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Worldly Distractions: The Simpsons 24.21 - The Saga of Carl Carlson






So, The Simpsons did something weird this week – they aired two episodes for the season finale, which do not appear to be connected in any way. Chances are at least one of them will be fun, right? Let’s explore “The Saga of Carl Carlsonâ€. Will he and Lenny finally kiss? Only time will tell. Side note - I've been advised to look out for Icelandic band Sigur Ros, both as themselves and for some of their compositions. Hmmm.

Couch gag: The Simpsons are all different kinds of fish. They swim to the couch, and are subsequently eaten by Blink the Three-Eyed Fish. Nice and simple this week – a good change.

Homer watches “soft-core tennis†(women’s doubles) until the PVR spontaneously changes the channel to record. They want to watch their favourite show, Ki-Ya Karate Monsters. Am I really old? Is this an homage to something I don’t get? Unless it’s the Pokemon craze ten years ago. Anyway, Marge said yes, and Homer’s not going to walk all the way upstairs to ask her – a brilliant homage to the stair scene in Psycho ensues. I like Krav-Ma Golem – wonder what goynif would think of him? (Okay, okay, no ragging on bloggers in the recaps. I’ll be good.)

So Bart and Lisa are obsessed with cartoon martial arts, trading moves at the dinner table and in the bathtub. Marge and Homer are soon driven crazy. When Bart and Lisa interrupt Grampa’s birthday with a Ki-Ya attack (complete with Grampa’s actual sword), Marge puts her foot down. She declares that they will be educational and go to the science museum instead – only to find that they have an exhibit on Ki-Ya Karate Monsters. Every parent reading this cringes. Soon enough, Bart and Lisa are whacking a dinosaur skeleton with bamboo sticks and screeching at the top of their lungs. When they get to the “real scienceâ€, they are of course bored out of their minds. I wish my local museum had a cartoon featuring Blaise Pascal and Silly Squirrel. After a lecture on probability from said video, Homer storms into Moe’s telling them all how it’s stupid to play the lottery. Nonetheless, he has a ticket, with four lucky numbers for four great friends. Awww. 3 because that was the number of siblings Moe “Hunger Gamesd†in the womb...19 for the best year of Lenny’s life, 1996...22, but when Carl says “no reason†he looks suspiciously guilty...and 69, because people laugh whenever Homer says it, though he doesn’t know why. Imagine their shock when their numbers actually come up!

$200,000 split between them. They go into raptures. They’re going to lose like half of it to tax, right? Still, nothing to sneeze at. Carl suggests they throw a party, and everyone volunteers some kind of service. Carl’s actually in tears over winning. Yep, something going on there. (The episode title was definitely a clue.) They drink to their success. We cut to the party, where the guys discuss what they’ll do with the money. Homer wants to build a pool. Lenny turns to ask Carl – but he’s gone. Moe thinks he’s still cashing in the ticket. Lenny thinks he’s stuck in traffic. They’re a little less optimistic once the party breaks up and it’s just Lenny, Moe, Homer and the Van Houtens, but they don’t lose their faith. Moe suggests that perhaps Carl ripped them off. But no, it can’t be! Carl’s their friend! By the time Barney has passed out, though, Carl’s phone is going straight to voicemail. It’s decided. Though none of them should be driving, they pile into Homer’s car and go search for their friend. They find an empty apartment and no money. Immediately, they assume the worst. Homer hastily rewrites their friendship song. As they sing the last note, we cut to Carl boarding a plane with a duffel bag full of money.

Moe swears revenge on Carl, which is pretty similar to the way he talks to El Barto. Lenny suggests they give him a chance – until Homer discovers Carl’s travel neck pillow missing. Now it’s personal. Lenny grasps for alternate theories (he flew to Quebec to bring his buddies French-Canadian sugar pie, etc), but no one goes with it. Just then, Homer finds a note addressed to “The Guysâ€. “I’ve gone home. Goodbye forever...Carl Carlson.†Huh. That adds a wrinkle to things.

Over dinner at the Simpson house, Lenny and Moe mourn the lost money. Marge is just shocked it was Carl, whom she would have least suspected of the three. She keeps thinking there must be some kind of reason. Lisa points out that he said he was going “homeâ€, and his passport is gone – so he must have gone to where he’s from. The trouble is, none of them know where he’s from, which Homer chalks up to the nature of male friendships. Moe says it doesn’t matter anyway, because Carl is gone and they’re already auditioning replacements. Prospects include Lou the policeman, who’s highly offended by being chosen for the obvious reason, which is only compounded when he runs into Dr. Hibbert on the way out. Lenny sadly brings out a picture of Carl, which enrages Moe. Just then, Homer notices something reflected in Carl’s sunglasses. Using a beer stein as a magnifying glass, they find out that he’s at a place called Strokkur Geysir. Iceland? It’s Iceland, right? A quick consultation with Lisa confirms this, though she has to assure the guys it’s a real place. Carl Carlson the Icelander? Hmm, not surprising at all. (Let’s ignore how this discovery brushes off all of Iceland’s complicated racial history. Just...let’s not get into it right now.) Iceland is actually the land of CFK’s forefathers...so I am forced to assume that Carl is my cousin. Anyway, Carl was adopted and his parents live outside Reykjavik. Say it with me now – The Simpsons (and friends) are going to Iceland!

Lenny packs his Carl collection, Moe some grey underpants in a paint can, and Homer way too much of everything. Marge worries about Homer going so far away, but he insists that he has to do it. Hey, I’d go to Iceland to get fifty grand back too, no judgment here. Marge says she can’t sleep without him next to her, so he puts the couch on the bed. It’s a perfect substitute. On the plane, Lenny is unrelentingly optimistic about their reunion, while Moe is out for blood. This should be an interesting juxtaposition. Homer laughs at the whole “Iceland is green and Greenland is icy†thing...until they actually end up in the Icelandic snow. Oops.

Suitably fitted into Icelandic sweaters, they go on a quest. Moe struggles to describe Carl without mentioning his skin colour, until Homer just jumps in and says it anyway. Turns out the Carlsons have been hated for a millennium, because, as the Icelandic guy they ask puts it “Our country is very small, very judgmental, and very nosy.â€Â  They ask why Carl’s family has such a reputation. The guy takes them to the local museum, which will soon have a Ki-Ya Karate Monsters exhibit. He shows them an ancient legend which tells of how the Carlsons, tasked with watching over the coast, let invading hordes in and caused Iceland’s ruin. Moe says that screwing your friends over must be a family thing. They drive out to Carl’s place, which is at 22...Homer can’t pronounce the name street. 22! So that was it. It kind of looks like the Vanger estate. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo parody? Please? Sweden, Iceland – what’s the difference? Okay, lots of difference. They try to get in and fail, so they settle for a stakeout in the car instead. Moe whines that he has nothing to look at, missing the Northern Lights above him, as well as the parade of magic creatures dancing about.

In the morning, Carl emerges with a large suitcase. He bids goodbye to his parents and drives off. Lenny shakes his friends awake. The chase is on. They travel the barren roads, past geysers and lava pits, through narrow Nordic city streets. They catch up with Carl as he walks out of a building. Soon they chase him on foot, after his suitcase full of riches. The out-of-shape Americans are soon winded, including Carl, so it’s pretty easy to pay a local to tackle him. They take him into a pub, where they threaten him with the local delicacy of “rotten shark fermented in its own urineâ€. Faced with his native cuisine, he talks. Lenny wonders how he could have betrayed them. Carl explains that he had to use the money to clear his family’s name. A page from the book of legends was torn out, and Carl thinks it could hide the key to the story and change everyone’s minds. He’s used the money to buy the page. Lenny asks why he didn’t tell them, and Carl says bitterly that they’re not really friends. Aping what they were talking about at the Simpson dinner table, he says that friends share their innermost thoughts, not joke about baseball or whatever it is guy friends are supposed to do. Homer and Moe aren’t exactly tickled, but Lenny is crushed. In a perfect leap of logic, Lenny decides to kill Carl. Screwed yourself over there, buddy. They get into a massive fistfight, rolling into the street. When they are reduced to poking each other in the eyes, Homer and Moe pull them apart. Moe says it doesn’t matter, they have the money – and opens the suitcase to reveal the missing page. Lenny says that since he spent their money on it, it belongs to all of them. Carl begs, and Lenny concedes that maybe they’d give it back to a friend. Homer says it’s World War Two all over again – America kicks Iceland’s ass. (Though that is obviously a joke, I tremble to think how many people will actually believe that.)

On a tourist bus, Homer reflects that maybe they aren’t just friends – maybe they do just sit around talking about guy things with nothing meaningful to cement them. We get a flashback of the guys sitting side by side, throughout the years, looking blank and having no interaction whatsoever. They realize that Carl maybe had a point after all. In a Skype conference with Marge, she suggests that they read the page and see what it says. With the help of Moe’s wake-up drugs (wow, is that ever a theme on TV this week), they will learn ancient Icelandic and decode the story – for friendship. In an amazing feat, they actually succeed. Homer reads us the tale. Apparently, the Carlsons raised their weapons against the barbarians – then dropped them and promptly let the invaders in. D’oh. To boot, they joined in the cruelty, then wrote it down so no one would forget their treachery and cowardice? Huh? The guys are in disbelief. All the betrayal, drama and Icelandic lessons for nothing.

They give a lecture to the entire population of Iceland (about fifty people). Homer says that the people of Iceland have been through a lot, including a lesbian prime minister. He admires them for their stubbornness and ability to survive. He proposes that they forgive the Carlsons. Met with some opposition, he explains that they have been redeemed by Carl’s actions in the modern era. A parchment in medieval style shows us that he helped Lenny move, brought that blue tape when Moe painted his place, and leaves the extra beers whenever he brings a six-pack to Homer’s house. They conclude that Carl is a friend, no matter what anyone says, and they forgive him for stealing their lottery winnings. Iceland is overwhelmed by Carl’s good deeds. Inspired, they decide that Carl has forever redeemed his family. Teary, he lets his parents show their face in public, the first Carlsons to do so in a millennium. Carl’s dad asks how he can say that the Springfield guys aren’t his friends. Carl breaks down and hugs his buddies. Aww. It’s a great reunion. The Northern Lights come out, and they bathe in a hot spring. They toast with wine – which brings them back to Moe’s, toasting with beer. Carl thanks them for teaching him the true meaning of male friendship, that is, not to share their emotions but to escape them. They toast “to nothingâ€. Then they sit around staring in silence. Just like old times.

Homer leads his family outside, blindfolded, all of them dressed for swimming. Proudly, he reveals a brand new – series of keg pools. Ah, what the hell, they’re delighted anyway. Summer fun is summer fun, right? Homer gets the keg stuck on his back, crawls around like a turtle, and declares angrily that he’s going home. He retreats into his “shellâ€. Up with the end credits.

For a premise that came out of left field, as well as the dreaded “minor character gets a backstory†episode they have done way too many times, AS WELL AS “The Simpsons Go To†plot we all know and loathe, this one actually held up pretty well. Why? A lot of the jokes worked, and they picked a country with which North American audiences may not be as familiar, but which has been in the news a bit, leaving them with a lot to play with. They also haven’t done much in Northern Europe, which allowed more joke territory than simply Iceland. As well, instead of doing the family vacation yet again, they turned it into a buddy plot, which proved to be a refreshing and engaging change. Most of all, they picked a plot and stuck with it. Many of the weaker episodes have several plotlines that go nowhere, but this one went with a clear narrative and some good motivation on everyone’s behalf. The other stuff, such as the Bart and Lisa story, was a joke rather than taking up screentime and distracting from what’s important. It reminds me of last season’s excellent “The Book Job†(the one with Neil Gaiman), which benefited from many of the same changes. Sigur Ros provided some excellent music that really stood out in this episode. If there's any justice, they'll get an Emmy nomination. Oh – and there was some truly beautiful animation. The Simpsons proved tonight that it can still bring out a serviceable episode from time to time. Let’s see if they can do the same for the second round.

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