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A Serious Flanders: Part Two
Portrait of a Lackey on Fire
Mothers and Other Strangers


Portrait of a Lackey on Fire is the eighth episode of Season 33 (originally going to air as the season premiere).

Synopsis

Smithers finds true love with a famous fashion designer, but will his new relationship destroy Springfield?

Full story

Homer Simpson notices Waylon Smithers' loneliness and offers to play matchmaker for him. When a jetsetting fashion designer mogul named Michael de Graaf arrives at Mr. Burns' mansion to adopt a puppy born from one of Burns' attack hounds, Homer introduces him to Smithers and the two immediately become attracted to each other. Smithers finds Michael to be polite, charming and attentive to his needs, becoming the happiest he has ever been in his life.

During a party thrown for the couple by Marge, Michael announces he is opening his new manufacturing plant in Springfield, opening multiple job positions to the town. During a tour of the factory, Homer, Bart, and Lisa discover sweatshop working conditions and the toxic waste from the factory polluting the environment. Realizing that Michael is fully aware of this, Homer reluctantly shows Smithers the damaging effects of Michael's business. Smithers grapples with this information, asking Mr. Burns for advice, only to be told that 'fast fashion' is an even more evil industry than nuclear power, and that Michael is effectively a supervillain. Burns advises Smithers to marry Michael to be set for life with wealth in a sham gay marriage.

Smithers tries to plead with Michael to change his ways, but Michael has no plans of changing his business practices. Smithers is about to reluctantly accept Michael's offer to stay in the relationship whilst overlooking his flaws and forgetting his own moral compass. After seeing Michael mistreat his Rottweiler puppy, breaks up with him. Michael leaves on his jet, and an initially heartbroken Smithers is happy to discover Michael left the puppy behind, and adopts it, realizing it will love him unconditionally and be there for him when he returns home, which were the things he wanted most in a relationship.

In a subplot, Mr. Burns becomes fixated on completing a simple 50 piece jigsaw puzzle, finding the concept foreign. He is so distracted by theorizing and conspiring over the meaning of the pieces that he doesn't notice Smithers' absence. By the end of the episode, he has completed the puzzle as Smithers reveals to him that it's a puzzle of a balloon.

During the credits, Mr. Burns is about to return to his usual miserly activities when Smithers offers him a larger 100 piece puzzle that has dragons on it and begins to work on it in the same manner.

Production

The script was written by the screenwriting duo, Rob LaZebnik and his son Johnny, who is also gay. This is the first episode that Johnny has worked on, Rob has written more than fifteen episodes of The Simpsons before the release of this episode. Johnny described his experience writing the script for The Simpsons as "spectacular and fulfilling". The role of Smithers' friend Michael was also dubbed by gay voice actor Victor Garber.

Reception

Tony Sokol of Den of gave the episode a 4.5 out of 5 stars stating, “Portrait of a Lackey on Fire,’ is a celebration of the long-running series’ most closeted icon. For years, Waylon Smithers did time as an all-too-standard bearer of hidden identity in a workplace where labels stick with the half-lives of atomic residue. The innuendo-laden repartee with his boss, Mr. Burns, includes some of the cleverest writing of the series. In earlier seasons, Smithers’ personal life barely intruded into the office, unless you had to get past his network firewall to see his introductory screensaver. Here he is gifted with the most fashionable accessory, a fully realized episode.

Highlighted episodes keep Mr. Burns young, Grampa Simpson old, and Gil Gunderson employed. Smithers’ portrayal has been an evolution, slowly unthreading from the fabric of executive material. ‘Portrait of a Lackey on Fire’ is clever, empathic and bittersweet. It panders, but in unexpected ways which keep the humor coming regularly, but never uniformly. The episode works more as a character study than a joke-fest, but the character is ultimately Springfield, not Smithers, and Springfield is no Milwaukee.”

Marcus Gibson of Bubbleblabber gave the episode a 7.5 out of 10 stating, “One of them is the humor. The comedy delivered a couple of chuckle-worthy moments to keep this relationship smooth and steady without suffering from tasteless schlock. However, it was Mr. Burns’ puzzle dilemma that ultimately won me over. Throughout the episode, Burns is over-analyzing the simplest of tasks, which is completing a jigsaw puzzle. What made it hilarious was that it distracted him from his work schedule. The other was Victor Garber’s vocal performance as Michael. He did a decent job portraying Michael as both a wise and caring person and someone who resembles Mr. Burns. Overall, ‘Portrait of a Lackey on Fire’ is an exemplary depiction of Smithers’ quest to find true love. Even though the story wasn’t entirely new, the episode is another suitable example of the show’s LGBTQ representation and a likable showcase for Springfield’s closeted character. Let’s hope that Smithers will find the right guy for him someday.”

References




Season 32 Season 33 Episodes Season 34
The Star of the BackstageBart's In Jail!Treehouse of Horror XXXIIThe Wayz We WereLisa's BellyA Serious Flanders: Part OneA Serious Flanders: Part TwoPortait of a Lackey on FireMothers and Other StrangersA Made MaggieThe Longest MargePixelated and AfraidBoyz N the HighlandsYou Won't Believe What This Episode is About - Act Three Will Shock You!Bart the Cool KidPretty Whittle LiarThe Sound of Bleeding GumsMy Octopus and a TeacherGirls Just Shauna Have FunMarge the MeanieMeat Is MurderPoorhouse Rock
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