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Recap / The Simpsons S4 E17 "Last Exit to Springfield"

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Episode - 9F15
First Aired - 3/11/1993
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In this episode, cited by Entertainment Weekly and several other critics as the series' magnum opus, Homer is unwittingly made the leader of the nuclear plant's labor union so he can fight back against Mr. Burns revoking the workers' dental plan, which Lisa needs for invisible braces.


This episode contains examples of:

  • Accidental Bargaining Skills: Homer is unqualified to lead a union, but events coincide to make him look successful at it. Notable examples include playing hardball with Mr. Burns' offers via needing to go to the bathroom and thinking Burns is hitting on him, and his attempt to quit the job is mistaken as the cue to strike.
  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Mendoza creates "swank", a drug ten times more addictive than marijuana! The hidden joke there being that marijuana is barely addictive in the first place.
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  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Burns' fantasy sequence of him and Smithers running the plant includes them opening crates marked "Robot Workers — 100% Loyal." The scene switches to the robots chasing Burns and Smithers.
  • Anachronism Stew: When Mr. Burns shuts off all the power to the city, one shot of a street shows several people dressed like they're from the 1930s.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Mr. Burns: (Reading the union contract) Benefits? Perks? A green cookie on St. Patrick's Day?
    • After giving Homer a tour of his estate, which includes the world's biggest TV, an aviary filled with vultures that look like him (at least one does), and 1000 monkeys working at 1000 typewriters, Mr. Burns finishes up inside his otherwise ordinary basement.
      Homer: Gee, it's not as nice as the other rooms.
      Mr. Burns: Yes, I really should stop ending the tour with it.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Mr. Burns, twice:
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  • Big Entrance: In the McBain scene that opens the episode, McBain bursts out of an ice sculpture.
    McBain: Ice to see you!
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The McBain movie that begins the episode is filled with violence and blood going everywhere, including at least one on-screen headshot, complete with splatter.
  • Bookcase Passage: Burns uses one to get to his secret control room.
  • Braces of Orthodontic Overkill: The trope was originally called "Lisa Needs Braces" after the set Lisa is forced to wear, instead of the invisible ones they could afford with the dental plan. The dentist warns her not to get them wet, as they predate stainless steel.
  • Bratty Food Demand: Homer explains to Marge and Lisa that he has a dental plan due to a strike he and his fellow employees held in 1988. He's not telling the whole truth; his coworkers were certainly participating in the effort, but Homer was merely pounding on the counter of a nearby food truck chanting "Where's my burrito?!" Instead of a meal, he receives a lasting scar from the shutter door slamming shut on his head.
  • British Teeth: The dentist scares Ralph Wiggum into healthy dental habits by showing him a book called "The Big Book of British Smiles." The book provides the trope image.
  • Broken Record: The "Dental plan! Lisa needs braces!" sequence playing in Homer's head.
  • The Cameo: Dr. Joyce Brothers appears in a single scene as the third member of Kent Brockman's discussion panel. Her only line of dialogue is, "I brought my own mic!"
  • Card-Carrying Villain: The bad guy in the McBain movie ("To human misery!"). Homer reassures Bart there's no one that evil in real life.
  • Comically Cross-Eyed: Principal Skinner tells a pupil, "Uncross those eyes." When the boy answers, "But I can't," he realizes his mistake and says, "Oops, sorry, Quigley!"
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • Homer, for several seconds, is unable to make a link between the proposed disappearance of the dental plan and Lisa's need for braces.
    • Homer again during the scene mentioned in the Innocent Innuendo entry.
    • When Mr. Burns asks Smithers to get him some strikebreakers, "the kind they had in the '30s," he brings actual strikebreakers from the '30s.
  • Constructive Body Disposal: When Mr. Burns asks Smithers where the leader of the union is so they can discuss the new union contract, Smithers mentions that he hasn't been seen since he declared his intent to clean up the union — cue Cutaway Gag of a football player tripping over a body-shaped mound in the end zone of a football stadium.
  • Continuity Nod:
    Mr. Burns: (Watching Homer tear up the contract on a hidden camera) Who is that firebrand, Smithers?
    Mr. Smithers: That's Homer Simpson, sir.
    Mr. Burns: Simpson, eh? New man?
    Mr. Smithers: Actually, sir, he thwarted your campaign for governor, you ran over his son, he saved the plant from meltdown, his wife painted you in the nude...
    Mr. Burns: Doesn't ring a bell.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Mr. Burns. He also serves as trope image.
  • Depraved Dentist: Doctor Wolfe isn't depraved, but he is unflinchingly strict, and torments Ralph with "The Big Book of British Smiles," which reduces poor Ralph to tears. He also knows when someone's lying.
    • Bart invokes this trope to scare some younger kids in the waiting room. He tells them he pulls kids teeth out to sell them and the rattle in spray-paint cans is a kid's tooth.
  • Description Cut:
    • While watching the film at the beginning, Homer tells Bart no one could be as evil as the villain from it. Cut to Mister Burns watching a window washer dangling from a wire and laughing.
    • Later on, the trope is inverted when Homer discusses his work relations with Marge:
      Homer: Guys are always patting my bald head for luck, pinching my belly to hear my girlish laugh.
      Marge: Hmm, that doesn't sound like they like you at all.
      Homer: You know, I think you're right. First thing tomorrow morning, I'm gonna punch Lenny in the back of the head!
      (The next morning, Homer does exactly that.)
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Mr. Burns blacks out the entire city when his employees go on strike.
  • Double Entendre: See Innocent Innuendo. Homer announces that he's not interested in "backdoor shenanigans" as he's convinced that Burns is coming on to him. Burns instead takes it as a sign that Homer is a tough negotiator.
    Homer: Sorry, Mr. Burns, but I don't go in for these backdoor shenanigans. Sure, I'm flattered, maybe even a little curious, but the answer is no!
  • Dramatic Irony: Despite Mr. Burns thinking Homer is immune to bribery, it's heavily implied Homer actually would have accepted the bribe had Burns been more upfront about it instead of merely hinting at it:
    Homer: Hey, what does this job pay?
    Carl: Nothing.
    Homer: D'oh!
    Carl: Unless you're crooked!
    Homer: Woo hoo!
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Homer notes that Mr. Burn's basement looks plain compared to the rest of the house. Burns admits he's right and that he should stop ending the tour there.
  • Epic Fail: After going through all those security doors, the underground control room has a falling apart screen door that leads outside, which was left open and a stray dog came in.
  • Even the Dog Is Ashamed: Santa's Little Helper runs off in fright upon seeing Lisa's braces.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: Homer tells us where he got his scars.
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: The family laughs in the dentist office in response to Lisa's lame pun (see below). Then it turns out they are laughing because the dentist left the laughing gas on.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Mr. Burns cuts the power to the town during a strike, and is shocked that the union doesn't break.
  • Evil Laugh:
    • Mendoza in the Fake Action Prologue, which then fades over to Monty Burns laughing the same way.
    • Later Lisa laughs like this on the dentist chair, parodying the Joker in Batman (1989).
  • Evil Stole My Faith: Parodied. When the school photographer sees Lisa's braces, he goes from being happy-go-lucky to gasping, "There is no God." For extra esteem-shattering points, he encouraged her not to be shy to smile because he assumed it'd be a beautiful one.
  • Failed a Spot Check: How did nobody notice the human-shaped lump on the football pitch?
  • Fantasy Twist: The moment in Mr. Burns' fantasy of how easy it would be for himself and Smithers to run the plant alone when their robot workers attack them.
  • Frank's 2000-Inch TV: Mr Burns owns the largest TV in the free world, which he has in his mansion.
  • Homage: Plenty, including:
    • Hubert Selby Jr.'s novel Last Exit to Brooklyn.
    • Jimmy Hoffa being buried at Giants Stadium.
  • Hesitation Equals Dishonesty: Homer hesitates before telling Mr. Burns he found the bathroom.
  • Idiot Ball: Why, after gunning down all of the members of Mendoza's party (including the waiters and musicians!), does McBain then take a salmon puff from Mendoza?
  • Ignored Expert: The boy in the atom mill who warned about the rise of the workers' union.
    Burns: If only we had listened to that boy, instead of walling him up in the abandoned coke oven.
  • Imagine Spot: "Mmm ... organized crime ..."
  • Inherently Funny Words: Kent Brockman begins his news broadcast by asking if the Power Plant Strike is "argle bargle or foofaraw". While these words may sound silly at first, it turns out these are real words in the dictionary.
    • Argle Bargle means "copious but meaningless talk or writing; nonsense". note 
    • Foofaraw means "a great deal of fuss or attention given to a minor matter". note 
  • Innocent Innuendo:
    • Homer thought Mr. Burns was "coming on to him".
    Mr. Burns: We don't have to be adversaries, Homer. We both want a fair union contract.
    Homer: (thinking) Why is Mr. Burns being so nice to me?
    Mr. Burns: And if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.
    Homer: (thinking) Wait a minute. Is he coming onto me?
    Mr. Burns: I mean, if I should slip something into your pocket, what's the harm?
    Homer: (thinking) My God! He IS coming onto me!
    Mr. Burns: After all, negotiations make strange bedfellows. (Winks with a chuckle)
    (Homer screams in his mind.)
    • Later, Mr. Burns watches Homer apparently exercising (he's not, he's trying to get a Sugar Daddy off his back).
      Mr. Burns: Look at him, strutting about like he's cock of the walk. Well, let me tell you, Homer Simpson is cock of nothing!
      Mr. Smithers: (Who's caught the innuendo) Hrrm.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: A boy at the atom-smashing plant warned Mr. Burns' grandfather that the American workers would one day form their union, get the fair and equitable treatment they deserved, grow corrupt and shiftless, and allow the Japanese to overtake their industry. The elder Burns had a hard time believing it.
    "The Japanese? Those sandal-wearing goldfish tenders? Ta-ha! Bosh, flimshaw!"
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Mr. Burns isn't exactly wrong that some of the provisions in the union contract are ridiculous ("a green cookie on St. Patrick's Day"?).
  • Job-Stealing Robot: Mr. Burns tries to replace his workers with robots. They turn on him.
  • Karma Houdini: The small guy who never plays along with his coworkers and blames the muscular guy sitting next to him, who gets beat up by just about everyone else in the room, while the actual dissenter chuckles to himself. The coworkers are another example because they never receive any sort of punishment for beating up the muscular guy.
  • Kent Brockman News: Averted, for once Brockman's newspiece isn't frivolous, since it's covering the power plant strike. But he does brush off Mr. Burns' ranting about hellish vengeance.
  • Kick the Dog: A literal version when Burns and Smithers head towards the underground control room which gives Springfield its electricity, and find a stray puppy had wandered into the room. Burns says "Oh, for God's sake!", kicks it out of the shack, and slams the door shut.
  • Large Ham:
    • Doctor Wolfe takes his dentistry seriously.
    • Mr. Burns during his "opening tirade" on the news.
    Burns: Ten minutes from now, I will wreak a terrible vengeance upon this city! No-one will be spared! NO-ONE!
  • The Last Title: The name of the episode.
  • Misplaced Retribution: The workers who voted for the strike beat up the guy they believe to be the one who voted against it.
  • Mistaken for Profound: Throughout the episode Burns interprets Homer's idiocy and oafish behaviour as the work of a tough and skilled negotiator. Only right at the end does he realize he was mistaken.
  • Monkeys on a Typewriter: Burns shows Homer a room containing a thousand monkeys chained up to a thousand typewriters. He's hoping that they'll write "the greatest novel known to man". He also appears to have gotten them addicted to nicotine, as one has a cigarette and another is seen with a pipe.
  • Monochrome Past: Burns' flashback to his youth is shown in shades of sepia.
  • Mood Whiplash: The triumphant scene of the strike ending is followed by the power going back on across Springfield... including at the Red Light district and the fake vomit factory. Yay?
  • Mushroom Samba: That's some heavy gas the dentist gives Lisa.
  • National Stereotypes: "The Big Book of British Smiles" mocks the idea that British people have bad teeth.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: For legal reasons, the "Beatles" in the Yellow Submarine parody were drawn so they don't completely resemble John, Paul, George, or Ringo. They look close enough to tell who is supposed to be whom, but different enough to allow plausible deniability should the scene get in any legal trouble. Also, the submarine is purple.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • What exactly happened to the last union representative that wound up with him buried in a football field. It's implied later that his colleagues know exactly what happened to him.
    • Homer keeps asking Lenny to get his Sugar Daddy (the candy, not a rich, old man who dates a young gold-digger) off his back.
  • Oh, Crap!: At the end of Lisa's Mushroom Samba, The Beatles get this when their submarine is about to crash into a drawing of Queen Victoria.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Mr. Burns attempts to bribe Homer, but Homer thinks Mr. Burns wants him sexually. Averted in the Brazilian Portuguese dub, which portrays Homer realizing Mr. Burns wants to bribe him. It actually fits.
  • One-Liner, Name... One-Liner: Burns' line before the flashback to his youth: "Oh-ho, it didn't used to be this way, Smithers. No, it didn't used to be this way at all."
  • On One Condition: Mr. Burns decides to give in to the union's demands and reinstates their dental plan, but on the condition that Homer resigns as union president. Homer is ecstatic.
  • Overly Long Gag:
    • Homer replays Lenny saying "Dental plan!" and Marge saying "Lisa needs braces!" back to back.
    • Grandpa's rambling speech about onions, which drags on for almost a full minute.
  • The Parody
    • Don Fanucci's first appearance in The Godfather Part II (Homer as a mob boss, taking bribes in the form of donuts);
    • Lisa's surreal dream under narcosis is a parody of Yellow Submarine, complete with an appearance by The Beatles.
    • The scene where she checks her reflection in the mirror and laughs demonically is a parody of the Joker looking into a mirror after his facelift in Tim Burton's Batman (1989).
    • The montage Burns and Smithers heading towards the power grid is a parody of Get Smart.
    • Mr. Burns quotes Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick (or Khan Noonien Singh) when he shuts down the power in Springfield.
    • The scene where the power plant workers sing in a big circle, overheard by Mr. Burns, is a parody of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!.
    • The closeup of a bird giving a Burns-like shudder references the infamous loudly-squawking parrot with a transparent eye from Citizen Kane.
  • Potty Emergency: Homer is brought to Mr. Burns's mega-mansion to engage in union negotiations. The negotiations are quickly cut short by Homer's overindulgence in coffee and watermelon and his subsequent need to rush to the nearest bathroom. Unfortunately for Homer, the nearest bathroom is about a hundred doors away and down a long hallway. (Homer does eventually relieve himself, although it is implied that he didn't quite make it to the bathroom.)
  • Proscenium Reveal: The episode opens with a villain revealing a new drug and making a toast "to human misery!" Suddenly, McBain appears and kills the villain's accomplices, only to be gassed by salmon puff. During the Evil Laugh, it is revealed that Bart and Homer are watching a McBain movie.
    Bart: That is one evil dude.
    Homer: It's just a movie, son. There's nobody that evil in real life.
  • Protest Song: A parody of a 30s style union folk song, though the main refrain is good enough to pass for the real thing:
    "So we'll march day and night
    By the big cooling tower
    They have the plant
    But we have the power"
  • Pun:
    • "And that's the tooth!"
    • Also, McBain's Pre Ass Kicking One Liner in the beginning sequence:
      McBain: (Having burst out of an ice sculpture at a supervillain's party) Ice to see you!
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Lisa does this upon seeing her horrific Braces of Orthodontic Overkill when the family has no dental insurance.
  • Rambling Old Man Monologue: Grandpa's favorite tactic in how to break up strikes is to tell stories that don't go anywhere. He then launches straight into the page quote.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Homer as president of the Springfield Power Plant Union. When Burns "pressures" him to resign to have the dental plan reinstated, he is overjoyed.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Homer wants to step down as local union president, but the other members misinterpret his resignation speech as a call to strike action.
  • Riddle for the Ages: How the hell did McBain get inside that ice sculpture?
  • The Runt at the End: That one guy with the Droopy-esque voice who keeps voting "nay" on everything.
    Homer: Who keeps saying that?
    [the crowd parts to show a beefy blonde guy and a little guy]
    Little guy:...It was him. Let's get 'im, fellas. [everyone dogpiles the beefy guy] Heh-heh-heh.
  • "Shaggy Frog" Story: Since the strikebreakers can't bust heads like they used to, their main tactic is to tell pointless, rambling stories, like the time Grandpa took the ferry to Shelbyville...
  • Shout-Out: The fate of the previous union boss ending up buried under a football stadium is a reference to the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. An urban legend says that he was buried underneath Giants Stadium.
  • Skewed Priorities: The power plant workers gave up their dental plan for a free keg of beer. Homer, of all people, has to remind them how important the dental plan is.
  • Slow Electricity: The Big Blackout caused by Burns shutting down the plant is travelling from neighborhood to neighborhood.
  • Stalker Shot: After Homer slowly realizes that he has to pay for Lisa's braces if they give up their dental plan, he rejects the contract and convinces everyone to reject it too. The camera cuts to the keg to reveal the beer tap has a hidden camera inside and Mr. Burns watching them through the monitor.
  • Status Quo Is God: Thanks to recovering the Dental Plan, Lisa's Braces of Orthodontic Overkill are replaced with braces so high quality you can't even see them.
  • Strike Episode: Homer becomes the leader of the power plant's union and leads a strike against Mr. Burns when he revokes their dental plan (because Lisa needs braces).
  • Strong Family Resemblance: During the flashback to Mr. Burns' youth, Burns' grandfather looks just like him. Also, one of the thugs who drags away the young thief is identical to one of the hired goons ("Hired Goons?") from the present.
  • Storyboarding the Apocalypse: The Depraved Dentist laying out Lisa's future without braces.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: Homer has to excuse himself during a union negotiation with Burns to use the bathroom. This leads to an Overly Long Gag of Homer looking through doors to find the bathroom, which cuts back to Burns discussing how the negotiation is going with Smithers. When Homer comes back:
    Mr. Burns: Find the bathroom all right?
    Homer: Uh... yeah.
  • Take That!: One of the pictures in the "Big Book of British Smiles" shows Prince Charles.
  • Tempting Fate: Homer comforts Bart during a McBain movie by pointing out there's no one that evil in real life. Cue Mr. Burns performing an Evil Laugh.
  • Too Dumb to Live: McBain eats a snack offered by the drug dealer he's trying to arrest. It doesn't end well for him.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: In Burns' fantasy sequence, he and Smithers find crates containing 100% loyal robot workers. Suffice to say, the robots turn out to be anything but loyal; they chase Burns and Smithers throughout the plant.
  • Uncatty Resemblance: One of the vultures in Burns' aviary looks (and even sounds) like him.
  • Unishment: Homer resigning as president of his union's chapter in exchange for the dental plan's restoration.
  • Worthy Opponent: Mr. Burns comes to regard Homer as this, as all his attempts to buy off or thwart Homer fail spectacularly. Of course, it's really all because Homer is Too Dumb to Fool.
    Mr. Burns: (As Homer enthuses about the successful conclusion to the strike) Smithers, I'm beginning to think that Homer Simpson was not the brilliant tactician I thought he was.
  • Wretched Hive: Springfield, best exemplified when the power comes back on.

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