After an okay start followed by one forgettable episode, The Simpsons have been on the upswing the last four weeks. One of the reasons for this, aside from the quality being better, is that the show has opted to make bold narrative and artistic choices. That trend continues with ‘Todd, Todd, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?’
On first glance, an episode centered around The Flanders children is a very risky proposition. Rodd and Todd have been fairly one dimensional for their entire run on the show, blindly obeying their overly pious father. This has mostly been used for jokes and the result has made the two almost like punching bags.
But on the flip side, their stories are ripe for exploration. These kids have been through a lot: their house being destroyed by a hurricane and the deaths of their biological mother and step mother. We’ve seen how this has impacted Ned so it only makes sense to get the children’s perspective.
(Side note and mini rant: Maude’s death and the way it transpired is still probably the show’s greatest mistake in my opinion).
In Forsaken, Todd suffers a crisis of faith due to the pain of his mother’s death. He can’t remember what she looks like and so starts to believe that there is no point in believing in something without proof. Ned decides that shock therapy is the best way to solve his son’s issue by leaving him with the Simpsons. The various members of the family try and fail to get Todd to believe again by either proposing alternatives, showing what life would be like if he went ‘bad’ or in the case of Homer, drawing Jebus on bread.
Ned drinks his sorrows away with Homer and the two get run over by Hans Moleman. Unconscious at the hospital, the two wind up as visitors in heaven where its everything they’ve dreamed of. At the hospital, Todd is unsure if praying will help and Marge encourages him that it doesn’t have to be to God. Todd does pray and the Ned and Homer eventually wake up. Todd’s faith seemingly restored.
The episode pulled no punches especially at the beginning. The revelation that Todd can’t remember his mother’s face coupled with his faceless nightmare is as heartbreaking as it is terrifying. The scene at the church doubles down on his plight. Rev. Lovejoy gets the kids to say what they’re thankful for but Todd can’t bring himself to do it, “I lost my voice from crying.” This is pretty heavy stuff and I commend the show for going all in. Nancy Cartwright delivers a stellar performance of a boy who truly misses his mother and can’t reconcile his faith.
The only misstep in the episode is Ned’s reaction and decision to cast away Todd to the Simpsons. He sees the issue purely as one of a loss of faith when in reality its more nuanced than that. Because of this Ned becomes almost vindictive towards his son and actively prays for his punishment. That he winds up sending his son to the Simpsons, to scare religion back into him, seems like a cruel joke considering that Homer was indirectly responsible for Maude’s death. What’s more, Ned makes Rodd turn his back on his brother, which is both unfair and almost certainly irreligious.
The conclusion, I suppose, is about as quick and neat as is possible for a twenty minute show. But the subject matter deserved more time. Nevertheless, Todd’s prayers seemed genuine in that he was unsure of its usefulness. The brief exchange he had with Marge about prayer at the hospital was also perfect for its subtle wisdom:
Todd: I don’t think that anyone’s listening anymore.
Marge: Sometimes it can just be an honest conversation we have with ourselves.
Were it not for the bland middle portion of the episode where Todd lives with the Simpsons this would have been one of the better serious episodes we’ve had in a long time. It was a great effort though and I appreciate the show taking a risk to tell a compelling story.
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