“So we’ll march through the night by the big cooling tower, they have the plant, but we have the power,” Lisa sings during the labor protest against Mr. Burns’ Nuclear Plant in “Last Exit to Springfield.” The episode captures all the promise of the subversively satirical look at life in America, sprinkling cutting commentary with the silliest of antics, and dipping into all manner of topical, cultural and Seussical references to bring the message home.
The town of Springfield’s biggest employer pays the legally lowest wages, and as Mr. Burns listens to the growing vocal accompaniment to Lisa’s song, he turns into the worst kind of Grinch. Cynical and nuanced, “Last Exit to Springfield” opens with one of the best McBain insertions, which causes Homer to tell Bart, there is no one that evil in real life. Cut to Mr. Burns, waiting for the leader of the Springfield chapter of the “International Brotherhood of Jazz Dancers, Pastry Chefs and Nuclear Technicians” trade union, who has mysteriously disappeared.
Mr. Burns was born to this. A flashback reveals he is firmly heeding his father’s earliest lessons in labor relations: “You can’t treat working men this way,” a protester yells as he is being dragged away from the turn-of-the-century plant. “One day we’ll form a union and get the fair and equitable treatment we deserve! Then we’ll go too far and get corrupt and shiftless and the Japanese will eat us alive!”
Bart writes “MUD IS NOT ONE OF THE 4 FOOD GROUPS” on the blackboard to start the episode, but even wet dirt will be hard for his sister to chew in her future. “Last Exit to Springfield” begins when Mr. Burns cancels the dental plan, and Lisa needs braces. The monstrous contraption from Painless Dentistry is an oral torture device. Homer may not be able to discern a bribe from a flirt, but he knows how to turn his personal issues into grand statements. He becomes a truly charismatic union leader. He rallies the workers to strike, and commits to the fight, even if by accident, and all while totally in over his head.
The labor negotiation scenes display inadvertent genius, but by the time Burns realizes his opponent is “not the brilliant tactician I thought he was,” it is too late. Homer not only wins the dental plan, but on the condition he steps down as union president. Woo-hoo!!
The episode is poignant and moves with an expert rhythm, infusing musical interludes like Burns and Smithers’ dance through running the plant by themselves, until they replace themselves with killer robot workers. Lisa’s dental trip is no less imaginative, gliding through her own private Pepperland in a Yellow Submarine, even her friends, The Beatles, are aboard.