Awards season is just about wrapping up and one of the consequences of being a lifelong Simpsons fan is that you see a lot of The Simpsons in everyday life. Such was my predicament recently when watching the Oscar-nominated Marriage Story. Upon reflecting on that film I couldn’t help but make a parallel to one of the classic Simpsons episodes which deal directly with divorce: A Milhouse Divided.
Now, I’m not here to suggest that Divided is nearly as good as Marriage Story. They do however share one thing in common: both uniquely tackle the subject of divorce through the lens of the couple and not the child. Most divorce films prior to Marriage Story (just off the top of my head) deal with its subject matter via the child’s experience. Similarly, The Simpsons had not dealt with a divorce up until that point and the showrunners decided to also not focus on Milhouse’s point of view but instead on Kirk and Luann, who at this point we knew very little about.
This ends up being an inspired choice and one of the reasons it’s a classic episode. It was uncharted territory and the show dealt with its subject matter with care and sophistication that was a hallmark of the golden era. Divided is both funny and sad, often within the same scene, and manages to craft a story out of the messy collapse. It’s full of heartbreak and regret but also very perceptive in the sense that it allows for reflection and a reaffirmation of love between Homer and Marge.
The dinner party is truly one of the all-time great Simpsons scenes. Right from the get-go, Kirk is insulting Luann in a jock, almost self-indulgent way which sets the mood. This escalates throughout the party and culminates in the Pictionary game. Kirk is being insufferable and lashes out at Luann for not being able to guess his drawing of dignity. Luanne finally rises up and lays into Kirk spelling out, in front of everyone, how bad their marriage actually is. Her pent up rage is so powerful but also, painfully real.
It mirrors the climactic argument between the main characters in Marriage Story. Though in Marriage Story my reading of that scene was one of voluntary catharsis. In Divided, there is that sense of release but the difference is that it came from a place of provocation.
Homer blindly assumes that this won’t happen to him but quickly realizes that it might if he’s not careful. We get an interesting flashback to their wedding night which was done on the cheap. Homer decides to make things right. For all his faults, he truly loves Marge and is willing to sacrifice every now and then for the marriage. He proceeds to divorce her and throw her a surprise second wedding complete with reception, guests and a live band. The type of wedding she always wanted/deserved.
This final scene is also instructive for the parallels it provides. Homer’s elaborate scheme is borne out of genuine effort and love. Kirk, seeing the moment as an opportunity, takes the mic and sings his song ‘Can I borrow a feeling’ (which Homer resoundingly laughed at earlier on). He uses it to ask Luann to take him back. It’s the kind of thing that Kirk would do, a self-centered grand overture which is not original and only dovetails off the euphoria of the Simpsons second wedding. It’s representative of the faults Luann made clear earlier. So it comes as no surprise that when he asks her to take him back she expressly refuses.
On top of this, the episode is quite hilarious. I already mentioned Homer’s resound laughing at Kirk’s demo tape. There’s also the scene where Kirk is showing Homer his new apartment complete with race car bed. Kirk tries to make him jealous but Homer claps back that he sleeps in a big bed with his wife. We also get, I think, the only wacky/out there bit when Luann is picked up by her new American Gladiator boyfriend. The two literally exit the scene rolling away in one of those human-sized spheres often used on that show. It worked for me and even though it was absurd it oddly fit.
All of this to say, that there is a Simpsons episode for pretty much every scenario. The show has won its fair share of awards over the years and at its best can be truly amazing.