Airdate: December 6th, 1998
Synopsis: The whole family (plus Abe, for reasons needed to generate the plot) take a trip up to Bloodbath Gulch, a ghost town turned tourist trap. There, Abe drinks way too many sasparillas, and Homer refuses to stop for a rest stop on the way home. End result? Abe’s kidneys blow out, and Homer is the only available donor. While initially willing to go through with the procedure, fears brought on by his friends cause Homer to bolt from the operating table.
Review (SPOILER): To paraphrase Futurama, Mike Scully, you raised my hopes and dashed them quite expertly, sir! Bravo! Yup, two steps forward with “D’oh-in” and “Lisa Gets an “A””, and one moonwalk back with “Kidney Trouble”, among the most despised episodes in The Simpsons history. So, my expectations heading into this episode were lowered quite a bit.
And I still left, not only disappointed, but downright disgusted.
When Homer’s transition from “loveable, if somewhat insensitive and self-serving goofball” into “obnoxious madman cartoon” is discussed, this episode often comes off as an event horizon of sorts. Something about, I dunno, letting your father die because you don’t want to take the risk of a kidney operation comes off as more than a bit callous.
However, before I utterly tear apart the writers for massacring one of the greatest characters in sitcom history, I do want to play “devil’s advocate”, or at least, try and play “devil’s advocate”.
The big hangup people have with complaints about this episode is the fact that none of the risks were exposed by Doctor Hibbert beforehand. On one hand, no, Homer was not made aware of the risks until his friends informed him, and the nurses wanted him to sign a liability waiver so that the hospital wouldn’t be responsible for any sort of catastrophe.
However, not only did the fat jackass shoot down Hibbert’s attempts to give advice (we can assume that the doctor was going there with his “long wait-list” thing), but his reasons for being petrified were as follows – he wouldn’t be able to handle getting drunk, and his organs would be harvested after he died. (And besides, even if Hibbert didn’t care, that’s a rather bit off for his character.)
Let’s see… the “Abe being a rather ineffective father” defense? Well, that would’ve at least been interesting (if rather macabre) if it was explored beyond a flashback, and if Abe was a nuisance in this episode. And even then, Homer’s treatment of Abe crosses a line itself, so that piece of “devil’s advocate” is shot. (At least, in my view.)
Oh, there’s the “friends focus on bad and are idiots” argument… shot down by the fact that, really, Homer ignored the Doctor’s warnings about negative side effects in the first place.
Other than that… yeah, nothing here in the sympathy department.
He trashes his father’s kidneys, leaves him to die on the operating table, is concentrated on his own shame when he tries to go to sea, comes back apparently remorseful, leaves Abe again, and then wants to poach his ten-year-old son’s kidney at the end. Certainly no Ace Rimmer we’re dealing with.
Not helping is that, yes, everybody fawns over the idiot over the 22 minutes for being “brave” and “courageous”. Yes, the kidney transplant has risks, but Homer blew out his dad’s kidneys in the first place. Even his cowardice is treated more with a sense of mild-to-moderate disappointment from his family rather than the utter disgust that it should’ve been treated with. And everybody is so forgiving at the end of the episode…
It would’ve been more tolerable if this episode tried to have a consistent tone. The story tries to be this sobering one about an old man whose kidneys blow out, and what is a plot point? Homer disgusting a ship of lost souls. That’s about as insane and loopy as any prior episode, it bears little bearing on the plot… it’s just like the writers wrote themselves into a corner, and needed to kill two minutes. It clashes with the episode and doesn’t alleviate from the utter misery that is a beloved character on his deathbed, thanks to the main character.
What else can I say? I came in with rather low expectations and was blown away by how inept this episode was. We still have almost 3 seasons to go, people.
- Look, I know that Abe has been something of the butt of many jokes regarding how the family treated him – stuffing him in a retirement home and all that. Thing is, here, it just seems to cross a line of discomfort, where the entire family hates him despite not being as annoying. (And even if I did factor earlier episodes in, no, that is not a justification for letting him die of kidney failure.)
- I did find Homer’s declaration that “the sea forgives all, unlike those unforgiving mountains” rather interesting. Not only a decent use of continuity, but the mountains were where Homer found out that Abe took a rather cowardly way down the Murderhorn. Ironically, there, Homer realized that he couldn’t beat the shame of that. In this episode, I think he did. (And no, Abe wanting to eat McAllister is not a justification for leaving him to die.)
- The closest thing to medical satire that I could find is Marge saying that by donating his kidney, Homer cut his life expectancy significantly, so Abe could get a slight extension. Three problems, though. First off, coming out of Marge, it sounds rather callous of her. Second, Homer had his kidney stolen from Dr. Hibbert (which is rather off for him.) Third off, he didn’t sacrifice his kidney, and threatened to steal it back. How can you defend this man?
- OK, there was the liability waiver joke.
- I’m not even angry that the writers flunked biology, since kidneys don’t explode that way, but that’s only because the rest of the episode is so bad.
Zaniness Factor: 3. It would’ve been a 2, but the episode tries to combine a serious story with something as out there as “The Ship Of Lost Souls”.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 4. Oh, is Homer a selfish coward in this entire episode. Easily the most odious he’s ever been… so far.
Favorite Scene: Again, I did like the liability waiver joke. That, and “Bloodbath Gulch” was cute, at least for the first couple minutes.
Least Favorite Scene: There are so many scenes in the third act I could choose, so I’ll just go with the end – Homer reaching for his son’s kidney. Loveable character, writers. Who wrote this junk…
One point deduction, because I expect better from him. (Not that I would be too much more lenient towards a rookie, but still.)
Score: 1.5. The half a point is for a couple minutes at Bloodbath Gulch – and even then, you could just watch “Selma’s Choice” for similar jokes and not want to punch your TV screen. An utterly deplorable episode.