Classic Simpsons Reviews: “Blood Feud” is a postmodern existential crisis.

2.22 Blood Feud

Bart’s rare blood type makes him a perfect donor for the dying Mr. Burns. When Burns only sends the Simpsons a thank you card, Homer is furious, and writes Burns an angry letter, which he later regrets.

We’ll start with the end of the episode, with Burns having placated Homer’s frustration by giving the family an enormous Olmec head. The family sits around it, trying to derive meaning from the gift, and the events that led up to them getting it. Homer concludes that there isn’t a moral; the only conclusion to draw from the episode is that it was a bunch of stuff that just happened. It’s a great send up of heavy handed, moral-at-the-end sitcoms, though I do think there’s plenty of deep analysis to be found.

That there isn’t a meaning to something is, in effect, a meaning. Sometimes things happen through a combination of the deck being stacked against you and sheer absurdity.

That theme of meaningless absurdity is established in the first few shots, with Mayor Quimby unveiling a sign that reports the nuclear power plant’s conditions, with alerts ranging from “roll up windows” to “core explosion, repent sins.” It’s reminiscent of the “machine that goes bing” in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, which exists only to let you know the baby is dead. Human beings love to think they have control in an existence where they ultimately have none.

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In an increasingly secular society, we look to certain placeholders for existential comfort.

The townspeople stop clapping at the “repent sins” alert and Homer quips, “Joke’s on them. If the core explodes, there won’t be any power to light that sign.”

We always think the joke is on someone else, don’t we?

Early Simpsons comparisons between Mr. Burns and Charles Foster Kane are so good, and so subtly layered in. By the time we get to Who Shot Mr. Burns at the end of season six the writers focus on this less, and in late-era Simpsons I wonder if the writers have even seen anything as sophisticated as Citizen Kane, a film I’m bullish on as the greatest in the history of the American cinema.

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The Simpsons

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Citizen Kane

As the powerful Kane was out of touch with those close to them (as well as those with far less power, despite seeing himself as a common man), Burns is completely removed from Bart’s sacrifice, and from how small his gesture will look to a family trying to make ends meet. Men like Burns have immense power over people they’ve no connection to. It’s an absurd state for a communal species like humanity, and one we’re not evolved for.

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Every beat of the episode carries something of the impersonal. We’re all catching up to an increasing disconnect, where nothing can be deleted or adequately explained.

As much as Smithers’ not having the same blood type as Burns amplifies the disconnect between Burns and those closest to him, Bart’s being an exact match illustrates the absurdity of that disconnect. Bart’s blood giving life to the dying billionaire provides the inverse image given by Hamlet when he meditates on how “a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.” Shakespeare knew a thing or two about class division, and how ridiculous it is for our species.

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As flies to wanton boys…

It’s attractive to think of this episode as pointedly just being a bunch of things that happen, but the action of Homer pressuring Bart to give Burns blood in the hopes that the Simpsons will get rich doesn’t happen without capitalism or class conflict. Orson Welles has called Citizen Kane an attack on “the acquisitive society.” I think this is one, too.

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It’s a macro version of the out of touch Mrs. Glick presenting two quarters to Bart in “Three Men and a Comic Book.” There are so many layers of obliviousness in this shot it hurts.

Just to be clear, “Blood Feud” is funny as fuck, too (but then so are Citizen Kane and Shakespeare). Burns bounding out of bed in his hospital gown bare assed, Burns’ book being titled Will There Ever Be a Rainbow, and the final scene with the family gathered around the giant head are all classic moments.

This episode also has my favourite prank call, with Bart asking Moe for a “Mike Roch.” It’s my favourite because I’m related to one. I shit thee not. Roch sounds like gauche, though.

It says everything about The Simpsons’ writers that you have episodes like “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish” and “Blood Feud,” which are two quintessential slice of life episodes that hit completely different and equally important notes. “One Fish, Two Fish” is pure heart; “Blood Feud” is the higher brain, scrambling to sort out the absurdity and impersonality of our present existence.

Best Moment: Homer trying to intercept his letter to Mr. Burns at the post office. 24 years later that still slays. Let it be noted that “What’s your first name” and “I don’t know” is a hilarious gag weaved perfectly into the episode’s theme.

Best Quote: “Ok, here’s the plan. You can move in with your sisters, and raise the kids, and I’ll die in a gutter. It’s practical and within our means.” -Homer

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