Don Hertzfeldt’s Simpson’s Couch Gag is about relationships and mental illness

Come with me, if you would, on a journey into the distant future, so distant that we may not even recognize our descendants as humans, let alone as part of our culture. What does “The Simpsons” look like in a realm so far beyond our understanding? Don Hertzfeldt takes a guess in his couch gag opening the season premiere of the show’s 26th season, and, people around the Internet mostly agree, it’s weird.

But for the most part, no one seems to see beyond this couch gag’s obvious strangeness and it’s only slightly more subtle anti-consumerism. I saw a little bit more. For my part, I would like to draw your attention to the heart-rending tragedy that plays out on the sun-date of Septembar 36.4, 10,535.

After calling his family to the “kitchen-cube,” the “D’oh”ing tentacled head that now represents Homer Simpson looks at the bumpy blue blob crowing the praises of “The Dark Lord of the Twin Moons.” After a brief advertisement from the remnants of his baby daughter, Homer states that he has “memories,” and looks out a staticky hologram of a window. We go back in time to “Sampsans Epasode Numbar 20,254” wherein two sepia-toned bipeds Homer and Marge stare blankly at each other. Clumsily, Marge fumbles to touch Homer’s face, and tries to tell him that despite all that has changed, he can always count on her love for him. “Still love you Ho-mar” she intones in a tinny voice.

In a later episode, a nearly unrecognizable Marge tells a brown-yellow cycloptic tripod that we can only assume is Homer that she will never forget him. Her voice is so distorted that we need a subtitle to understand it. Even as their very identities degrade and disappear around them, Homer and Marge somehow maintain their love.

But as we return to the kitchen cube of the new present, Homer looks back at the erstwhile love of his life. The blue sponge insisting that “all animals can scream” makes no indication that she is even aware he’s there. The love that persevered through thousands of years and the loss of humanity has finally succumbed to the degrading influence of time. Realizing in a sudden moment of clarity what it is that he has lost, Homer emits a final, sorrowful “d’oh.”

If we think of the bizarre scenery as a metaphor for the changes over a human lifespan, and Marge’s changes in particular as a descent into dementia, the trajectory holds true. As Marge slowly loses her mental faculties, she proves again and again, in attempts that require more and more effort, that her love for Homer is the strongest force maintaining her sense of self. The final scene matches with the experience of Homer turning to his wife one morning and finding that she has finally lost the battle. She does not recognize him. Perhaps in this version of events as well, Homer expresses his feelings in the only way he knows how – the defeated, dejected “d’oh.”

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4 thoughts on “Don Hertzfeldt’s Simpson’s Couch Gag is about relationships and mental illness”

  1. Thanks for pointing me to this. I had not seen it before.
    Impressive interpretation.

    I think, too, that it is a meditation on what it means to be one of the Simpsons, from an artistic/illustrator point of view.

    Everything can change about Maggie, but her blue bow and pacifier-sucking must remain. Bart, no matter his shape, must say “Don’t Have a Cow, Man.” Marge of the future is nothing but her hair.

    etc.

    Love,
    Dad

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