1. Homer gives up his dream job for Maggie
The Simpsons are no strangers to nostalgia. Plenty of episodes have visited the family's past over nearly three decades, the eras changing as the show grows older. To hardcore fans, the key flashback episodes include the lovely "I Married Marge" and the touching "Lisa's First Word" followed up by "And Maggie Makes Three." The latter is what we're here for, a culmination of the canonical Simpson past that wraps a nice bow on the family history. There's also that gutpunch of an ending.
We begin with yet another convoluted excuse to gather the Simpsons around a place or thing to use as a conduit to yesteryear. When the kids wonder aloud why there aren't any photos of Maggie in the family photo album, they immediately regret the question as Homer launches into a longwinded tale of paradise, lost and found.
In this particular year, not long before the present tense of the show, Homer's life seemed to meet a nice equilibrium. Without a third Simpson kid, a younger Bart and Lisa were a little easier to take care of, and life was a bit cheaper and easier. Homer was so content that he decided to quit his job. In style.
Though he had a decent-paying job at the nuclear power plant, Homer absolutely hated his day-to-day. A tight but managable financial situation eventually allowed for him to get a lower-paying, more relaxed job to improve his quality of life. But Homer didn't just leave the plant. He severed the connection with a cleansing flame.
To the detriment of his friend Barney, Homer acquired a job at the local bowling alley, and for a while there, everything was great. The alley was Homer's happy place, a Cheersian utopia where everyone knew his name. Irony struck soon, however, when Marge and Homer began their new life with a night of passion. What was meant to be a celebration yielded the one thing that could tear everything apart: another child. Suffice it to say, when Marge announced she was pregnant, Homer yanked out what little hair he had left.
The prospect of a third child put a pretty hefty strain on Homer. The local bowling alley couldn't afford to give him a proper raise, probably at least in part because of Homer's abuse of the Shine-O Ball-O. It's never brought up in the episode, but termination of the pregnancy doesn't seem like it's an option, either. Both Homer and Marge go to church, but you'd think there would be a temptation to broach the subject from a guy who would do anything to make life a little bit easier. Then again, this was a cartoon in 1995, and Fox probably didn't want to push their luck ruining the only comedy they had beyond a series of failed, forgettable sketch comedy shows.
With no other option, Homer crawled back to Mr. Burns to get his job back. Literally. There's a dog door exclusively for people who quit and ask to be re-hired.
It's humiliating and degrading even for a guy who once had a love affair with a putrid green sub sandwich. But Homer knows that he has to suck it up and do the right thing for his family. Mr. Burns doesn't have much else better to do than grind the resolve of his peons down to a nub, so he takes special care in cases like this one. In the run of the series, Mr. Burns rarely pays much attention to Homer, but this one time he's so invested in destroying morale that he has a special frame custom-made for Homer's workspace.
"What does all of this have to do with Maggie's pictures?" the kids finally ask after 22 minutes plus commercials. Homer explains that there aren't any pictures of Maggie in the photo album because he's got a special place for them at work.
It's alright if you didn't inadvertantly blurt "Awww" out loud just now -- it just makes you less human.
Since and before the airing of this episodes, there's been a lot of evidence that Homer considers Maggie an afterthought. Unconcerned with something as trivial as continuity in a cartoon with ageless characters, the writers tweak Homer's personality from episode to episode. I don't know about you, but I prefer to believe in a Simpsons universe where Homer cares this deeply about his youngest child, as opposed to the one where he sometimes forgets she exists.
2. Homer Simpson's last day on Earth
Though groundbreaking at the time, earlier episodes of the Simpsons can be kind of rough. The animation is still a bit wobbly and the cast are still finding their voices. Even so, there's still a lot of heart in the first couple seasons, especially in "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish." What starts with another round of oafish binge-eating turns into an odyssey for a man spending time on what he believes will be his last day alive.
Homer, visiting a Japanese restaurant presumably for the first time at the tender age of 36, has just discovered that sushi is actually pretty good. He demands everything on the menu, including fugu fish, a dangerous delicacy. The trick with the fugu is that only a very small section of the fish is edible, and the rest is lethally poisonous to humans. With the head chef out back making time with Edna Krabappel, the apprentice takes a crack at slicing the fugu in just the right way for human consumption. Only after Homer has choked down everything on his plate does the restaurant tell him what happened.
The apprentice had carelessly risked Homer's life, but what's done was done (quick regurgitation was apparently not on the table). There wasn't much time for a lawsuit for negligence and/or manslaughter. Homer and Marge had to rush to the hospital to see Dr. Hibbert, who gave them the bad news: Since Homer had more than likely ingested the fugu poison, he had less than a day to live.
This has to be one of the darkest moments in Simpsons history. We the audience know that there's no danger of Homer passing away, that everything will be fine and he'll be back to crushing beer cans with his gut next week at the same time. But the characters in the show don't know that. To Homer and Marge, the news is nothing short of crushing. Earlier in the evening they assumed they had decades to spend with one another, but now they only have hours before Homer's heart fails and Bart and Lisa lose their father forever.
After going through all five stages of denial in quick succession, Homer decides to make a bucket list. It's pretty ambitious, considering a large part of his remaining lifespan will be spent sleeping overnight. Said list, written with surprisingly neat handwriting on "Dumb Things I Gotta Do Today" stationary, is mostly comprised of time with individual family members.
It's kind of heartening and adorable to see how a deeply stupid man would spend the last moments taking care of his family. Homer's final "man-to-man" with Bart involves effective excuses when getting in trouble at work or school, such as "It was like that when I got here." Then comes the attempt at a shaving lesson.
Homer knows that he won't be around to guide Bart into manhood, and he only has a limited window to pass down the basics to his son. One of the only things he can think of is shaving, which is not as helpful as say, sound financial advice or other words of wisdom. But it's all Homer is equipped to give.
Lisa is a different story.
Whereas Homer wanted to have "a man-to-man" with Bart to instill his son with what little knowledge he had to offer, when it came to his eldest daughter, Homer's last wish was to "Listen to Lisa play the sax." He doesn't try to prepare her for the future because he already knows she's a better person than he is. All he can do is show her respect after years of telling her to pipe down that saxamophone. Homer's goofy dancing and hollering to "The Saints Go Marching In" is an inept father's way of telling his daughter he approves of her and is proud of her talent.
Homer also "borrows" a camcorder from Ned Flanders to make a video for Maggie, who won't really comprehend language for a few years. Ned actually invites his neighboreeno to a barbequeue that's taking place the following day; while Homer would normally turn down the offer in the most brunt way possible, he accepts on the basis that he knows he'll be dead anyway. It's sort of a dick move but also somewhat nice to Ned at the same time.
After that, things start to slow down. Homer visits his father and the two embark on an impromptu fishing trip.
Though pressed for time, Homer can't resist the chance to spend the quality time with his father that he never had as a kid. However, this means that he had to cross items off the list like "Make funeral arrangements" and "Go hang gliding." There just aren't enough hours to get to everything done.
The schedule is so tight that Homer is caught speeding home. Thrown in jail after an altercation, he leaves his family waiting at the dinner table.
All Homer wants to do is spend his remaining time on the planet with his family, but he's stuck in jail until Barney bails him out. Barfly that he is, Barney demands one last trip to Moe's Tavern. And wouldn't you know it, their car breaks down on the way home. By the time everyone is reunited, the kids are already in their pajamas.
After one last night with his wife, Homer plods downstairs and listens to a reading of the Bible from Larry King (skipping the boring parts, of course). When Marge comes downstairs in the morning, Homer is slumped over in his chair.
It's an unsettling sight for the viewer, but it's likely horrifying for Marge. She knew this was coming, but that can't make it any easier to find your husband's corpse looking out on the front lawn.
Of course, we know everything is fine.
Yes, Homer is alive, and yes, he said goodbye to his family and friends for nothing. If we're being honest, Homer didn't learn a lot from this. Because there has to be more episodes with increasingly wacky situations, by design Homer has to forget how much he valued his family during these harrowing hours. But at least, for one day, Homer was the best husband and father he could possibly be.
Too bad he still has to go to Flanders' barbequeue.