“Who Shot Mr. Burns, Part Two” (season 7, episode 1, originally aired 9/17/1995)
The Simpsons could have kicked off its seventh season pretty much any way it wanted. The publicity, hype and fan attention from the genius cliffhanger of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” was at fever pitch, but the show’s status as a self-aware comedy meant that pretty much any answer would be a good one. Looking back, it’s kind of funny to imagine people poring over little clues to try and figure out whodunit, since the answer is a circular bit of irony that maintains the status quo.
Maggie shot Mr. Burns, who, on top of the world after blocking out the city’s sunlight, experienced the ultimate hubris: he failed to take candy from a baby. His attempts to steal her lollipop ended with his gun in her hands, and it misfired, or went off accidentally…or maybe she pulled the trigger on purpose. We’ll never know. All we know is what Chief Wiggum says at the end of the episode: “No jury in the world's gonna convict a baby. Maybe Texas.”
The revelation is very cleverly done, in that a main character did it and there’s even a weird motivation to it. I’d argue that it is absolutely the best answer the show could have come up with. Sure, one of the obvious culprits could have done it and gone to jail—Smithers is the red herring suspect in the first part of the episode, and Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein (the episode’s writers) pitched Barney for the deed, thinking that putting him in jail might be an interesting spin for the character.
But David Mirkin pitched Maggie Simpson, and the rest is history. The clues are all there if you look hard enough, but beyond that Maggie’s triumph is the comeuppance Mr. Burns truly deserves. Having anyone else kill Burns for one of ten thousand reasons would have been fine, but only Smithers has the truly grand, operatic motive (maybe Homer, whose complaint is so simple and yet so profound, but we can’t have Homer in jail for the rest of the show). Better to have Smithers as the red herring, though, since robbing him of his relationship with Mr. Burns forever after would be a body blow to the show.
Yes, it wasn’t Mr. Smithers (nor was it Dr. Colossus). He certainly did get drunk and buy a gun, but all he shot was Jasper’s foot, just because he wanted to get back home to see Pardon My Zinger (lord, I wish that was a real show). As any Simpsons-phile already knows, an alternate ending where Smithers was the shooter was written to throw people off the scent, but it doesn’t make any sense. One of the Simpsons had to do it, and not just because of the DNA evidence—because this is their show.
One of the rare things that sets “Who Shot Mr. Burns, Part Two” apart in The Simpsons’ golden years is that it’s a Wiggum-centric episode. Is there any other Wiggum-centric episode in the first nine seasons of the show? I guess he’s pretty prominent in “Marge On The Lam” and “Mother Simpson,” but “Who Shot Mr. Burns” sees him at his most straightforward. Sure, he’s still an incompetent cop, but he’s trying his best, dammit, and he interrogates many of the crucial suspects before drinking some warm cream and having a Twin Peaks-inspired dream that tells him to run a DNA test.
The Twin Peaks dream is great because it’s both a little creepy and an excellent poke at the Wiggum character more than at David Lynch’s weirdness. Wiggum has to have a backward-talking dream just to remember to order a DNA test? It’s not quite the deus ex machina Dale Cooper’s dreams could be, and Wiggum’s ultimate conclusion that Homer Simpson is the culprit is a pretty logical one, since Mr. Burns finally wakes up repeating the name over and over again.
As I said before, it would be quite something if Homer had done it. There’s a beautiful simplicity to Mr. Burns’ transgression with Homer, which sums up everything about the oligarchical evil Burns represents—he’s had countless dealings with the Simpson family, watches Homer through his surveillance camera every day, and still can’t remember his name. Is death not a worthy sentence for such behavior? Could Burns not at least do Homer the courtesy of mocking him by name?
So in that way it’s also fitting that Maggie is the culprit. Whether she knows it or not, she’s exacting sweet revenge for her father, just the latest in a heap of wonders she’s performed on the show. She tried to kill Burns—and she woulda got away with it, too, if that damned hospital hadn’t upgraded his condition to alive.
- Smithers has some great dreams. “The year is 1965, and you and I are undercover detectives on the hot rod circuit!”
- Kent Brockman is rightfully disgusted by the reporting chops of the Springfield Shopper.
- Wiggum lets Colossus out. “But stay away from Death Mountain!” “But all my stuff is there!”
- Jasper can’t stand the drunken stagger. “Slow down. Sidewalk's for regular walkin', not for fancy walkin'.”
- Willie has arthritic fingers. “I got it from Space Invaders in 1977.” “Oh yeah, that was a pretty addictive video game.” “Video game?”
- “Homer Simpson, you're under arrest for attempted murder.” “D'oh!” “Yeah, that's what they all say. They all say ‘D'oh.’”
- Dr. Nick examines Ms. Burns. “When you were in that coma, did you feel your brain getting damaged?”