“The Springfield Connection” (season six, episode 23; originally aired 5/7/1995)
In which Marge is bad news—but a good cop…
Marge Simpson is accustomed to upholding law and order in her own household. She’s the consummate straight man among the Simpsons, the one keeping the family grounded in something approaching reality while putting its most unruly elements (mostly Bart and Homer) in line. She’s tough but fair, but even among her loved ones, the effort to keep 742 Evergreen Terrace from devolving into an uncivilized madhouse goes overlooked. Hence the big laugh from one of “The Springfield Connection”’s first-class one-liners, delivered by Bart on Marge’s first day with the Springfield Police Department: “Wow, Mom—I never pictured you as any sort of authority figure before!”
“The Springfield Connection” is tied to a proud sitcom tradition of temporary employment, a storyline that turns up again and again throughout The Simpsons’ run. (We’ve seen two examples in the back end of season six alone, thanks to “Homie The Clown” and “The PTA Disbands.”) When Homer himself became a cop in 2002’s “Poppa’s Got A Brand New Badge,” he rattles off just a few of the estimated 188 jobs the writers handed their character in the show’s first 400 episodes:
“Boxer, mascot, astronaut, baby proofer, imitation Krusty, truck driver, hippie, plow driver, food critic, conceptual artist, grease salesman, carny, mayor, grifter, body guard for the mayor, country western manager, garbage commissioner, mountain climber, farmer, inventor, Smithers, Poochie, celebrity assistant, power plant worker, fortune cookie writer, beer baron, Kwik-E-Mart clerk, homophobe, and missionary.”
“But protecting people,” he concludes, “that gives me the best feeling of all.”
That’s Marge’s impulse for joining the force—it’s also the main impulse behind any big decision the character makes. She’s just a natural protector. And although “The Springfield Connection” portrays Snake’s arrest as the inspiration for her police academy application, it’s important to note that she wouldn’t have had that back-alley confrontation if she wasn’t first watching out for her husband.
Of course, Marge has too much faith in established institutions to take the law into her own hands. “The Springfield Connection” reportedly has a real-world precedent in the wife of former Simpsons executive Mike Reiss, who once considered becoming a police officer herself. And yet it just wouldn’t seem like Marge if her adrenaline-charged first brush with crime-fighting led to her starting a version of the Guardian Angels or adopting a superhero alter ego. This is Marge Simpson we’re talking about, a woman who responds to Lisa’s concerns about abuses of power and overcrowded prisons with a visit from McGriff, The Crime Dog. Marge goes into this experience with total faith in the cops. Like her trusty hand puppet, she too just wants to bite crime.
The Simpsons is often skeptical of police—what TV show that introduced the world to Clancy Wiggum wouldn’t be? But the show’s opinion on the topic is rarely as subversive as it is during “The Springfield Connection.” Most of that comes courtesy of Lisa’s take on the cops, but the episode is all about jamming a finger in the eye of the status quo. I mean, just get a load of the way Homer sums up Marge’s exhilaration at bringing Snake to justice. “Yes, it is exhilarating to see the police get their man and save a hysterical woman.”
Yet for all it has to say about institutional corruption (Marge’s ultimate reason for turning in her badge, thus making sure she can open a pretzel wagon in season eight) and sexism, “The Springfield Connection” is never as blunt in its satire as the middle Simpson child. Homer comes out and says that he sees Marge’s new job as an affront to his masculinity, but the real reason behind the couple’s interpersonal conflict is a Simpsons go-to as trusty as fluctuating job status: Homer doesn’t take Marge seriously, until it’s almost too late. The high stakes of Marge’s new gig could unmoor this variation on the theme from the reality of the show, but they also underline the poignancy of this lesson Homer has learned dozens of times. It’s not enough to love your spouse; you need to respect them as well. Hans Moleman’s last meal doesn’t get this to sink into the gooey wheel of cheese that is Homer’s brain, but staring into the barrel of Herman’s gun sure does.
As much as “The Springfield Connection” is a thrill-ride departure from the norm for Marge, it’s also one for the Simpsons animators. Longtime director Mark Kirkland borrows liberally from the visual vocabulary of cop shows and action movies, shaking up the normal Simpsons look with Marge’s kinetic training montage and the dead-end suspense of her chase with Snake. (It also swipes from the sounds of that source material, using a variation on the Hill Street Blues theme while Marge is on the beat.) The episode itself is an echo of Marge’s experience within it: Nobody expects the animated comedy to make a brief detour into police work, but it prompts plenty of laughter—none of it mocking. And just as it’s understandable for Marge to extend her natural inclination to serve and protect, it’s in The Simpsons’nature to surprise us. A half-hour job for one of the characters may have been expected at this point, but the extent to which the show commits to that job is remarkable.
- Occasions for which Marge will trade her usual red pearls for more formal white ones: Church services, as well as a date to the Springfield Pops, apparently.
- Mr. Burns swiping Apu’s bribe money is such a fantastically subtle gag (I’m guessing he also stole the milk) as well as a testament to the versatility of The Simpsons’ supporting cast. It’s always fun to see a character like Burns—who typically gets more robust storylines in which to work his villainy—contributing the sort of quick punchline usually reserved for the likes of Bumblebee Man or Professor Frink.
- The most egregious offense Officer Simpson notices outside of the Kwik-E-Mart: “Horse not wearing diaper.”
- The second poker scene features two all-time great Simpsons quotes within the space of a minute. First: “When Marge first told me she was going to the police academy, I thought it’d be fun and exciting. You know, like that movie: Spaceballs. But instead, it’s been painful and disturbing like that movie Police Academy.” After that, Moe delivers the show’s ultimate comeback for any and all snootiness: “The garage? Ooo, fellas: The garage. Well la-di-da Mr. French Man.” “Well what do you call it?” “A car hole!”
- Next week: It’s all out war between Springfield and Shelbyville as “Lemon Of Troy” launches 1,000 words (give or take) from David Sims.