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The Simpsons - The Way of the Dog - Review: Santa's Little Helper Gets an Explanation

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*NOTE – This review may contain spoilers.

The season 31 finale gives us everything we love in a modern episode of the FOX sitcom: a hearty message, some fun one-liners, and best of all, nostalgia.

In 'The Way of the Dog' Santa's Little Helper takes the reigns as we take a break from our favourite TV family for a few months. In this week's episode he deals with the PTSD received from being abandoned at a young age, and it is fantastically explored.

SLH is the secret treasure of 'The Simpsons'; he doesn't take the spotlight much, but when he does (i.e. in the series premiere and 'Two Dozen and One Greyhounds') we're always treated to a heartfelt half-hour. This one is a little more sensitive than previous episodes however, but still manages to tell a meaningful tale.

An episode based on a silent character can go one of two ways, and fortunately this one doesn't take the negative route. Despite not having any dialogue to explain himself, SLH carries the episode the on way he knows how: tugging at our heart strings. Through the use of dog psychiatrist Elaine Wolff (voiced by the wonderful Cate Blanchett) we see things from the pet's perspective; and from that point the wholesomeness of the episode ensues.

We're first introduced to the dog during Christmas back in the very first episode of the sitcom, which is when the then-abandoned creature (who we find out has been ripped away from his mother by his owner at the time) finds a loving home. So when SLH is ironically uncomfortable with the idea of a Santa hat, things begin to make sense. When the Simpson family takes in SLH, it's clear that he comes from a place of hardship, and although it took us 31 seasons to finally get a proper exploration of it, it's an extremely well done story. We see him longing for affection and wanting to belong throughout the episode, and through some quick gags and touching dialogue, we get a great backstory for a typically forgotten character.

The show's ability to take a serious topic and turn it into a heartfelt yet occasionally humorous story is something not a lot of its peers are able to do successfully. Here however we are treated to a half-hour episode that reminds us of how dogs aren't just a Christmas gift, but a lifetime commitment.

Like many Christmas episodes, redemption and happy endings are what we are treated with as even the darkest character - SLH's abusive dog race trainer - is given some kind of vindication when he leads us to the reunion of the pet and his mother. It's clear that the trainer is an awful person, but it's Christmas, so much hate in our heart do we have to spare?

Overall it's a sweet finale for an almost consistently great season; we've seen some great changes in our favourite characters, but have also been gifted to some of the most joyous relationship dynamics, so to see this all topped off with a sweet episode full of redemption and backstory is simply the icing on the cake.

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