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Recap / The Simpsons S9 E8 "Lisa the Skeptic"

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Episode 5F05
First Aired 11/23/97
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When construction for a new mall threatens an area where a bunch of fossils were found, Lisa manages to convince Principal Skinner to schedule a school archaeological dig to find missing fossils. The field trip seems to have been futile, until Lisa finds a statue of a man with wings, which everyone in town believes is an angel — one with an apocalyptic message.


Tropes:

  • Adam Westing: Stephen Jay Gould plays a Jerkass version of himself who takes Lisa's money for a DNA test that he doesn't do.
  • Affectionate Parody: Springfield's Dumbest Criminal parodies America's Dumbest Criminals.
  • Agent Scully: The idea of a fossilized angel skeleton may be absurd, but Lisa's suggestion that it was the skeleton of a Neanderthal who had been bitten on the arms by two sharks only proves she has no idea what it was, and only wants to convince everyone it's not an angel, especially since the skeleton's arms are clearly folded across its chest, and the "wings" are on its back, not the arms, debunking her "theory". Of course, as it turns out, it's was actually part of an advertising campaign for the new mini-mall, meaning, perhaps, that she was just trying too hard.
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  • Analogy Backfire:
    Bart: Why are we getting dressed up? Are we going to Black Angus?
    Marge: Well... you might say we're going to the best steakhouse in the whole universe.
    Bart: (confused) So... we're not going to Black Angus?
  • Anyone Remember Pogs?: Homer has an entire closet filled with such kitschy, outdated fad items collected over the years, including a large supply of Billy Beer.
    Ah, we elected the wrong Carter.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Lisa is arguing against the authenticity of an angel skeleton and states that one who believes in angels might as well believe in such things as unicorns and leprechauns, to which Kent Brockman replies "Everybody knows leprechauns are extinct!".
  • Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?: Homer is offered a dollar to see the "angel skeleton" in his garage. He responds "A buck, eh?". Cut to Homer greeting a queue of people, charging them fifty cents each.
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  • Artistic License – Religion: Lisa, the skeptic, is the only person to suspect the skeleton is fake. All of the other people in town, including Reverend Lovejoy, criticize her for her lack of faith. Except that, according to Christian tradition, angels do not have physical bodies and cannot die. In addition, in some traditions angels also have the ability to shapeshift. Therefore even those who believe in angels, especially the preacher, should have called it out as a fake from the beginning. Lisa and the scientist should also have noticed that the wing bones on the skeleton are an inaccurate depiction of the skeletal structure of avian wings considering the angel appearance the people who made the skeleton are going for is 'human with wings'. This is pointed out in the DVD commentary by some of the writers, who state they knew of the inaccuracy but 'they just went along with it, anyway'.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: The town's Christian majority latch onto the "angel" immediately and see any attempt to investigate further as indicative of a lack of faith, even the typically reasonable Marge, who at least has the decency not to join a Powder Keg Crowd and attack every scientific institution in town when the angel turns up missing. The only person willing to investigate is Lisa, and that's because she doesn't believe in angels at all, not because this particular "angel" is clearly suspect.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word:
    Lisa: Wait a second... you planted a phony skeleton for me to find! This was all a big hoax!
    Businessman: Heh heh heh, not a hoax; a publicity stunt!
  • Blatant Lies: While Homer was cashing in on the "Angel's" popularity, he told Lisa he never used the word "angel" anywhere. Lisa then pointed to a handwritten sign reading "angel", and he said it was a typo.
  • Brick Joke: At the start of the scene where the angel is first discovered, Bart and Milhouse shovel some dirt down the back of a sleeping Martin's shorts. When everyone is reacting to the angel at the end of the scene, Martin shouts:
    "Oh my God! My shorts are full of dirt!"
  • Call-Back: Homer's closet contains things he did in previous episodes.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The people who built the mall did so without caring that they were building over an area of great archaeological value and used Lisa as a pawn to cause a religious panic both to distract people away from the construction and to attract them to the opening of the mall. For all of her "religion is bupkis" attitude during the episode, Lisa is still in the right to try to call them out on exploiting other people's faith.
  • Couch Gag: The living room is a sauna, with three men in towels relaxing. The Simpsons (also in towels) arrive, but leave sheepishly as the three men glare at them.
  • Deadly Euphemism:
    Mr. Burns: Fiddle-faddle, everyone knows our mutants have flippers - oh, I've said too much. Smithers, use the amnesia ray.
    Smithers: You mean the revolver, sir?
  • Easily Forgiven: When it's revealed that the angel is a cynical publicity stunt for a new mall, Lisa expects the people of the town to be outraged at having their innermost beliefs toyed with... However, most of the townsfolk are too distracted by the possibility of a new shopping experience to care and happily shuffle into the new mall.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: Chief Wiggum says "Yes, everybody's heard of angels, but who's heard of a neanderthal!"
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man:
    Homer: "OK, OK, don't panic. Marge, stop panicking!"
  • Good Wings, Evil Wings: Subverted when everyone (except Lisa) assumes that a fossil of a winged humanoid is an angel despite the wings clearly being bat-like instead of birdlike. It's not even a real fossil, just a promotional stunt.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Moe is hit by a tusk that falls off the woolly mammoth model he was whacking.
  • House Amnesia:
    Moe: Go home, science girl!
    Lisa: I am home.
    Moe: Good, stay there.
  • Ho Yay: Invoked. Thinking he has nothing to lose if the world's ending, Smithers kisses Mr. Burns on the mouth. When it's revealed the angel was just a Publicity Stunt:
    Smithers: Uh, sir, about that, uh, kiss... I hope you understand it was merely a sign of my respect.
    Mr. Burns: Yes, yes, of course. (looks weirded out)
  • Hypocritical Humor: Moe indulges in this form of humor as a leader of the anti-science movement.
    "Science, what's science ever done for us. TV off." (TV switches off with his voice signal.)
    • Also,
    "Oh, I'm paralyzed, I just hope medical science can cure me!"
  • If Jesus, Then Aliens: Lisa finds what appears to be an angel's fossilized remains. Lisa not only thinks they're fake, but largely argues that believing in angels at all is ridiculous (if she believes in God is left vague). Everyone else, except possibly Marge, immediately assume it's an actual angel's skeleton, which doesn't make sense even if one does believe in angels, which are generally understood to be immortal beings of pure spirit.
  • Ignorance Is Bliss: Ned Flanders:
    Ned: Science is like spoiling a movie by telling you how it ends. Well I say there are certain things we don't wanna know! Important things!
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction:
    Flanders: Reverend, I've got to admit. This doomsday warning has me just a smidge twitterpated.
    Lovejoy: Oh, now, be calm, Ned. But be afraid also- tremendously afraid- for the day of reckoning is upon us!
  • Irony: Simply because of its name, the Christian Science Reading Room is set ablaze by the angry mob, despite Christian Science being very heavy on Christian teachings.
  • Inventional Wisdom: Shared by a robot. "Why? Why was I programmed to feel pain?"
  • Kick the Dog: Marge compassionately tells Lisa that she's sorry her daughter can't muster up a little faith. Lisa's response is to coldly tell Marge that she feels sorry for her.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Subverted. He calls it an amnesia ray but Smithers clarifies it's just a revolver.
    Mr. Burns: Fiddle-faddle, everyone knows our mutants have flippers. Oh! I've said too much. Smithers, use the amnesia ray.
  • Late to the Realization: Homer visits the police station, thinking he won a raffle for a free motorboat. Instead, it's a ploy to arrest people with outstanding warrants and tickets. Even after the ruse is exposed and he pays the fine, Homer still thinks he's going to get a free motorboat.
  • Leave No Witnesses: The "Amnesia Ray" was a revolver and Burns told Smithers to use it on himself after he's done with the others.
  • Man on Fire: An angry mob sets fire to a robotics laboratory. Robbie the Robot races out screaming "Why? Why was I programmed to feel pain?"
  • Mood Whiplash: The town's deepest religious beliefs are tested after the discovery of a fossilized angel. The whole episode builds up to everyone clutching their loved ones as the fossil levitates into the air and speaks to them in a loud, booming voice. At that point it is revealed to be a cheesy mascot that has been used to promote the opening of a new shopping mall.
  • Nerds Love Tough Schoolwork: Principal Skinner over intercom: "Attention. All honor roll students will be rewarded by a trip to an archaeological dig. Conversely, all detention students will be punished with a trip to an archaeological dig."
  • Noodle Incident: Lisa blackmails Skinner into hosting an archaeological dig at Sabertooth Meadow by reminding of him the time she found a scorpion in her applesauce and promised not to sue.
  • Now or Never Kiss: During the countdown to the "apocalypse" Smithers throws caution to the wind and kisses Mr. Burns. When the world doesn't end he tries to claim it was just a sign of respect.
  • Off-Model: In one shot, Bernice Hibbert has yellow skin, rather than her usual black skin.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: The people of Springfield eventually riot (as is usual of them) when the angel vanishes and destroy many scientific facilities in town, including the museum and a robotics research lab.
    Robot: (On fire after being hit with a Molotov) Why was I programmed to feel pain?!?
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Lisa, who spent the entire episode banging her fists against the wall trying to prove the skeleton wasn't an angel, is outraged to find out it was just a Publicity Stunt. She even tries to call the mall directors out for exploiting everyone's beliefs...unfortunately, by that point the majority of them are too excited about shopping to care anymore.
    • A minor one that's Played for Laughs, but as Lisa is unfairly arrested following the angel's disappearance, Bart gives a small bribe to Chief Wiggum so that his sister can at least have a decent cell to sleep in.
  • Planning for the Future Before the End: Edna suggests she and Skinner have sex one last time before the end. Skinner agrees, but asks her to give him a bit so he can finish filling out the tardy slips.
  • Potty Emergency:
    Lisa: Ah, here's Dr. Gould now. What were the results, professor?
    Stephen Jay Gould: Inconclusive.
    Lisa: (disappointed) Inconclusive? Then why'd you come running up like that?
    Stephen Jay Gould: (whispers) Can I use your bathroom?
  • Publicity Stunt: The angel skeleton and its apocalyptic message turn out to be just a scheme to promote the opening of the Springfield Mall.
  • Science Is Wrong: The basis for the episode.
  • Shockingly Expensive Bill: Subverted, when Homer is detained by police:
    Wiggum: What's this perp in for, Lou?
    Lou: 235 unpaid parking tickets totaling $175.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Silence, You Fool!: The so-called angel when it reveals that it's not predicting the apocalypse but instead an opening for the Heavenly Hills shopping mall in Springfield:
    Lisa: Well, there you go. I hope you all learned a valuable—
    Angel: Silence! Prepare for the end...the end of high prices! Behold, the grand opening of the Heavenly Hills Mall.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Lisa. Being a skeptic about finding actual angelic remains is one thing, but calling her mother stupid for saying that she believes in them is a pretty dick move (especially when she insists on this when Marge is trying to get her ready for what she believes will be Judgment Day). She's also the only one who (quite righteously, especially because she was used as a pawn) acts angry about a Corrupt Corporate Executive exploiting other people's religious faith to cause a massive scare in order to get publicity for a mall. And the moment nothing seems to happen on the alleged "doomsday" hour, she immediately starts an "I hope you learnt a lesson: I Told You So and you're all stupid" speech before being silenced by the "angel".
  • Special Guest: Stephen Jay Gould As Himself.
  • "Spread Wings" Frame Shot: Reverand Lovejoy stands in front of the "angel" this way after the "prophecy" at its feet is discovered.
  • Word, Schmord!:
    • When Lisa and Homer are discussing the building of a parking lot on a place where fossils were discovered:
      Lisa: Hey, they can't just build a parking lot on Sabertooth Meadow! That's where they discovered all those fossils.
      Homer: Fossils, schmossils. You can't stop progress 'cause of some moldy old bones. Bones, schmones.
    • And later:
      Homer: Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true. Facts, schmacts.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Somehow, the news of such a monumental, knowledge-challenging discovery is limited to the city of Springfield, even though it would almost certainly make worldwide headlines if it occurred in Real Life.
  • You Owe Me: How Lisa gets the staff and students of Springfield Elementary to work her archaeological dig.
    Lisa: Principal Skinner, remember how I didn't sue when I found that scorpion in my apple sauce? Well I'm calling in a favor.

 
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Lisa is skeptical of angels

Lisa thinks there must be a scientific explanation for the skeleton she found that looks just like an angel. The townspeople aren't convinced by her explanation.

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