The Simpsons trotted out a long-dead character for its 700th episode on Sunday night: Maude Flanders. The cartoon marked its 700th episode with a flashback going back six years, to a time when Maude was still alive. This move, along with other canonically interesting choices, was meant to show the potential still present in the three-decade-old cartoon.
Maude Flanders was the Simpsons' neighbor, first wife of Ned Flanders and mother of Todd and Rod Flanders. She was in the first 11 seasons of The Simpsons until she died unceremoniously in the episode "Alone Again, Natura-Diddily." Maude's death is a contentious topic among Simpsons aficionados, and Sunday's episode gave them reasons to relitigate it. Since it was a flashback going back several years, it allowed Maude to make a return.
"So happy to be a part of the 700th episode," tweeted actress Maggie Roswell, who has provided the voice for Maude since the beginning. Roswell has remained on the show (aside from a gap between 1999 and 2002) and voices characters including Helen Lovejoy, Elizabeth Hoover and Luann Van Houten. Still, fans were pleased to see her return to her old role here.
The 700th episode re-contextualized Maude and Homer's relationship in a way that surprised many fans — and annoyed some as well. The story found Homer and Marge in an argument that got Homer kicked out of the house for Christmas, relying on the hospitality of his pious neighbors. He annoyed Maude while there, helping himself to her food and overstaying his welcome, but at the last moment, he proved himself useful.
Maude was pregnant in this flashback episode, and she just happened to give birth at the end, when she was alone with Homer. This meant that Homer helped deliver Rod Flanders, simultaneously earning Maude and Marge's forgiveness. However, this late revelation puts many of Homer's interactions with the Flanders family in a bizarre new light — especially Maude's death.
For those that don't remember, Maude died in a 2000 episode where the Flanders and Simpsons just happened to visit the racetrack on the same day. Homer draws the attention of some cheerleaders firing T-shirts out of a cannon but ducks when the shirts come flying. They hit an unsuspecting Maude who falls backward out of the stands and dies. The episode is then about Homer trying to come to terms with his part in the accident; Maude has been dead ever since.
As A.V. Club critic Dennis Perkins pointed out, this tragedy made it all the more shocking to give Homer and Maude the "intimacy" of birthing Rod together all these years later. The episode has generally gotten lackluster reviews, though for The Simpsons these days, that is never too surprising. The cartoon airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.