Octoberween: ‘Treehouse of Horror V: Time and Punishment’

Friends, we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of Rooster Illusion, which I am killing again.

October 31st, 2019: “Friends, we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of Rooster Illusion, which I am killing again.” —Octoberween: Treehouse of Horror V: Time and Punishment, written by me, just now, announcing the re-deadening of Rooster Illusion*.

Rising from the ashes like a bunch of phoenixes, we returned to fulfill the demands of an ancient curse: write about scary movies for a month to get you, the reader, excited for Halloween. Were we successful? Yes, extremely. Are you more in the mood for Halloween than you ever thought possible? Also yes, and also in the extreme.

So gather round, dear readers, and join me for one last spooky hurrah.

Small Sidenote

I was originally going to do Irish horror-comedy Grabbers for my last review, but that…didn’t happen. What can I say? I work full time and I haven’t been writing for a while. Why am I telling you this instead of just pretending that I didn’t fail to do something? Because Grabbers is funny, well-made, and a great watch for a Halloween night. As it so happens, Sarah reviewed it back in 2013 for her SciFridays column. You should absolutely check it out after reading her review.

The Actual Thing

The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: Time and Punishment (1994):

The Plot: After getting his hand jammed in the toaster, Homer accidentally invents time travel. His attempts to get home and fix the timeline go about as well as you’d expect.

That’s right, folks. For my final Octoberween review, I will be reviewing not even an entire Simpsons episode, but a seven-minute segment. The “Treehouse of Horror” episodes have given us some all time great Simpsons moments, from spot-on parodies to this perfect exchange:

Honestly, I could have reviewed almost any segment and been satisfied, but today you get the time travel toaster.

This particular tale has a simple structure: After repairing the toaster, Homer gets sent back to “the time when dinosaurs weren’t just confined to zoos.” He accidentally kills something, it alters the present timeline, and he manages to escape a horrible alternate future only to create a worse one by killing a prehistoric creature.

What makes Time and Punishment so great is the quickfire pacing that’s present in all the best “Treehouse of Horror” bits. It’s got the insane joke-per-minute ratio of classic Simpsons, coupled with a truncated running time that results in a rapid escalation of incident.

Homer’s opening speech about how lucky he feels to be with his family on a beautiful day gives way to Lisa’s “Dad, your hand is jammed in the toaster!” His relieved slump against the refrigerator after dislodging the appliance is greeted by Bart shouting “Dad, it’s in there again!” The whole sequence, from Lisa’s line to the end of the scene, takes about 30 seconds. It is, like much of my favorite comedy, perfectly timed, expertly crafted stupidity.

I’m just now realizing that dissecting a joke is a) hard and b) runs the risk of ruining it, but I’ve come this far so what the hell.

“If you ever travel back in time, don’t step on anything. Because even the tiniest change can alter the future in ways you can’t imagine.”

This is the advice Homer recalls receiving from his father on his wedding day. It’s a basic rule from time travel Sci-Fi, and the central joke of the episode. After remembering this, Homer immediately kills a mosquito. When he returns to the present, he finds a dystopian future in which a tyrannical Flanders has his slave-er-rinos lobotomized to keep them complacent. While I’m tempted to just spend the rest of this post just quoting lines and gags that have stuck with me, that seems like bad writing so I won’t do it***.

Each of the possible futures plays out a different absurdity. Bart and Lisa are giant! There’s a world where an ax-wielding Maggie (the running gag of this episode is that Groundskeeper Willie shows up and fails to save the day by being axed in the back, expanding his role in the earlier spoof of The Shining) is voiced by James Earl Jones . One possible present ends on an ironic twist: after Homer flees screaming when Marge asks him what donuts are, she looks out the window to see donuts falling from the sky and says “oh, it’s raining.”

Between each of these horrifying alternate realities we find an increasingly tired and frustrated Homer stuck in the age of the dinosaurs. Eventually, realizing that each trip back in time has resulted in failure, he just snaps and starts smashing everything in sight. Who among us, etc.

The segment ends with Homer in a timeline where almost everything is back to normal. The only difference is that his family eats by snatching food off their plates with frog-like tongues. “Eh. Close enough.”

At around seven minutes, Time and Punishment serves up a quality parody of time-travel paradoxes. It’s got some of my favorite “Treehouse of Horror” gags, and features this giant sloth thing shrugging:

And that, dear reader, is where I leave you. Was this my best review? No. Did it get me or anyone else in the mood for Halloween? Maybe. Was it good? “Eh. Close enough.”

On the Future

Octoberween is over. Rooster Illusion returns to the grave, waiting to be resurrected once more, like a Dracula. When the moon is full and someone accidentally leaks blood**** into our ashes, maybe we’ll be back to haunt the shadows (that’s how Draculas come back, right?). You never know.

Rooster Illusion is dead. Long live Rooster Illusion.

Later days.

*For those just joining us, this is a fun** callback to the post I did at the beginning of the month announcing our Octoberween reunion!
**Debatable.
***I honestly can’t even tell if I’m good at this anymore.
****Ed note: Do you mean “bleeds?”

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