This episode welcomes one of the best characters produced by the series: Kif Kroker! Okay, fine, this is the episode that welcomes Zapp Brannigan into the world and we should all love it for that.
Leela’s (Katey Sagal) social life is in the toilet due to her cycloptic nature (and the fact that she judges other people with physical deformities). Amy (Lauren Tom) takes her out to meet guys at a bar called “The Hip Joint” and the rest of the crew comes along because we needed funny vignettes. At the end of the evening, Amy, Fry (Billy West), and Zoidberg (West) all find companions for the evening, while Bender (John DiMaggio) goes to see a saucy puppet show, leaving Leela all alone.
The next day, Professor Farnsworth (West), gives the crew a charity mission that they’re doing for a tax write-off. They are to go to the planet Vergon 6, which has been mined hollow to collect Dark Matter starship fuel, and collect two of every species there before the planet collapses. Leela, an animal lover, is onboard while Fry and Bender have to join her because it’s their job.
Meanwhile, on the starship The Nimbus (I’m sticking with “the Nimbus” even though it’s referred to as both “Nimbus” and “The Nimbus”), we’re introduced to the glorious velour-clad creation that is Captain Zapp Brannigan (West) and his long-suffering alien first officer Kif Kroker (Maurice LaMarche). Zapp sees the Planet Express Ship coming and suspects a fight, but the ship docks to talk to Zapp, who Leela knows as a famous hero. The crew joins Zapp for dinner, where Leela informs him of the mission to save the animals and asks for his help. Zapp refuses, saying that there is a rule against interfering with undeveloped worlds called “Brannigan’s Law.” When Leela says they’ll do it without him, Zapp has them imprisoned.
Zapp then determines the best plan of action is to seduce Leela, so he has her brought to his cabin. However, Zapp’s attempts fail, resulting in him breaking down crying over how pathetic he is. Leela tries to comfort him, clearly pitying him. Meanwhile, Bender and Fry try to escape the brig, but instead just turn it into a steam bath. It’s then revealed that Leela slept with Zapp.
The next morning, Leela says that everything was a mistake and that she’s going to leave and save the animals. Zapp, now being a pompous jackass again, says that he’s not going to stop her, confident that she’ll be too horny for his sweet man-candy to complete her mission. She avoids telling Fry and Bender as they head down to the planet.
On Vergon 6, the group collects two of every animal (or just one Hermaphlamingo) and puts them onboard. They also find a cute little three-eyed creature that Leela says isn’t on the checklist, but decides to take anyway, calling him Nibbler (Frank “I’m your childhood” Welker). While Leela worries that the other animals might eat Nibbler, when the trio returns to the ship, they find that Nibbler has eaten all of the other animals, rendering their mission pointless. Before they can try to get more, the planet starts to collapse. They get on the ship and try to leave, but Bender didn’t refuel the ship. Fry tells Leela to ask Zapp for help, resulting in the truth of her pity-sex coming out.
Leela calls Zapp and tries to suck up to him, but Zapp says he’ll only save them if they dump Nibbler, so she refuses, calling him a pitiful child inside of a big, pompous buffoon. She gives up on survival, but Nibbler craps out Dark Matter, the fuel they need, allowing them to escape. At the end of the episode, Leela writes a diary entry about not finding love and Zapp updates his Captain’s Log to mention that he had made it with a hot alien babe, “And in the end is that not what man has dreamt of since first he looked up at the stars?”
Zapp. F*cking. Brannigan. God, I love this character. He’s been described as what would happen if William Shatner, not Captain Kirk, were in charge of the Enterprise. He’s incompetent, he’s overconfident, he’s cowardly, and he’s obsessed with his appearance. Despite this, he’s considered a brilliant captain by all who don’t meet him, somehow managing to come out of every conflict sounding like a winner, even though his strategy is literally “send wave after wave of men to die.” To be fair, throughout the series, most of his campaigns are against planets which don’t have armies or don’t know they’re under attack, so I guess he actually has a decent W/L record.
You’ve known a Zapp Brannigan, someone who is a bad person, a bad leader, a buffoonish idiot who constantly massages his own ego, and yet, despite all of that, somehow constantly seems to be able to stay in power, often through unethical acts (like, you know, declaring war on a planet of pacifists). There are so many of them out there, from managers to politicians, it’s impossible that you don’t. What’s crazy is that it almost makes sense that they are allowed to continue, because they’re just such a spectacle to watch. Hell, it’s almost worth dealing with Zapp’s incompetence just to watch his idiocy at work. But, let’s be honest, you’d hate to be under his command, because you know that, sooner or later, his screw-ups will get you killed. Still, it’s the fact that he’s just a slightly more ridiculous version of reality that makes the character so perfect.
Aside from Zapp, this episode introduces Nibbler (or does it?) and Kif, both of whom will be recurring characters for the rest of the series. Nibbler becomes Leela’s physics-defyingly-carnivorous pet and Kif usually sticks with Zapp (despite hating him).
The episode’s plot exists mostly as a vehicle to give us the character interactions within the episode, but I also like the creativity of the animals on Vergon 6 and the scene of Leela being introduced to dating prospects in the 31st Century is pretty funny. This episode also reinforces Leela’s loneliness, which is probably her biggest motivation and character arc in the series. Aside from that, IT GAVE US ZAPP BRANNIGAN, WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED???? Do you need a 50s sci-fi film style title card of the episode?
No question on this one, it’s Zapp Brannigan’s Big Book of War.
Don’t get me wrong, almost anything Zapp says or does in this episode could be on here, but the fact that while Zapp is talking about military strategy (incorrectly) he still plugs his own book, which is revealed to be a Dr. Seuss-esque children’s book about combat, is somehow the most perfect representation of his character. He thinks he’s a tactical genius, writes a hilariously underwhelming book, and manages to bring it up anyway while thinking he’s under attack by people who are peacefully hailing them. Then, when the Planet Express Ship arrives, he tells Kif that he’s going to abandon The Nimbus to save himself. Truly, this is a great sequence at showing us the nature of this man in almost no time.
See you next week, Meatbags.
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