"We don’t have to be adversaries, Homer. We both want a fair union contract." – C.M. Burns
"Why is Mr. Burns being so nice to me?" – Homer’s Brain
"And if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours." – C.M. Burns
"Wait a minute, is he coming on to me?" – Homer’s Brain
"I mean, if I should slip something into your pocket, what’s the harm?" – C.M. Burns
"My God, he is coming on to me." – Homer’s Brain
"After all, negotiations make strange bedfellows." – C.M. Burns
For a simple and common act, bribery requires a surprising amount of finesse. Whether the initiating party is asking for the bribe or offering it, when it comes to the exchange of money for dishonesty the presentation is always the tricky part. You have to let the other person know that you’re willing to break the rules, but only in a way that both of you can later deny if necessary. It’s a delicate thing, and the last person you’d ever want to see on the other side of it is Homer Simpson.
That frustrating situation confronts nuclear plant owner Monty Burns in Season 4′s "Last Exit to Springfield" as well as the nameless, central casting gangster in "You Don’t Have to Live Like a Referee". Both are trying to get Homer to roll over for cash, but the Homers they have to bribe are as different as they are.
There are four parties in these two attempted transactions. In the first we have Burns and regular Homer; and in the second we have Gangster Guy and Zombie Homer. Before we get to the actual bribery, however, let’s take a quick look at each one of them and why they’re doing what they’re doing:
- The Burns of Season 4 is the very definition of ruthless. Not only does he hate his employees, he’s willing to go to the mattresses over their dental plan out of nostalgic spite. The money is important to him, but not as much as the principle of being able to wall one of them up whenever the urge hits him. For Burns, bribing the head of the union to betray his fellows is just expediency, and when things don’t go well right away, he goes to hired goons out of habit.
- The Homer of Season 4 is a working schlub everyman who doesn’t want to have to pay for his daughter’s braces. In that sense, his motivation going into the negotiations is a lot like Burns’. The difference is that Homer isn’t acting out of malevolence, he’s reacting to the evil of Burns and just trying to get back something he already had.
- Gangster Guy has no background, he’s just a gangster. Why does he want to fix the World Cup? Because he’s a gangster. Haven’t you ever seen any of their movies?
- Zombie Homer is who he pretty much always is: a weirdly invincible superman. Fly to Brazil to be (apparently) the only referee at the World Cup? Sure! Get bribed and threatened by gangsters? He’s cool, doesn’t perturb him a bit. Fall completely to pieces because an eight-year-old called him her hero but didn’t do it in quite the right way? Also sure. He has no human center, so incomprehensibly random reactions are the norm.
Down in Brazil, our prop store gangster tries to bribe that fickle lunatic because that’s why prop store gangsters do, and Homer refuses because he’s been perfectly incorruptible for three whole minutes, so it’s now basically his only trait. There’s no depth to what either of them is doing, which means that the only kind of humor they can go for is repetitive silliness. They offer him money in outlandish ways, he refuses, and that’s it. They do it so many times that they have an entire montage of nothing but. Anyone is free to think that’s funny, of course, but there’s no denying that it’s simplistic and one-dimensional.
Over and over and over and over . . .
Compare that to Burns’ repeated attempts to bribe Homer. Things start out with with the two of them meeting in Burns’ office and Homer completely misunderstanding Burns’ innuendo:
Sure, he’s flattered, maybe even a little curious, but he doesn’t go in for those back door shenanigans.
From there, Homer’s guileless stupidity continues to be misunderstood by Burns as an iron willed resolve and negotiating brilliance. Homer’s too dumb to be intimidated by hired goons. The he has to pee too bad to listen to Burns’ offer. Finally, he inadvertently triggers a strike while trying to resign. It’s as far as you can get from one serially repeated joke because each of them brings more than just one thing to the table.
There’s an almost ye olde Vaudeville aspect to them, with Burns playing the straight man who just cannot get anything through the thick skull of the yutz who won’t take his money. Since this is The Simpsons, the straight man is wildly evil and his frustrations quickly rise to trying to destroy the town instead of just demanding to know who’s on first, but the basic comedy of misunderstanding allows the show to employ all manner of topics and tricks.
What gives everything that extra twist is the fact that, right before the first commercial break, the show lets us know that Homer, in fact, would love to be bribed:
“Hey, what does this job pay?” – Homer Simpson
“Nothing.” – Carl
“D’oh!” – Homer Simpson
“Unless you’re crooked!” – Carl
“Woo-hoo!” – Homer Simpson
If Burns had just offered to pay for Lisa’s braces, Homer would have eagerly accepted and the dental plan would be no more. But that was never going to happen because the two of them are far too different to ever be able to communicate. Burns, hater of unions, thinks Homer is as conniving and cutthroat as he is. Homer just really doesn’t want to be there.
What plays out between them is far too rich to ever be shown as a one note montage or a repeated series of offers and exposition. Between who they are, what they’re trying to do, and their actions and reactions (often inadvertent) towards one another, playing some music and showing a bunch of people handing Homer cash simply wouldn’t work. Something that thin would be overwhelmed by story, jokes and the like. In Zombie Simpsons, however, it’s more than enough.