Hello and welcome to Laughing Place’s weekly recap of new episodes of The Simpsons on the FOX Network. This week’s installment, entitled “The Way of the Dog,” served as the show’s thirty-first season finale, and aired in mid-May despite being a Christmas episode.
Chalkboard gag: None.
Couch gag: None. But we do see all of the Simpsons’ dead pets fly by (including the white Snowball I) in angel form as the title appears. Then we dissolve right into the beginning of the episode.
Santa’s Little Helper is sleeping on the floor of the Simpson home, dreaming of chasing a butterfly, which then chases Ralph Wiggum (voiced by Nancy Cartwright). Marge (Julie Kavner) enlists the help of Lisa (Yeardley Smith) and Bart (also Cartwright) in stringing together some popcorn with which to decorate the family’s Christmas tree. Bart gives Marge an ornament he made in Sunday School (“the purple represents Jesus's blood”) which she uses to fill out the back side of the tree along with a defective Krusty ornament and scattered other rejects. She then finds a Santa Claus hat in a box and tries unsuccessfully to put it onto Santa’s Little Helper. We hear the family’s dialogue as gibberish through SLH’s ears, though Grampa Simpson (Dan Castellaneta) sounds the same from both perspectives.
Later, the family returns home from Christmas shopping while Homer sings all the lyrics to “Jingle Bell Rock” incorrectly. Homer (Castellaneta again) dares Marge to guess what he got her, though the wrapped gift is clearly shaped like a vacuum cleaner. “You need to learn the difference between Christmas presents and household supplies,” Marge admonishes her husband just before the vacuum sucks up Bart’s shorts, leaving him in his underwear. “Now that it's actually happened, it’s not so funny,” Bart says, referencing his famous catch-phrase. The family comes around the corner to find that Santa’s Little Helper has destroyed the living room while they were out. Lisa insists they take him to see a dog psychologist, and suggests they attend a free lecture being given by Dr. Elaine Wolff (guest star Cate Blanchett), though Homer would rather stay home to watch a UFC match.
At bedtime, Lisa has Bart read a letter she wrote to Homer voicing concern for Santa’s Little Helper, as Homer can apparently no longer hear the female voice. He gives in and they attend the lecture, where the middle-aged Dr. Wolff admits she vastly prefers dogs to humans, a notion by which boxer Drederick Tatum (Hank Azaria) is greatly offended. During the presentation she receives a cell phone call from her white-haired British lover (another A-List guest star Michael York) who says he’s left his wife for her. Meanwhile, Homer is watching the fight on his phone and responds inappropriately, which sends Wolff into a tirade and causes her to storm out. In the parking lot afterward, Lisa approaches Wolff and demands for her to help SLH, to the point where she actually threatens to fight her if she won’t.
Wolff says the family needs to see the world through the dog’s nose instead of his eyes, as smell is his dominant sense, but she still refuses to help in any long-term capacity even though she has an obvious and instant connection with Santa’s Little Helper. She drives away as SLH chases after her, to no avail. At home, Lisa reads through Wolff’s book to see if she can find a way to help the family’s dog. Marge attempts to take back the Santa hat but SLH growls and bites her, and Homer hints that he’s wrapped a first-aid kit under the Christmas tree. He chains up SLH in the backyard and Bart wants to sleep out there with his dog. Homer says Bart isn’t the boss, but Mr. Burns (Harry Shearer) appears and says he is the boss and that Bart paid him to tell Homer what to do. Inside Homer Googles “cheapest dog doctor” and the family heads over to find that the doctor only wants to put SLH to sleep.
Homer angrily takes back the dog and leaves the doctor’s office with a cone on his head as he doesn’t want to look him in the eyes on his way out: “I feel like the Pixar logo,” he says as he knocks something over. Police Chief Wiggum (Azaria) arrives at the Simpson home to take Santa’s Little Helper, as the veterinarian had apparently reported the dog as a biter. Bart calls him a “big blue balloon” and Wiggum can’t help but take this as a compliment, imagining himself as a balloon in the Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is quickly shot down by Snake (Azaria as well). But Wiggum has already called animal control on an app which shows their van approaching as a dog-shaped skull-and-crossbones on his phone’s map. Thankfully Dr. Wolff shows up first, says she saw something in SLH’s eyes, and offers to take him to train and protect him. Bidding farewell to the dog, Homer says, “I’m not ordinarily an emotional guy, but…” and kisses SLH square on the lips.
At Dr. Wolff’s “Dognitive Behavioral Therapy Institute,” Wolff shows Santa’s Little Helper a warm welcome video and then sleeps next to him in his pen to establish trust. She takes notes on her laptop as she watches him sleep, and we see a flashback to the dog as a newborn puppy getting separated from his mother. At home, Homer and Bart decide to pray to St. Bernard for SLH’s safe return, and the other family member join in. “Wow, losing our dog possibly forever has really brought us together,” Homer says, only to be shushed by Marge. At the institute, Elaine’s boyfriend shows up to take her away and proposes, but she says he’ll have to wait a few weeks. Instead, she brings SLH to meet the other resident dogs. SLH growls when he finds the Santa hat in his bed, so Wolff brings him back to the Simpsons.
In a flashback to the very first episode of The Simpsons, we see that Bart was wearing the Santa hat the night he and Homer found Santa’s Little Helper at the racetrack. And though the Simpsons are hosting a holiday brunch, they agree to abandon their houseguests to pay a visit to the greyhound dog breeder. Dr. Wolff slaps the man as soon as he opens the door and we get another flashback to him deliberately separating SLH from his mother when he discovered he was the fastest member of his litter, followed by more slapping. “Suddenly the guy who tortures dogs is the bad guy,” the breeder grumbles. Suddenly SLH runs outside and the family follows along with Wolff, all of whom are delighted to find the dog has happily reunited with his mother. Wolff then says she has to head home, as she has ten dogs to walk, hinting that she could use some help. No one volunteers.
In the coda, the Simpson family is watching TV with Santa’s Little Helper and his mother, who they’ve now adopted as well. “It’s so great everyone in this family worked out their issues,” says Marge, but we pan over to the cat Snowball II threatening a goldfish. A post-credits image pays tribute to former guest star Little Richard, who passed away last week.
The Simpsons will return for its thirty-second season this fall on FOX.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.