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Recap / The Simpsons S1 E3 "Homer's Odyssey"

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Original air date: 1/21/1990

Production code: 7G03

After an incident at the Nuclear Power Plant, Homer is fired from his job as technical supervisor. Unable to provide for his family without a job and reduced to stealing from his son to buy beer, he runs away to kill himself — until a near accident gives him a new lease on life as a local safety advocate.

In case that description didn't tip you off, Early-Installment Weirdness is here in spades, and that's not even getting into the shockingly dark and somber mood.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: All Ms. Krabappel does in response to Bart's warning about Wendell's impending motion sickness is threaten to punish him for making noise.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Burns has a picture in his office of himself riding a green horse.
  • Characterization Marches On:
    • Homer gets fired from his job for crashing a forklift, and goes into such a deep depression at losing the identity of household breadwinner that he actually attempts suicide so he wouldn't feel like a failure around his wife and children. At the end of the episode, he becomes the power plant's safety inspector because he's very concerned that the plant isn't being run safely and wants to make a difference. In later episodes, his on-the-job negligence is legendary, with him personally committing safety violations that would not only get him canned, but probably sent to prison for a long time, if the show cared about realism. He would regularly be sacked for gross incompetence and show little-to-no concern, or casually ditch work for the sake of whatever zany adventure he's going on in the episode. Also, even though his title of safety inspector continues to be mentioned, his job rarely seems to involve any safety inspecting. Homer does acknowledge here that he's not really qualified for the job as he caused more accidents than any other employee before he was fired, and accepted it mainly to provide for his family (with Burns having only offered him the job in the first place to shut down his protests), but even that kind of realization would be beyond the Captain Oblivious we see in later episodes.
    • In one point, Lisa actually enjoys Bart's prank call on Moe during the middle of the episode, as she is seen laughing alongside him. Later episodes would have her more fed up on Bart's pranks and even chiding him for it on certain occasions.
  • Class Trip: The plot is kicked off when Bart's class takes a trip to the nuclear power plant, and Homer loses his job trying to show-boat for his son.
  • Comically Missing the Point: A suicidal Homer still bothers to dodge a car and yell back at them for nearly running him over.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Subverted. Bart's punishment for talking on the bus is singing "The Ballad of John Henry". It's meant to humiliate him, but he actually enjoys it. He does it so enthusiastically that Mrs. Krabappel has to tell him to stop.
  • Couch Gag: The family sits, but the couch falls apart, leaving them on the floor.
  • Darkest Hour: After he smashes Bart's piggy bank for beer money, a tearful Homer writes the family a farewell note with the intention of committing suicide by tying one end of a rope around his waist and the other end around a large boulder and jumping off a bridge.
  • Deranged Animation: Due to the show still figuring out its look. Check out some of the weird background characters in the crowd when Homer is giving his speech at the power plant (which is currently on the front page of this episode's page). Particularly eye catching is the guy with a bulging head and the left half of his face and mouth jutting out to the side. And the guy who seems to be wearing a bright red bandit mask (most likely intended to be sunglasses) for some reason. Also, see the guy in the "El Barto" scene with the spiky hair and slack jawed look. Matt Groening eventually made it a rule that background characters shouldn't be strange looking or distract from the action in the scene.
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: Variation: When Homer decides to lug the giant boulder all the way to the bridge, he noticeably struggles with carrying it the whole way. The second he sees that his family is about to get run over, he runs so fast to move them out of the way, the boulder is flung around like it's a balloon.
  • Driven to Suicide: Homer runs away to kill himself after being unable to find a job and resorting to stealing money from his own son to get a beer (and there wasn't even enough money, not even close).
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Blinky the three-eyed fish, who played a greater role in "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish", first appears as a throwaway gag.
  • Early Installment Character-Design Difference: Smithers is black in this episode due to a coloring mistake that couldn't be fixed. The animators wanted to keep him that way, but saw that a black man being hired as a servile assistant to his white boss wouldn't go over well with American audiences, so they made sure that Smithers was yellow (which is Caucasian in the Simpson world) so this mistake wouldn't happen again. Smithers' skin color was hand-waved by saying he was really tan from being on vacation.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • In later episodes, Homer's supervisor is someone else completely.
    • The episode's tone is much darker than the following seasons: for one, Homer attempts suicide and it's Played for Drama, while a later episode such as "No Loan Again, Naturally" would have it Played for Laughs.
    • Homer gets promoted to nuclear safety inspector in this episode from a lower position, while later episodes would have Homer being the safety inspector from the start.
    • Homer treats losing his job as his Darkest Hour and it's what causes him to attempt suicide. Later episodes would almost always have it Played for Laughs and usually as an excuse for a New Job Episode. He also cares a lot about the town's public safety, which, suffice to say, is not a trait that is carried forward.
    • The tire yard makes a brief cameo, but it is just shown to be a big pile that is not on fire.
    • In his suicide note, Homer counsels his family with "the words my father gave me: 'Stand tall, have courage and never give up.'" The show would go on to establish that Abe never encouraged Homer in any way throughout his life and, in fact, actively discouraged him at every possible opportunity, accounting for many of Homer's problems.
  • Firing Day: Homer gets fired from the power plant and, after failing to find another job, his life goes into a downward spiral. After attempting suicide, he soon decides to become a safety advocate.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Once Homer approaches the bridge, he almost gets hit by a speeding car. This exact same issue befalling his family is what winds up saving his life.
  • The Freelance Shame Squad: An elderly couple pose as a particularly sociopathic example, heckling Homer as he walks off to kill himself.
    Old Man: He might just be taking his boulder for a walk. *cackles*
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Bart's report card reads, U, F, U, F, U, Dnote 
  • Heroic BSoD: Homer's depression at being fired leaves him lethargic, expressionless, and unresponsive. When he finds that his family had a cake with encouraging words that they were planning to surprise him with, he brushes it aside in his search for a beer.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Bart refers to Homer as a hero for wanting to take on the power plant, but he refuses to admit he actually said it.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Homer's suicide note had a "Don't give up" message.
  • Impairment Shot: There is a point-of-view shot of the kids looking down at an exhausted Homer. Maggie pokes at his eyes and the image is doubled for a moment.
  • Insult Backfire:
    Sherri: Hey Bart! Our dad says your dad is incompetent.
    Bart: What does incompetent mean?
    Terri: It means he spends more time yacking and scarfing down donuts than doing his job.
  • Interrupted Suicide: The family manage to find Homer just as he's about to jump off a bridge.
  • Intoxication Ensues: "Beer. Now there's a temporary solution."
  • Karma Houdini: Sherri and Terri, who provoke Bart to get him punished for the fun of it.
  • Like Father, Like Daughters: Homer's supervisor is implied to tear into Homer on a regular basis, and then coldly fires him in front of his son, before saying hi to his girls Sherri and Terri, who have been harassing Bart throughout the trip.
  • Limited Animation: Done deliberately for the Smilin' Joe Fission cartoon shown at the power plant.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title is one to The Odyssey, by Homer.
  • Montage: Homer getting doors closed on him, including his own home. Bart actually slammed the door on him, telling him not to give up.
  • Mood Whiplash: As Homer has finally dragged the boulder all the way to the bridge so he can end his life, and the family has found his suicide note, the tone is somber... until Homer finds a boulder already at the bridge, rendering all that heavy lifting pointless.
    Homer: (upon discovering a boulder already at the bridge) Well, live and learn.
  • My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad: Homer's immediate supervisor at the plant is Sherri and Terri's father, and they make a point of telling Bart how little he thinks of Homer's work ethic and abilities.
  • Noodle Incident
    Mrs. Krabappel: Now class, I don't want this field trip to be a repeat of our infamous visit to the Springfield State Prison. So I want you all to be on your best behavior, especially you, Bart Simpson.
    Bart: Mrs. Krabappel, I didn't unlock that door.
  • Papa Wolf: Seeing an oncoming vehicle, Homer races into the street to push Marge and the kids to safety.
  • Rays from Heaven: When Homer realizes that someone needs to put a stop sign at the intersection, giving him a new purpose in life.
  • Rock Bottom: After a string of failed job interviews and other misfortunes, a depressed Homer could really use a beer, but he can't afford another at Moe's and can't find any in the house. He resorts to robbing his own son; he reflects on how low he's sunk... and how he did it all for nowhere near enough money to buy a beer.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Homer has inner conflict when he's offered the job of safety inspector and is told by Mr. Burns to tell his supporters that the nuclear plant is safe.
    Mr. Burns: You mean you're willing to give up a good job and a raise, just for your principles?
    Homer: ...When you put it like that, it does seem a little far-fetched.
  • Special Guest: Sam McMurray as the Worker Drone.
  • Skewed Priorities:
  • "Take That!" Kiss: After Mrs. Krabappel says she'll punish Bart if he makes one more sound, Sherri and Terri vow that they're going to get Bart in trouble. They do so by kissing him on the cheeks, causing him to scream out and he is given the Cool and Unusual Punishment as noted above.
  • Unbuilt Trope: This episode marks the first time Homer would be laid off from his job. But instead, we see a man forced into the pain of unemployment.
  • Unexpectedly Dark Episode: Homer attempts to commit suicide because he feels that he's failed his family by not finding a job after getting fired (for the first time). Outside of two elderly neighbors cracking a joke about Homer "...taking his rock out for a walk," the situation is not Played for Laughs. Thankfully, he doesn't do it and instead decides to become a safety advocate after saving his family from being run over on a dangerous street, but it's still rather shocking.
  • Unishment: Bart is being disruptive during a field trip and Mrs. Krabappel punishes him by making him sing "John Henry Was a Steel-Drivin' Man" in front of everyone on the bus. This is intended to humiliate him, but he sings with great enthusiasm and obviously enjoys it, to the point that Mrs. Krabappel has to yell at him three times before he reluctantly stops the song.
  • The Unseen: The driver who nearly runs over Marge and the kids is never shown through the windshield of their car, nor do they actually stop after just missing them, instead just driving on.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Bart saying hi to Homer caused him to lose concentration at his job, leading to the crash, his firing, and his suicidal depression. Of course, Bart wasn't expecting that to happen on his end given to his worried look at Homer after the latter is fired.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Wendell, who makes it all the way to the power plant, but then vomits when Bart good-naturedly slaps his back.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: This is the one and only time when we see Sherri and Terri's father besides background cameos. Being established as one of few authorities at Springfield Nuclear Power Plant with a zero tolerance for incompetence, who knows what his response was to Homer getting Kicked Upstairs only shortly after firing him.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: The Springfield Shopper repeatedly headlines Homer's safety advocating, culminating with, "Enough Already, Homer Simpson!"
  • Your Television Hates You: Homer is watching a channel that explicitly caters to the unemployed, so this was bound to happen. The Duff commercial exactly describes the circumstances (out of work, sober, and hanging around the house all day) that make him so depressed.