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Recap / The Simpsons S 8 E 21 The Old Man And The Lisa

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"I call it the "Burns Omni-Net.' It sweeps the sea clean."
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Original air date: 4F17

Production code: 4/20/1997

While Lisa champions a recycling program, Mr. Burns discovers that he's lost his fortune (and was never told this before because his accountants are sycophants/afraid of Mr. Burns' wrath) and now must live like a common man. With Lisa's help, Mr. Burns devises a plan to regain his fortune.


This episode contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Dedicated Worker: Smithers continues doting over Burns even after he is fired and replaced by Lenny.
  • Affably Evil: Mr. Burns is genuinely polite and fair to Lisa throughout the entire episode, and was going to give her twelve million dollars before she turned it down.
  • Alcohol Hic: Homer lets one out after going through many cans of beer to help Lisa recycle.
    Homer: That's about all the recycling... HIC ... I can handle today.
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  • All for Nothing: Despite all the recycling the Junior Achievers' Club does, they only earn a check for 75 cents (which wouldn't even cover the gas for the drive to the store for the bundling twine) and must cancel their field trip to Albany (with Principal Skinner even saying they wouldn't do any more recycling). Even worse, when Lisa points out that they had collected enough paper to save a whole tree, a few seconds later, an angry Skinner accidentally knocks a tree down while leaving the recycling center.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Kent Brockman is clearly delighted to report on Burns' downfall and even Marge gets in some wisecracks at his expense while watching the newscast.
  • As Himself: Bret Hart buys Burns Manor.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment:
    • This line, from Skinner:
      Skinner: What a load of garbage... I'm ecstatic!
    • Mr. Burns' "inspirational" speech to the elementary school students:
      Burns: I'll keep it short and sweet. Family, religion, friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business!
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  • Beyond the Impossible: After Lisa turns down Burns' offer, Homer suffers four simultaneous heart attacks (and a fifth one after Lisa tells Homer that 10% of $120,000,000 isn't $12,000...note ).
  • Born in the Wrong Century: The inciting incident of the episode is that most of Burns's stock turns out to be in pre-Great Depression industries that are now defunct (if not even older, like Confederate Slaveholdings). He digs himself deeper by investing most of what's left into similarly stagnant branches like US Hay or a spats company.
  • Broke Episode: Mr. Burns gets this after he discovers his stocks are all hopelessly out of date. Given that, as a rule, Status Quo Is God in Springfield, he works his way back up to a nine-figure net worth by the end of the episode by picking up recyclable litter.
  • By "No", I Mean "Yes": A newly poor Mr. Burns doesn't realize how low most Springfielders' opinion of him is.
    Burns: [Chuckles] Oh, my, no. I'm Monty Burns.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The plastic six-pack holders. In the beginning of the episode, Lisa is lecturing the family about recycling and comments how the rings need to be cut up so animals don't get snagged in them. Later when she's cleaning the beach with Mr. Burns, she shows Burns a fish caught in another discarded six-pack holder. Finally, at Burns' new recycling plant; he mentions how Lisa's teachings inspired him to build a giant fishing net out of six-pack holders to catch thousands of fish to turn into his slurry.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
  • Continuity Nod:
    • When Lisa and Mr. Burns are arguing about recycling and the topic segues to how wealthy Burns is, Lisa produces a copy of Burns' autobiography (Will There Ever Be a Rainbow?) from "Blood Feud", where Homer makes Bart donate blood to save Mr. Burns' life under the impression that they will be given money.
    • Also, Burns knows it was Maggie who shot him but still doesn't know Homer's name. Kent Brockman also mentions the time Burns blocked out the sun on his newscast, along with the events of "Bart Gets Hit By a Car."
  • Contrived Coincidence: Mr. Burns ends up at the Springfield Retirement Center around the same time that Lisa shows up looking for things to recycle.
  • Couch Gag: The couch is a giant Whack-A-Mole game with the Simpsons as the moles.
  • Creepy Child: Upon seeing Mr. Burns again, Maggie makes a gun shape with her finger and cocks it at him, to his discomfort.
  • Distant Reaction Shot: When Homer ends up in the hospital after Lisa turned down Burns' offer, he bemoans the loss of what he thinks is $12,000. Lisa then began to clarify to him how much she actually gave up, very reluctantly;note  cut to the hallway with an alarm going off about a "Code Blue".note 
  • Downer Ending: Burns's experience does not make him become a better person, and he recovers his plant and fortune; and Lisa tears up a check worth 12 million dollars (in 1997's money), which could have done so much good to the world (and to undo some of the damage Burns did with the recycling plant). To top it, Homer gets 4 heart attacks at the same time (and almost dies at the end). And because of negative continuity, people do not keep recycling.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: After learning about recycling from Lisa, Mr. Burns takes it to its extreme by recycling living sea creatures into a multipurpose slurry. He doesn't understand why Lisa is horrified by this, since, as he sees it, he is giving people what they need without wasting a single sea creature.
    Lisa: Ah! You haven't changed at all. You're still evil, and when you're trying to be good, you're even more evil!
  • Exact Words: When Burns asks his advisors how his investment in Confederated Slave Holdings is doing, one of them hesitantly says that it's "steady."
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The twelve million dollar check Mr. Burns hands to Lisa at the end of the episode reads "4/27/97", while the episode aired on April 20th, maybe implying that the events depicted lasted only a week.
  • Flowers for Algernon Syndrome: Subverted. When Mr. Burns becomes completely broke, Lisa, who sees good in everyone, tries to help the evil old miser earn a honest living while at the same time teaching him how to be good by helping others. He admittingly realizes how good it feels to help and wants to help others as much as possible, but even then his "helping" is still evil. He creates an industrial paste to feed the homeless, as well as many other positive uses, except it's made from thousands of sea creatures as his new invention basically sweeps the entire ocean floor clean.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Mr. Burns becomes a nervous wreck when trying to choose ketchup or catsup. As Burns is looking at the grocery list, you'll see that Smithers wrote "catsup", after all.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Lisa teaches Burns to recycle. And boy, does he...
  • Grand Finale: In the DVD Commentary,invoked the writers and producers joked that they could have ended the series with this episode, since the ending implied that Homer died of a massive heart attack.
  • Hated by All: Burns, per usual, by all Springfield residents not named Waylon Smithers; Barney outright asks him if he's "that guy everybody hates." Lisa takes a chance on his ability to improve anyway and bitterly regrets it.
  • Hero with an F in Good: Mr. Burns unsuccessfully tries to be good. He tries his hand at recycling, and ends up using the plastic he recycled to overfish the nearby sea.
  • Honest Advisor: Burns recruits Lisa since an honest voice can help him more than the yes-men who bankrupted him.
  • Honor Before Reason: Lisa refuses to accept the check from Mr. Burns because it was gained though immoral means, even though she could have easily donated her sharenote  to charity or anything else that would have helped make up for how it was obtained.
    • Marge as well, since she says Lisa made the right decision.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: The grocery store workers are surprised by Burns struggling to choose between ketchup and catsup, thinking he's shocked from being bankrupted.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Marge chastises Lisa for gloating, only to do so when Homer agrees with her.
    • The New-Age Retro Hippie at the recycling center says Burns is "living in the past" for referencing a Pink Floyd song and should "contemporize".
  • Invisible Subtle Difference: When Marge tries to recycle, she gets it wrong:
    Lisa: Mom, Mom! You're mixing polyethylene with polyurethane.
    Homer: [Aghast] Marge!
  • The Joy of X: The episode's title uses "The Old Man and the X" pattern.
  • A Lesson Learned Too Well: Mr. Burns goes bankrupt, Lisa helps him rebuild his empire, on the condition that he do responsible things, like recycling. Mr. Burns ends up creating a device that completely strips the marine ecosystem to create a new product. "It's made from 100% recycled animals!"
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title is a reference to The Old Man and the Sea.
  • Musical Gag: The That Girl sequence ends with the Simpsons' doorbell ringing the melody's last two notes.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Lisa upon realizing what Lil' Lisa's slurry is made of, and that she was the one who inspired it.
  • Never My Fault: Twofold with Mr. Burns. When he finds out that he's broke, he blames his "yes-men" for being too gutless to tell him that he was losing money. They most likely didn't tell him because giving Burns any sort of bad news (especially when it involves money) ends with the bearer of bad news having the hounds released on them. He also blames Waylon Smithers for not warning him about The Great Depression, despite Smithers not being born until decades after.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lisa's efforts to teach Burns about recycling backfire to environmentally devastating levels when, having learned from her that fish can get caught in soda can rings, he uses a giant net made of them to trawl the ocean for marine life which he then grinds to slurry and sells.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The voice of the hippie was based on Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.
  • Noodle Incident: It's implied that Lenny, who replaced Mr. Burns at the head of the plant, was every bit as ruthless as his predecessor, if not more so. When Smithers visits the Simpson house with Burns, he is surprised to see Homer at home:
    Smithers: Simpson! What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be at work?
    Homer: I made a bad mistake and Lenny sent me home to think about what I did, but I don't remember what it was, so I'm watching TV.
    Smithers: Well, Lenny's reign of terror is over. Mr. Burns bought back the plant this morning.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Lisa, the environmentalist, actually tries to stop the people of Springfield from recycling after realizing Mr. Burns' true colors.
  • Paper Destruction of Anger: Lisa coldly tears the check from Mr. Burns in half because the money was made immorally and destroyed a chunk of sea life.
  • Pet the Dog: Burns fully pays Lisa her share of the profits after she helps him regain his fortune.
  • Riches to Rags: Mr. Burns, thanks to listening to spineless yes-men. Lisa helps him become wealthy again.
  • Rule of Three: Burns names "family, religion, [and] friendship" as "the three evils you must slay if you wish to succeed in business" in his speech to the Springfield Elementary Junior Achievers' Club.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Mr. Burns enlists Lisa to help him regain his lost wealth. She inspires him to build a recycling plant, but on discovering that he uses it to kill vast amounts of sea life, she rejects her share of the money. Which is twelve million dollars.
  • Shout-Out:
  • So Proud of You: Marge thinks that Lisa did the right thing by turning down Burns' offer. Homer, not so much.
  • Spoof Aesop:
    Homer: Well, Lisa, I hope you learned your lesson. "Never help anyone."
  • Straw Nihilist: Bart, on recycling:
    Bart: Ah, recycling is useless, Lis. Once the sun burns out, this planet is doomed. You're just making sure we spend our last days using inferior products.
  • Stupid Good: Mr. Burns loses his fortune and befriends Lisa, who encourages him to be more eco-friendly. He somehow warps this into making a gigantic net that dredges the ocean for fish, then grinds them into a slurry, which makes him rich again. Burns offers Lisa a 10% of the profits ($12 million total) as his way of saying thanks, and she tears the check up because it's "the right thing to do". The idea that she could have donated the money to actual environmentally-friendly charities never seemed to enter her head; she just wrote it off as "blood money" and dismissed it as inherently dirty.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: At first, it seems Mr. Burns has become a Benevolent Boss and in this episode seems more ignorant than actively malicious. However, we soon see the full extent of his recycling program...
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Played for Laughs as Lenny is placed in charge of the nuclear plant after the bank forecloses on Burns. Whilst the viewer only sees a nervous Lenny use the P.A. system to encourage the employees to work harder and Homer’s admission that Lenny sent him home to think about a mistake he made, Smithers paints a picture of Lenny as a stickler for the rules and even describes Lenny’s tenure as a reign of terror.
  • Undying Loyalty: Smithers continues caring for Burns even upon his bankruptcy. He even lets him live in his house.
  • Unishment: Lenny is temporarily put in charge of the nuclear plant. Homer makes a bad mistake and Lenny sends him home to think about what he did. He soon forgets what it was and spends the rest of the day watching TV.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Mr. Burns goes grocery shopping but because of how sheltered his life has been, is completely out of his depth - which he freely admits when faced with ketchup and catsup.
  • Waxing Lyrical: When Burns makes his first recycling dollar, he tells the hippie, "Shine on, you crazy diamond."
  • Yes-Man: Mr Burns' poor investments go unnoticed because of this, with all his advisers too spineless to disagree with him. He even calls them this trope and chews them out, and they still agree with him.
  • Your Answer to Everything: Smithers says he didn't warn Mr. Burns about the Great Depression because he still wasn't born back then. Mr. Burns says it's Smithers' excuse for everything.

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