The Simpsons: Hank Scorpio and a Perfect Tone Are the Keys to Greatness for “You Only Move Twice”


One of the most persistent narratives about how and why The Simpsons fell from grace is that, at some point, the series lost its tether to reality. The argument goes that the tone of the show was always meant to be exaggerated, but also ultimately grounded, and that as the series got on in years, its quality suffered as it moved further and further away from the conceptual limits that kept The Simpsons at least nominally within the real world.

And yet “You Only Move Twice,” one of show’s most acclaimed episodes, also features one of the most outlandish twists in Simpsons history. After Homer moves the family for his new job in faraway Cypress Creek, it turns out that, unbeknownst to him, his cool new boss, Hank Scorpio, is actually a Bond villain. The twist isn’t depicted by way of subtle hints here or there or a last-minute reveal. Instead, the episode spends much of its run time ensconced in city-destroying lasers, ineffective death traps, and flame-thrower battles to repel the U.S. military, the very sort of farfetched fare that typically rankles diehard fans.

Then, to add to the absurdity, at the end of the episode, Scorpio seizes the East Coast and gives Homer a special parting gift — ownership of the Denver Broncos, replete with the team practicing on The Simpsons’ front lawn. It’s so far from reality, not to mention the standard rules of the show’s universe, that the series doesn’t even begin to address these developments in later installments. It’s exactly the kind of ridiculous, game-changing-yet-ignored ending that hated former showrunner Mike Scully and current ruler of The Simpsons roost Al Jean are routinely excoriated for today.

So why does this work so well in “You Only Move Twice”?

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Suicide Squad Is a 90s Blockbuster in 2016 Clothing


Caution: This review contains major spoilers for Suicide Squad.

Suicide Squad director David Ayer and the brain trust behind D.C. Comics’ nascent cinematic universe achieved something I didn’t think was possible — they managed to produce a 1990s blockbuster in 2016. With the emergence of late sequels like Jurassic World and Independence Day: Resurgence, perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me. But the refurbished, Day-Glo atmosphere of the third entry in the perpetually stumbling DCEU still managed to catch me off guard. I’d anticipated a copycat of Guardians of the Galaxy and its quippy “bad guys gone good” spirit, but I didn’t imagine that M.O. would be filtered through a lens borrowed from twenty years ago.

Nevertheless, all the elements of a Clinton-era blockbuster are firmly present and accounted for: Will Smith gives a standard Will Smith Performance™, one that could have easily been transplanted from Men in Black or, heaven help us, Wild Wild West. There are dry cool action movie lines aplenty. And there’s a cartoony, almost surreal vibe to the entire film, that makes Suicide Squad seem divorced from the attempts at realism embraced in Batman Begins and closer to the cornucopia of neon camp in Batman Forever.

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In Batman: The Killing Joke, the Abyss Gazes Back

CAUTION: This review contains major spoilers for Batman: The Killing Joke

The traditional superhero story is a simple one. The bad guy threatens to do some bit of evil; the good guy comes in to stop it, and the day is saved. Lather, rinse, repeat. The costumes change, and so do the capers, but for a while, that was the dependable, well-worn blueprint for the battles between capes and criminals.

And then, somewhere along the line, that started to change. Writers like Alan Moore began to deconstruct those old stories. They started to look at the ways that these battles might not be so weightless, how those heroes and villains might still leave their marks on one another. These artists examined how the good guys could not fight evil day after day, week after week, year after year, and yet come out of those battles unsullied, unblemished, and unscathed.

Batman, after all, fights monsters. How long can you run headlong into battle with monsters before you start to become more monstrous yourself? It’s not every comic book adaptation that drops references to Nietzsche, even when it’s one of his most famous quotes, but it’s appropriate for Batman: The Killing Joke, an animated film adaptation of the Alan Moore classic. Because more than The Joker, more than Batman, more than Jim or Barbara Gordon, it’s a story about what happens to those who fight monsters. It’s a story about the abyss.

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What The Supreme Court and The Jedi Council Have in Common


Adam Gopnik recently wrote about “Lessons for the Supreme Court from the Jedi Council.” In that article, he puts forward the idea that just as the denizens of the Star Wars universe “seem[] to have an undue cultural investment in the wisdom of the Jedi Council, even in the face of its ineptitude,” so to do Americans unduly venerate a Supreme Court whose inner workings appear “more like the manufacture of after-the-fact rationales designed to give the appearance of footnoted legalism to what are, in truth, the same ideological passions that have the rest of the country in their grip.” Gopnik disclaims the concept of textual interpretation, maintaining that our nation’s highest judicial body resembles its intergalactic counterpart in how it “seems to be functioning on guesswork and mutual hypnosis more than actual expertise.” Accordingly, he concludes that neither the Jedi Council nor the Supreme Court should be afforded nearly so much deference or respect.

The question becomes whether these two august bodies are enough alike to justify such a comparison or conclusion. There are certainly similarities between the two. In The Phantom Menace, the Jedi Council decides, after much deliberation, that Anakin Skywalker should not be trained in the ways of The Force. But Qui Gon Jin (and later Obi Wan Kenobi in his stead) defy that order and decide to teach the boy anyway. In the real world, after the Supreme Court held that same-sex marriage was a right under the Constitution, Texas’s Attorney General soon thereafter announced that despite that decision, under his interpretation Texas officials did not have to abide by the ruling. In both the Star Wars universe and our own, prominent officials have taken Gopnik’s advice to heart and feel free to ignore the high court’s decisions.

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Game of Thrones Explores the Symmetry of Westeros and its People in “No One”


For a several years now, Game of Thrones had a fairly reliable format for the structure of its episodes. We spend ten minutes in one location advancing one character’s story, ten minutes in another, and so forth and so on with little repetition beyond the possibility of some sort of coda for one of the stories at the end of the episode. But the show has been playing around with that format this season (with cold opens, longer segments, and other differences) and that trend continues in “No One.”

Instead of a semi-linear progression from place to place, there’s something approaching symmetry to the order in which we visit our heroes across Westeros and beyond. The episode begins with trips to Braavos, The Riverlands, and Meereen, and finishes by returning to these same places and stories in reverse order. The middle portion of the episode comes close to doing the same thing with stops in King’s Landing and Riverrun.

So why the symmetry?

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Ranking: Every Pixar Movie From Worst to Best


With the release of Finding Dory, Andrew Bloom joins Dominick Suzanne-Mayer, Allison Shoemaker, and Derrick Rossignol to rank all of Pixar’s feature films.

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Game of Thrones: The Broken People, Places, and Things in “Broken Man”


We don’t know who’s pulling the strings that tie the different corners of Westeros together. It may be the Old Gods; it may be The Seven; it may be the Drowned God; or it may be the Lord of Light. Septon Ray suggests they may all be different names for the same thing. But whoever has that power has left any number of those in Westeros and beyond in some sort of weakened state. They’ve taken away people’s strength, sapped them of their power and position, and left them, in a word, “broken.”

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How Daredevil’s Season 2 Finale Dragged the Whole Season Down


What is it, to be a cheesy voiceover montage in the last moments of a season finale? Do you have to try to sum up an entire season’s worth of themes using vague doublespeak and an army of cliches? Will you narrate over clips of our heroes looking vaguely sad or frustrated in the vain hope of wringing some pathos out of this big hunk of corn pone? Must you include strange or cryptic teases for future seasons or series? Or can you just speak in platitudes about heroism and strength and hope that somewhere in that stew of hokum you stumble onto some mild profundity?

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Game of Thrones: The Familial Bonds that Bolster and Break Us in “Blood of My Blood”


“Blood of My Blood.” The title gives it away. Though Game of Thrones is frequently centered on the idea of familial legacy, this episode in particular focuses on the bonds of family, the connections between parents and children and the other ties of kinship that can both pull us into place and break our hearts. These are the people who can save us, help us, make us stronger, but who also have a unique capacity to wound us, to frustrate us, and to unravel us.

Nowhere does “Blood of My Blood” explore the different sides of this idea more than in Sam’s return to his childhood home. Despite the smaller stakes and lack of major reveals as compared with the rest of the episode, Sam’s homecoming proved to be the best part “Blood of My Blood.” Game of Thrones spends most of its of time focused on the larger machinations of the plot in one form or another. Even when it’s not devoting time to the dragons or magic or other fantastical elements of Westeros, the show anchors itself around the titular game of thrones, as different players vie for power and an the existential threat comes from the north.

Despite this, Sam’s visit home has the feeling of something apart from the major story arc that drives the series. There’s no magic at play in Horn Hill. And while this brief stop is intended as a respite for Sam, Gilly, and Sam Jr. on the way to the Citadel, where Sam intends to earn his maester’s chain and ostensibly help Jon, there’s also little larger relevance to the detour when it comes to the show’s overarching plots. Instead, these scenes with Sam’s family offer a quiet character study, one whose chief purpose is to tell us more about who Sam is, where he came from, and what he’s become since he left home.

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Game of Thrones: “Hold the Door” — A Service Interruption


It’s easy to reduce “The Door” to its big reveal. For all of the mysteries and unanswered questions floating around in the background of Game of Thrones, sometimes the most moving reveals are the ones that fill in gaps you didn’t even realize were there, in surprising and unexpected ways.

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