Season 31, Episode 22

This season finale had me feeling nostalgic in more ways than one. The obvious comes from the episode itself which deals with Santa’s Little Helper (SLH) and his PTSD stemming from episode 1. The less obvious comes from my own thoughts after seeing the episode. The show is nearing its end and while there is still one more season contractually, the eventual end of the show remains a looming spectre for both fans and show-runners alike. How it’ll actually end is the million dollar question.

Whenever the show ends it should look something like The Way of the Dog (TWD). It would be nice for the finale to have some major callbacks, especially to season 1 and the first episode. Part of this would need to include original footage from that time which is what happens in TWD to spectacular effect. But now that TWD has aired I’m curious if any of this will actually happen in the end. TWD certainly has a finality aspect to it but it was done through SLH so perhaps they’ll retread this area from the family’s perspective. No matter how they do it, TWD gives me confidence that the show-runners will eventually step their game up and handle the series finale with care.

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As for the episode itself, our main character is SLH. Back in the series premiere ‘Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire’, SLH was was also the main attraction as he stumbled his way into the family after Homer’s unwisely betting. The episode was during Christmas and Bart was wearing a Santa Hat which to him solidified their relationship. In TWD, SLH finds this hat and aggressively protects it and we only later find out that its the same hat Bart wore in the beginning. That’s where the episode does a brilliant flashback to episode one where Bart pleads with Homer to keep the dog. The flashback is also neatly preserved in its original aspect ratio giving it an almost hallowed feeling. It also ends up being the key to his PTSD.

It turns out SLH desperately wants two things: to see his mother again and to get revenge on the dog-breeder who separated them. In the end we get to see the dog-breeder and he comes off as a bad guy but is willing in to fill in the backstory of SLH. The family though rightly put him in his place and SLH gets his shot too by biting him. Then we get a tender scene with SLH reuniting with his mother (she-biscuit) which brings even the dog-breeder to tears. It certainly got to me and the scene, for a moment, almost has you believe that his mother is dead but thankfully not.

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Everything leading up to that tender final moment also worked. The episode played out kind of like a mystery with incredible build up. Throughout, we get imagery of three dots and hands as a weapon. It turns out that the dots are SLH’s mother’s nipples, a loving memory of his infancy when he and the rest of the lot would drink her milk. The hands are the dog-breeder’s  when he snatches him away, a menacing vision that haunts him.

We get to this point at first through the efforts of Bart and Lisa but very soon it turns into a whole family affair. They all pitch in to protect SLH who is under threat from being taken away for his recent aggressive behavior. Cate Blanchett guest stars as Dr. Elaine Wolf who actually despises humans. Her character was pretty good and she was given a small B plot where her lover eventually dumps her which confirms her belief that dogs are better than humans.

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One scene of hers that stands out is where she describes part of her methodology: which is seeing things from a dog’s perspective, which in turn has nothing to do with sight but smell. We’re then treated to a montage of SLH smelling a lamppost and ‘seeing’ everyone who’s passed by there with his scent; the best one being Gil using the outlet underneath to power his TV. The scene plays out rather softly with subdued music and has an awe inspiring tone which makes the viewer marvel at the the dog’s ability.

While the episode was heavy on emotion it did still provide some laughs. Homer getting household products as gifts was good and not overused. Lisa using Bart to read her plea for SLH was a perfect team up. Homer imagining a dog psychologist as one dog telling the other to get off the couch was classic Homer and Dr. Wolf’s TV spot for her dog therapy facility was funny in that it touts itself as not using any fireworks.

So a really good season finale that was heavy on story and had the added bonus of strengthening the continuity of the show. The season itself ended with a couple of really solid episodes and overall the last two seasons the quality has trended upward. Let’s hope they keep this up for season 32!