the Dog” was written by Carolyn Omine and directed by Matthew Faughnan, 2020.

 

 

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