We are now 25 episodes into this series, and to celebrate this occasion, I think it’s time we take a look back on some crucial Simpson character backstory and lore. And what better place to start than the story of how Marge and Homer Simpson first met, fell in love, and started a family together. This is the first time the Simpson writers and producers decided to give us a glimpse into the past and lives of our favorite yellow-skinned matriarch and patriarch, and while they will give us more episodes like this in the future, this is an episode that has always stood out for me because of its special nature. It’s time to take a look at “The Way We Was.”
“The Way We Was” is the twelfth episode written and broadcast for The Simpsons second season and was first shown on February 1st, 1991. The chalkboard gag for this episode is “I will not get very far with this attitude,” and the couch gag is a repeat of the gag we saw in “Bart Gets an F,” with the couch falling through the floor once the family sits on it. Interestingly enough, we’ve seen all the new couch gags for the entire season as nine of the ten gags get reused once, one of them gets reused twice, and the remaining episode, which was the Halloween special, didn’t have a couch gag.
“Why do birds, suddenly appear, every time, you are near? Just like me, they long to be, close to you!”
~”Close to You” by the Carpenters (Homer and Marge’s song)
The story of this episode starts in the Simpson house where the family is watching TV. When the television set starts experiencing some issues, Homer tries to fix it, but ends up making the picture worse until it shuts off completely. Both Homer and the kids are distraught by this happening and it takes Marge to remind Homer that during their older days they didn’t even watch TV. This prompts Lisa to ask the two adults about their past, which leads into a flashback of Homer and Marge’s lives in 1974, during their senior year of high school.
Both Marge and Homer do not know of each other yet and lead completely different lives. Marge is a very good student who is also very active on the school forensics team, while Homer is a straight-up underachiever in every sense of the word. Both happen to end up in detention one afternoon though when Homer is caught smoking in the men’s restroom with his best friend Barney while Marge gets in trouble for making a stand and lighting a bra on fire as a form of protest for women’s rights on school property. It is here where Homer first notices Marge and is immediately smitten with her.
Homer asks his father and the school guidance counselor for advice on how to get Marge to notice him and like him, and while they don’t give him the answers he is looking for, through the guidance counselor he learns that Marge is on the forensics team and decides to join to get closer to her. It is through these actions that we are also introduced to Artie Ziff, Marge’s friend and partner on team; a very nerdy guy who uses his smarts in an almost condescending way (at least towards Homer), and has a certain level of smugness about himself as well. He is also played by Jon Lovitz, another recurring Simpsons guest star who will come back to play a variety of different roles and characters, as well as reprise them in numerous cases as well. When Homer finally has a window of opportunity, he approaches Marge and asks her if she would go out with him. Marge is very reluctant to accept because she doesn’t really know him that well, doesn’t think he is her type, and doesn’t think she would have the time to date with her forensics meets and the fact that she tutors French part-time. Homer seeing another opportunity claims that he is taking and struggling with French in order to get some more alone time with Marge.
Marge comes over to Homer’s house, the night before a big forensics meet the following day, to tutor him. Homer manages to pick-up the language very well and makes incredible progress over the course of just one night, and both Marge and Homer have a lot of fun hanging out together in the process. Marge’s guard starts to lower as she mentions to Homer that he is unlike any man that she has ever met before, specifically praising his openness and honesty. Homer takes that window to ask Marge if she would go to the prom with him, to which she responds positively. After the fact, Homer decides to come clean to Marge that he’s not actually in any French class and that the entire night was just a scheme of his to get to know her better. Marge is furious at the revelation, slaps Homer in the face, and tells Homer that she hates him for keeping her up until the late hours of the night pretending to be stupid. However, despite the outburst, Homer is still convinced that their prom date is still good as he calls Barney to tell him the good news.
The next day, Marge does not perform very well at the forensics meet, but Artie manages to come in first place and get a trophy for his efforts. It’s at this point that Artie also asks Marge to go to the prom with him, and since Marge has known and respected him for years, she accepts the invitation. The night of the prom arrives and Homer goes to Marge’s place to meet her family. When Marge enters the room and sees Homer, she is in shock that Homer actually came and still thought their date was still good after what he did to her. Artie arrives shortly after and Homer takes the hint that Marge does not want to go to the prom with him anymore, and proceeds to go to the event alone. At the prom, both Marge and Artie are voted to be the prom queen and king. While Homer is at first enthusiastic about Marge winning, he immediately starts feeling sad when he sees Marge dancing with Artie and excuses himself from the party room. Marge follows him and asks Homer why he is acting this way and why he keeps staring at them from a distance. Homer takes this time to tell Marge that he’s never been sure of anything in his life, and that when he first met Marge, that he was convinced that they were meant to be together and he can’t accept the one thing he’s ever been sure about could be wrong. Marge tries to let him down easy by telling him that it might be wrong and that he needs to accept that she is here with someone else, before walking away.
After the prom, Artie takes Marge to Inspiration Point where he tries to make a move on her. She tries to refuse his advances, but Artie will not take no for answer as he ends up ripping one of the straps of Marge’s dress. Marge immediately slaps Artie for his actions and asks that he take her home that instant. On the drive home, Marge starts to rethink everything and after Artie is excused from the date, Marge gets in her car and drives to Homer, who is walking home. She asks if Homer wants a ride home to which he accepts. In the car, Marge reveals to Homer that she realized that she should have gone to the prom with him instead of Artie and that she forgives Homer for his earlier transgressions. Homer tells Marge, with confidence, that when she stops the car, he is going to hug her, kiss her, and will never be able to let her go, something Marge does not seem against in the slightest bit. The story ends with Homer in the present day telling his children that he never has let her go and the two kiss and Lisa smiles in happiness and while Bart starts gagging at the sappiness of the story.
“Me? In a nuclear power plant? Heh heh…KABOOM!”
This was another episode on my Simpsons VHS tape, so not only was this a special episode because of its nature, but it’s also an episode I remember very fondly from my childhood. Although I have to say, I do wonder how I felt about this episode as a child because looking at it now, there are definitely a lot of things that come to mind that I could see confusing my younger self. The main thing being; you really don’t see much of Homer and Marge interacting aside from a few scenes, most of them coming at the end of the episode. In a way, I’d almost argue that it’s kind of hard to see them coming together like they are ultimately supposed to, but there are some things that support it and my own personal theories that I’ll get into for some of the future sections of this review. However, as a kid, I do remember being quite intrigued by Homer and Marge’s younger appearances. Homer is skinny and has a lot of hair while Marge has her hair down for a majority of the episode, and that stuff always kind of stuck with me as a kid because they are just very unique aspects of those characters that you just aren’t used to because of how you would see them in other episodes. It’ll be fun looking at these characters as they evolve through some of the other flashback episodes that we’ll have later on and see how they ultimately land in the roles that we know them as today.
Homer: “That word you keep calling me; ignoramus, that means I’m stupid, doesn’t it?”
Artie: “There’s a difference between ignorance and stupidity.”
Homer: “Not to me there’s not, you….ignoramus!”
Artie: “You’re the ignoramus!”
As I stated in the previous paragraph, one of the biggest draws of the episode is really just seeing some of the characters of the show in a different time period with a different look. I already mentioned Marge and Homer, but there are also a few other characters that make appearances as well. We see younger Patty & Selma, we see younger Barney, we see younger Grandpa, and we see a younger Jacqueline Bouvier (Marge’s mother), who doesn’t really look that much younger, but I guess we don’t really see her enough to make that good of a judgment. Aside from those characters though, and aside from the fact that the story is still taking place in Springfield, there really aren’t a lot of references to other characters and locales. The power plant is brought up once, and I imagine Homer and Marge’s high school is the same school Bart and Lisa would end up going to, but aside from those instances, the episode really just focuses on Homer and Marge and what they are going through, which I think is the more important and interesting focal point. After all, this is only the twenty-fifth episode of the show, and while we have gotten some glimpses into characters and places outside of the Simpson family, it’s probably not been enough to warrant an episode-long roll-call of every possible character to see how they are doing in a different time period. They pretty much save that for other episodes anyway, like the upcoming flash-back episodes, “I Married Marge,” and “Lisa’s First Word,” and the first flash-forward episode, “Lisa’s Wedding,” and that’s a little more understandable because we’ve been introduced to and are more familiar with a larger portion of the cast for a much longer period of time. Anyway, getting back to what I was talking about; even though there isn’t a lot lore to follow-up on here, it’s still interesting and intriguing to see these characters in a different time and get kind of an idea of how they evolved from that point.
The first act of the episode is really just the staging part of the story. It doesn’t really focus on the main story, but rather on how Marge and Homer end up in the same place at the same time to get the story started properly. The second act is when you start to see the two characters interact, but really, you don’t even see that until near the end of it anyway. Marge is initially reluctant to interact with Homer because of his troublesome background and she seems a bit guarded around men whom she doesn’t respect or trust, or in Homer’s case, a man she doesn’t really even know to begin with. It’s actually kind of cool and sweet to see the two of them when Marge does start to let her guard down a little bit. When she comes over to tutor Homer in French, you start to see them warm-up to each other and even start to have fun together. One of my favorite scenes in this entire episode is just when Homer and Marge are taking a study break and dancing to “Do the Hustle.” Even if it’s just a four-second scene, you start to see glimpses of how great their chemistry is together and how two people from two drastically different lifestyles can come together and bond together. Unfortunately it kind of comes to a disaster point by the end of the of the second act when Marge tells Homer that she hates him.
The third act is…kind of awkward, if I’m being completely honest. In fact, aside from the ending of the story where you see Homer and Marge coming back together again, it’s kind of hard to get on Homer’s side on this one. Not only did he trick Marge into spending more time with him, he also just kind of spends the rest of the episode staring at her from a distance and acting like a sad, little puppy dog, pining for attention. Marge didn’t do anything wrong here. She put her faith and trust into Homer, he tricked her, and she verbalized her anger to him in a very understandable way that he should have realized. By cutting off contact with her and not even apologizing for his actions, just on the off-chance she would cancel the prom date if they did get into contact, it continues to give Marge not a great impression of him and I could see that giving her a vibe that Homer is a little creepy, if anything. I get and understand what Homer’s feelings are like in this scenario though, as he’s never been this much in love before, and as we know from Homer in other episodes, he’s not exactly great at expressing himself in the most intelligent of ways, so it just seems like he is more scared of losing something, or in this case, someone, that he’s grown super attached to in a small period of time. It definitely doesn’t excuse his actions, but it does explain them at the very least.
However, despite how awkward the third act is…I think it does work, but really if you see it the way I do (that theory I was talking about earlier). Despite what Homer did to Marge in the second act; faking that he was struggling with French to spend more time with her, he does come clean about his actions before it gets too late. It is a little sketchy that he waited until after she agreed to go to the prom with him, but he immediately follows her answer up with the revelation and even states, “if open and honest is what you like, then get a load of this.” He was up front about it and even acknowledged her value of honesty before things went even further. If I had to guess, that’s probably the first time a male was really that honest with Marge. Patty and Selma mention earlier in the episode that Marge has had other dates, but she has never really committed to anything, and from her reactions to Artie’s advances, I think we can safely assume that she’s had prior experience with men “wanting more than what she is willing to give or comfortable with giving,” so when Homer admits his intentions, she’s angry because he misled her, but on some level, I think she respects him for at least telling her the truth instead of waiting til prom night to unexpectedly make a move on her like Artie did. She’s still clearly angry and disappointed by his actions, but when she confronts Homer on prom night to ask why he is acting the way that he is, she at least sees that Homer feels bad about what he has done and that he is showing remorse for his actions, not to mention seeing how much he really cares about her. Then, when Artie has his little joyride, she sees that even someone as close to her as he is, and someone who she actually thought she respected, could be just as dishonest about his intentions, that’s when she starts to see Homer for the real guy that he is. Then, when they are in the car together, it just takes Homer’s one gesture of attaching a flower to her dress’s broken strap (that Artie ripped) to show Marge that he actually cares about her and treating her with love, care and respect, unlike Artie who only cared about getting laid on prom night, and then his own reputation after the fact when Marge pushes him away.
I know it’s a lot to assume and accept when the writers could have just written the act a bit better and been more clear about how Marge came around, but that’s just what I took from it and I think it’s a really nice story because of that. Obviously they couldn’t tell the entire story for time constraints and we will get some future updates from other flashback episodes, but as far as a meeting story between these two characters, I think it’s pretty good and hits all the necessary notes.
Marge: “Why so glum?”
Homer: “I’ve got a problem; once you stop this car, I’m gonna hug you, and kiss you, and I’ll never be able to let you go!”
Even with all of those potential issues, I do think this is a very good episode and a very important one at that. It sets up the foundation for the Simpson family in the present day, and the foundation for even more flashback episodes to come, which I think are some of the strongest episodes in the series (or at least some of the more engaging and interesting ones to watch). I admit having to assume and accept a character’s actions based on a theoretical sequence of events doesn’t exactly say a whole lot about the writing to begin with, but on the other hand, maybe that’s the beauty of the episode and the situation to begin with. People can be complicated and complex sometimes, and even if Marge falling for Homer doesn’t seem logical or believable to some, who are we to say how she should feel about the situation? Maybe there was something more to Homer that she fell in love with that caused her to overlook and forgive his trickery? Love is not as straight-forward and obvious as people would make it seem to be sometimes, so why try to generalize or make sense of it? Sometimes love is all about living in the moment and sticking with what you feel safest and most comfortable with, and I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with that.
I don’t think this is the best Season 2 episode, but it is definitely one of the more unique and memorable ones, for very good reasons. It’s a landmark story in a lot of different ways, it has some very sweet and lovely scenes, features some classic music from the 70’s to complement the setting and time period…just a very nice episode. I know the Marge and Homer relationship has been on some shaky ground before; in the modern Simpsons era, and even a couple of times in the golden age, but this is a story I support and thoroughly enjoyed in regards to the union of Marge Bouvier and Homer Simpson; two crazy kids who found love in each other, even if it seemed impossible on the surface.
I want to give a huge apology for the lateness of this episode, not just because I was slacking, but because I had this entire write-up done last weekend, but due to a power loss and my document auto-recovery not working, I pretty much had to redo the entire review over from scratch. I also seem be experiencing a lot of writer’s block when doing these write-ups, which definitely doesn’t help with me getting these done in a timely fashion, among other things. I’m not really sure what’s up with me when it comes to this kind of thing, but I’m always incredibly psyched and excited to watch the next episode, but when it comes to doing the actual writing and compiling my thoughts, it gets ten times as difficult as it should be. I think it’s because I don’t want to be making every single entry like 7-10 pages on Microsoft Word, but at the same time, I’m not very good at making my thoughts and statements concise either, so a large part of this just feels like me rambling for a really long time, and when I do make things shorter, I feel like I’m missing something important or not explaining something well enough. It might just be my insecurities as a writer, so my apologies if it feels like I’m complaining about nothing, but I do feel bad when it takes me longer than a week to get the next episode up.
I’m at least happy we are more than half-way through the season now and we have a lot of episodes remaining that I’m very familiar with (so in theory those episodes should be pretty easy to write), but please be patient if these are not updated in a weekly fashion and if I need a little more time to get the next episode out. I don’t really want to take a break yet, as I’m further behind than where I wanted to be at this point, but I will probably take an extra day or two of a breather before I watch the next episode, because having to essentially do this episode twice really took it out of me, even if the episode in question is good. Next time, we’ll be taking a look at another long-titled episode; “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment.”