We finally see why someone would hire Zoidberg.
After his incompetence causes a massive number of issues in the staff, the Planet Express crew demands that Professor Farnsworth (Billy West) fire Doctor Zoidberg (West). Farnsworth refuses, saying that Zoidberg is an expert in alien biology. It’s revealed that Zoidberg was assigned to accompany Farnsworth on a mission to kill a “Tritonian Yeti” decades ago. During the trip, Farnsworth became infected with hypermalaria, a horrible disease that can remain dormant for decades. After Zoidberg helps Farnsworth kill the yeti, saving the Professor’s life, Farnsworth hires Zoidberg so that Zoidberg can kill him if he starts to suffer from hypermalaria.
In the “present,” Farnsworth starts to show signs of the disease, so he tells Zoidberg that he has to kill him, but that it needs to be by surprise. After a number of failed attempts, the crew catches Zoidberg trying to kill the Professor and imprisons him. However, Zoidberg discovers a white hair on a lab coat, which leads him to realize that the Professor doesn’t have hypermalaria. He escapes to meet with Mom (Tress MacNeille), who is revealed to still have the Tritonian Yeti’s head. The Professor tells the crew that Zoidberg was trying to help kill him, so they build a giant Rube-Goldberg-Esque murder machine. As it goes off, Zoidberg returns to reveal that the Professor actually has Yetism. The Professor turns into a yeti, but Zoidberg cures Farnsworth using the former Yeti’s pineal gland. Zoidberg and the Professor celebrate as friends.
I have a soft spot for episodes in which Zoidberg actually gets some kind of positive treatment, because he was always one of my favorite characters and he usually gets the short end of the stick. In this episode, we finally find out two key things about the character: Why he was hired and that he actually is pretty good at his job. The only problem is that his job is not actually what his title would indicate, because while he is a good doctor for alien biology, he doesn’t know anything about human anatomy. While it’s odd that he didn’t learn anything about human medicine in the ensuing 80 years of employment, I guess I would counter that most people don’t learn skills outside of their job or hobbies. Since the Professor was never going to fire him, and was his friend, there really wasn’t that much of an incentive to care about being a good human doctor. Also, you have to be a little impressed that he can keep removing and replacing spinal columns without killing anyone.
The idea of hypermalaria is similar to certain slow viruses or latent diseases, like rubella or chagas disease, but ironically not malaria. While malaria can recur if untreated, recurrences are usually lighter than the initial attack. The idea of having a lifelong condition that can spontaneously kill you, however, is one of Futurama’s darker bases for a gag or a story set-up. Of course, there was no chance that they were going to kill off the Professor, so the ending was kind of inevitable, but having Zoidberg save the day was still nice.
Overall, I admit this is in the bottom half of Futurama, but I still have a soft spot for it.
Fry’s illnesses that Zoidberg causes at the beginning of the episode. First, he gets Simpson’s jaundice, a disease that makes him look like a character from the Simpsons, who are famously all yellow. Then, he turns orange and becomes grumpy, getting a condition called Garfield syndrome, like the comic cat. This is caused by an organ rejection, which I think is a reference to the fact that most hospitals do scheduled organ transplants on Monday so that the patient will have full staff for as long as possible. Garfield hates Mondays, so he hates the organs. Next, he gets “Muppet gangrene,” which makes him act like Kermit the Frog. He rightly states that it’s not easy being gangrenous, like Kermit would say it isn’t easy being green. Lastly, he gets an unspecified disease that makes him look like a Smurf. I think this is a subtle reference to Fry being near dead, because turning blue is a sign of not having enough oxygen.
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