Simpsons – S1E9 – Life on the Fast Lane

Excuse me for just one moment.

OH MY GOD A MARGE EPISODE! IT’S LIKE THE PAST LISTENED TO MY BITCHING! WOOOOOOOOO!

That said, damn is this an unflattering episode. It’s one I remember fairly well – in ye olden days of endless Simpson repeats, this one was on quite a bit. It was just as uncomfortable to watch then as it is now. It’s yet another one I thought came later, but I do think I understand why this is the first Marge episode viewers are exposed to. We’ve seen the antics of the rest of the family, especially Homer and Bart. Saying the Simpson life is chaos is being fairly generous. Lisa doesn’t have a choice but to live with it, it’s the life she was born into. Bart’s stuck, and all things considered Homer has it pretty good. That only leaves the question: why does Marge choose to stay amid the maelstrom that is her home life? It’s a good question, and one I’m not entirely certain is answered by today’s episode, but here we go regardless!

The Simpsons, Season One Episode Nine – Life on the Fast Lane.

Sorry Eagles, wrong type of fast lane.

We open with a rare scene of Bart and Lisa working together. The occasion? Breakfast in bed for their mother’s birthday! Naturally, Homer forgot to get her a present and rushes out to find the perfect gift. Unfortunately, with the handicap of being himself, he gets the perfect gift for himself: a shiny new bowling ball, engraved with his name. Enraged by her husband’s unique combination of thoughtlessness and selfishness, Marge resolves to spite him by actually using the ball so he can’t claim it as his own. Her spite-induced plan leads her to Barney’s Bowl-o-Rama, where having never bowled a game in her life, she’s predictably terrible. However, she catches the eye of local bowling instructor and implied womanizer Jaques.

I could have gone with the one where it looks like she's eyeing his package, but his face looks so stupid in those frames.

Jaques woos Marge into pursuing bowling lessons, and suddenly she’s going to the Bowl-o-Rama every night. Student and instructor continue to get closer, as the rest of the family deals with the impending implosion: Homer feels he can only watch silently as his wife slips away from him, while Lisa and Bart work their way through the stages of grief at different speeds (side note – I thought there were five stages of grief? Lisa says there are eight, but maybe she’s referring to different stages. Oh well!). Jaques finally makes his romantic intentions clear, and though the Simpson matriarch is conflicted, she doesn’t exactly shy away. Lessons lead to brunch, and brunch leads to an invitation to his apartment. One dream sequence later, Marge accepts. Homer tries one last time to tell his wife how he feels about her, but all he can muster is a monologue about how she makes fantastic sandwiches. Resigned to his fate, Homer goes to work and at a literal intersection of her life, Marge faces a choice: her husband, or Jaques? One movie parody later (and I’m sorry, I have no idea what flick/famous scene this is parodying), Homer is carrying off Marge with my favorite quote of the episode: “Tell him I’m going to the backseat of my car with the woman I love, and I won’t be back for ten minutes!”

This series is not shy about these two getting their freak on.

I… have mixed feelings about this episode, and I know exactly why. Infidelity is always a very awkward issue for me to approach. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a ‘trigger’ issue – it’s not something I avoid at all costs, and I don’t have some tragic past that deals with it or anything like that – it’s just hard for me to handle. Admittedly I’m better about it than I used to be, and while I don’t think I could ever, ever condone cheating on someone you’re in a relationship with, I can at least understand the emotional reasons that might drive someone to cheat. That said, this episode really rubs me the wrong way, far more than other “Marge/Homer is tempted to cheat on their spouse with another person” episodes we’ll run into (and if I recall, there’s quite a few of them). I get what they were trying to do with this one, but I don’t feel like they really accomplish it. In fact, if anything I think they do some serious damage to Marge’s character. And that makes me sad.

Pictured: Sadness. Also Lenny, a sandwich, and some guy.

For those who remember them, think to two of the most memorable ‘Homer is tempted’ episodes – there’s the one with Lurleen Lumpkin, and the one with his new co-worker who’s essentially a hot female version of Homer. In both of these episodes there’s plenty of sexual tension between Homer and the ladies, but when they actually state their romantic intentions, he runs – sometimes literally. And herein lies my biggest gripe with the episode. Jaques clearly states his romantic intentions to Marge, and she doesn’t run. At all. She accepts his invitation to brunch, and then eagerly accepts his invitation to the apartment. Even if she ultimately doesn’t go, it really does a good job of painting her character as fairly unfaithful, especially in the long run compared to Homer. I get what they were trying to do – they were trying to show that Marge was so upset with her husband that even the incredibly faithful wife was tempted to leave – but the problem is we haven’t had much time to build up just how devoted Marge is to her family. We’ll have plenty of that later, but right now, nine episodes into Season 1, it seems like she’s liable to bail on the family on a moment’s notice.

Later, suckers!

Which brings me to my other big gripe with this episode. I’ve watched it probably dozens of times in my life, and I still don’t entirely get her reasons for going back. On her trip towards the apartment she sees several romantic symbols; a newlywed couple exiting a church, a couple pushing a baby carriage, an old couple walking down the street, even a couple buried together. Then she gets to the fork in the road, and her choice. In theory, I think the signs on the road were supposed to remind her of her love for Homer, as well as their life together and the commitment they made. I get that in theory, but I don’t see it in practice. Her expressions aren’t that telling, and it could have just as easily been representative of a potential new life she could make together with Jaques. I just don’t feel her dilemma gets a well-shown resolution, which really puts a damper on an otherwise emotional reunion with Homer at the end.

"Yeah, I flipped a coin and it came up heads. You got lucky."

But, my complaining aside, it’s not all bad. There’s plenty to like in this episode, I swear! In particular, I like the subplot that shows Bart and Lisa dealing with their parents’ impending split. Lisa, the ever observant one, starts going through it first. Bart is slower to catch up, and when he finally does, Lisa’s too far into grief to give assistance. I know it doesn’t exactly sound like hilarity, but Bart’s reaction to being in denial (“I am not!”) and Lisa’s apathy to his later worry lend some comedic elements to an episode that sorely needed them. They’re dark comedic elements, admittedly, but they’re still present. Beyond that, it also shows (for once) how Homer and Marge’s problems affect their kids, in a time before these problems become so commonplace that you can practically hear the writers saying “Yep, just another Tuesday in the Simpson household!” and the kids hardly seem to care anymore.

"Sorry Bart, I'd love to help you, but I'm mired in Stage Five - self pity."

I guess in the end I’m happy we got a Marge episode at all, even if it’s one that I think hurts her character. Still, it’s not a bad episode, and it has plenty of bright spots within. My mileage clearly varied, but I’d still call this one of the better episodes of Season 1. Thus far, at any rate. Anyway, Happy New Year everyone, and I’ll see you in 2012!

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