Bender tackles the eternal question and the answer is “find better engineers.”
Bender (John DiMaggio) starts his day by deciding to wear nerd glasses. This leads him to get invited to a sorority party, which leads him to enroll in college, which leads to him getting student loans from the mafia. He then drops out of school, gets addicted to drugs, and vomits on the Hendonismbot (Maurice LaMarche) for money. Eventually, he’s arrested and put on trial, but his lawyer successfully argues that Bender, as a robot, lacks free will and therefore cannot make any decisions, negating mens rea. Bender is despondent over the revelation that he might not have free will, and, during a delivery to the robot home world, stays on the planet to try and figure out if he has free will. Eventually, he finds a robot temple where the robot monks have adopted a position that, while they are automatons, they can still be happy. Bender stays with the monks until he discovers that he has a “free will” slot created by Mom (Tress MacNeille) so that they could get free will upgrades.
Fry (Billy West) misses Bender and complains to Leela (Katey Sagal), with whom he is once again romantically involved. Bender returns and convinces the pair to help him steal the free will unit prototype, reasoning that he does not have free will to commit the crime. They successfully get in, only to have Mom explain that she never had the prototype because the Professor (West) never finished it. Bender realizes that the Professor clearly did complete it and threatens him into giving it. However, the Professor reveals that Bender can’t hurt him, because the Professor programmed all MomCorp robots not to harm him. Seeing Bender sad, the Professor installs the free will unit in his head, which leads Bender to shoot the Professor in order to test it out. Bender is prosecuted successfully for the crime, much to his delight.
I think this is one of my favorite episodes of this show because it addresses a huge existential problem, whether free will exists, and manages to couch it in a funny parable by applying it to Bender rather than one of the other characters. As Amy (Lauren Tom) points out, no one is positive that humans even have free will, or if we’re just extremely convoluted mechanisms following intricate programming. Bender, naturally, just moves past that, but it does at least remind the viewer that everything Bender worries about in this episode has been contemplated by philosophers throughout the ages. As in the episode, some people get depressed over the unknowability of the answer, some are too busy to care, and some turn to religion or philosophy in order to be happy without knowing. Ultimately, though, this episode actually proposes that eventually science will be able to just tell us the answer or possibly even give us free will using Quantum Theory. It’s a very Futurama resolution.
Some of the better elements of this episode are the way that it highlights or even exaggerates many of Bender’s more human traits despite focusing on how he believes himself to be different than humans. Throughout the entire episode he’s prone to whimsy, then stuck in a need for self-discovery, and finally convinces the Professor not through logic, but through triggering his emotional empathy. Bender is at his least robotic during this episode and it works perfectly.
Overall, just a great episode of Futurama.
Pretty much everything about the Robot Monastery. First off, the idea that robots, who confirm that they have no free will and thus should operate perfectly logically, end up using religion as a way to resolve their existential crisis is inherently hilarious. Second, they read from “The Whole eBook,” rather than the Holy Book, which is a nice robot religion joke. Third, most of what the monks preach is based not on actual religious theory, but instead on the absurdist philosophy of Albert Camus, reinforced by the image of the monks working in an M.C. Escher setting. Last, the head abbot is named Ab-Bot, and that’s just fun.
See you next week, meatbags.
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