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The Simpsons has to come to an end sometime… but just how will it go out?

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that The Simpsons is enjoying a mini-renaissance in pop-culture relevance. In the pantheon of ways you might get someone to pay attention to a TV show again, running it for a weeks-long 24-hour-a-day marathon is filed neatly in the “Duh!” section. That, plus last week’s high-profile Family Guy crossover have put a series that — while still popular — had been taken for granted for a few years back into the spotlight… but it’s also reminded longtime fans that it has indeed been a long time. And it’s got many folks realizing that it’s a near-certainty that they’ll live to see the actual end of The Simpsons — and speculating on just what that ending might be.

It’s a harder question than you’d think: The series is episodic in structure, devoid of almost any semblance of long-running plot threads or long-term goals in need of accomplishment that would serve as an automatic capper to the narrative — there’s no “if only” hanging over various characters’ heads. But surely, a series that’s been on the air this long and has become so deeply ingrained into the worldwide cultural psyche that it can’t just end on an average episode.

With that in mind, here are four hypothetical ways the curtain could come down on Springfield for good:

THE DEATH OF HOMER
The most obvious place to go for calling it quits is to kill off a main character, and while Bart remains The Simpsons’ “mascot” Homer surpassed him as its de-facto main character years ago. Sure, other passings would conceivably leave the series so wanting that it would feel pointless to go on — some have already begun to suggest that the absence of Edna Krabapple following the death of voice actress Marica Wallace has left so pronounced a hole in the series’ world as to make continuation untenable. But killing off one of the family? You don’t come back from that, and everyone knows it.

If so (and, let’s be realistic, there’s basically zero chance this happens), Homer is clearly the obvious choice. The kids are all too young, and “long-suffering” is such a part of Marge’s foundation as wife, mother and woman that ending on her death would seem almost obscenely overblown. Homer, on the other hand, has actually cheated death so often that there could be a certain finality to seeing it “stick” after all these years. Sad, obviously, but it can’t be said he didn’t lead a full life — and that his loss wouldn’t provide the most varied mourners and colorful reminiscences out of anyone in the cast. This is particularly true if he went out in heroic fashion i.e. stopping another nuclear meltdown, preventing some new villainy of Mr. Burns’ or even getting Bart (or Lisa or Maggie — but probably Bart) out of a more-perilous-than-usual jam.

THE ACTUAL FUTURE
The Simpsons has featured many stories set in the possible futures of its characters, but there’s never been any hard continuity between the various leaps forward — though some fans still hold to the idea that the majority of them (up to a point) form a loose “future canon” wherein Lisa eventually becomes President and appoints Bart to The Supreme Court.

Taking the last episode (even if only in the final moments) as an opportunity to tell fans once and for all what really happens once “regular” time actually moves on for these characters could be a powerful, well-earned moment: Will Lisa realize her ambitions? Will Bart make it to adulthood intact? Most of all, it would be a way to tell generations of fans that even though these cartoon people they’ve spent decades (in some cases their whole lives) in the company of are going away… they’re going to be okay, and so are you.

P.S. Make no mistake: However “out” of Simpsons-fandom anyone claims to be, the period from the announcement of “This is the last season” to the actual final episode will be the biggest, longest, most earnest, most sustained “funeral” popular-culture has EVER thrown for a fictional institution. Just you wait and see.

“IT WAS A CARTOON ALL ALONG” (aka THE “META” ENDING)
Scenario: As the end approaches on what has otherwise seemed like a bafflingly “ordinary” episode of The Simpsons, the post-end-of-story cool-down begins to linger just a bit longer than usual, as the characters we know, love and tuned in to say goodbye to slip back into their familiar routines (Homer on the couch, Barney drinking at Moe’s, Bart on his skateboard, etc.) A familiar-yet-unplaceable voice begins to speak, ruminating on Springfield and what it’s meant to people after all these years — but also to them (the speaker). A Big Truth is thus revealed: The Simpsons is a cartoon in its own universe as well as ours. What we’ve been watching is a TV series created by one of the grown-up Simpson kids (Bart being the obvious choice, but maybe that means it should actually be Maggie) based on their own childhood.

This would allow for some melancholy reflections on what might be different about the “real” Simpsons and why (Roseanne ended in similar fashion); but would also open the door for “explaining” the lack of time-progression on the series in a meaningful way that also, perhaps, would serve as a salute to the power of animation as a medium: They (the cartoon-creator) picked a time in their life they wished could have lasted forever… and made the series a world where that could actually be the case.

THE END IS THE BEGINNING IS THE END
Scenario: The final episode is an episode-length version of the famous opening credits: For some reason, the family needs to be at home watching TV at a certain moment (maybe it’s the final episode of Krusty/Itchy & Scratchy? Meta!!!) but circumstances strand them in familiar positions: Homer at work, Marge and Maggie at the store, Lisa at band practice, Bart held after school to write out lessons on the blackboard.

As the moments tick down, they bolt from their positions and race home – passing through as much classic/beloved Springfield ephemera as possible, naturally – finally landing (as always) on the couch… and that’s the final shot before we cut to black.

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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