by Danny Rood (April 11, 2016)
The age-old question for any fan of The Simpsons: what’s your favourite episode? The glory run from season 2 through to about 11 is filled with heavy hitters and Homer’s Enemy is a particularly dark episode among them. It revolves around the workplace relationship of Homer and his new workplace contemporary associate, Frank Grimes. It highlights the battle of the working class and the unfortunate in society, serving as something of a lesson on tolerance. The episode is infamous for its particularly morbid humour and macabre ending.
Grimes may just be one of the greatest one-time characters to appear on the show. The ultimate battler who has lived a life of grave misfortune, abandoned by his parents at age four and blown up in a silo explosion on his 18th birthday. After learning how to hear and to feel pain again, he receives his diploma in nuclear physics via correspondence (don’t forget that minor in determination!) Springfield nuclear power plant owner and black-hearted old man, Monty Burns, is touched by this uplifting story and hires him immediately. Despite promises of becoming executive VP (that position went to a dog), Grimes joins the ranks of Homer, Lenny and Carl in sector 7G. What follows is a 101 for Grimes in Homer’s absolute laziness and incompetence, which begins to infuriate him like a dog with bees in its mouth. We can clearly see that Grimes is some kind of anti-Homer, their only similarity being that we can laugh at them both.
“I don’t know, don’t ask me how the economy works”
In Grimes’ eyes, Homer’s general lack of intelligence makes him a dangerous individual. When a safety alarm is raised, his immediate solution is to pour a bucket of water over his control station, and in another instance he nearly drinks sulphuric acid (I don’t think it’d taste as good as Duff or Red tick beer). Grimes saves him in the nick of time and consequently gets in trouble for spilling “priceless acid” and destroying Burns’ “valuable wall.” Horrendously, he also gets a pay cut and a final warning.
Their contrasts continue in that where Grimes cannot stand Homer, Homer shows his good-natured side and doggedly attempts to befriend Grimes. Unfortunately, in comparison to his consistent suffering, the Simpson family has an incredible, plain-sailing life, which only infuriates him further. This is exhibited when Homer invites “Grimey ol’ buddy” over for dinner. Lobster? Sure. A beautiful home and family? That too. Photos with ex-Presidents and a journey to outer space? It’s all there. Grimes has never experienced any of these things. All he has to show for his life of struggle is his briefcase, his haircut and a precariously located apartment. He snaps, and takes aim at Homer, in front of his family, where you should never feel threatened, at home:
“You’re what’s wrong with America, Simpson, you coast through life, you do as little as possible and you leech off decent hard working people”
Sticking with the themes of material wealth, success and the working class, in the subplot of this episode, Bart becomes the owner of a rundown factory via chancing upon an auction, winning it out for the absurd sum of a single buck. Bart offers Milhouse a job there and the pair partake in dangerous shenanigans — Bart barking orders and leaving Milhouse as the night-watchman. As Simpsons subplots go, this one is relatively minor and doesn’t add much to the overall narrative — basically adding a further punchline and more salt to Grimes’ wounds: “..And my son bart, he owns a factory downtown!” Before the end of the episode, this all comes to a literal crashing halt as the factory abruptly collapses. Milhouse saw the whole thing: “First it started falling over…..then it fell over.” Perhaps the brief tale of Bart’s factory can be allegorically seen for a demonstration of material wealth — easy come easy go.
Back in the primary plot, Grimes is entirely at ends with Homer and formulates a plan to embarrass him in front of the power plant workforce — by tricking him into entering a children’s model building contest. Homer’s entry is of course barely inspiring, just a slight tweak on the current plant, featuring elbow macaroni, racing stripes and fins for wind resistance. He competes with Ralph Wiggum’s presentation of a Malibu Stacy dollhouse and Martin Prince, whose slick model upgrade of the plant supplies power to the very room the contest is held in. Somehow, Homer is declared the winner and the everybody is thrilled with his success. This is the breaking point for Grimes, whose plan is ruined as Homer once again inexplicably coasts through. He runs on a rampage through the plant, mimicking the ignorant buffoon he sees Homer for and ultimately with an ambiguous intentionality commits suicide. — As an episode’s resolution and ending is quite absurd, even for The Simpsons. But you don’t see it coming, which is why it works so well.
“What’s this?! “EXTREMELY HIGH VOLTAGE” Well, I don’t need safety gloves, ‘cos i’m Homer Sim…”
I made two key observations from Homer’s Enemy. One would be that some people really do have the deck stacked against them from the start, regardless of how hard they work or who they work for, they have to battle through life 24/7. This will all too often hamper people and get them down. A job at a nuclear power plant looks impressive on your CV, but is maybe not worth it when the blunders of others hamstring your career and sanity.
But was it Homer who ultimately ruined Grimes’ career, or was it Grimes himself? Sure, Homer wouldn’t be the easiest person to work alongside, but Grimes continually compared his own life to Homer’s. Obsessively so. Perhaps it was this obsession with measuring his own misfortune up against the lives of others, and the inability to look past Homer’s idiocy that did him in. We know Homer isn’t a bright spark, but he has his heart in the right place and through all his moronic tendencies, his love for his family is evident. Grimes never saw this in him, perhaps because he never felt the love of his own family and thus finally found someone to unleash this on.
The other idea this episode explores is that, as a society, intelligence is often confronted aggressively. Martin is 10 years old and made an impressive model that improved upon the efficiency of the nuclear power plant. He clearly shows his intelligence and usefulness to society, but Burns shuns his endeavours, ironically because his model lacks heart. Grimes was clearly an intelligent fellow but this wasn’t really embraced by his colleagues. Perhaps this was due to that comparative mindset again, that unwillingness to accept the inequalities of life. Lenny and Carl both have Master’s degrees, but both seem to be more accepting and understanding individuals. As a result, both are received more warmly by their colleagues.
With Grimes comparing his life to Homer’s constantly, well, that didn’t really help his situation or get him anywhere but worse off. Grimes said that he would “die a happy man if he could prove that Homer Simpson has the intelligence of a 6-year-old.” Yet this didn’t really need proving. His co-workers knew this and accepted the way Homer was well before Grimes showed up, and also that people make mistakes (as Lenny points out, this is why we have erasers on pencils). By exercising tolerance and focusing on their own lives, it served them well. Grimes, however, let this get the better of him and his endless comparisons contributed to his life fraught with misery and misfortune.