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Recap / The Simpsons S3 E2 "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington"

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Original air date: 9/26/1991

Production code: 8F01

Lisa becomes a finalist in a patriotic essay contest and travels to Washington, D.C., only to have her faith in the American way shattered when she witnesses a congressman taking a bribe and planning to destroy a forest.


  • Accidental Misnaming: One of the pieces of junk mail Homer receives at the beginning of the episode has the headline "Here's Some Good News For Homer Simpsoy".
    Homer: (scoffs as he tosses it in the trash) I'll make sure he gets it!
  • Allegory:
    • When Lisa wants to write an essay, she says: "America, inspire me!", whereupon a bald eagle lands on a tree branch and spreads his wings. This pose is a reference to the Great Seal of the United States, complete with arrows in its left claw.
    • After witnessing corruption, Lisa watches a group of politicians near the Capitol and imagines them as fat cats scratching each other's backs and filthy pigs who are fed money from a trough by Uncle Sam and wipe their mouths with the American flag.
  • American Eagle: Lisa enters an essay writing contest with a theme of patriotism. She cycles into Springfield forest and declares "OK America, inspire me!" and an eagle lands on a tree branch in front of her and spreads its wings, prompting her to write a brilliant essay that wins the first round of the competition.
  • Animation Bump: When Lisa is imagining the District of Columbia as a rotten wasteland filled with symbolic pigs, the animation is given much more detail.
  • Artistic License – Law: The episode shows President Bush signing the bill to expel Congressman Bob Arnold from the House of Representatives. Expulsion of a congressman only requires an investigation and a 2/3rds majority vote in the House, not the signature of the President.
  • Bait-and-Switch: George (H.W) Bush does this with a diplomat when he receives the bill to expel Bob Arnold, he at first seems to imply that he's working for hidden manipulators, before revealing that his "bosses" are in fact his voter base.
    George Bush: Okay, this should make my bosses very happy.
    Diplomat: Your bosses?
    George Bush: Yep. All 250 million of them.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: At first, Bob Arnold seems like a decent guy, as evidenced by Moe and Barney's opinion of him, and even Lisa's.
  • Bland-Name Product: The Reading Digest magazine Homer is reading is a stand-in for the for the real magazine Reader's Digest.
  • Break the Cutie: After Lisa sees how Bob Arnold really was, she tearfully ripped up the original speech she was preparing to give that was inspired from him.
  • Broken Pedestal: Lisa looked up to Bob Arnold, hoping that she could vote for him once she's old enough.
  • Comically Missing the Point: The Simpsons arrive at the airport where they see a chauffeur holding a sign that reads: "Simpson". Homer then says: "Look, Marge, that guy has the same last name we do!" and hails a taxi instead.
    • Doubly so for Bart, considering that in "The Crepes of Wrath" he is greeted in France by the same method.
  • Corrupt Politician: Bob Arnold. He takes a bribe to demolish the forest that inspired Lisa's essay, and is willing to allow oil drilling on Teddy Roosevelt's head. Though that second one was a sting operation to have him arrested.
  • Couch Gag: The family sits on the couch, and Homer pulls out Santa's Little Helper from underneath him.
  • Democracy Is Flawed: The ultimate message of the episode. While America's political and economic system is ripe with corrupt officials willing to take advantage of its freedoms for personal gain, justice will ultimately prevail as long as people stay vigilant and expose them.
  • Did You Die?: Homer reads the family a tale of wilderness survival.
    Homer: "Then I heard the sound that all Arctic explorers dread: the pitiless bark of the sea lion!" [gasp] He'll be killed!
    Marge: Homer, he obviously got out alive if he wrote the article.
    Homer: Don't be so... [flips page] Oh, you're right.
  • Dude Where Is My Respect: When Lisa tries to ask Thomas Jefferson's monument for advice, Jefferson feels angry because, compared to Lincoln, nobody visits him. Then, in a Sarcasm Mode rant, he starts naming all the so-called "unimportant things" he did for the United States.
    Thomas Jefferson: No one ever comes to see me. I don't blame them. I never did anything important! Just the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, the dumbwaiter...!
  • Eagle Land: Zigzagged. The members of government can be corrupt, but Lisa's essay, even though it causes her to lose a contest, is what ends up exposing Arnold, showing that people can bring down corrupt forces.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: According to a newspaper, Bob Arnold becomes a born-again Christian after his conviction. (This is a fairly obvious Take That! at the many Real Life criminals who claim to find religion in an attempt to win sympathy, and perhaps a reduced sentence.)
  • Hidden Depths: Resident bully Nelson Muntz performs an inspiring and heartfelt speech against flag-burning.
  • Humble Hero: The FBI agent performing the sting operation says he's just doing his job.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: The Simpsons pass by the IRS Building in Washington D.C.
    Homer: BOOO!
    IRS Worker (looking out the window): Aw, boo yourself!
  • Ironic Echo: Lisa causes a ruckus in the chamber room for making such an insulting and scandal provoking essay, saying that she was inspired by her corrupt inspiration. Later, Bart slingshots something at an annoying singer who won’t shut up. When Lisa admonishes Bart for this, he claims that her speech inspired him to do that.
  • Kid Has a Point: At one point, Bart orders room service and a massage while hanging out in the hotel. When Homer sees this, he's ready to strangle him until Bart reminds him that it's an all-expenses-paid trip so Homer won't be paying for it. Cut to Homer getting a massage right next to Bart and smoking a cigar as they chuckle in satisfaction.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Lisa writes a second essay exposing Bob Arnold's corruption, which leads to him getting caught in an FBI sting operation, expelled from Congress, and sent to prison.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Homer says: "Oh, Marge, cartoons don't have any deep meaning. They're just stupid drawings that give you a cheap laugh." Then he rises from his chair and reveals his rear cleavage.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": During his tour of the cockpit, Bart presses the button that causes the passengers' oxygen masks to deploy. Homer screams "We're all gonna die!" and every other passenger begins panicking.
  • Monstrous Seal: Homer reads a magazine article that describes the bark of the sea lion as a noise all polar explorers dread.
  • Naked on Arrival: The Simpsons visit the White House, where they see Barbara Bush taking a bath. At first, she is startled, but when she sees they have VIP tourist passes, she sighs and starts guiding them about the room.
  • Not So Above It All: Marge snickers at the phallic shape of the Washington Monument. Homer tells Marge to "grow up".
  • Oh, Crap!: A Senator's aide was at the essay contest and informs his boss of what Lisa said about Bob Arnold.
    Aide: A little girl is losing faith in democracy!
    Senator: Good Lord!
  • Pet the Dog: Granted it's not on his dime, but Bart still makes sure to leave the man who did his laundry a generous tip.
  • Pop-Culture Pun Episode Title: The title is a reference to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Bart is continually annoyed by the pianist at the essay contest. In the final scene, he can't take it anymore and knocks him out with his slingshot.
  • Rushmore Refacement: The fake lobbyist tricks Bob Arnold with a proposal to replace a President's head with an oil derrick.
  • Shattering the Illusion: Lisa arrives in Washington to show off her patriotic pride with an essay, but loses faith in the American way when she witnesses a senator taking a bribe. Poor girl.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Simpsons stay in the Watergate Hotel and visit the IRS Building, the National Air and Space Museum, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Capitol and the (fictional) Winifred Beecher Howe Memorial.
    • Ted Kennedy can be seen at the contest.
    • The satirical pianist is a spoof of Mark Russell.
    • Reading Digest is similar to the real life Reader's Digest.
  • Skewed Priorities: As the House Speaker announces the House bill for expulsion of Bob Arnold for his exposed corruption, one uses the opportunity to get a pay raise to enrich themselves and is met with unanimous moral anger as a Take That!.
    Representative: Mr. Speaker, I'm all for the bill, but shouldn't we tack on a pay raise for ourselves?
    All: NO!!
  • Spoof Aesop: The lesson Bart takes from Lisa's speech is to stand up for what he believes in. Of course, he says that after he beaned the pianist simply for annoying him.
  • Swamps Are Evil: Invoked metaphorically by Lisa in her essay "Cesspool on the Potomac", where — after witnessing the corruption in the U.S. Senate — she compares the stink of the swamp Washington D.C. was built on with the stink of corruption that fills it now.
    "The city of Washington was built on a stagnant swamp some 200 years ago and very little has changed. It stank then and it stinks now."
  • Swapped Roles: The Washington Monument scene, where Marge makes the immature observation and Homer reprimands it.
    Homer: Oh, Marge, grow up.
  • Take That!: Lisa visits the Thomas Jefferson monument. In an (imaginary) conversation, the statue rants about how the Lincoln Memorial is constantly crowded, and about how people care more about Lincoln than about him.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • After one of the judges suspects Homer of helping Lisa with her essay, she asks him if he's interested in politics or anything for that matter. After Homer shrugs it off with the words "I don't know", the judge asks him to touch his nose with his eyes closed, which Homer fails to do. Twice! (Before speaking to Homer, the judge suspected he had been giving Lisa help. After speaking to Homer, she considered giving Lisa extra points for doing so well despite him.)
    • Homer thought he received a million dollar check prize in the mail and took it to the bank. The clerk tells him it's not valid:
      Homer: Oh yeah? Well, what makes you so damn sure?
      Clerk: See where it says "Void void void" and "This is not a check"? "Cash value, 1/20th of a cent", "Mr. Banker, do not honor"...
      Homer: [Dejected] Shut up.
  • Vacation Episode: The Simpsons travel to Washington D.C.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The plot is similar to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with Lisa being a patriotic idealist as she enters Washington, becoming disillusioned when she witnesses the corruption there. Just like Mr. Smith, she goes to the Lincoln Memorial to ask him for advice and then uses her talents to criticize the system, which does result in the arrest of the corrupt people she witnessed.


OK America, inspire me!

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