We have an episode focused mostly on Professor Hubert Farnsworth and his attempt to secure his legacy.
The Professor (Billy West) is brought up on academic charges by Mars University. However, after he begins an angry rant about blackmailing and ruining all of the other professors, it’s revealed that it’s really a surprise party for his 150th Birthday. The crew of Planet Express show him a video about his accomplishments, but it has the opposite effect, making him believe that his life has been a giant waste. Leela (Katey Sagal) tells him that at least he has 10 years left to live, revealing that all 160 year old people are forcibly retired by robots to live out their days in the mysterious “Near-Death Star.” The Professor decides to name a successor and elects his own clone, Cubert Farnsworth (Kath Soucie).
Cubert is released from the Clone-O-Mat and immediately starts getting on everyone’s nerves due to his habit of pointing out logical flaws in the way the business is run and criticizing all of the impossible science used in the show. The Professor tries to technobabble explanations for much of it, saying that the point of science is to make the impossible into the possible, but Cubert ends up telling him that he doesn’t want to be a scientist. This breaks the Professor’s heart and leads him to reveal that he is actually 160 years old and has alerted the Sunset Squad Robots to take him away.
The Crew uses the Smell-O-Scope to track down the Professor. At the Near-Death Star, Leela and Bender (John DiMaggio) impersonate robots and Fry (West) pretends to be the Professor while Cubert is his hump. They use Cubert’s blood to present a DNA sample from the Professor. It’s revealed that all of the old people are hooked into Matrix-esque virtual reality systems that simulate retirement homes. They are found out and flee until the ship’s engine is blasted. On the way out, Cubert is knocked unconscious and when he wakes up he now wishes to be an inventor, fixing the engines (which are revealed to not move the ship at all, but instead move THE REST OF THE UNIVERSE around the ship). The crew escapes and the Professor is happy to have a successor.
This episode is a shot at bad fans, like all of the people out there who can’t just enjoy shows without trying to point out logical flaws in the science of the shows. As someone who does occasionally do that, I felt attacked, but as a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000’s opening lyric “If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes/ and other science facts/ just repeat to yourself/ it’s just a show / I should really just relax” I also accept that you should never let ancillary science issues distract from a good story. Suspend that disbelief, y’all.
According to the commentary, Cubert was actually created before the show started airing and he was just going to be present throughout the series calling out scientific impossibilities in the show before the fans could start doing it. Given how his outlook changed by the end of the episode and that aspect of his personality seems to go to the wayside for the rest of the series, apparently they realized that was going to get annoying. Besides, they put in the obnoxious fan for an episode, that got the point across.
That said, I absolutely love the responses that the show gives for some of the science fiction elements. For example, faster-than-light travel is impossible, so scientists just decided to raise the speed of light to the point that you can still cross the galaxy in a few hours. This would naturally just raise even MORE issues about how the physics of this universe work, but it’s such a great example of technobabble. The final revelation of the episode is even more insane: The Professor’s engines somehow are MORE efficient because they choose to move the entire universe rather than the ship. However, the sequence in which they represent that looks freaking awesome, so all is forgiven.
The concept of seniors being forcibly retired is present in a lot of science fiction, but I would imagine the most famous one is probably Logan’s Run, the sci-fi book which shows a world where everyone is executed on their 21st birthday and the movie adaptation where everyone is executed on their 30th. In the book, the “Sandmen” who collect the people who are set to die are depicted dressed in black and occasionally robed as reapers, like the Sunset Squad robots. In the movie, the Sandmen dress more like the other citizens in what the 1970s thought the future would look like, with black bodysuits. Given that they make other references in the series to that film, I’m guessing that this is what inspired the plotline of this episode.
The episode as a whole is obviously about the conflict between generations. Cubert initially represents the rebellion children usually display against their parents who they feel are completely dissimilar, summarized by his great line “ I may be identical to you in every possible way but that doesn’t mean I’m anything like you.” At the end of the episode, however, Cubert does finally gain some insight into Professor Farnsworth’s personality, which ends up bridging the gap between the pair.
Two small ones.
First, Cubert’s first line in the series is “What, you’ve never seen a genius’s weiner before?” to which Fry responds “well, once in the park.” The timing and absurdity of it, combined with the fact that this is a recurring character’s introduction, always makes me laugh.
Second, the unbelievably dark joke that is the motto of Mars University. The university’s motto is “Knowledge Brings Fear.” On its surface, this is both true and also one of the worst observations about consciousness, because yeah, if we didn’t know about all the things that could happen to us that are bad, we’d never be afraid. But the real darkness is that this is a reference to another famous motto: “Work Brings Freedom.” Fans of the comic Maus will probably recognize that as being a translation of the phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which was featured above the entrance to Auschwitz. You’d think that they might not have known about this and it’s a coincidence, but 1) the way it’s displayed on Mars University is very similar to how it appeared at Auschwitz, 2) it’s a change from the original motto of Mars University (A Giant Pulsating Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste), and 3) the line before it was about saving Hitler’s brain. So, in essence, knowledge of an atrocity in the past brings forth the underlying reference to the joke and changes the meaning to something even darker and scarier… thus, Knowledge Brings Fear.
Well, that’s it for this week.
See you next week, meatbags.
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