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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."
Episode - 4F17
First Aired - 4/20/1997
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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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • As Himself: Bret Hart buys Burns Manor.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: This line, from Skinner:
    Skinner: What a load of garbage ... I'm ecstatic!
  • 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 Burns gets this after he discovers his stocks are all hopelessly out of date.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.
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  • By "No", I Mean "Yes"/Oblivious to His Own Description: A newly poor Mr. Burns doesn't realize how low most Springfielders' opinion of him is.
    Barney: Hey, aren't you that guy everybody hates?
    Burns: [Chuckles] Oh, my, no. I'm Monty Burns.
  • Call-Back:
    • 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.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • Homer:
      Kent Brockman: Remember millionaire C. Montgomery Burns? The man who blocked out our sun, ran over a local boy, and stole Christmas from 1981 to 1985? Well, guess who's flat broke, and picking up trash for a living?
      Homer: Please be Flanders, please be Flanders...
    • Also, when Lisa shows herself disgusted at knowing what the slurry named after her was made of, Mr. Burns thinks a spoonful of it will make her better. Sure, he didn't understand why Lisa didn't like the idea, but he should have noticed she didn't.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Mr. Burns ends up at the Springfield Retirement Center around the same time that Lisa shows up looking for things to recycle.
  • 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 
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good / Obliviously Evil: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
    • "You inspired it all ... Lil’ Lisa."
    • "Um, Dad, ten percent of a hundred and twenty million dollars isn't twelve thousand dollars. It's—" "CODE BLUE! CODE BLUE!"
  • 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.
  • Pet the Dog: Burns fully pays Lisa her share of the profits after she helps him regain his fortune.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Should Have Thought of That Before X: When Mr. Burns learns about recycling from Lisa:
    Mr. Burns: Oh, so Mother Nature needs a favor. Well, maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The sequence when Mr. Burns tries to ask Lisa to help him spoofs the Title Sequence of That Girl.
    • The scene where a confused Mr. Burns goes to a grocery store is inspired by an apocryphal account of George H. W. Bush being amazed at a grocery scanner.
    • The recycling center is called "Uriah's Heap", named after the character Uriah Heep from David Copperfield and/or the band as well. The hippie who owns and operates the center is modeled after Dennis Hopper's photographer character from Apocalypse Now.
    • The scene where Lisa runs down the streets of Springfield, trying to stop everyone from recycling and thereby enabling the production of Lil' Lisa's slurry, spoofs Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Soylent Green.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Lisa and her environmental causes. Gets so bad that when Burns is there praising her and puzzled over being called evil because of the slurry she can't see that she had a chance to explain to him exactly what is wrong and just runs off and later piously tears a check for twelve million dollars because it's her cut for Burns' slurry company, apparently not caring that she could have done anything good with the money and not accepting it means Burns has twelve million more to do evil with (and, oh yeah, she nearly kills her dad).
  • 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, Lise. 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.
    • On top of that, the sight of Lisa ripping up the check gives Homer a heart attack. In the hospital he says that he understands why Lisa did it, but adds that they really could have used that "twelve thousand dollars". Lisa quietly tells him that it was twelve million. Cue another heart attack.
  • 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...
  • Undying Loyalty: Smithers continues caring for Burns even upon his bankruptcy. He even lets him live in his house.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Mr. Burns goes grocery shopping. Hilarity Ensues.
  • 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. They still agree with him. The situation even provides the trope's page quote.
  • 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.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: This is how Lisa reacts to Burns' praise for teaching him about recycling.

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