Welcome to Season 2 where the questions are worth double and there are twice as many temple guardians attacking you from behind.
Bender (John DiMaggio) is getting annoyed with all the attention given to Nibbler (Frank “I’m everyone” Welker), something that is only made worse when the tiny creature breaks a fang while biting Bender’s ass and revealing his age (four). Bender tries to impress everyone by making an amazing cake for Nibbler’s party, but Nibbler eats it before he can show it off, irritating Bender so much he flushes the alien down the toilet.
Leela (Katey Sagal) is despondent over the loss of Nibbler. Bender, meanwhile, doesn’t feel bad, since robots are incapable of empathy (in this episode, at least). The Professor (Billy West) installs an empathy chip that synchronizes Bender’s and Leela’s emotions. Bender quickly becomes overwhelmed by Leela’s emotions and flushes himself down the sewer to rescue Nibbler. Fry (West) and Leela go into the sewer after him, only to find that a race of mutants live in the sewers.
The mutants, while initially harmless, become enraged when they discover that Nibbler may be the monster that hunts through the sewer known as “El Chupanibre.” They propose using Leela as bait or a sacrifice to the monster. Nibbler shows up, only to be followed immediately by the real El Chupanibre, a giant reptilian beast. Bender wants to save Nibbler but is too scared for Nibbler’s safety because of Leela to actually act. Finally, Bender realizes that he can help by convincing Leela not to like Nibbler so much, mostly by mentioning how much money she spends on her pet. Bender, now unburdened, defeats the monster. Back on the surface, Bender, chip removed, has learned nothing. However, Leela reveals that she learned something from Bender, calling everyone “jerkwads” as she exits.
The concept of empathy and “putting yourself in someone’s shoes” has been a typical plot line throughout sitcoms and comedies since I Love Lucy had Fred and Ricky try to do housework for a day. This episode just does it a lot more directly, by having Bender forced to feel what Leela feels. However, he’s still aware of the false nature of the emotions, even explaining to Fry that he consciously knows that he doesn’t really feel anything. To me, this makes it more interesting when he’s forced out of guilt to rescue Nibbler, because it suggests that the show believes people make decisions based more on emotions than on conscious decision. It’s not a point they harp on, but it’s still there and they go back to it in other episodes. Maybe it’s more that emotions create the values by which we make other decisions, like valuing the lives of others over our own moderate convenience. If we take this further, then Leela’s emotions serve a purpose similar to the base conditions in Bender’s robot brain that his algorithms run off of. In Asimov, that’d be the three laws, although emotions are naturally more flexible than the laws. Maybe Bender is more effected by the emotions than a person because he usually doesn’t have changing values, being a robot. Or maybe I’m overthinking this a lot.
This episode also introduces us to the Mutants, who will become increasingly important, particularly the two that make a surprise cameo in this episode, Leela’s parents. The story progress of the Mutant civilization is interesting, since they somehow start off as being “urban legends” but are later viewed more as just second-class citizens that everyone knows about. It seems like they just kind of abandon the “semi-mythic” aspect of the mutants after this episode. They serve as a nice subversion of the typical “sub-human” race that we see in fiction, in that the mutants pretty much act like normal people, despite their squalid surroundings and hideous features.
Also, I always feel like this episode contains a lot of good jokes, even by Futurama standards. Many of them are just clever extensions of obvious gags. For example, when Leela sees Amy (Lauren Tom) getting attention from a guy she was attracted to, Bender feels her jealousy and tells Fry that he only gets attention because he dresses like a tramp. That joke falls a little flat, until Fry responds that the guys are “responding to [his] personality,” something that’s delivered so earnestly I think it always makes me chuckle.
Overall, it’s a solid episode that sets up a lot of characters and ideas that’ll get used, sometimes better, sometimes not, in the future.
The revelation that the mutants worship an unexploded nuclear bomb right under the streets of New New York. It’s a reference to the movie Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the only movie besides the original to include Charlton Heston. In the film, the bomb is worshipped by a group of mutated, telepathic humans in the remains of New York, which is similar to the episode. In the movie, it ends up being massively important, because it is used by Heston to destroy the Earth in the future. In Futurama, however, the Mutants brush it off by saying that the worship of the bomb is more of an Easter and Christmas deal. I love this line because it basically says to the audience that, even though the bomb is massively important in the material it’s stolen from, in this it will be nothing. Sure enough, it’s never referenced again.
Well, that’s it for this week.
See you next week, meatbags.
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NEXT – Episode 15: Brannigan, Begin Again
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