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Last Exit to Springfield
So It's Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show
So we'll march day and night, by the big cooling tower,
They have the plant, but we have the power.
Lisa sings this during the power plant employees' strike

"Last Exit to Springfield" is the seventeenth episode of Season 4.

Synopsis

Homer finds himself filling in for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant's union leader when it comes time to negotiate their new contract with Mr. Burns. Homer is a tough negotiator, despite not knowing the first thing about union organizing or even basic economics, and forces Burns to accept the union's demands on the condition that Homer be removed as leader. Meanwhile, Lisa is told she has to get braces and has a hard time dealing with them without a dental plan.

Full Story

While watching an installment of the McBain movie series, Bart expresses amazement at how evil the main antagonist is, to which to Homer remarks that there's no one that evil in reality. However, he failed to account for Mr. Burns, who's sitting in his office, laughing at a window cleaner hanging on for dear life after one of the washer cables snapped. Burns then closes the blinds and telephones Smithers to find out why the workers' union leader was still absent from a meeting to discuss the proposed union contract. He is then informed that he hasn't been seen since he promised to clean up the union (it's implied that he was killed in the effort when a football player trips over the spot the union buried him). Overlooking the contract, Burns is disgusted with the demands and reminisces about simpler times. As such, he chooses to take on the greedy union and revoke their dental plan.

Meanwhile, at Painless Dentistry, the Simpson kids are getting their teeth checked. It is discovered Lisa needs braces. When Marge informs Homer, he tells her not to worry about the cost, as the union had won a dental plan during the strike of 1988, (a strike where Homer was injured by the falling awning of a food truck). Later, at a meeting of the local chapter of International Brotherhood of Jazz Dancers, Pastry Chefs and Nuclear Technicians, Carl announces that the newest contract requires the union to give up their dental plan in exchange for a free keg of beer for their meeting. Homer slowly comprehends that giving up their dental plan would result in his family losing their insurance and require him to personally pay for Lisa's braces and jumps into action, reminding everyone how their dental plan has helped them all, and how the new contract is an insult. Carl proposes Homer be the new union president and is promptly elected by a nearly unanimous vote. As his first action as the new union president, Homer rips the contract agreeing to give up their dental plan to shreds. Burns monitors Homer (with a camera planted in the keg he gave them and on the plant's security monitors) and is impressed asking Smithers' which employee is the one taking action for future reference. A confused Smithers reminds Mr. Burns about all the encounters he's had with the Simpsons family (such as the time Marge ruined his gubernatorial campaign and the time Burns ran over Bart with his car) though Burns remembers none of it. Meanwhile, Homer's family all express their gratitude for his new position as Union President and explain that this will give him a chance to gain better conditions for his co-workers. Lisa asks Homer if he'll be able to get the dental plan back for her braces and Homer tells her that it depends on whether or not he's a better negotiator than Burns. Unfortunately, everyone's hopes are dashed when Bart persuades Homer to exchange his danish for a doorstop by simply swapping the adjectives. The next day, Mr. Burns continues to misinterpret Homer for a brilliant tactician, confusing his attempt to get a Sugar Daddy off his back with exercising. Burns invites Homer to his office to try to reach an agreement, but Burns' sly innuendos are mistaken by Homer as sexual advances. Homer quickly gets to his feet, saying he doesn't go for those "backdoor shenanigans" and promptly leaves.

After a seemingly terrifying prep before her anesthetization (and her dream in the form of a Beatles "Yellow Submarine" style drug trip), Lisa is given her new braces. Due to not having the dental plan available at the time, the only braces they could afford were an old, outdated design and required her to have a couple of teeth removed from the back of her jaw. The braces ended up being extremely noticeable, leading her to call herself a "monster", and even horrifying the photographer when her school pictures are taken. Meanwhile, Mr. Burns sends hired goons to Homer's in order to take him back to Burns Manor to negotiate. But first, Mr. Burns gives Homer a tour of his mansion to give him an idea of what he is capable of (such as the largest T.V. in the free-world and 1000 monkeys on typewriters). Once they actually sit to talk, Homer is overcome with a pressing need to use the bathroom due to the large amount of free beer he had drunk prior. He asks where the bathroom is and immediately leaves, causing Burns to think that Homer is unwilling to even hear him out. Infuriated by the failed meeting, Mr. Burns takes Homer back to his house via helicopter and tells him that he'll be crushed like a bug (before falling out of said helicopter). Homer finally becomes fed up with Mr. Burns and calls a meeting where the union immediately vote to strike. Burns is undeterred by the strike and he tries several methods of breaking it up, such as bringing in 30's era strikebreakers (led by Homer's father) and getting loyal robot workers (which turn on Burns and Smithers). On an edition of Kent Brockman's talk show "Smartline", Burns is allowed an opening tirade and he threatens dire events. Fifteen minutes later, Burns and Smithers march to a secret room in the Power Plant and turn off the power for the whole town. The strikers don't lose hope and, led by Lisa, begin to sing. Burns, confident he has broken the union's spirit, steps out of his balcony to hear their reaction but is disarmed by their unity and optimism. Burns finally calls a meeting with Homer to concede to their demands on one condition: that Homer must resign as union president. Homer celebrates slapstick style, prompting Burns to finally realize that Homer is not a brilliant tactician.

With the Simpson family insured again, Lisa's obsolete braces are replaced by the dental-plan-covered luxury braces, and she, the Simpson family and the dentist gather and laugh as the episode finishes (as he had left the 'laughing gas' on).

Behind the Laughter

Production

The idea for this episode came from Mike Reiss, who thought it would be funny if the plant went on strike. The writers of the episode, Kogen and Wolodarsky, would later add the dental plan part. In several scenes, Mr. Burns is portrayed as the Devil who is tempting Homer and showing him what he could have. During the production of this episode, an ABC camera crew was allowed into the rewrite room, which Al Jean says he regrets because they were working on stage direction, and they came off as not being very funny.

Casting

The producers originally asked Anthony Hopkins and Clint Eastwood to provide the voice of the dentist, Dr. Wolfe, but they both turned it down. Anthony Perkins was later asked to fulfill the role and he agreed, but passed away before the role could be recorded. In the end, the role went to Simpsons regular Hank Azaria. Also, the original panelist on Smartline was supposed to be O.J. Simpson, but he turned it down, which the writers believe was a good thing.

Reception

This episode is generally ranked as being the best of all time and is on a number of Top 10 lists. An "Entertainment Weekly" article from January 2003 looking back at the top 25 episodes of the series chose this episode as the show's greatest episode, saying "this episode is virtually flawless, the product of a series at the height of its creative powers -- when the satire was savage and relevant" and "the stuff of syndication legend: Burns facing down "brilliant" labor kingpin Homer Simpson; Homer Simpson facing down his own brain (Lisa needs braces!DENTAL PLAN!); Grampa rattling on about wearing onions on his belt. Last Exit is a glorious symphony of the high and the low, of satirical shots at unions." Watchmojo.com also ranked this episode at #1 on their Top 10 Best Simpsons Episode List.

In his book "Planet Simpson", Chris Turner calls it the best episode of the series, saying "Episode 9F15 of The Simpsons should be taught in schools, in history, economics, social studies, literature and art class. It's flawless and calling it "the funniest half-hour in TV history". He maintains that he chose the episode as best ever before EW's list was published. In 2003, to celebrate the show's 300th episode, USA Today published a top 10 chosen by the webmaster of The Simpsons Archive, which had this episode in first place. The BBC website says "This fine episode contains several of our favourite sequences ... A classic, and the series' most marked expedition into the surreal - up to this point." The episode earned an 8.9/10 on IMDB, and a 9.1/10 out on TV.com.

Director Mark Kirkland considers this episode to be one of the most surreal episodes that he has worked on because it has a lot of story crammed into it, lots of parodies and contains several visual sequences. Al Jean has also called this one of the craziest episodes. Homer's line "uh... Yeah" after being asked if he found the bathroom is one of Jay Kogen's favorite Simpsons jokes.

Citations

Season 3 Season 4 Episodes Season 5
Kamp KrustyA Streetcar Named MargeHomer the HereticLisa the Beauty QueenTreehouse of Horror IIIItchy & Scratchy: The MovieMarge Gets a JobNew Kid on the BlockMr. PlowLisa's First WordHomer's Triple BypassMarge vs. the MonorailSelma's ChoiceBrother from the Same PlanetI Love LisaDufflessLast Exit to SpringfieldSo It's Come to This: A Simpsons Clip ShowThe FrontWhacking DayMarge in ChainsKrusty Gets Kancelled
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