We have established in previous TV Club Classic posts that the Ned and Maude Flanders of The Simpsons’ first two seasons aren’t quite the bible-thumping, relentlessly pious restraint and sobriety enthusiasts we've come to know and love. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in “The War of The Simpsons.” In the episode, Ned and Maude aren’t just a little less repressed than they would become: They’re practically secret swingers.
I suspect if the episode had gone in a different direction and lasted an hour longer, it very well might have ended with an Ice Storm-style key party in which Homer finally gets to realize his dream of making sweet, passionate love to stupid Flanders’ wife.
In a sharp reversal of the usual dynamic, it’s Ned who gets Homer into trouble by mixing him his patented concoction, a deceptively strong little number with four shots of hard liquor. This kind of behavior would be unimaginable in later seasons, but in the early days, Ned was apparently something of a lush.
This proves the catalyst to a wild whirlwind of inebriated bad behavior on Homer’s part, climaxing with Homer very creepily leering at Maude’s deep, luscious cleavage in a scandalously low-cut dress and telling her to lean down lower so he can score a deeper, more satisfying leer. Again, it’s hard to imagine the Maude of later seasons even showing any cleavage, let alone driving Homer into a libidinal frenzy with her sexy garb.
Homer gets around to alienating and offending everyone, especially Dr. Hibbert, who sternly informs Homer that the novelty ice cube with a plastic fly in it is so highly toxic, it’s actually much more dangerous than drinking a drink with an actual fly in it. In one of my favorite lines of the episode, Hibbert tells Marge that if she wants Homer to live through the night she’ll turn him, emphasizing that this was entirely her choice and no one would fault her if she opted to let him die in a pool of his own vomit.
It’s an evening to forget or at least deliberately, flatteringly misremember, as Homer does during a hilarious fantasy sequence where he recalls the night as a Algonquin Long Table-style potpourri of witty cocktail banter and sophisticated bon mots, populated by characters out of an old New Yorker cartoon.
In a desperate attempt to save her failing marriage, Maude takes Homer to a couples retreat, where they encounter a couple that has only a minute or two of screentime but make an indelible impression, a rage-filled British man and his shrew of a wife, who complains about her husband’s impotence but adds, “Not that I’d ever want his odor of gin and sour defeat all over me.” I am so stealing that "sour defeat" line. Such a beautifully caustic turn of phrase.
Homer sneaks out to seek out a legendary sea creature known as General Sherman, an enormous fish that’s a cross between a mackerel and the Loch Ness monster. “War of the Simpsons” is one of the sharpest and funniest “Can this marriage be saved?” episodes of The Simpsons, but the ending felt pat and a little unearned. After all the trauma and humiliation Homer has put Marge through, it should take more than a single symbolic gesture, even a very big one, like throwing General Sherman overboard and forfeiting hero status in the eyes of the weirdos at the bait shop, to win Marge back and save their marriage. Still, that’s only a minor quibble in what is otherwise a fantastic episode.