Episode - 9F10
First Aired - 1/14/1993
"Marge vs. the Monorail
" is regarded as one of the best episodes and among the most critically acclaimed episodes in The Simpsons
's run. Written by Conan O'Brien
, the show draws a contrast between most of the easily duped residents of Springfield and the more intelligent Marge, who is suspicious that a slick-talking salesman and his visions of a multi-million dollar monorail bringing wealth and dreams to Springfield are not all what they seem.
Mr. Burns is forced by the Environmental Protection Agency to pay a $3 million fine to the City of Springfield for illegal toxic waste dumping, and the residents have to decide what to do with their windfall. Marge wants to use the funds to make repairs to a severely damaged Main Street and it looks to be the one honored, but that's when out-of-towner Lyle Lanley steps in and uses a catchy song-and-dance number
to hornswoggle the town into shelling out for an expensive monorail system instead.
Virtually the entire town is won over by Lanley's charisma and smooth talking personality, particularly Homer, who is especially enthused about becoming a monorail conductor. (The class itself is a joke, with nothing relevant taught about being a conductor.) However, Marge – sensing Lanley's sales pitch is too good to be true – is suspicious and resolves to investigate. She decides to visit Lanley and ask him hard questions, but finds him absent; however, she finds something very
interesting: a notebook detailing Lanley's true plans of running off once the monorail is christened, leaving them to deal with what he knows is a faulty system and the possible consequences. Remembering that Lanley had mentioned that nearby North Haverbrook had also purchased one of his monorails, she decides to visit the town to see how, or if, life has gotten any better with them having a monorail.
Of course, life not only hasn't improved in North Haverbrook, but just the opposite. She learns that the monorail had gone severely out of control on its maiden voyage and, upon crashing, heavily damaged the city (and, although unstated, left hundreds of people dead). Deep in debt (and perhaps in deep grief), the surviving residents moved en masse from the town, leaving only a few residents who are in deep denial that they ever agreed to purchase a monorail – this despite the fact that the town is covered in advertisements for it. Eventually, Marge meets Sebastian Cobb, the man who designed Lanley's monorail for North Haverbrook, and he is more than willing to talk. He explains that Lanley – whom he describes as a liar who has total disregard for others' safety, much less their lives – cut costs everywhere when building the monorail and that the whole thing is a scam
, and that the authorities are trying to arrest Lanley for fraud. Marge realizes she has to stop the opening-day ceremony before the monorail is started.
However, it is too late. A huge ceremony with seemingly everyone in Springfield has started, and Leonard Nimoy is the guest of honor. As the ceremony is starting, Lanley decides this is a great time to leave town, grabbing his suitcase and check and sneaking out. He grabs a plane and is set for a life of luxury ... until he realizes the plane needs to make an "unscheduled stop" ... in North Haverbrook. No big de ... Oh Crap
, as he realizes what is about to happen ... as a mob of angry residents immediately confront Lanley and beat him down (before he is presumably arrested and taken into custody); this is the last viewers see of Lanley.
Meanwhile, Marge and Mr. Cobb arrive to try to stop the ceremony and reveal the truth about Lanley, but it is too late, as Homer has already started the monorail. Homer and Bart (who has joined him) are having a good ol' time behind the controls ... until the brake malfunctions. When Homer tries to make a hasty repair, the control module immediately falls apart, and soon the monorail accelerates dangerously out of control, putting hundreds of lives in extreme danger and no way to cut power to the system. Cobb eventually is able to communicate to Homer that he needs to find a makeshift anchor to stop the train. Taking the M from the side of the train, Homer attaches it to an anchor and latches it to a giant doughnut sign, stopping the monorail and saving its passengers.
This episode contains examples of (YMMV tropes can be found here):
- As Himself: Leonard Nimoy
- Adam Westing: Leonard Nimoy.
- Affably Evil: Lyle Lanley.
- Alliterative Name: Lyle Lanley.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Lanley's cost cutting measures on the North Haverbrook monorail:
Cobb: He cut corners everywhere: bad wiring, faulty brakes, and the celebrity on the maiden voyage was Gallagher.
- Big "NO!" / Little "No": A rare example of these tropes being used in unison, when Lyle Lanley learns his non-stop flight to Tahiti is about to make an unscheduled stop over in North Haverbrook:
"North Haverbrook"? Now where have I heard that name before? [Realizes] Oh no. OH NO!
- But Now I Must Go: Parodied, after the monorail crisis is resolved:
Leonard Nimoy: Well, my work here is done.
Barney: Whaddaya mean? You didn't do nothing.
] Didn't I? [beams away.
- Captain Ersatz: Lyle Lanley is one of Harold Hill, the protagonist of The Music Man — but Hill's phony promises of a spectacular marching band didn't put innocent lives at risk, whereas Lanley is heartlessly aware of the carnage his old, poorly-made monorails will wreak (to the point of being outright smug about it if his artistic nature is anything to judge by).
- Convenient Eclipse: "The cosmic ballet...goes on." Too bad it only lasts a couple of minutes.
- Crowd Song: "The Monorail Song".
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Homer saving the monorail passengers by creating an anchor with a giant advertisement donut ("is there anything they can't do"), making him the best mono-thingy guy there ever was.
- Cut the Juice: Two guys discuss the out-of-control monorail:
Guy 1: I got it! We can just shut off the power!
Guy 2: No such luck. It's solar-powered.
Guy 1: Solar power. When will people learn!?
- Dawson Casting: Spoofed with the star of Springfield Heights 90210, Kyle Darren, who Kent Brockman mentions is actually 35 years old. He then displays his extremely wrinkly smile.
- Eye Beams: A squirrel mutated by the toxic waste stored in its tree has these.
- Ghost Town: After she becomes suspicious of Lyle Lanley, Marge goes to North Haverbrook, the town he sold a monorail to before Springfield. She finds the town nearly deserted after their monorail crashed on its maiden voyage.
- Homage: The opening scenes have Homer, who's just getting off of work, doing his own version of the opening credits and theme song from The Flintstones.
Simpson, Homer Simpson!
He's the greatest guy in history!
From the town of Springfield
He's about to hit a chestnut tree! Aaaah! (crash)
- I Love Nuclear Power: Mr. Burns stores nine drums of nuclear waste in a single tree, causing some of the tree's branches to turn into purple tentacles and a squirrel inhabiting it to gain Eye Beams and a long prehensile tongue, both of which it uses to its ecological advantage.
- Idiot Ball: Virtually the entire town, who falls hook, line and sinker for Lanley's pitch for a monorail – which is why he is easily able to get away with his scheme to sell what turns out to be shoddy and ultimately worthless; note they make an agreement with virtually no specifics given about the monorail or its benefits. Also helping Lanley's case: He implies that arch-rival town Shelbyville is strongly considering buying one of his monorails — perhaps not mentioning (indeed, it never comes up) that he was likely kicked out of a Shelbyville meeting when he had gone there previously to make his sales pitch and warned never to return.
- Also, Lanley himself when he finds Marge in his office snooping around his paperwork … instead of detaining her (because he would now realize she knows he's a shyster and a fraud, and keeping her silent would have allowed him to continue with his fraud), he lets her leave.
- Add to that, the discriminating evidence Marge found was sadistic doodles of him laughing at the "suckers" he conned meeting their deaths in his shoddy monorail. He left this rather clear and evident Villain Ball just lying around in his office.
- Ignored Epiphany: After the near miss with the monorail, the town makes it the last folly they made...except for the popsicle-stick skyscraper ... and the giant magnifying glass ... and the escalator to nowhere.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Lanley got one when the plane he was in landed in North Haverbrook.
- Meat-O-Vision: Homer is trapped on the out-of-control monorail train and needs to find an anchor. He looks to Bart, and visualizes him as a large ship's anchor. Bart, for understandable reasons, urges him to think harder.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Heavily implied with Lanley after his plane lands in a town he previously conned.
- Noodle Incident: Chief Wiggum has pictures of Mayor Quimby in a compromising position that involves his ass.
- Oh Crap: Lyle Lanley when it was announced he'd have to land in North Haverbrook.
- Sdrawkcab Alias: Mr. Burns attempts to get his money back by disguising himself with a fake mustache at the town meeting and calling himself "Mr. Snrub". Surprisingly, it fails instantly.
- Self-Deprecation: Leonard Nimoy, voicing himself, is portrayed as self-important, annoying, and still clinging to his memories of being Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek.
(After Mayor Quimby uses a Star Wars
reference to introduce him) Do you even know who I am?!?
- Shipped in Shackles: C. Montgomery Burns is given the Hannibal Lecter mask treatment when he is dragged into court.
- Al Jean amusingly notes in the commentary that the engineer was modeled after Max von Sydow, as he once played a man trying in vain to warn a town of an impending disaster...except Jean now can't recall what the movie was called, or even what the disaster was.
- "The Music Man" – Parts of the episode are a tribute to the classic musical, with Lanley patterned after the play's Professor Harold Hill and "The Monorail Song" a spoof of "Trouble."
- The Towering Inferno: Not usually thought of, but the connection is there – a shoddily built skyscraper with the developer making extreme cuts to save money vs. Lanley's discount-model monorail, which is also poorly built thanks to his deep cost-cutting measures. In both cases, thousands of lives are put at risk as disaster strikes (a massive fire that is growing vs. an out-of-control monorail that, if it were to have crashed, would have surely killed many people and caused catastrophic damage).
- The Sociopath: Lanley crosses the line from just apathetically conning people with a dangerous monorail to cruelly gloating about their demise, expressing so through childlike doodles.
- Solar-Powered Magnifying Glass: Marge's closing narration: "And that was the only folly the people of Springfield ever embarked upon... Except for the Popsicle stick skyscraper. And the 50-foot magnifying glass [the sun focused through the magnifying glass sets the Popsicle stick skyscraper on fire]. And that escalator to nowhere."
- Special Guest: Phil Hartman as Lyle Lanley
- Sustained Misunderstanding:
Marge: Homer, there's a man here who thinks he can help you!
Marge: No, he's a scientist.
Homer: Batman's a scientist!?
Marge: It's not Batman!
- Torches and Pitchforks: North Haverbrook has an angry mob ready and eager to take down Lyle at the end.
- Total Eclipse of the Plot: The runaway monorail, which is solar-powered, halts briefly due to a total solar eclipse which nobody realized/remembered was due in Springfield that day — only to start up again as the eclipse passes totality. This is realistically portrayed as taking under a minute (real-life solar eclipses can last any time from an eyeblink to, under the most favorable circumstances, about 7-8 minutes).
- Versus Title: One of many for The Simpsons. Others include "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson," "Bart vs. Thanksgiving," "Homer vs. Patty and Selma," "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy," etc.