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Recap / The Simpsons S9 E2 "The Principal and the Pauper"

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Principal Skinner's 20th anniversary as school principal is interrupted by a Vietnam vet who reveals that his name is Seymour Skinner and that the man posing as him is a reformed street punk named Armin Tamzarian.
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The episode was loosely based on the short story The Improbable Impostor Tom Castro by Jorge Luis Borges.


This episode contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: The real Skinner is played by Martin Sheen, who's no stranger to Vietnam related roles.
  • Arc Words: "I have never been happier or prouder to be Seymour Skinner."
  • Artifact Alias: It's revealed that the man known as Seymour Skinner is actually a former juvenile delinquent named Armin Tamzarian. He was sent off to Vietnam to serve with the real Seymour Skinner who was seemingly killed in battle. Armin returned to Springfield and assumed Seymour's identity. This went well until it was discovered the real Seymour Skinner was still alive and came to reclaim his life. This lasts about half an episode before real Skinner proves to be more overbearing than Armin. Real Skinner is exiled from Springfield, Armin's name is legally changed to Seymour Skinner, the name "Armin Tamzarian" is declared unutterable under penalty of torture, and the series continues like nothing happened.
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  • As You Know: This bit of dialogue following Marge asking Agnes if she ever told Armin how proud she was of him being her son:
    Homer: Okay, once more, where are we going?
    Edna: To Capitol City.
    Homer: And why are you and the old lady in the car?
    Agnes: We're gonna talk Armin Tamzarian into coming back.
    Homer: And why is Marge here?
    Marge: I came up with the idea.
    Homer: And why am I here?
    Marge: Because the streets of Capitol City are no place for three un-escorted ladies.
    Homer: And why are the kids here?
    Marge: Because we couldn't find Grampa to sit for them.
    Homer: And why is Grampa here?
    Gramdpa: 'Cause Jasper didn't wanna come by himself.
    [Beat]
    Homer: Fair enough.
  • Audience Murmurs: Happens in the audience when Skinner declares himself a impostor. Again later when Skinner announces his retirement ... effective at the end of this sentence ... Period.
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  • Bait-and-Switch: Armin notices a Help Wanted sign in a strip club and enters. The next scene shows him making announcements.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Upon feeling insulted by Bart's "concise" version of the Pledge of Allegiance, the real Skinner tells the kids to listen to it from someone who gave their life for their country. He asks Mrs. Krabappel to recite the pledge.
  • Big Eater:
    • At the party, when Bart asks the attendees if they brought their plates and forks, Chief Wiggum proudly shows his.
    • When everybody else was shocked at Principal Skinner confessing he's not the real Seymour Skinner, Homer uses the moment to back slowly towards the cake so he can eat it.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The events of the episode have been all but completely disavowed in the seasons that followed. The most blatant example of this happened in Season 26, which clearly depicted a young Skinner as Agnes' child. This continues into the season 29 episode "Grampy, Can You Hear Me?"
  • Continuity Snarl:
    • One reason why this episode is so hated is that this retcon led to numerous plot holes (even with the show's natural Negative Continuity). Probably the most glaring one being related to the far more beloved Skinner-centric episode "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song",note  where "Armin" re-enlists in the Army and was still referred to as "Sgt. Seymour Skinner". How would that be possible if Skinner was reported dead? It's hard to swallow that he could have kept up the act in front of the Army.
    • In season seven's "Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in 'The Curse of the Flying Hellfish'" it was revealed that Principal Skinner's father (who looked and acted like the "Armin Tamzarian" Skinner) was in Abe's army unit.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Armin pretended to be Seymour Skinner who is presumed dead, though Skinner turns out to be alive.
  • Death Glare: Agnes Skinner when the real Seymour ignores her silhouette night ritual.
  • Death Notification: Subverted. Armin was supposed to bring Mrs. Skinner the news about her presumed-dead son but instead assumes his persona.
  • Discontinuity Nod: This is effectively parodied; see Self-Deprecation below. Also enforced In-Universe with Judge Snyder's order to torture anybody who ever brings it up.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Played with. After being caught stealing an old woman's purse, Armin Tamzarian was given three options by the judge: jail time, enlisting in the army, or telling the old woman that he was sorry and being let go. Tamzarian was stupid enough to request to be sent to the army rather than being sent to jail, not knowing that The Vietnam War was going on. As he reminisces, if he had known about the war, he would have chosen to tell the old woman that he was sorry.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: During the planning for Skinner's party:
    Willie: It's my 20th year, too.
    Chalmers: [Apathetically] The teacher's lounge is for teachers, Willie.
    [Willie walks past Chalmers, grumbling, and spits next to him]
  • Eating Pet Food: While preparing refreshments for Skinner's anniversary party, Bart scoops out balls of dog food topped with tiny American flags, claiming he's working under the theory that Skinner likes dog food. Marge suggests they bake Skinner a cake instead, while Homer comes across Bart's "America balls" and ignorantly eats them.
  • A Father to His Men: In flashbacks, the real Skinner took care of his men, especiallly of Tamzarian, which was partly why he decided to assume his identity.
  • Flashback Effect: When Tamzarian!Skinner flashes back to his youth, the scene transition includes those wavy lines.
  • Former Teen Rebel: Armin Tamzarian was a James Dean wannabe before becoming a soldier (pretty dumb, too — he didn't know there was a war going on until he was sent to Vietnam, and didn't say he was sorry for doing some purse-stealing even when the judge told him that he would be given a full pardon if he did).
  • Gasoline Lasts Forever: Armin Tamzarian goes to the storage locker where he keeps all his stuff from his rebel days. His old motorcycle is in there and, despite being untouched for almost three decades, it still works perfectly and gets him to Capitol City. Later Subverted as he's seen pushing his motorcycle through a Capitol City street in a latter scene.
  • Gilligan Cut: After Homer announces that he has a solution that would make Sgt. Skinner keep his dignity.
  • Hypocrisy Nod: Exploited by Bart the next day after the true Seymour Skinner comes back.
    Bart: Hey, Armin. Mrs. Krabappel sent me. I forged my Dad's signature on my report card.
    Armin: Oh, now Bart, you know that's wrong.
    Bart: Well I don't see how me signing Homer's name is any different from you using Sergeant Skinner's name.
    Armin: [Sighs] I guess me punishing you seems somewhat hypocritical. Why don't you just write a thirty-word essay on what you've done?
    Bart: Hey, hey, hey! Easy there, you big impostor.
  • I Have No Son!: One is an impostor and the other is a total stranger.
  • Indecisive Parody: Though Ken Keeler meant the concept as a parody, about 85% of the episode plays Skinner's backstory for drama, which is probably a factor in why many didn't realize it was supposed to be a joke.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Under penalty of torture.
  • Mood Whiplash: Having just been honored for twenty years as principal, Seymour's night is quickly soured when the real Skinner arrives in person to expose him as a fraud.
  • My Beloved Smother: Agnes Skinner preferred Armin as her son because her original son wasn't as submissive.
  • Off-Model: Judge Snyder appeared in this episode with yellow skin rather than his normal African American skin.
  • Preferable Impersonator: Played for Black Comedy: everyone ends up preferring Armin over the real Skinner (although Agnes Skinner, Seymour's mother, explicitly does it because she doesn't likes the real Seymour being independent) and, although honoring him as a hero, kick him out of town by literally tying him to a railroad car and then carry on pretending Armin was Seymour Skinner all along under penalty of torture if this is ever spoken of again.
  • Replacement Scrappy: The real Seymour, in-universe. It says a lot about Agnes Skinner that she hates her true, biological son because the man isn't a kiss-ass like Armin.
  • Reveal Shot: The gag in the car when more and more characters are revealed to have come along.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    • Episode "Behind the Laughter" mocks this episode by playing the clip of Skinner's confession after the narrator mentions the show's increasing reliance on "gimmicky and nonsensical plots".
    • The later episode "I, (Annoyed Grunt)-bot" features a Call-Back to this episode's events (Skinner criticizes Lisa for pretending the death of her cat never happened by calling a similar one the same name, asking if that isn't kind of a cheat. She responds "I guess it is, Principal Tamzarian." Skinner takes her point, and walks away). The DVD Commentary for "I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot" confirms that Al Jean inserted the line as a Take That! to this episodeinvoked. Everybody present at the session fervently denies having ever liked the episode's premise.
  • Special Guest: Martin Sheen as the real Seymour Skinner.
  • Spiritual Successor: To "Lisa the Iconoclast", where an esteemed Springfielder's past is exposed as fraudulent, but in the end, Springfield decides to preserve the lie rather than deal with the truth.
  • Status Quo Is God: Pretty blatantly at the end. As in, if the events of this episode are ever spoken of again, there is a legal order to torture the ones that spoke.
  • Take a Third Option: Inverted. Armin could have avoided both jail and army if he just apologized to the old woman and the judge he almost hurt with his reckless driving but he didn't take that option because he didn't know about the war.
  • Take That, Audience!: According to Keeler, this was the point of the episode:
    Ken Keeler: This [episode] is about a community of people who like things just the way they are. Skinner's not really close to these people—you know, he's a minor character—but they get upset when someone comes in and says, 'This is not really the way things are', and they run the messenger out of town on the rail. When the episode aired, lo and behold, a community of people who like things just the way they are got mad. It never seems to have occurred to anyone that this episode is about the people who hate it.
  • Tuckerization: Episode writer Ken Keeler borrowed the name Armin Tamzarian from a claims adjuster who had assisted him after a car accident when he moved to Los Angeles.
  • Underequipped Charge: Armin's reaction to being shot at? Threaten the Vietcong with his switchblade.
  • Wham Line:
    Sgt. Skinner: You're not Seymour Skinner.
    Armin: I'm... an impostor. That man is the real Seymour Skinner.

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