Strong Arms of the Ma
"Strong Arms of the Ma" is the ninth episode of The Simpsons' fourteenth season, which aired on February 2, 2003. It is the 300th episode to be broadcast; though "Barting Over" is indicated on-screen to be the 300th episode, it is actually the 302nd. In the episode, Marge develops agoraphobia in response to a traumatic mugging and overcomes the fear through exercise and bodybuilding, which ultimately leads to her taking anabolic steroids and experiencing a change in personality.
The Simpson family goes to Rainier Wolfcastle's bankruptcy garage sale. Homer asks Rainier if he has anything that will increase in value when he dies, and is shown an old weight-lifting set, complete with dumbbells and bench press. Homer takes it and packs everything and everybody in the car in the style of a Tetris game. The car ends up being so overpacked that Homer has no room in it for himself and ends up being carried home by Rainier Wolfcastle in a baby harness built for an adult.
On the way home, Marge and the kids discover that Maggie has soiled her diaper. Marge pulls into the Kwik-E-Mart, and changes Maggie in the restroom. As she is leaving the store, a shady character in a Goofy hat accosts her and threatens her with a gun. Finding only diapers in Marge's purse, he grabs Marge's pearl necklace and takes off. Marge, stunned, walks to her car in a daze and breaks down sobbing at the wheel in front of her kids.
The next day, they inform the police and Chief Wiggum declares he will investigate immediately. Later, as Marge is about to leave the house, Homer gives her some pepper spray and some tips on how to handle an attacker. She pulls up to the Kwik-E-Mart, but she snaps when Ralph greets her. She pepper-sprays him on impulse and, feeling guilty, drives back home where she feels safe. When she reaches home, Bart tells her she is parked over the mailman. Marge is a nervous wreck and cannot bring herself to cross the threshold of her house to help the mailman. Dr. Hibbert diagnoses Marge with agoraphobia. Homer and the kids try their best over the next few days to encourage her to go outside, but to no avail. Eventually, she moves into the basement. There, feeling a bit safer, she prepares breakfast for the family and sets up a bed for herself. One day, when she is alone at home, she eyes Rainier Wolfcastle's weight-lifting set and decides to use it to pass the time.
In two weeks, she builds herself up and even gets a well-defined washboard stomach (much to Homer's delight). She dashes out to the garden to get some lemons and, realizing that she is not afraid anymore, starts running around town. She runs into her mugger; even though the mugger does not move a finger against Marge, she beats him to a bloody pulp out of revenge in a scene that references the 1972 film The Godfather, when Sonny Corleone beats his brother-in-law Carlo Rizzi. The cops arrive and arrest the crook, and Marge starts exercising even more. One day, as she jogs by an open-air gym at the beach, she runs into Ruth Powers, her old neighbor (seen in episodes "New Kid on the Block" and "Marge on the Lam"). Ruth is also very muscular, and tells Marge that she owes it all to steroids. She talks Marge into using them, and also advises Marge to enter a women's bodybuilding contest. Using the steroids, Marge exercises harder than ever, becoming very muscular and estrogen-depleted, which results in a short temper and a violent streak. Homer, seeing these changes, finds himself less attracted to her. When Homer refuses Marge's sexual advances the night before the contest, she callously ignores his worries and then proceeds to pin him down and rapes him, before leaving him completely sore and exhausted to take care of the kids the next morning.
That night, the family attends the Iron Maiden Fitness Pageant to see the women's bodybuilding final. Marge wins second place, which irritates her when her muscular ears overhear her family's unhappy conversation in the audience. Later that night, at Moe's, Marge boasts to the all male attendees about her performance at the competition. Homer than tells her he is proud of her ability to bulk up but not lose her femininity. Marge is angered by that, saying that was the reason she came in second place. She than tells everyone at the bar that she intends to up her glycol-load, use a denser ripping gel, and that she didn't sacrifice her period to come in second place. Moe says to Marge, "I don't got enough booze to make you look good". She flies into an uncontrollable rage and ultimately trashes the bar. Homer confronts his wife as she prepares to hurl Lenny. Terrified, Homer tells Marge that he misses the sweet, feminine woman he married. Marge, horrified with what she has done, apologizes, drops Lenny, and leaves with Homer. In order to cover the costs of repairing his bar, Moe sets fire to it; however, Carl points out that he has not insured the place yet.
Later, at the Simpson house, Marge burns the weight set in the furnace as the show ends. Homer asks if Marge is ready for a "real workout" which turns out to be a request to wax the car, after which he gets beaten by Marge into meekly saying that he was just kidding.
In her original pitch for the episode, Carolyn Omine had Homer being the one to get mugged, becoming agoraphobic as a result. Al Jean had the idea of Marge becoming a bodybuilder after going through these events, so it was changed from Homer to Marge. Omine was initially concerned that while Homer being mugged is humorous, Marge being mugged is serious, and later acknowledged that it turned into a "rare serious moment that was kinda cool". The episode had many light moments to balance this out. Al Jean thought that showing Marge threatened and vulnerable was a great emotional moment that had not been done on the show before. He notes that the attacker ripping off her pearl necklace makes her seem "naked" and that it changes her.
Al Jean noted that when characters go very off model, it can cause issues. He noted that some were thrown off by the Marge-on-steroids look and said Marge probably should not have gotten as muscular as she did. The idea behind the design was that Marge, wanting to never be weak again, ends up overcompensating to become super aggressive and overpowering. Omine said that these things, plus her becoming less likable and off-model, was a negative combination.
"Strong Arms of the Ma" addresses the issue of steroid rage. After becoming addicted to the drug, Marge has a moment of realization, claiming "steroids have turned me into everything I hate". While the authors of The Psychology of the Simpsons: D'oh! do not condone the "violent destruction" of Marge in the episode, they reason that both the in-universe characters and the real-world audience attribute Marge's behaviour to the drugs and not an "innately mean personality". They argue that Marge was not "herself". Mood changes and aggression are both documented side effects of "prolonged steroid use". They note, however, that "it is also a shame that once more a woman's anger, steroid-induced or not, can be squelched by the fear of appearing unattractive to a man".
Reviewing this season, DVD Verdict said, "There are some real clinkers this season. Both "Large Marge" and "Strong Arm of the Ma" prove that writing good episodes about Marge seem to be out of the question by this point." Cinema.com describes the premise as "Marge becomes agoraphobic (yes, only for one episode) after being mugged on the street and rather strangely decides that the best thing to do is take up weight lifting. It’s just a silly as it sounds. Another dud of an episode. DVD Talk said, "What's encouraging is that the 300th episode, whether it's "Barting Over" or "Strong Arms of the Ma," is simply a number to the writers and producers of The Simpsons at this point, rather than a finish line."
- Omine, Carolyn. (2003). Commentary for "Strong Arms of the Ma", in The Simpsons: The Complete Fourteenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- The Simpsons staff. (2002). Commentary for "Strong Arms of the Ma", in The Simpsons: The Complete Fourteenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Jean, Al. (2003). Commentary for "Strong Arms of the Ma", in The Simpsons: The Complete Fourteenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- The Psychology of the Simpsons: D'oh! - Alan S. Brown, Chris Logan - Google Books. Books.google.com.au. 2013-08-21. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- "DVD Verdict Review - The Simpsons: The Fourteenth Season". Dvdverdict.com. 2011-12-22. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- "The Simpsons: Season 14 DVD Review". Cinema.com. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- "The Simpsons: The Fourteenth Season (Blu-ray) : DVD Talk Review of the Blu-ray". Dvdtalk.com. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
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