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Recap / The Simpsons S 9 E 13 The Joy Of Sect

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Original air date: 2/8/1998 (produced in 1997)

Production code: 5F23 note 

Homer and the rest of the town (save Marge, Reverend Lovejoy, the Flanders family, Mr. Burns, Smithers, Lenny, Cletus and Groundskeeper Willie) are brainwashed into joining a cult known as the Movementarians. Meanwhile, Mr. Burns tries to start his own cult...with disastrous results.

This is the second of two episodes to be produced by David Mirkin (the showrunner for seasons 5 and 6) instead of the current (at the time) showrunner, Mike Scully.


  • Army of Lawyers: More like a fire station of lawyers, who raid places like Mafia leg-breakers.
  • Arranged Marriage: As part of the "mass marriage" ceremony, Otto is chosen to marry Barney, while Comic Book Guy is chosen to marry Lurleen Lumpkin.
  • Asshole Victim: Cletus robs a man at gunpoint. Unbeknownst to Cletus, said man was the head of a monstrous cult, and the money that Cletus took, the man had originally stolen from the Springfieldians.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Comes up when Homer tells the Movementarians about his short attention span, then gets distracted by a bird as soon as they attempt to explain the point of their orientation film (which Homer thought was a thriller about police officers trying to find out if internal affairs set them up... just so we're clear: Homer imagined a whole other movie because he was distracted from the Movementarians' brainwashing film, and then he got distracted from that too).
  • Batter Up!: Lovejoy tries to subdue Homer by smacking him with a baseball bat, but as he's failing, Willie steps in and tries to smack Homer himself. Eventually, Marge, Lovejoy, and Willie hit him all together.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Upon learning about the Leader and how he is exempt from paying taxes, Mr. Burns tries to start his own religion which centers around everyone worshipping him as their new god. It doesn't last, for he catches fire at his own commencement ceremony and is swiftly forgotten about.
  • Big "NO!": Marge lets out one big NOOO! when Homer and her own kids have been fully corrupted by the Movementarians.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Occurs in the Movementarians' orientaion film.
    Film: When you surrender yourself to the Movementarians, you are guaranteed a perfect life of serenity and love and loving serenity! Not a guarantee.
    Moe: Loving serenity. It's about damn time!
  • Call-Back:
  • Caught on Tape: Right after Brockman announces that The Leader encourages people to violently capture the Simpsons, the lawyers come in and begin to trash the studio:
    Brockman: What are you doing? They're not here, you idiots!
    Blue Haired Lawyer: Idiots? That's slander, sir, and we have it on tape.
    Brockman: All right, I'll get out my checkbook. (Grumbles)
    Blue Haired Lawyer: What was that?
    Brockman: I said (Grumbles).
  • Champions on the Inside: Subverted, and quite violently at that: the Springfield football team lost a game and sees the whole town waiting for them when they arrive to the airport and think that they are there to show their support. The people of Springfield are there to beat the crap out of them for losing (and it's implied they are seriously injured or killed when said assault leads to the airplane being rolled over and catching fire).
  • Chekhov's Gag:
    • Homer fishes while singing the 60s Batman theme. The Movementarians use a chant to the same tune to get him into the fold.
    • When the kids are swayed out of the Movementarians' ways with fake hoverbikes, Ned reveals that he created the hoverbikes' humming noise with a comb and paper. Later on, when the Leader's "spaceship" falls apart, it is revealed that the ship's own humming noise was provided by a comb and paper.
  • Church of Happyology: The Movementarians devote all your money and labor to them and they will (eventually) take you to Blisstonia, noted for its high level of bliss. It ends with a double subversion. Plus "the Leader" is the spitting image of LRH, and laments "I should have stayed with the Promise Keepers" after the whole cult falls apart. However, the Movementarians also drew from other controversial religious groups, such as the Unification Church (the mass wedding), Osho (the leader driving around in a Rolls Royce), and Heaven's Gate (riding on a spaceship to another planet). Notably, they managed to do this despite Nancy Cartwright being a Scientologist.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Homer gets bored with the orientation film and makes up his own movie. The first thing he says after the real movie ends is, "Wait! I'm confused about the movie. So the cops knew that internal affairs were setting them up?" much to his attempted brainwashers' annoyance.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
  • Couch Gag: The Simpsons are minimized and try to climb on the giant couch. Once they do, Santa's Little Helper grabs Homer and carries him away in his mouth.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Or maybe "stupid" fits better: The Movementarians brainwash Homer by singing the Batman theme, but using "Leader" instead. The head brainwasher even visibly has a "Eureka!" Moment and his helpers a split-second "wait, are you serious?" reaction.
  • Day of the Jackboot: By the third act, most of Springfield has joined the Movementarians, who have a complete monopoly over the news, and can commit public acts of violence with no threat of punishment.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The episode starts off following Homer and the Movementarians trying (and failing) to brainwash him. Halfway through the episode, they succeed and the focus shifts to Marge.
  • Deprogram: Homer is rinsed with one drop of beer, and Bart, Lisa, and Maggie are converted back to normal by the false promise of hoverbikes. Groundskeeper Willie attempts to deprogram Homer shortly before he's reintroduced to beer, and becomes accidentally programmed into joining the Movementarians himself in the process.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Rev. Lovejoy loses faith in his own religion when the Leader's apparent spaceship is revealed.
  • Determinator:
    • The recruiters fixate on converting Homer. He resists for a really long time while other townspeople are theirs. They keep trying many a method, and eventually they succeed.
    • Marge will stop at nothing to release her family from the Movementarians' grasp.
  • Disability Immunity: Ultimately subverted — Homer proves immune to the cult's standard brainwashing technique because his attention span is so short that he doesn't pay attention to it long enough for it to work. After struggling with this for a while, they then manage to brainwash Homer by singing the theme to Batman (1966) with the word "Leader" in place of the word "Batman".
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The whole town shows up to beat the local football team senseless for losing a game.
  • The Dragon: The two most prominent members of the Movementarians, the two recruiters whom Homer and Bart first encounter at the airport, seem to be this for The Leader.
  • Easy Evangelism: Mostly Played for Laughs, but nearly the entire town of Springfield is convinced to join the cult extremely easily. Groundskeeper Willie simply needs to be told that their leader "knows all and sees all" in order to become convinced while attempting to deprogram Homer.
  • Epic Fail:
    • Burns' attempt to create his own religion ended up in an incredibly humiliating fiasco when some fireworks set him ablaze and he falls from his office's balcony. Overall, he was a wanna-be "messiah" for about fifteen seconds.
    • In the space of a brief conversation, Willie goes from trying to deprogram Homer to thinking the Movementarians are great.
  • False Reassurance: When Marge decides to escape the Movementarians' compound, she asks one of the recruiters if she can leave. The recruiter says that, sure, she can leave any time she wants... by going through a Death Course.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Professor Frink is seated at Homer's left during the Batman-style "leader" chant. In the mid-shot of Homer, Frink can be seen with his head on the table, murmuring the chant along with the others, his will having been eroded completely.
  • Gasoline Dousing: After most of the rest of the town joins the Movementarians, Reverend Lovejoy is seen pouring gasoline on the church floor (presumably for Insurance Fraud purposes), saying to himself, "I never thought I'd have to do THIS again."
  • Get Out!: In the "Only Stephen King and Michael Crichton" store in the airport:
    Hans Moleman: Do you have any books by Robert Ludlum?
    Clerk: Get out.
  • Gilligan Cut: The typical setup is subverted when Mr. Burns says he knows how to counter the leader of the Movementarians, and the camera zooms in on him laughing evilly... only to fade to him still at his desk, Smithers has to ask him to tell him his plan or else nothing will happen. It's then played straight when Smithers tells Burns he'll take care of the symbol for Burns' new religion, and the scene cuts to said symbol: a Christmas tree with a B on it painted onto the Power Plant's smokestacks.
  • The Golden Rule: One of the religious recruiters at the airport tells Homer, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." Homer replies skeptically, "Right, that'll work."
  • Here We Go Again!: Judging from his remark when burning down the church, Reverend Lovejoy has done it for the insurance money more than once.
    Reverend Lovejoy: [pouring gasoline on the church floor] Oh, I never thought I'd have to do this again.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Turns out that the "Lil' Bastard" brand of pranking kits (which Bart uses, and having brought one for "mass hysteria" into the cult compound) also makes brainwashing kits of an astonishingly fast effectiveness, and Bart is brainwashed into loving the Leader within two seconds of leaving the Simpsons' room looking to cause mayhem.
  • Hostile Show Takeover: The Movementarians take over Kent Brockman's newscast. He welcomes them just as easily as his insect overlords.
    Kent: Springfield has been overrun by a strange and almost certainly evil sect calling themselves "the Movementarians". " In exchange for your home and all your money, the leader of this way-out and wrong religion claims he'll take believers away on his spaceship to the planet Blisstonia. Excuse my editorial laugh, but- (is handed a note) Ladies and gentlemen, I've just learned of a change in this station's management. Welcome, Movementarians! Continue to improve our lives! I love you, perfect Leader, and new C.E.O. of KBBL Broadcasting.
  • Hover Bike: Subverted. Bart and Lisa are Deprogramed by tempting them with literally hovering bicycles. Turns out they were just staged with fishing wire and Flanders blowing through a comb.
  • Humiliation Conga: The Leader's "spaceship" breaks apart in mid-air, sending him plummeting to the ground on Cletus' property, who then robs him at gunpoint.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: One attempt to brainwash Homer has him being subjected to harsh criticism by several people at once. After gleefully agreeing with insult after hate-filled insult, Moe finally mentions Homer's armpit smell. Homer is about to object, but he gets a whiff himself and promptly changes his tune.
  • Insurance Fraud: Reverend Lovejoy is seen spreading gasoline over the floor of his church after everyone converts to Movementarianism. "I never thought I'd have to do this again".
  • Irony: Just as Lisa comments that the family is thinking for themselves again, the family — including Marge — starts droning after the TV, "We are watching Fox..."
  • Jerkass: This episode indirectly names the trope ("Outta my way, jerkass!"), though it isn't an example (it was an insult Homer directed to other people).
  • Late to the Realization: Homer can't seem to grasp the free weekend that the Movementarians are hosting:
    Movementarian: We're having a free get-acquainted session at our resort this weekend.
    Homer: How much is this free resort weekend?
    Movementarian: It's free.
    Homer: And when is this weekend?
    Movementarian: It's this weekend.
    Homer: Uh-huh. And how much does it cost?
    Movementarian: Um, it's free.
    Homer: I see. And when is it?
    Movementarian: It's this weekend.
    Homer: And what are you charging for this free weekend?
    Bart: Come on, Dad. The team's arriving.
    Homer: (as he's pulled away) It's free, right?
  • Like a God to Me: When Burns is planning his new religion, we see just how high of a regard Smithers holds him to.
    Burns: You see me as a god, right Smithers?
    Smithers: Absolutely, sir.
    Burns: You'd kneel before me?
    Smithers: (waggling his eyebrows) Boy, would I!
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: When the whole town is brainwashed and forced to join the cult, Marge tries to leave, but has to overcome a lot of obstacles, including hounds, mines, Rover, and a river full of crocodiles.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Leader is modeled (at least physically) after L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology.
  • Noodle Incident: Three of them:
    • Apparently, Reverend Lovejoy burned down the Springfield Church before ("I never thought I'd have to do this again").
    • Barney's liver has once tried to escape from his body.
    • Homer fell for a timeshare scam where he bought four of them before his check bounced.
  • Organ Autonomy: When Marge and the others tempt Homer with beer to break him out of his Movementarian mindset, Homer's brain and stomach fight over whether Homer would have some.
  • Perp Sweating: Whenever anyone tries to leave the Movementarians video room, a bright spotlight shines from above and a Movementarian inquires why they're leaving. The person in question nervously sits back down. It eventually gets to the point where Manjula tries to leave and sits down without them even having to say anything when they catch her.
  • The Quisling: Kent Brockman, unsurprisingly. He opens up a news report decrying the Movementarians as a cult and the Leader as a fraud, before he receives a notice that they own his station and immediately starts praising them.
  • Real After All: Homer attempts to expose the leader as the fraud he is, only to find himself face to face with a working intergalactic spaceship. The leader attempts to escape in the ship, only for it to fall apart in the air, revealing it was not a real spaceship at all.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Flanders is not pleased that the Movementarians have broken into his house and taken Homer away from his deprogramming, but he still offers them a beer.
    Flanders: But I'm so darn mad, it's gonna be mostly head!
  • Severely Specialized Store: Springfield Airport has "Just Crichton and King Bookstore", a parody of small bookstores overstocking on only the most popular authors, especially those found in airports. The cashier will not entertain a request for Robert Ludlum.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Deciding that a catchy theme tune was the best way to convert Homer, the cult members chanted the one to Batman with "Leader" instead of "Batman".
    • Rover from The Prisoner pursues Marge during her escape from the Movementarians' compound, complete with the series' theme music.
    • Mr. Burns' attempt at introducing himself as a god spoofs the music video for Michael Jackson's HIStory.
    • Mr. Burns attempts to create a symbol for his religion ended up producing Kellogg's Special K and Disney's Mickey head.
    • The way Groundskeeper Willie gets everyone's attention and offers his services spoof Quint's introduction in Jaws.
    • When Lisa is irritated by the Movementarians' schooling, she shouts "He's wrong! You're wrong! The whole damn system is wrong!", parodying ...And Justice for All.
  • Shown Their Work: Many of the Movementarians' tactics and practices are taken directly from Real Life cults including Jim Jones' People's Temple, Heaven's Gate, the Church of Scientology and the Rajneesh movement.
  • Skewed Priorities:
    Jane: Would you rather have beer, or complete and utter contentment?
    Homer:...What kind of beer?
  • Sole Survivor: By the end of the episode, Marge, Reverend Lovejoy, the Flanders family, Mr. Burns, Smithers, Lenny and Cletus are the only people left in Springfield who weren't brainwashed into joining the Movementarians.
  • Start My Own:
    • Mr. Burns attempts to create his own religion after he learns of the Movementarians' tax-exempt status.
    • Ironically, the Leader had started his own religion with the Movementarians after having previously been with the Promise Keepers.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Ned Flanders uses a comb and a paper to make the fake hoverbikes' noise. The Leader is later seen using the same trick for his fake spaceship.
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker: When Homer is informed beer is not allowed in the Movementarians:
    Homer: Homer no function beer well without.
  • Tap on the Head: Subverted. Reverend Lovejoy attempts to knock out Homer with a baseball bat to the head repeatedly, but Homer remains conscious no matter how many times he's whacked.
  • They Killed Kenny Again: Hans Moleman gets caught by Rover while the latter is chasing Marge, and is presumably suffocated to death.
  • Too Dumb to Fool:
    • The Movementarians' attempts to brainwash Homer by demoralizing him fail because he's too stupid to notice them. Then the cult recruiters realized that's what kept them from converting Homer, and succeed by using an absurdly trivial ploy (chanting "Leader" to the tune of the Batman theme song).
    • When the Leader falls into Cletus' home, Cletus (who is definitely not the smartest man in Springfield) refuses the Leader's attempt to smooth-talk his way out of it and takes all of the Leader's money at shotgun-point.
  • Touché: During the "circle of judgement" scene:
    Moe: And your stink brings tears to my eyes.
    Homer: Now wait a minute, Moe. (sniffs himself) Oh, my mistake.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In spite of robbing the Leader at gunpoint and taking the money, Cletus is still shown as being poor and living in his shack in all later appearances with no explanation as to where the money went.
  • X Days Since: Springfield Airport has so many crashes, there's a sign reading "No Crashes Since Tuesday".
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Marge deprograms the kids by offering them hoverbikes. They accept, only to find that Marge and Ned faked the hovering effect with wires and a phony noise. Worse, Marge says they don't even get to keep the bikes since they are borrowed and must be returned before 6:00 p.m.