The Secret War of Lisa Simpson
"The Secret War of Lisa Simpson" is the season finale (episode 25) of The Simpsons' eighth season, first aired by the Fox network on May 18, 1997. Bart gets sent to a military academy as punishment for bad behavior. While visiting the academy, Lisa sees that the school is far more challenging than hers and she decides that she wants to attend as well. It was directed by Mike B. Anderson, written by Richard Appel and featured Willem Dafoe in a guest spot as the school's commandant.
After a day of watching mind numbing videos in class, Lisa becomes increasingly concerned that her education is not advanced enough and confronts Principal Skinner about it; however, he is unable to do anything for her, stating that providing more challenging school activities would only frustrate the less intelligent students. Meanwhile, Bart's class visits the Springfield Police Department on a field trip, where Bart is left alone with several megaphones. After putting them all end-to-end to compound and increase their amplification, and then saying "Testing" into them, Bart inadvertently creates a massive sonic feedback loop, sending out a tremendous shock wave that shatters anything made out of glass in Springfield and rendering the population temporarily partially deaf.
In an effort to cure Bart of his juvenile-delinquent mindset, Chief Wiggum suggests sending Bart to Rommelwood, a military school, due to military school having dealt with his brother in the past. The entire Simpson family takes Bart to the school (initially fooling him into thinking they are going to Disneyland before he learns the truth on the journey), where Lisa sees that the students are being given challenging school work. Instead of going home, she decides to stay at the school with Bart; although Marge and the school's Commandant are both originally against the idea, they reluctantly agree to let her attend.
Lisa is originally enthusiastic about her new environment, but gradually her presence stirs discontent among the other students, as she is the first female student and gets her own barracks to herself. Bart and Lisa are both subject to harsh hazing, but while Bart is eventually accepted by the other students, and thus distances himself from his sister, Lisa remains an outcast. Lisa grapples with her isolation and even considers calling Marge and asking to be brought home, but decides to stay and see it through.
As the school year comes to a close, the Commandant reveals the final test for the students: a hand-over-hand crawl across a rope suspended 40 feet above a patch of thorn bushes, referred to as the "Eliminator". Lisa fears that she will not be able to complete the task, but Bart secretly helps her train for the challenge. The next day, all of the students cross the Eliminator, including Bart. Lisa is the last to go, and while she struggles and nearly falls at first, she manages to cross safely after being cheered on by Bart. As a result, the other students vow to make the rest of the semester a living hell for him, but this backfires when the students find out that the semester ends with graduation three hours later, so they leave him alone. As a result of her efforts, Lisa is awarded by the Commandant with a medal, "For Satisfactory Completion of the Second Grade." As a reward for completing military school, Homer tells Bart and Lisa this time "we thought we'd take you to Disneyland for real", but it turns out to be another trick, as they have actually been taken to the dentist, much to Homer and Marge's amusement and Bart and Lisa's indignation.
The episode was written by Richard Appel, but the idea of Bart and Lisa attending a military academy had previously been pitched, and had been floating around since 1991. The idea had not yet been used as an episode plot, because the writers had not felt comfortable with taking Bart and Lisa to a strange place early in the series.
During the scene where the Commandant is talking, there is a brief shot of Lisa blinking. As there had been an error in the final print of the episode, the shot was animated, painted and shot on May 16, 1997, the Friday before the episode's airdate. The spiky blond-haired boy, who runs towards the Eliminator while screaming, is a caricature of director Mike B. Anderson.
The episode originally aired on May 18, 1997, as the season finale, along with a rerun of "The Springfield Files." The episode was mistakenly anticipated by some as being about Lisa launching "a legal battle" to enroll at the military school. In its original broadcast, "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson" finished 47th in ratings for the week of May 12–18, 1997, with a Nielsen rating of 8.3, equivalent to approximately 8.1 million viewing households. It was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following The X-Files.
Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, disliked the episode, writing that it was "very dull" and that Dafoe was not used well. However, Dafoe is one of show runner Josh Weinstein's favorite guest stars. Ian Johnson argued Dafoe's casting was "rare" and "somewhat offbeat."
Journalist Raju Mudhar also wrote that in this episode, "The Simpsons have succinctly laid out our eventual future." This referred to the rise of robots in the real world and the quote from this episode:
"The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots."
The episode was one of four in 1999 released on a VHS (Re-released on DVD in 2005) called Bart Wars focused on crosses between The Simpsons and Star Wars. However, one critic wrote that with this episode and "Marge Be Not Proud" and "Dog of Death," both of which are also on the DVD, the "Star Wars connection" is "tangential at best." The other episode was "Mayored to the Mob."
- "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
- "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson". The Simpsons.com. Retrieved 2011-09-21.
- Martyn, Warren; Adrian Wood (2000). I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide. Virgin Books. ISBN 0-7535-0495-2.
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-06-095252-5. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M..
- Weinstein, Josh (2006). The Simpsons season 8 DVD commentary for the episode "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Anderson, Mike B. (2006). The Simpsons season 8 DVD commentary for the episode "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Richard Helm, "TV gets spring refresher; From myth to mobsters, sweeps give TV four- week tweek," Edmonton Journal, April 27, 1997, pg. C.2.
- Associated Press (May 22, 1997). "Super Mario gives CBS ratings edge". Sun-Sentinel. p. 4E.
- Ian Johnston, "TV's great cameo cavalcade! The sitcoms are pulling out the big (and old) guns to get you watching this sweeps week," Daily News, Halifax, Nova Scotia: April 27, 1997, pg. 40.
- Raju Mudhar, "Even robots need to let off steam; Homemade bots get in the ring Sumo challenge an annual event," Toronto Star, March 11, 2006, pg. H.03.
- "Mark Hamill advises Homer to 'use the forks' in new Simpsons release," National Post, May 14, 2005, pg. TO.32.
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