The Simpsons episode “Marge vs. the Monorail” doesn’t feature any flesh-eating ghouls. But it does offer examples for writing zombies of another kind: people stuck in a mob mentality.
When local billionaire C. Montgomery Burns pays a $3 million fine for burying nuclear waste around Springfield, a town meeting decides what to do with the money. In a flurry of song and dance, salesman Lyle Lanley convinces the town to pay him to build a monorail.
After Marge’s suggestion to use the money to repair Main Street gets rebuffed, she starts a quiet crusade to prove Lanley’s up to no good.
The Writer Emergency Pack card “Zombie Attack” offers some great tips for dealing with a mindless, unstoppable horde, no matter how they get started.
Let’s look at how this episode ties in to the suggestions on the card…
What does your crowd want?
The Zombie Attack card starts with literal zombies who crave brains. But what if they want something else? If a crowd acts together, there’s something they all want, and narrowing that down helps set up how the story progresses.
The citizens of Springfield are looking for someone to tell them how to spend their windfall. They want something to make an improvement in their lives. Most of the individual suggestions come from a genuine place of civic duty, like hiring firefighters or fixing the massive potholes on Main Street.
They unite behind the monorail idea not only because of Lanley’s song, but the excitement for making their town feel more important.
The Writer Emergency Pack card asks a further question: If they get what they want, will they disperse or become stronger?
The opening day of the monorail answers that question. A massive crowd gathers, along with TV coverage and celebrity guests. It wasn’t enough to just get the monorail — the crowd wants the thrill of the experience.
Does the horde have a leader?
The WEP card asks if the horde has a leader, and if there’s a way for the hero to displace them.
In this story, Lyle Lanley is a fly-by-night con man who already has one foot out the door as soon as he sells the town on building a monorail. He makes public appearances and keeps things in motion, but isn’t planning on sticking around once his briefcases are full of cash.
This plays to what Lanley wants in the end: Easy money and a flight to Tahiti. He’s not looking for long-term power or control.
Yes, he makes a splashy entrance and wins the town over with his musical theater chops, but a victory for Marge over the monorail isn’t really about taking Lanley out of the equation.
Make the mob personal
At first Marge is displeased that her call to rebuild Main Street failed against a song-and-dance routine, but her conflict with the monorail deepens after Homer sees a commercial encouraging people to apply to become the monorail’s conductor. Suddenly, becoming a Monorail Conductor becomes Homer J. Simpson’s lifelong dream.
The Zombie Attack card suggests having someone the hero loves join the mob, and nothing could make things more personal for Marge than having her husband be the person literally driving the train.
Through a combination of Homer actually working as hard as he can to get the job and Lanley not really caring about the consequences of the decision, Homer is selected. This raises the stakes for Marge when the monorail speeds toward disaster on its maiden voyage.
Look for an expert
In a last ditch effort, Marge heads to North Haverbrook, one of the cities that Lanley brags about in his song.
She meets Sebastian Cobb, the man who built one of Lanley’s previous monorails. Cobb confirms Marge’s fears about Lanley’s con, and tells her the monorail is too dangerous to run.
Marge rushes the expert back to Springfield, where Cobb is able to talk Homer through how to safely stop the monorail and save everyone onboard. Marge’s committment to her goal and resourcefulness save the day, bringing the right people together to prevent Lanley’s grift from having deadly consequences for Springfield.
Bonus Fun Fact
“Marge vs. The Monorail” was written by Conan O’Brien! In 2014, he performed “The Monorail Song” at the Hollywood Bowl.
If you have a writer emergency…
What would your hero do if confronted by a mindless, unstoppable horde?
- Brainstorm some experts your hero could consult. If this happened beofre, how did they survive?
- Does the horde have a leader? Is there any way your hero could take over that spot?
- Make it perosnal. Let someone the hero loves join the mob.
Find out how to get more tips like these with your own Writer Emergency Pack!