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Recap / The Simpsons S2 E7 "Bart vs. Thanksgiving"

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Original air date: 11/22/1990

Production code: 7F07

The definitive Thanksgiving episode—and one of three that The Simpsons has done—is Bart vs. Thanksgiving, where Bart learns the meaning of the holiday, remorse, and forgiveness after getting into a fight with his family and running away from home.

It's Thanksgiving Day, and Homer is watching Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. Lisa is meticulously assembling a centerpiece to place on the family dinner table (with a little help from Maggie), while Marge is busy cooking and preparing for the guests: Patty, Selma, Jacqueline, and Grampa. Bart is basically getting in everyone's way. Patty and Selma arrive with main dishes of their own as an overt critique of Marge's cooking, while their mother snarkily tells Marge she never does anything right.

Later, as the guests assemble at the table, Lisa brings in the centerpiece and proudly shows it off, just as Bart brings in the turkey. When Bart tries to jockey for position in placing the turkey platter, he gets into an argument with Lisa about where her centerpiece should be set, resulting in a fight and, in the middle of the ruckus, the centerpiece lands inside the fireplace and instantly is destroyed in the flames. Lisa is devastated and runs to her room in tears, while Bart refuses to accept responsibility. An angry Marge—with Homer, in a rare move, backing her up—sends Bart to his room without dinner, declaring that "you ruined Thanksgiving!"

Marge tells Bart that if he sincerely apologizes, he will be allowed to dinner, but a stubborn Bart is convinced that he has done nothing wrong and that Lisa was to blame. Scoffing at the directive and thinking he doesn't have to take his punishment, Bart decides he's going to show his family a thing or two by running away. Santa's Little Helper, who had been thrown out of the house for taking Homer's drumstick, decides to join Bart as they wander through town. Bart first stops at a house that happens to be Mr. Burns' mansion, where he tries to swipe a freshly baked pie but is run off by Burns' bloodthirsty hounds. Later, after donating plasma at a local paid-donor blood bank (that happened to be open on Thanksgiving Day) for $12 cash, Bart passes out on the streets in a run-down part of Springfield. When he awakens, he's greeted by two street bums who bring him to a community Thanksgiving dinner for the less fortunate. There, Kent Brockman is preparing to do an insincere, self-serving TV commentary about the holiday and how society treats the poor and needy; during his live commentary, he interviews Bart, who claims he's homeless and "didn't apologize." Homer and Marge see the report and call the police, admitting to officers their fear that they may have been too harsh with Bart.

Meanwhile, Bart and the two homeless urchins begin to have a conversation, where Bart, seeing that his two new friends have no family or anything else, admits he has a family that loves and cares for him, and that he has plenty to be thankful for. He begins to feel remorseful and, after giving his $12 to the bums, decides to go home... dejected but realizing he may have learned something about the meaning of Thanksgiving.

Upon returning home, he starts to go inside but reconsiders after envisioning his family rejecting his apology and blaming him for everything. Instead, he climbs onto the roof to try to sort out his feelings. When he hears Lisa crying in her room and conceding defeat, Bart—perhaps realizing his earlier imagining of how his family would greet him was likely all in his head—invites her to join him on the roof. Lisa says how hurt she feels and that all she wants is for Bart to say he is sorry for the trouble he caused. Bart struggles to keep his bravado up but finally admits he was in the wrong and apologizes, and an overjoyed Lisa accepts. Homer and Marge, overhearing the conversation, are relieved that all is okay between the two, and the Thanksgiving holiday at the Simpsons is saved. The episode ends with the family enjoying leftovers in the kitchen, with Homer thanking God for giving them "one more crack at togetherness."

This episode contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Jacqueline, the mother of Marge, Patty, and Selma. As soon as she arrives, she tells Marge she never does anything right. And when Bart gets sent to his room, she tells Marge that she's sorry she came at all.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • When Bart and Lisa fight over the centerpiece, and then Bart throws said centerpiece into the fire, the adults just sit and watch—with Grampa even getting excited watching it. It isn't until after Lisa runs crying to her room that Marge and Homer come down hard on Bart when it's too late to deescalate the situation.
    • Later on, when Bart doesn't come downstairs, the adults all think that he is still up in his room and just being stubborn. It does not occur to any of them to check on him.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: After the extended family head out, Homer is freaking out over Bart being missing. Marge tries to keep him calm, but what he asks leaves her clutching him and staring off quietly.
    Homer: Marge, are we ever gonna see him again?
  • Awkward Poetry Reading: Lisa channels her anger at Bart into a poem, "Howl of the Unappreciated". She tries to read it to her family, but gets five words in before they notice Bart on a TV broadcast and push her aside indifferently.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: At the end of the episode, when Bart finally apologizes for wrecking Lisa's centerpiece and she happily accepts it. She kisses his cheek and hugs him, and Marge and Homer listen through the vent and remark that they are good parents.
  • Bad Boss: Mr. Burns doesn't offer any of the leftovers from his overly extravagant meal to Smithers or any of his other employees, simply telling the former to throw it all away.
  • Break the Cutie: After Lisa shakes Bart and then is pulled back by her parents while in front of her relatives, she runs up to her room crying. And later, when Marge comes in to check on her, she is despondently playing her saxophone.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: A very rare non-Treehouse example. When watching the Macy's Parade on TV, Homer tells Bart that you can't just introduce flash-in-the-pan cartoon characters willy nilly or you'll turn that parade into a farce. Immediately afterward, a Bart Simpson float can be seen on the TV.
  • Brick Joke: A rather dark one. Homer is shown trying and failing to light the fireplace earlier in the episode. When Lisa's centerpiece ends up thrown into there, it instantly sets the whole thing in flames.
    Abe: Hey, that got her going.
  • Canine Companion: When Bart sneaks out of the house, he lets Santa's Little Helper tag along, sympathizing with him after he gets kicks out for his own misbehavior of snatching Homer's drumstick.
  • Characterization Marches On:
    • While she wasn't exactly the warmest of people in her subsequent appearances (especially towards her son-in-law and for the episodes that she actually appears), here Mrs. Bouvier is a Jerkass towards almost the entire family, even tells her youngest daughter that she never does anything right, compared to the deadpan but somewhat lonely and passive character she is in later episodes.
    • Homer is also downright cordial towards Patty and Selma, even giving them both a kiss on the cheek. For their part, the two sisters are far nastier to Marge's face than usual. While they're not above bullying her, she's usually the only person they tolerate.
  • Chekhov's Gun: At first, Lisa's centerpiece just appears to be part of the montage illustrating the Simpson family's dynamics of preparing for a Thanksgiving dinner with no more importance to the story than Marge cooking the food or Homer watching Macy's parade....but it ends up driving the entire plot of the episode.
  • Copycat Mockery: While driving to go get Abe, Homer imitates Patty and Selma's gruff way of speaking.
  • Couch Gag: Grampa is asleep on the couch until he's startled awake when the family comes in.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Bart is sent up to his room without dinner as punishment for destroying Lisa's centerpiece. He sneaks out of his house and gets a meal at the homeless shelter.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The cops look horrified when they learned Marge told Bart he "ruined Thanksgiving."
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Lisa tells Bart to look deep inside himself and see why he should apologize.
    Bart: Okay, okay. Lookin' for the spot. Still checking. This is so stupid. I'm not gonna find anything. Just because I wrecked something she worked really hard on and I made her cry—uh-oh.
  • Extreme Doormat: When the family comments on Bart's stubbornness, Abe notes that Homer was this growing up. It seems to still be the case.
  • Forgiveness: The major theme of this episode is about Bart learning remorse and what it's like to forgive.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Bart tossing Lisa's centerpiece into the fire was no accident. If one pauses the scene at the right moment, he is seen smiling evilly as it gets thrown into the fire. Of course, there's no way he'd known that would set the fire.
  • From Bad to Worse: Bart's bickering with Lisa about her centerpiece leaving no room for the turkey is childish but not bad. Then he grapples with her over it and tosses it into the fireplace, which could have been an accident or Bart having lost his temper and not thinking things through. Sure, he refuses to apologize, but he's still angry. The moment that pushes things over the edge is when Marge accuses him of ruining Thanksgiving, which is not the case at all.
  • Go to Your Room!: This is essentially what happens to Bart at the end of Act 1. The beginning of Act 2 has Bart feeling unloved and mistreated due to being sent to his room. The shot of Bart stating that he always gets blamed for everything while stewing in anger over what happened prior, sums up the whole notion of what being sent to one's room is all about. In one single shot!
  • Hard Truth Aesop: The episode emphasizes that even if a kid does a terrible thing, the adults in charge will cause more harm if they refuse to act like adults, causing The Chain of Harm. If any of the parents or relatives had broken up the fight between Bart and Lisa, it wouldn't have escalated.
  • Imagine Spot: Bart has one as he's about to return home, thinking the family will blame him for everything if he apologizes.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: When Homer threatens to confiscate the bottle of glue that Bart and Lisa are squabbling over:
    Lisa: Dad, this isn't about glue, it's about territoriality. He only wants the glue because I'm usin' it.
    Bart: Oh, yeah? Prove it.
    Lisa: [handing him the bottle] Here.
    Bart: Hey, man, I don't want your stupid glue!
  • It's All My Fault: Three examples; Bart's entire Imagine Spot consists of his family (and Uncle Sam) blaming him for various things. Then Bart hears Lisa crying in her room telling herself that she can't help but feel responsible for Bart running away. Homer and Marge also feel this way looking back at the nasty things they said.
    Marge: Homer, this is a terrible thing that's happened, but we can't blame ourselves. Children need discipline.
    Homer: We can and we will!
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While Homer and Marge went too far in punishing Bart by declaring that "he ruined Thanksgiving" regretful or not, Bart did throw the centerpiece on purpose and without any remorse, whether or not he intended for it to start the fireplace. Along with that, Marge has to deal with her sisters, her mother, and father-in-law, not to mention the preparation of the feast itself. One's patience can only go so far, especially if one has Bart for a child.
  • Jerkass Realization: This is what finally gets Bart to apologize to Lisa. Though it takes Lisa's badgering for him to finally realize it.
  • Just in Time: Bart escapes from Mr. Burns' attack dogs through the bushes just as they are nearing him.
  • Kick the Dog: There are plenty of moments for each character that darkens their actions.
    • Patty & Selma bring food even though they knew Marge was making dinner and continue to make snide remarks at Marge, Homer and Bart.
    • When Marge is agreeing with Homer about Bart being sent to his room without Thanksgiving dinner, she didn't need to add that he ruined Thanksgiving, but she did.
    • Homer has a literal case when he kicks Santa's Little Helper out of the house for swiping some food.
    • When Bart was interviewed by Kent Brockman, he spitefully taunts his family on live television.
    • After Homer's prayer about his dismay over the fight between Bart and Lisa, Patty then quips after he's finished, "Worst prayer yet."
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Bart and his family inflict this on each other. He destroys the centerpiece in a fit of anger and refuses to apologize, but the adults could have split up the siblings and made room on the table for both the centerpiece and the turkey. Bart is sent to his room after Marge tells him "You ruined Thanksgiving!" and ordered to apologize. He runs away from home, causing the motherload of fear when his family realizes he went to a homeless shelter and then vanished. Bart eventually suffers a Jerkass Realization after he hears Lisa crying and talks to her. It's only when he apologizes to Lisa, that his parents let him come inside without any fuss, that they can finally enjoy dinner in peace. All in all, Lisa is the only innocent party who didn't deserve any of the drama.
  • Legally Dead: Grampa Simpson says the retirement home will declare him dead and collect his insurance money if he's not back by nine o'clock.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Subverted. Abe says that Homer was never stubborn like Bart.
    Abe: He always folded instantly over anything. It was as if he had no will of his own. Isn't that true, Homer?
    Homer: Yes, Dad.
  • Loophole Abuse: Bart is forbidden from taking part in dinner until he apologizes for ruining Thanksgiving. As such, he runs away from home, stumbles across the homeless shelter's Thanksgiving dinner, and is allowed to have some. Or, as Bart puts it when he's featured on Kent Brockman's report on the homeless shelter:
    Bart: [with a plate of food, feeding some to Santa's Little Helper] Ha ha! I didn't apologize!
  • Made Myself Sad: After calling himself the "boy nobody wanted," an excited Bart proceeds to look very downhearted.
  • Mickey Mousing: The Simpsons chant "it's all your fault!" in sync with the "Psycho" Strings during Bart's Nightmare Sequence.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • The family has this when they find out Bart has run away. Homer and Marge in particular feel guilty for what they said to him, and Lisa breaks down in tears thinking she is responsible.
    • Bart starts to feel remorse when he sees that he has more than the homeless men he had Thanksgiving dinner with and decides to go home. He changes his mind when he reaches the house thinking his family would scornfully mock him, but then a talk with Lisa causes him to realize how much he hurt her and he finally apologizes to her.
  • Never My Fault: The driving force of the plot is Bart thinking he shouldn't apologize for what he did. In the end, it is reversed.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Dan Castellaneta's voice for one of the homeless men is an imitation of Bill Murray. Specifically, his Carl Spackler character.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Lisa bemoans how stuff she works so hard on always end up getting destroyed in this family.
    Marge: I've noticed that, too.
  • Oh, Crap!: As far as everyone was concerned, Bart was still in his room, refusing to apologize for the incident at dinner. So naturally, they are shocked to see Bart appear during Kent Brockman's report from the homeless shelter.
  • Ordered Apology: This is the main reason why Bart ran away, seeing himself as a blameless victim.
  • Parting-Words Regret: The last things that Marge says to Bart before he runs away is that he ruined Thanksgiving and he needs to apologize. When Marge recounts this to Lou and Eddie, their shock emphasizes how messed up it was to say that to her own son.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Literally. Bart is unambiguously nice to Santa's Little Helper, letting him tag along after he gets kicked out by Homer and sharing his meal at the homeless shelter with him.
    • Later, after observing the state of the real homeless during the holiday, he offers the twelve bucks he made from his blood donation to the two that befriended him.
    • Both Patty and Selma express concern when Bart doesn't come down to apologize.
  • Platonic Kissing: Lisa, while in the middle of hugging Bart after he feels bad and apologizes, gives him a deep kiss on the cheek.
  • Rage Breaking Point:
    • While it was rather harsh of Marge to tell Bart that he ruined Thanksgiving, Marge was at her wit's end from dealing with her sisters, her mother, and her father-in-law, and the preparation for the feast itself. One can't be too hard on her, especially when her son is Bart.
    • At the same time, however, Marge demanding that Bart apologize for what he did causes Bart to reach his point, prompting him to leave.
  • Recursive Canon: Probably one of the earliest examples of this trope, when Bart and Homer watch the Macy's Parade on TV, a Bart balloon can be seen, referencing the introduction of a real Bart balloon in that year's parade.
    Homer: If you start building a balloon for every flash-in-the-pan cartoon character, you’ll turn the parade into a farce.
  • Rejected Apology: Bart's Imagine Spot where he begs and grovels for forgiveness but everyone mocks him instead as they blame him "for everything."
  • The Runaway: Bart, primarily out of spite, opts to leave home when he is told he can only come back downstairs if he apologizes. Both Homer and Marge are terrified once they realize that Bart ran away from home with Homer himself asking if they will ever see him again.
  • Sarcastic Well Wishing: Marge reams Bart out in this manner when he is sent to his room for throwing Lisa's Thanksgiving centerpiece in the fireplace.
    Marge: I hope you're happy, Bart. You've ruined Thanksgiving!
  • Say My Name: After her centerpiece turns to ash, Lisa screams Bart's name before attacking him.
  • The Scapegoat: Bart imagines that everyone will blame him for everything from Homer being bald to America losing its way on him if he apologizes to Lisa.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Homer was perfectly content to wait until halftime to go get Abe, but then Patty and Selma arrived. He quickly got going at that.
  • Silly Prayer: Between Bart being sent to his room and Lisa crying in her room, the rest of the family tries to soldier on with dinner. Homer says grace, but he ends up getting distracted rambling on about the day's events.
    Homer: And Lord, we're especially thankful for nuclear power, the cleanest, safest energy source there is... except for solar, which is just a pipe dream. Anyway, we'd like to thank you for the occasional moments of peace and love our family's experienced. Well, not today. You saw what happened! Oh, Lord, be honest. Are we the most pathetic family in the universe or what?!
    All: Amen.
    Patty: Worst prayer yet.
  • Sitting on the Roof: Bart and Lisa make up on the roof. Their parents watch from below, through the bathroom window.
  • Special Guest: Greg Berg as Rory (a homeless man at the soup kitchen).
  • Suddenly Speaking: It's only in Bart's Imagine Spot, but Maggie says, "It's your fault I can't talk!".
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Although Bart was able to fool the blood bank into thinking he was 18 (by using Homer's ID) to get $12 and a cookie, since he's only ten, he promptly faints upon leaving. And Santa's Little Helper eats the cookie himself.
  • Tears of Remorse: While writing in her diary about Bart being missing, Lisa ends up blaming herself and starts crying.
  • Thanksgiving Episode: This episode actually aired on the same day as Thanksgiving and centered on a Thanksgiving meal gone bad (as a result of Bart and Lisa's fighting). While many Thanksgiving episodes indeed are about ill-fated dinners, and there are plenty of in-jokes and gags, this episode had actual sentiment and one of its central characters was enlightened about the meaning of the holiday (after he runs into two homeless men who have very little, if anything).
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Mr. Burns, who has a table of food that could feed people for months. He only eats a little of the slice of turkey and orders the rest to be thrown out, as he's waiting for the pumpkin pie.
  • Versus Title: The first Simpsons episode to have "versus" in the title.
  • Was Too Hard on Him: Homer and Marge feel this way when the police interview them about Bart. Lou and Eddie are clearly stunned themselves when Marge says she told Bart he ruined Thanksgiving.
  • Would Hurt a Child: After being notified about Bart's presence by security, Mr. Burns doesn't hesitate to set his vicious attack hounds on the young boy, instead of simply having him escorted off the premises.
  • You Answered Your Own Question:
    Homer: Hello, operator? Give me the number for 911!