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Recap / The Simpsons S6E14 "Bart's Comet"

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Original air date: 2/5/1995 (produced in 1994)

Production code: 2F11

After unleashing an unflattering balloon caricature of Principal Skinner, Bart is forced to help Skinner with his early-morning astronomy... and Bart fooling around with the telescope leads to the discovery of a comet that's on a collision course with Springfield.


Plot Summary

Science Week at Springfield Elementary has its grand finale with the launching of a weather balloon, with Bart being the only one looking forward to it, much to Principal Skinner's befuddlement. Once the balloon is launched, Bart pulls out a string that reveals a drawing of Skinner's face and a sign that reads "Hi! I'm Big Butt Skinner". After unsuccessfully attempting to retrieve it, Skinner encourages the students to bring the balloon down, which leads to the kids hurling rocks at his car. And an attempt by Willie to shoot it ends up being mistaken by a couple of Air Force planes as an attack by an Iraqi jet fighter, which ludicrously ends up with both planes being struck down by their own missiles.

As it's revealed that Bart carried several items pertaining to the balloon in his pocket, including a copyright notice with an alternate name ("Buttzilla"), Skinner punishes him with having to help with his amateur astronomical observations, which begin at 4.30 in the morning. Turns out that Skinner has been hoping to discover a star, coming very close before being beaten to it by another principal. At first, it seems to be a rather repetitive and dreary task, with Skinner observing thru the telescope and Bart annotating, but then Skinner seems to find a star... that turns out to be the weather balloon. As Skinner rushes to take it down, Bart plays around with the telescope, and ends up discovering a comet. Horrified by finding this out, Skinner loses the balloon and also reads that the President doesn't think too highly of school in the morning news.

Bart's feat makes the evening paper, and gets the attention of the school's scientific posse, the "Super Friends", who nickname him "Cosmos". When asking him to invite them to see the comet, Bart tells them, much to their disbelief, that they can see it right away... because it's actually approaching Earth very quickly. As soon as the observatory confirms this, panic spreads, with the town's "doomsday whistle" blaring for the first time in three years, Major Quimby announcing a trip to Springfield... Field, and the projected impact seemingly hitting Moe's Tavern particularly harshly. Fortunately, Professor Frink, with the assistance of some former Carter administration officials and former military men in early retirement, has devised a rocket that will destroy the comet (and presumably Moe's Tavern as well). Anticipation runs high before the rocket not only fails to reach the comet but also destroys the only bridge out of town.

As the comet approaches nearer, people try jumping their cars over the gorge in absence of the destroyed bridge (only to fall to their deaths), the House of Representatives strikes down a proposed bill that would have evacuated the town after one Congressman also proposes funding pornography with the bill, and Kent Brockman gives a list of people who are gay. Homer however thinks the comet will eventually disintegrate into a rock smaller than the head of a Chihuahua puppy. He then remembers the family has a bomb shelter, or more like, Ned Flanders has a bomb shelter. He isn't the only one with that idea, as soon everybody in Springfield demands cover from the comet. Ned obliges, but as the shelter becomes extremely overcrowded, they resolve that someone will have to leave by contemplating their usefulness in the future. As he believes left-handed shops are the one thing that wouldn't be needed in the future, Homer proposes that Ned be kicked out, something he sadly complies with.

The rest of the town tries to kill time, but they nearly kill each other as they can't agree on what animal makes a particular sound. Homer, sick of the fighting, chews the town out for not keeping Ned in resolves to join him for a certain death, being followed by everyone else. They all end up joining Ned by singing "Que Sera, Sera" before being interrupted by the comet crossing the atmosphere, destroying both the "Big Butt Skinner" balloon and the bomb shelter in the process, being ultimately eroded by effect of the town's heavy pollution into a small rock no bigger than a Chihuahua head, just as Homer had eerily predicted. Finally, the townspeople resolve to burn down the observatory so this kind of panic doesn't happen again.


Tropes featured in "Bart's Comet" include:

  • Accidental Hero: Homer votes Ned Flanders out of his own bomb shelter, which then collapses when the comet hits it. If Homer hadn't voted him out, then regretted it and left to find him (with everyone else following suit), they all would have likely died.
  • Achievements in Ignorance: Skinner has been at his astronomy for years, makes very calculated and precise adjustments with his telescope with the hope of finding something interesting, and has ultimately turned up nothing. Bart screws around with the telescope for a few seconds, spins it around haphazardly, and discovers a comet.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 0, as the comet's potential destruction seems to be limited to just Springfield.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
  • Bait-and-Switch: Ned finds all of Springfield right outside his bomb shelter, glaring at him and in some cases carrying weapons. Moe angrily states they want to be in the shelter themselves, but Ned tells them there's no space. So Moe just calmly announces they'll all "go off and die, then," and everyone turns to leave.
  • Big "NO!": Skinner unleashes four of them over the course of the episode.
  • Brick Joke:
    • A running one involving the "Big Butt Skinner" balloon. After Skinner loses it at the end of the first act, it disappears from the plot entirely. Then at the very end, it shows up again just in time to be popped by the now mostly disintegrated comet.
    • A visual one pays off when Homer hypothesizes the atmosphere could disintegrate the comet into pieces no bigger than a chihuahua's head. Come the end, and exactly that happens, complete with a dog to compare sizes with.
  • The Bus Came Back: A rather odd and unexpected example; instead of the Speaker of the House of Representatives being depicted as the person who held that position in real-life at the time (Newt Gingrich), or even a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of him, the prosecuting attorney from Krusty's trial all the way back in "Krusty Gets Busted" suddenly shows up again, occupying the speaker's chair after apparently changing his career from law to politics.note 
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Moe's Tavern doesn't end up doing well on either projected devastation.
    • Nothing goes Skinner's way at the beginning of the episode. First Bart tampers with the weather balloon, turning it into an insulting caricature of him. Then Bart discovers a comet just when Skinner managed to catch the balloon. Then Skinner in his despair lets go of the balloon, losing it again. Then a newspaper shows up with a headline about the President denigrating schools. He reacts to all of these misfortunes with a Big "NO!".
  • Call-Back: Ned's bonding with his fellow Springfielders by singing "Que Sera, Sera" is similar to the ending of "When Flanders Failed", as he sang "Put On A Happy Face" with the customers at his now-successful Leftorium.
  • Closed Circle: All of the drama of the third act involves the fact that (for this episode only) there is only one way to get out of Springfield and that is through the bridge that was accidentally blown up.
  • Colony Drop: The Bart Simpson Comet turns out to be on a direct collision course with Springfield.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • This exchange between Bart and Lisa, when they realise the comet is approaching Springfield:
    Lisa: Don't you realize what's happening, Bart? Your comet is gonna collide with the earth and every living thing in its path will be killed.
    Bart: I knew you'd try to find something wrong with my comet, Lisa. You've always been petty and small, right from the beginning.
    • When the comet burns itself out and the crisis is over, what is the reaction of the townsfolk? To burn down the observatory.
  • Couch Gag: The living room is black and white, and the Simpsons are dancing Rubber-Hose Limbs cartoon characters.
  • The Cover Changes the Gender: Averted. Ned Flanders sings Doris Day's "Que Sera, Sera" without amending "When I was just a little girl...".
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: Early on, Homer shrugs off the comet's perceived threat, claiming that it will burn up in the atmosphere and end up "no bigger than a chihuahua's head." That's exactly what happens, complete with a nearby chihuahua for comparison.
    Bart: What's really amazing is that this is exactly what Dad said would happen.
    Lisa: Yeah, Dad was right.
    Homer: I know, kids... I'm scared too... (the family hugs together, terrified)
  • Decoy Protagonist: The first half of the episode makes it seem like it's about Bart and his discovery of the comet. Once said comet is found to be on a collision course with Springfield, the focus of the episode shifts more to the town as a whole itself, with the Simpsons serving as the main point of view.
  • Democracy Is Bad: The Congress is about to pass a bill on the evacuation of Springfield from the comet, but then the bill has a pornography rider attached to it and is promptly struck down. This leads Kent Brockman to declare: "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work."
  • Description Cut: This scene:
    Homer: It's times like these I wish I were a religious man.
    Reverend Lovejoy: It's all over, people! We don't have a prayer!
  • Didn't Think This Through: This episode offers a five-for-one:
    • When it's announced that a rocket will be used to destroy the comet, everyone decides to stay and watch the event rather than leave just in case something goes wrong.
    • The rocket launched from Fort Springfield misses the mark and takes out the only bridge out of Springfield, seemingly dooming the city
    • There's only one bridge out of Springfield.
    • Rather than face certain death from the comet's collision, several people try their luck with the ruins of the bridge. Arnie Pye even lampshades it by calling it "a silent testament to the never-give-up and never think-things-out spirit of our citizens".
    • Arnie says this while in a helicopter, suggesting that, bridge or no bridge, the people of Springfield could still (a few at a time) fly out of town.
  • Dirty Coward: The whole of Springfield becomes this when they unanimously decide to kick Ned out of his own bomb shelter. At first, not even his wife steps forward for him, but Ned being Ned, he leaves without argument, calmly singing to himself; after trying desperately not to listen, Homer (the one who suggested it) has a Heel Realisation and leaves so Ned doesn't have to face death alone, promptly followed by everyone else.
  • Empathic Environment: As Skinner recounts his story to Bart of how his astronomical discovery was reported by another school principal before him, a large cloud briefly passes over the moon and darkens the night as Skinner proceeds to growl ominously that he 'got back at him, though; him and that little boy of his'. Then the cloud passes and Skinner returns to his previously upbeat, cheerful manner.
  • Epic Fail:
    • A fighter pilot launched a missile that somehow hits his wingman, and another on himself, to say nothing about their targeting computer somehow identifying Willie as an Iraqi fighter jet. The wingman blames it on lack of budget due to the first pilot putting all the money into health care instead of the military.
    • The missile made to intercept the comet not only doesn't hit the comet but it comes crashing down on the only bridge that leads out of town, sealing it off.
    • The endless barrage of people attempting a Ramp Jump to get over the bridge's hole and failing.
    Arnie Pye: It's a silent testament to the "never give up and never think things out" spirit of our citizens.
  • Everybody Hates Mathematics: Principal Skinner tries using this to his advantage:
    Whoever gets that balloon down doesn't have to learn fractions!
  • Everyone Has Standards: Even though he forced Ned out of his own shelter to begin with, Homer ultimately realizes he can't let him die alone and goes to find Ned.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Near the end of the episode, the whole of Springfield decides to sing "Que Sera, Sera" as the comet comes closer towards Springfield, accepting their death. Well, that is, until the comet breaks up that it becomes the size of a chihuahua's head.
  • Failed a Spot Check: A pair of fighter jets somehow mistaken an angry Scotsman for an Iraqi fighter jet.
  • Fallout Shelter Fail: The whole town crowds into Flanders' bunker though Ned states they'll like die of suffocation before the comet hits and there's no food for all of them but he allows it cause Ned just can't refuse to help. Indeed it very comically crowded and filled to the breaking point. Eventually everyone leaves to face their demise together. But luckily the comet burns up in the atmosphere and reduced to a small rock, which bounces off the bunker - causing the whole thing to instantly crumble on impact.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • Kent's "the following people are gay" list consists of Simpsons staff members.
    • When the whole town crowds into Ned's bomb shelter, you can briefly see Waldo the first time everyone is shown crowded in.
  • Gilligan Cut: When the only bridge out of town is blown up:
    Lisa: We're doomed!
    Homer: It's times like this I wish I were a religious man.
    Lovejoy: (running through the streets) It's all over, people! We don't have a prayer! Aaaahh!!!
  • Given Name Reveal: Professor Frink finally has his name revealed during the town hall meeting.
  • Green Aesop: Inverted. The town is saved only because the clouds of pollution high above it thickened the atmosphere to the necessary levels to destroy the comet. Lisa even lampshades this while pointing out that Homer was right in his assumption.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Though Bart—in the right place at the right time while being punished for a prank on Skinner—is the initial discoverer of the comet and wins some local fame for it, the episode actually has little to do with him after the point where everybody realizes that the comet is rapidly bearing down on Springfield. It does wind up taking down the weather balloon he pranked Skinner with, which Skinner had been trying to retrieve for some time, before burning up in the atmosphere.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Downplayed example with Homer. He's the first to exit the bomb shelter since he can't in his good conscience let Ned die alone, but conveniently forgets that he was the one who booted him out in the first place and called him useless.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: When Ned realizes that there's not enough room in the bomb shelter for everyone, he leaves to ensure everyone else can survive despite knowing full-well that the comet will likely kill him. Fortunately, the comet burns up in the atmosphere and he survives.
  • Homage: The final act has several to The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street". There are even stronger parallels to another TZ episode titled "The Shelter". What makes it all the more hilarious is that, unlike in "The Shelter", Flanders did build his bomb shelter with the intention of letting other people in, but Homer wants to kick him out anyway. And unlike in "The Shelter", the rest of the town doesn't try to force their way in, but instead ask and sadly start to leave when Flanders tells them there's no room (only for Flanders to change his mind and let them all in anyway).
  • Hypocrite Has a Point: Homer condemns everyone (including the Flanders family) for Ned having to leave the shelter when it was Homer's own idea to kick him out in the first place. Not that he was wrong in calling everyone out, especially since Ned's own family seemed okay with it.
  • Insane Troll Logic: After the comet fails to hit Springfield and burns up in the polluted atmosphere, Moe blames the observatory for the cause of the approaching comet. "Let's go burn down the observatory so this'll never happen again."
  • Irony:
    • Out of all people in the shelter, the one to leave was Ned Flanders, who built it in the first place.
    • The only thing the comet destroyed was the bomb-shelter that was supposed to protect everybody (it also pops the balloon).
    • Skinner's been trying to find unnamed objects in the sky for years, to no success. Bart looks through the telescope (unsupervised) for all of three seconds and discovers a comet.
    • For all of Lisa's badgering in the past and the future about Springfield's rampant pollution, this time it saved them all. She even points it out.
    • After Bart catches the burnt-up comet and everyone rejoices, Selma comments to Patty that what just happened "sure makes you appreciate the preciousness of life," before they both take big drags on their cigarettes.
  • Jerkass: When Homer demands Ned let his family use the Flanders' bomb shelter, Ned agrees as he built it big enough for both families. Homer tells him no and demands his neighbour's family leave so the Simpsons can have it all to themselves. Marge calls him out on it and forces him to share the shelter with the Flanders.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Hypocrisy or not, Homer is the first one to leave the shelter to look for Ned. Moe shortly follows.
  • Long List: Kent Brockman, when preparing for the end of Springfield thanks to the eponymous comet, presented a very fast scrolling list of People Who Are Gay. Homer hurriedly tries to copy down the list as it scrolls.note 
  • Look Behind You: Database assumes Bart is trying to pull this on the Super Friends, since comets could not be seen in broad daylight and without a telescope, before realizing the comet is approaching Springfield.
    Database: I make it a point never to turn my head unless I expect to see something, Bart.
  • Made of Iron: The fighter jet pilots survive a long fall into some bushes when their parachutes deteriorate mid-flight and are still well enough to immediately beat the the crap out of each other. This is implied to be because of the military putting all of their budget into healthcare.
  • Meta Twist: By this point in the series, Homer Simpson has long since proven himself as a man you would not trust at all when it comes to matters of scientific knowledge (or, heck, any knowledge period), but the climax involves his prediction that years of pollution from the nuclear plant has thickened the atmosphere above Springfield to the point that the comet would tear itself apart from the friction until it was "the size of a chihuahua's head" being completely correct (with a random chihuahua even appearing to provide a comparison). Bart, Lisa and Homer get scared that the latter turned out to be completely right.
  • Mis-blamed: In-universe. When everything is said and done, Moe pins the blame of the comet almost destroying Springfield... on the town's observatory.
  • Model Planning: During the town meeting to discuss how to stop the comet, Professor Frink uses a model of the city of Springfield to illustrate the city's plan to stop the comet by blowing it up with an explosive rocket. Unfortunately, some of the flames from the controlled explosion demonstration wind up falling onto the model's representation of Moe's tavern, setting it ablaze.
    Moe: Oh, dear God, no!
  • Mooning: Bart manages to rig a weather balloon to make it look like a mooning Principal Skinner.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Skinner got even with Principal Kohoutek..."him and that little boy of his."
    • Homer's story of how he drove away from some unnamed crime and missed work.
    • Frink mentions during the Info Dump regarding the missile that the people who helped him design it worked for the Carter administration and resigned for reasons he doesn't thinks are worth talking about at the moment.
    • Apparently, Skinner has previously punished Bart with a caning.
    • When Skinner introduces the weather balloon, he mentions that this was "our most propane-explosion-free science week ever".
  • Odd Name Out: Lisa is the only member of the Super Friends to not have a nickname.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: The people of Springfield rally into a mob and go after the observatory and its personnel because they (or at least Moe, who triggered it) believe destroying it will prevent something like this from ever happening again.
  • Precision Crash: Played for Laughs: Springfield is hit by a comet; fortunately most of it burns up in the atmosphere so only a small rock lands. It scores a direct hit on Ned Flanders' bomb shelter, which everyone had left mere minutes before.
  • Redemption Earns Life: For the entire town of Springfield, it turns out. Their shelter would have entombed them instead, if they chose to stay inside it.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Skinner has apparently once punished Bart with a caning, a possible nod to the Michael Fay incident in 1993, when the teenaged Fay was punished by caning for vandalizing during a trip to Singapore. That incident would provide the parodic basis of "Bart Vs. Australia", which aired two weeks later.
  • Rule of Three: Skinner's Big "NO!" when he finds out Bart discovered a comet, that he just let go of the balloon and read the front page article about how the Prez says school is for losers.
  • Running Gag: The "Big Butt Skinner" balloon keeps popping up throughout the episode after its launch, with its most plot-important scene being when Skinner leaves Bart alone to try to catch it, allowing Bart to discover the comet.
  • Running Gagged: The Skinner balloon is destroyed at the end of the episode by the meteor punching through it.
  • School Is for Losers: Skinner does a Big "NO!" when the newspaper headlines says "PREZ SEZ SCHOOL IS FOR LOSERS".
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
  • Shout-Out:
    • Principal Skinner mentions that a previous astronomical discovery he made was also reported by someone else by the last name "Kohoutek." This is a reference to Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek, who discovered the Comet Kohoutek which was visible to the naked eye in late 1973 and January 1974.note  The comet being predicted to become a meteor heading for Springfield only to burn up in the polluted atmosphere and become the size of a chihuahua's head also seems to reference how early predictions of Comet Kohoutek's brightness suggested that it had the potential to become one of the brightest comets of the 20th century, but ultimately was far dimmer than the projections expected.note 
    • Ned sings "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" while awaiting for the comet. He is then joined by the whole town.
  • Shown Their Work: The numbers that Principal Skinner reads off while observing through the telescope ("6 hours 19 minutes Right ascension, 14 degrees 22 minutes Declination") are actual astronomical coordinates. Principal Skinner is observing in the constellation Orion, just to the east of the star Xi Orionis (about 2/3 of the way between the stars Betelgeuse and Alhena), slowly moving northwards until he reaches 6 hours 19 minutes Right Ascension, 14 degrees 59 minutes Declination, a distance of 37 arcminutes, about the apparent width of the full moon. Bart finds his comet at 4 hours 12 minutes Right Ascension, 8 degrees 7 minutes Declination, in the constellation Taurus, just southwest of the star Mu Tauri.
  • Signs of Disrepair: The only bridge out of Springfield is labeled exactly like that when the camera focuses on it. After the missile blows the bridge to pieces, chunks of the sign are also blown away, leaving behind "BRIDGE OUT".
  • Smart Ball: Homer predicts that a meteor heading for Springfield will probably burn up in the atmosphere until it's the size of a chihuahua's head. At the end of the episode, it gets lampshaded. "Dad was right!" "I know, kids. I'm scared, too." For added hilarity, the meteor even lands right next to a chihuahua for comparison.
  • Storyboarding the Apocalypse: The town hall meeting to discuss the comet and the plan to blow it up with a missile includes showing some slides with crude drawings of what the comet will do to the town. For some reason, the artist felt it necessary to highlight Moe's Bar amongst all of the buildings destroyed by the impact... and make a drawing of the gigantic crater with clearly-labeled charred corpses surrounding it.
    Moe: Oh, dear God, no!
  • Suicidal Overconfidence: The morning after the bridge gets blown away by the missile, multiple Springfield citizens try to jump the massive gorge it was set over to get to the other side and leave town while the news cameras watch on. None of the ones we see try to make it, and yet there is still a large conga line of cars right behind them ready to attempt the jump regardless. Arnie Pye narrates that this is a typical example of Springfield's "never give up and never think things through" spirit.
  • Take That!: The United States Government doesn't come off well in this episode, starting with two jets that are running on Epic Fail Alleged Car levels of inefficiency thanks to government fund cut-offs and later with Congress deciding to leave the entire town to die because some idiot decided it was a perfect thing to attach a pornography rider to the evacuation assistance proposal and thus is promptly struck down. The people who created the Epic Fail of a missile that causes all of the third-act drama are also mentioned by Frink to have worked for the Carter administration and left for undisclosed reasons.
    Kent Brockman, after seeing the live feed from Congress: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work.
  • Tempting Fate: Homer says he's not worried about the chances of the missile failing because they can cross the bridge to leave Springfield if necessary to escape the comet. The missile not only misses the comet but also destroys the bridge.
  • Three Stooges Shout-Out: Skinner shows Bart the star sign of the Three Wise Men. In Bart's imagination he sees the Three Stooges in the sky.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Homer's grudge against Flanders escalates from petty jealousy to trying to leave him for dead to the comet. He at least has the graciousness to regret it afterwards (if in a hypocritical tone in which he blames it on the townspeople).
  • Unreadably Fast Text: Kent Brockman's newscast:
    Kent: Now, over the years, a newsman learns a number of things that for one reason or another, he just cannot report. Doesn't seem to matter now, so... the following people are gay. (Long List scrolls really fast up the screen)
    Marge: (disgusted) Turn it off.
    Homer: (taking notes) Just a second...
  • Wham Line: "You don't need a stupid telescope. It's right there!"
  • What Could Have Been: In-Universe: Bart made two potential signs for his big-butt Skinner weather balloon: "HI! I'M BIG BUTT SKINNER" and "BUTTZILLA". He went with the former, but Skinner finds the latter in his pockets.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The congressman presenting the bill on the evacuation of Springfield from the comet is about to mention the state where the town is when he's interrupted by another congressman attaching a pornography rider to it.
  • Your Television Hates You: Or radio, in this case, when Bart has to wake up at 4:30 am:
    Radio announcer: Top of the hour, time for the news. But of course, there is no news yet. Everyone's still asleep in their comfy, comfy beds. Good night, everybody.
    (Bart groans)

 
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Congress's bill to evacuate Springfield as a comet hurtles towards it is ruined thanks to a random politician attaching a pornography rider to it.

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