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Recap / The Simpsons S3 E19 "Dog of Death"

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Episode - 8F17
First Aired - 3/12/1992
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The Simpsons must make budget cuts in order to pay for Santa's Little Helper's stomach surgery, but Santa's Little Helper runs away after the family expresses resentment for having to give up their favorite things in order to pay for the vet bill. Meanwhile, lottery fever hits Springfield, and local news anchor Kent Brockman hits the jackpot.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Androcles' Lion: In a sense, as Santa's Little Helper snaps out of his attack state once he realizes who he's supposed to (help) attack. In fact, SLH turns on Burns' hounds and changes them instantly from bloodthirsty killers to whimpering, sniveling cowards, literally saving Bart's life.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Santa's Little Helper encounters one while roaming the countryside. The two fight, but it's Santa's Little Helper that wins.
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  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: When Mr. Burns adopts Santa's Little Helper to be part of his pack of attack dogs, he's disappointed to see that he's a very friendly dog. However, after being forced to watch anti dog propaganda, and being punched in the face by Mr. Burns in a training session, Santa's Little Helper does become a vicious attack dog. Luckily his fond memories of playing with Bart keep him from shredding Bart to pieces.
  • Black Comedy Animal Cruelty: The collection of photos that show Homer abusing Santa's Little Helper (Homer kicking SLH and Homer strangling him) and Santa's Little Helper fighting back (SLH biting Homer, SLH burying Homer, and SLH punching him out like a boxer). The closest thing that got to a "normal" pose (that ended up on the poster) was of Homer's strangle pose hands just ducking in the picture as SLH anxiously stands by.
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  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Lisa says "D'oh!" when Miss Hoover assigns the class to write a report on Copernicus, who's covered in the first encyclopedia volume she has to miss out on.
  • Brand X: Encyclopedia Generica.
  • Broke Episode: The family all make sacrifices to pay for Santa's Little Helper's operation. They all end up suffering for it:
    • Homer stops buying beer. He's forced to sing for quarters at Moe's to pay for a drink.
    • Bart gets his hair cut for free at Springfield Barber College. One of the students accidentally shaves his head.
    • Lisa stops buying encyclopedias, and the first volume she misses out on covers the astronomer Copernicus. Miss Hoover then makes the class write a report on Copernicus. Lisa's forced to write her report using a third-rate Copernicus biography she found at the bus station.
    • Maggie's baby clothes need to last a while longer. Her last set immediately falls apart and she has to sleep in a Crown Royal whiskey bag.
    • Marge gives up her weekly lottery ticket. This is the worst one of all, since Marge's numbers win $40,000 the week she stopped buying tickets. The family could have easily paid for Santa's Little Helper's operation without making any sacrifices.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Bart tries to ask if Kent Brockman saw his missing dog, Kent accuses Bart of trying to make him give money for a new dog. Considering that he had been pestered by almost everyone in town ever since he won the lottery, one can understand why Kent assumed that.
  • Come Back, My Pet!: The family realizes that they were wrong in how they treated Santa's Little Helper and send Bart out to get him.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The map of Springfield used to follow Santa's Little Helper's adventures when he runs away includes the "Michael Jackson Expressway;" Mayor Quimby renamed the road that when everyone thought Jackson was coming to town in the Season Three opener "Stark Raving Dad".
      • Since March 2019 in certain countries, the name was blurred out for TV airings in response to the Leaving Neverland documentary, leaving just the world "Expressway".
    • Ned is wearing his Assassins sneakers.
    • One of the books that Homer threw in the fireplace is Fatherhood by Bill Cosby, which he was reading in The Simpsons S3 E9 "Saturdays of Thunder" to be a better parent.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    Homer: I've figured out an alternative to giving up my beer. Basically, we become a family of traveling acrobats!
    Marge: ...I don't think you thought this through.
  • Disney Death: Right before the first Act Break, Abe declares Santa's Little Helper dead. When the show returns from commercials, it turns out not to be the case, and Abe refuses to admit his mistake.
  • Expy: The vet is a parody of Ben Casey.
  • Flashback: Homer suggests that he could perform surgery on the dog, since as he sees it it wouldn't be any different from carving a turkey. We then go to a flashback to a previous meal as Homer proves no expert with an electric carving knife...
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Homer is hanging up the posters, you can see one of the Principal Skinner "Have you seen my body?" posters from "Bart The Murderer".
  • Gave Up Too Soon: Marge chooses to forego her weekly lottery ticket as part of a family-wide effort to save money needed to afford the dog's operation. The following week, the numbers she always picks end up winning the $40k jackpot.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: After Bart learns they can't afford the operation to save Santa's Little Helper:
    Marge: Bart, I know you're upset.
    Bart: Darn right I'm upset!
    Marge: (Strictly) Bart! Watch your language! (Realizes) Oh, you did. Sorry.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Mr. Burns wanted Santa's Little Helper to be a vicious attack dog and ended up being one person the dog attacked. Considering he was wearing protective gear at the time, however, it was likely he anticipated this.
  • Homage: Santa's Little Helper gets programmed into a killer in the same way that Alex was programmed not to kill in A Clockwork Orange. The montage (which features violence against dogs and things dogs hate, like cats and Lyndon Johnson holding his dog by the ears) even features Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" as the soundtrack.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Homer blows off his kids planning to give their lottery money to the poor or put it in the bank as them not knowing how to spend money, then fantasizes about becoming the biggest man in the world and covered in gold.
  • Incompetent Guard Animal: While usually subverted with Mr Burns' terrifying hounds, here we see The Runt at the End, Crippler. As Burns laments, Crippler was once as vicious a beast as all his other dogs, but having been around since Woodstock, time hasn't been kind to him.
    Burn: I remember when he bagged his first hippy. He didn't think it was so "groovy".
  • If I Were a Rich Man: Homer's Imagine Spot of him becoming a gold-plated demigod.
  • It's All My Fault: Bart really blames himself for making Santa's Little Helper run away.
  • Kick the Dog: In this episode, Burns not only tortures an actual dog to make him a killer, he sends him and the whole rest of the pack after a 10-year-old boy. However, Burns fails to count on SLH's instinct buried deep within him, denying him the satanic satisfaction of watching a young boy being mauled to death.
    • To pay for the operation, the family makes various cuts, including Homer giving up beers, Marge not partaking in her group's lottery ticket, Bart starts getting discount haircuts, and Lisa can no longer get encyclopedia volumes. Santa's Little Helper is saved, but the family is quickly grousing about the things they had to give up and shun the dog.
  • The Ludovico Technique: Burns brainwashes Santa's Little Helper into being a vicious, soulless killer.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Santa's Little Helper can be seen sickly limping and falling down in the background multiple times while the story is still focused on the lottery.
  • Moral Myopia: Despite an early scene in the first act plot having Burns regard dogs with utter distain, the second act plot is revolved around him considering his guard dogs a valuable commodity, even reacting wistfully towards one nearing the end of it's life.
  • My New Gift Is Lame: When Kent Brockman is reporting on the $250 million lottery jackpot he mentions that the schools would get a cut of the ticket sale profits, and Principal Skinner is making plans to upgrade the school by updating the curriculum and where students would be held in placde with magnets. After Brockman brags to the audience that he won't quit a good paying job just because he won the lottery, he reports on the ceremony where an official gives Skinner his school's share of the profits: one brand new chalkboard eraser. Just as Skinner goes on a rant that the government screwed him over again, the transmission cuts back to Brockman in the studio.
  • Near-Death Experience: Santa's Little Helper has one during his operation, proving that there is a Doggie Heaven (despite Homer's claim otherwise later in the episode).
  • The Pearly Gates: While Santa's Little Helper is undergoing surgery, he sees the Pearly Gates and runs toward a doggy door that's built into it. However, he's pulled away once the operation's over and he's saved from death.
  • Pet the Dog: Mr. Burns, of all people, gets one reminiscing about his favourite attack dog, the elderly Crippler.
    Burns: I remember the day he bagged his first hippie.
  • The Power of Love: How Bart gets through to the brainwashed Santa's Little Helper. Bart saying he loves him causes SLH to remember all the good times they had and snap out of it.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The story is loosely based in writer John Swartzwelder's experiences with his own dog, which had also suffered from bloat. However, unlike the events in the episode, Swartzwelder's dog did not receive treatment as the operation was too expensive and the dog was too old, so it was euthanized.
  • Running Gag: Homer tossing a book in the fireplace when he realizes that it's useless.
  • Shout-Out:
    • People buy/check out from the library copies of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, thinking it's a how-to guide to winning the lottery, when really it's a short story about conformity gone mad.
    • Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit451 also lies in the fireplace.
    • While Santa's Little Helper strolls in the forest, music from Peter and the Wolf can be heard.
    • Among the violent films Santa's Little Helper sees are the Hindenburg disaster and President Lyndon Johnson yanking a dog's ears (as he used to do in real life).
      • Santa's Little Helper is forced to watch the anti-dog propaganda film while his eyes are clamped open, and strapped to a chair, much like how Alex de Large was forced to undergo the Ludovico Procedure in A Clockwork Orange.
  • Special Guest: Frank Welker as Santa's Little Helper
  • Truth in Television: Santa's Little Helper's diagnosis of bloat is a health risk for large dog breeds in real life, including greyhounds.
  • Those Two Guys: The two barflies who teases Homer for making a fool of himself dancing for spare change.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Mr. Burns. Unsurprising, really.
    Smither: I hate to interrupt your longevity treatment, sir, but there's a sweet little boy at the door.
    Burns: [without opening his eyes] Release the hounds!
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