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Recap / The Simpsons S1 E5 "Bart the General"

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Original air date: 2/4/1990

Production code: 7G05

After Nelson steals cupcakes Lisa made for her teacher, Bart decides to stand up for her and ends up getting bullied by Nelson. After taking advice from Marge and Homer, Bart visits Grampa Simpson and a one-armed, mentally unstable military antique store owner named Herman and the three plan an all-out war against Nelson and his cronies.


This episode contains examples of:

  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: The episode ends with Bart telling the audience that war isn't cool or glamorous, unless it's The American Revolutionary War, World War II, or the Star Wars trilogynote .
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "You can push them out of a plane, you can march them off a cliff, you can send them off to die on some godforsaken rock, but for some reason you can't slap them."
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  • Art Evolution: Whereas the previous four episodes (in production order) were all over the place in terms of animation quality, by this point the animators were evidently starting to get the feel for the series, resulting in this being the first episode that really resembles the more familiar animation style employed by the series.
  • Artistic License – History: Herman draws up a declaration of war, using one from the Franco-Prussian War and crossing out "Otto von Bismarck" and replacing it with "Bart Simpson". It was actually France who declared war on Prussia, though as Grandpa points out, Herman is completely out of his mind.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Bart has been insulting Lisa all morning. Upon getting to school, one of Nelson's cronies takes a batch of muffins Lisa had baked earlier. That's all it takes for Bart to attack the crony and he winds up punching Nelson in the face and is challenged to fight. It's the first sign in the series that Bart isn't a total jerk towards his sister.
  • Brick Joke:
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    • In "Homer's Odyssey," Mrs. Krabappel tells her class about the boy who stuck his arm out the window of a school bus and had a passing truck rip it off. Then in this episode, we learn that Herman was that boy, when he reveals to Bart how he lost his arm.
    • While giving Bart tips on how to fight Nelson, Homer advises him to go for the "family jewels". Later on when Abe is typing his letter to the TV advertisers, he lists "family jewels" as one of the words he never wants to hear on TV again.
  • The Bully: Nelson. Natch.
  • Bully Brutality: The whole dilemma of the story: Nelson's brutality growing to the point Bart fears he will be killed someday.
  • Bully Turned Buddy: The end of the episode starts Nelson's path to being this to Bart, as they sign an armistice agreement and even toast each other with Marge's cupcakes.
  • Butt-Monkey: Bart. Milhouse also can't catch a break in the training sequence.
  • Challenging the Bully: Bart defends Lisa from Nelson, and gets beat up for his efforts. This leads to a final confrontation between the two, which becomes a pastiche of WWII movies.
  • Characterization Marches On: Nelson was a truly feared bully in this early episode. With this, his first defeat, he began to be less and less threatening. Other bully characters like Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney were more likely to play the role of a bully strong enough to threaten someone like Bart while Nelson became more of a parody of bully clichés.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Homer says that Simpsons have to fight dirty to overcome their physical shortcomings. Even that didn't work for Bart.
  • Crazy Is Cool: Invoked by Grampa in regards to Herman.
    Bart: Psst, Grampa, I think this guy's a little nuts.
    Grampa: Oh yeah? Well General George S. Patton was a little nuts and this guy is completely out of his mind. We can't fail!
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Bart's two onscreen "fights" with Nelson go like this; the first time, it's a straight-up No-Holds-Barred Beatdown as Bart doesn't do anything to defend himself. The second time, after Homer gives him fighting tips for a better advantage, Nelson is unaffected and easily holds Bart off before attacking him again.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Nelson agrees to recognize "Bart's right to exist."
  • Disproportionate Retribution: For giving a swipe on the nose that causes light bleeding, Nelson gives Bart a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, and continues the treatment every single day afterwards.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The whole episode is a set-up for Bart doing this to Nelson... alongside every kid that Nelson has bullied.
  • Early Installment Character-Design Difference: Janey Powell was introduced here with a completely different design, and isn't even black. Unless this is a different Janey...
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Nelson has a more common Evil Laugh than his famous "Haw! Haw!". He also had two kids called "The Weasels" as his sidekicks; later episodes would have Nelson either bullying alone or bullying with Dolph, Jimbo, and Kearney.
      • According to the season 25 episode "Winter of His Content", the Weasels moved to Shelbyville Elementary, which is why they haven't been seen in ages.
    • Grampa was more of a bitter and deceptively wily old man rather than a forgetful loser like in most later episodes. That being said, he does display enough Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass qualities in later seasons that his behavior here just comes across as him being in a situation which plays to his strengths, instead of seeming entirely out of character.
    • Jasper is more a Sitcom Arch-Nemesis to Grampa, used to exemplify his theories of bullying, compared to being his Blue Oni companion in most later episodes.
    • A smaller one: the Kwik-E-Mart being spelled "Quick-E-Mart" (though that could be a mistake made by the animators).
    • Lisa claims to like Ms. Hoover, enough that she'll make cupcakes for her. This is hard to reconcile with the inattentive Ms. Hoover we know today, whom Lisa thinks little of. Ms. Hoover is also called Mrs. Hoover.
    • This is one of three episodes from Season 1 to have no Couch Gag. The opening sequence ends at the establishing shot of Springfield Elementary, fading right to the Simpsons' house. (This unusual way of shortening the opening sequence would only be used for Season 1, and was replaced with various condensed versions of the opening from midway through the second season.)
    • Herman, while still shown to be Axe-Crazy when he mutilates the dummy, is otherwise Affably Evil and helpful to the Simpson family in getting to stop Nelson from bullying Bart, and is even shown enjoying cupcakes with them at the very end. This is a stark contrast to the dangerous Faux Affably Evil criminal who's played seriously that he becomes in later seasons.
    • The end credits run over a shot of the Simpsons' house; whilst many later episodes would experiment with nonstandard credits, this is the only one to just have a still frame and no other changes. This appears to be related to the decision to put an advert break between Act 3 and the end credits, meaning some sort of content was felt to be needed to justify the credits' isolation.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": During a scene where Bart envisions his own funeral, Milhouse cheerfully expresses his pleasure that he got the day off from school and Homer cheerfully expresses his pleasure at getting a day off — until Marge sets him straight. Later, as Bart's classmates are tearfully filing past his casket to say their goodbyes, Nelson punches Bart's corpse as a parting shot.
  • Groin Attack: Or as Homer calls it, "the Family Jewels." He suggests Bart give Nelson this when he fights. note .
  • A Handful for an Eye: Homer suggests for Bart to throw a handful of mud into Nelson's eyes. It just made Nelson angrier when Bart tried it.
  • Handicapped Badass: Herman has been missing an arm ever since a stupid accident he had when riding the school bus as a kid.note  He's still grown up to be a tough guy with his own weapons store.
  • Imagine Spot: Prior to their first fight, Bart pictures himself trying to run from Nelson, trying to ward him off with every method in his arsenal, but Nelson is unfazed and grows into a giant ... before grabbing Bart, growling "Lunchtime!" and swallowing him whole. Later, Bart imagines his own funeral, his friends, teachers and family tearfully saying their goodbyes before Nelson punches Bart's corpse.
  • Improvised Imprisonment: After being defeated, Nelson is tied up with rope and brought to Bart. Bart, figuring that Nelson "learned his lesson", starts to untie Nelson until Nelson taunts him by saying that the second Bart unties him, he will get beaten to death. Bart suddenly realizes that Nelson has a point: taking Nelson captive was just meant to be a short-term solution to humiliate the bully, and Bart had no plan in place for what to do after that. Fortunately, Herman, the man who had been instructing Bart, had prepared a plan just for this occasion.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Somewhat literally as Bart and Grampa discuss Herman as a military strategist.
    Bart: Hey, Grampa, I think this guy's a little nuts.
    Grampa: Oh, yeah? Gen. George S. Patton was "a little nuts," and this guy's completely out of his mind. We can't lose!
  • Just Following Orders: This is what Nelson's lackeys claim when they surrender.
  • Last Disrespects: Bart imagines his funeral after being killed by Nelson, who takes a cupcake left in the casket by Lisa and resumes beating up Bart's corpse one last time.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When Grandpa is typing out words he never wants to hear on TV again, one of them is "Family Jewels" - which was used just a few minutes prior.
  • Literal-Minded: Nelson orders Bart to "put 'em up", as in to prepare himself to fight. Bart just raises his hands in the air, enabling Nelson to deck him in the face several times.
  • Loophole Abuse: After Bart's army celebrates Nelson's defeat, Bart assumes Nelson learned his lesson and goes to untie him. However, Nelson tells him that the second Bart unties him he's gonna beat Bart to a pulp. Bart then threatens to not untie him, to which Nelson points out Bart has to do it eventually, as doing otherwise would be illegally detaining him against his will. Ultimately, Herman solves the dilemma by drawing up a treaty that states Bart won't get beaten up anymore, but Nelson retains his position as school bully, which both of them agree to and sign.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Taking payback on a bully by throwing water balloons at him until he calls it quits... played like a war movie (including Shell-Shocked Veteran kids, boot camp, shots of the desolate and soaking wet "battlefield" and kisses on the mouth during the victory celebration).
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Nelson, in Bart's Imagine Spot. In fact, all of Bart's weapons have the reverse effect; instead of hurting Nelson, the knives, guns, arrows, etc. only make Nelson angrier ... and much larger.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Herman's voice is based upon then-President George H. W. Bush.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Because he stood up for his sister when one of Nelson's cronies had completely destroyed her box of cupcakes, Bart is soon apprehended by Nelson himself, who is accidentally punched in the nose, causing the bully to beat the living tar out of Bart before stuffing him inside the trash can. This goes on for about three days.
  • Nobody Likes a Tattletale: Homer is horrified when Marge says Bart should go to the Principal about being bullied by Nelson because he'd be violating the "Code of the Schoolyard," the first rule of which is, "Don't tattle."
  • Not His Blood: Discussed but subverted. Bart gets into a fight with Nelson.
    Franklin: Nelson, y-you're bleeding.
    Nelson: Naw, happens all the time, somebody else's blood splatters on me. [realizes his nose is bleeding] Hey, wait a minute... you're right! [to Bart, threateningly] You made me bleed my own blood.
  • Pummeling the Corpse: One of Bart's nightmares is that Nelson won't just apply Bully Brutality on him until he dies, but that he will beat up his corpse on the funeral parlor.
  • Rambling Old Man Monologue: Abe Simpson types up a very long letter on an old fashioned typewriter regarding the portrayal of the elderly on television.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Grampa Simpson. He goes above and beyond to protect his oldest grandchild while at the same time he also disciplines him for slapping another boy for being afraid of a dog and orders him to apologize to him, which he does (and the kid forgives him).
  • Reflexive Response: During the celebration of Nelson's defeat, a random boy grabs Lisa and kisses her, ala the famous photo of a sailor kissing a nurse at the end of World War II. Lisa promptly slaps him. Hard.
  • Shout-Out: To the majority of war films.
    • Some music was directly lifted from Patton. As Fox owned the rights to the soundtrack, there were no issues in using the music. There is also a spoof of the famous scene where Patton slaps a soldier for crying, though it's deconstructed when Grandpa points out that officers aren't allowed to physically strike people under their command.
    • The marching sequence is from Full Metal Jacket, as are several shots of Bart's platoon training.
    • A random kid kisses Lisa at the end of the "war," referencing The VJ Day Kiss, the famous photo of a sailor newly returned from World War II kissing a nurse in the middle of Times Square.
    • A shot of the kids charging with a fallen helmet in the foreground references The Longest Day.
    • In the public service announcement at the end, Bart mentions the Star Wars trilogy as one of the only good wars ever fought (along with the American Revolutionary War and World War II).
  • Skewed Priorities: Discussed for laughs by Grandpa after Bart slaps a soldier of his army (in a Shout-Out to Patton, also pretty much the beginning of the end of Patton's career, at least in the movie). As he mentions, a Drill Sergeant Nasty can do many things to make a soldier's life hell, but for some reason hitting them is a gigantic no-no.
  • Training Montage: Of Bart training his army for their battle against Nelson.
  • Water Guns and Balloons: The episode culminates in an all-water balloon Patton parody.
  • You and What Army?:
    Bart: Nelson, I'm afraid I'm going to have to teach you a lesson.
    Nelson: Oh yeah? You and what army?
    Bart: This one. [his water-balloon-armed troops emerge from their hiding place] COMMENCE SATURATION BOMBING!

 
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