Leela’s (Katey Sagal) parents are coming to the surface for a one-time visit, due to their mutant status. After securing them permits, she and Fry (Billy West) have to build a supercollider from πkea, the Swedish furniture of the future, for the Professor (West). This ends up being extremely difficult, making them sore. They obtain a miracle cream for the soreness from Dr. Zoidberg (West), which appears to work. Later, the pair are mugged, but are surprised to find themselves superstrong, invulnerable, and superfast. They realize they got the powers from the Miracle Cream and, with Bender as a third, create a superhero team called the New Justice Team. They adopt the superhero names of Captain Yesterday (Fry), Clobberella (Leela), and Super King (Bender), to protect their secret identities.
The three are challenged by a supervillain known as the Zookeeper (West). They manage to stop the crook, but it prevents Leela from meeting her parents. Desperate to apologize to them, she reveals that she’s a superhero, which her father immediately tells everyone. Now knowing her secret identity, the Zookeeper kidnaps her parents and holds them for ransom. The trio rob the natural history museum for a gem and deliver it to the evildoer, but discover they’re out of miracle cream, ending their careers… after Bender and Fry commit a few more crimes.
This episode would usually be a sign that the team was running out of ideas. “Let’s have them become superheroes” seems like the kind of idea that you just throw out when all of the other options have been explored. Despite that, this episode is actually pretty solid. The A- and B-Plot interplay works well, because even as Leela is living a dream of superheroics, she realizes that it’s causing her to sacrifice her other dream of having a relationship with her parents. This ends up forcing her to choose between the two, and she naturally chooses her parents. It works out well.
The identities and the theme song of the superheroes is hilarious. Fry’s alter-ego is designed to look like a person from the 1970s, despite the fact that he was from the 90s. Leela’s outfit is clearly supposed to be a send-up of the typically revealing costumes female superheroes wear, as well as making her symbol a sexist rolling pin. Bender’s is just him wearing a king outfit and a mask. None of these costumes would be at all useful in keeping their identities secret, as Fry’s shows off his hair and mentions that he’s from the past, Leela’s shows off her cyclopic nature, and Benders still shows he’s a robot. Hilariously, Bender already had these when they revealed their powers to him, meaning that he had anticipated one day forming this team. Also, the theme song includes the line “winners don’t use drugs,” a Reagan-era comic throwback.
The best part of the episode, though, is the Zookeeper. He’s among the most ridiculous supervillains ever crafted. He uses animals, though they are apparently only highly-trained, not controlled by him using any superpowers. His menagerie is the best part, as they are not the kind of animals one would expect. They include: a badger with a troubled past and nothing left to lose, an elephant who never forgets to kill, a crab named Lucky, a.k.a. Citizen Snips, a yak, a boxing kangaroo, a python, piranhas that can walk on land, and a hawk. I mostly love the fact that the crab has two names and attacks Teddy Roosevelt’s disembodied head.
Overall, this is a great episode. It focuses more on gags than on plot development, but the gags are pretty great.
Everything about the trio’s meeting with Mayor Poopenmeyer (David Herman) is great, but I particularly love how they get out of his office in order to change into their superhero personas. Leela claims that she forgot that she left her apartment on fire. Bender says that he’s late for his LSATs. Fry just says he can’t take life anymore and jumps out the window.
While this joke does obey the rule of three, obviously, it also subverts the normal structure of a Futurama rule of three gag by having all three of the statements be absurd. Typically, the first two would be somewhat normal and the third would be the insane one, made more insane by the comparison to the first two, but this time, Leela’s is a subversion of the more normal excuse of “I left my stove on,” and the others are even more insane.
Bender decides to start dating the Planet Express ship, only to suffer when he treats her like crap.
Planet Express is entering into a contract with Romanticorp right before Valentine’s Day. The crew tours the factory of the company, finding out secrets like “lovey bears are actually corpses” or “candy hearts have earwig honey,” but they still end up taking the job. Based on the new influx of money, the Professor (Billy West) finally upgrades the Planet Express ship, including giving it a new AI which has a female personality voiced by Sigourney Weaver (APPLAUSE). Bender (John DiMaggio) quickly falls in love with the new ship’s computer while Fry (West) attempts to find the perfect pickup line to use on Leela (Katey Segal) from the trillions of candy hearts that Romanticorp makes.
After a few dates that somehow still take place before Valentine’s Day, Bender gets sick of the ship and starts cheating on her with a number of cheap floozies. She sees him at Elzar’s restaurant with two of them and becomes suspicious, but Bender manages to talk his way out of trouble. The ship continues to grow more paranoid (justifiably), until Leela tries to talk her into dumping Bender, leading the ship to lash out. While the ship’s sanity starts to slip due to Bender gaslighting her, the crew delivers 20 Billion candy hearts to Omicron Persei 8’s rulers Lrrr and Nd-Nd (Maurice LaMarche and Tress MacNeille). Unfortunately, one of the hearts uses the term “wuv,” which confuses and infuriates the Omicronian Monarchs. While the crew flees, Bender dumps the Planet Express Ship. Somehow, they still make it out alive.
Leela tries to console the ship with girl-talk, but accidentally inspires the ship to fly into a Quasar in an attempt to force them to be together forever as a quantum singularity. Fry and Leela try to stop her, but she cuts life support and gravity. Bender tries to merge his consciousness with hers to distract the ship while Leela shuts down the computer’s brain. Fry keeps looking for the perfect heart message but notices that Leela is running out of oxygen. He tries to warn her, but she ignores him, so he hooks his oxygen tank up to her mask without her noticing. Meanwhile, in cyberspace, Bender is running from the incarnation of the ship as she slowly loses her intelligence. Leela finishes shutting off the ship’s computer, restoring life support. She finds that Fry is unconscious and revives him, finding the perfect heart: U leave me breathless. Bender is brought back out, and it seems he’s inherited some of the ship’s personality. The crew dumps the billions of candy hearts in the quasar, causing mystical love radiation to go across the universe, killing several planets, but making Earth feel the true Valentine’s spirit.
First of all, can we all agree that Sigourney Weaver is just amazing? I mean, she played the single most badass woman in film, possibly the most badass character ever, but here she plays the consciousness of a ship who gets gaslit into despair and she’s nailing it. I love the idea that she’s voicing the computer here, since several of her roles involve her fighting with an artificial intelligence. It also is worth noting that here she ends up being a parody of the HAL 9000 from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the movie WALL-E, Sigourney Weaver voices a ship’s computer and the counterpart of a HAL 9000-esque autopilot program, and I have to think that this role at least was part of the reason she was cast.
Second, my god, Bender is a giant a**hole in this. He is a total scumbag and honestly, even for a character who is supposed to be despicable, his conduct here stands out. It’s not because the conduct is worse than, say, that time he sacrificed his first born son to the robot devil, but because it’s so much more normal. Guys really do cheat on their girlfriends and then lie about it, just as brazenly as Bender does here. Moreover, some people really do feel no guilt for leading a partner on in a relationship, only to dump them and feel nothing. The episode tries to justify Bender somewhat by having the ship go crazy at the end, but I submit that she’s only in that irrational state because Bender has been gaslighting her and then treating her with complete disdain after he decided to move past her. It’s a complete d*ck move, and I don’t mean the quacking kind.
Still, this episode is pretty amusing, and I do love the sweet Fry and Leela subplot, so I still enjoy this.
I will always laugh at the Romanticorp tour, but particularly the Romance Acceleration lab. It features two wire-mesh dummies who deliver pick-up lines. The first one delivers the horrible “Is heaven missing an angel? ‘Cause you’ve got nice cans!” That line is so perfectly bad that it gets a chuckle. The second dummy delivers the sincere line “My two favourite things are commitment and changing myself,” something that even gets the tester to make out with him. Leela even asks if he has a brother. Is this a little bit of a stereotype and an old trope? Yes, but it’s still funny as hell.
Because I really want to talk about it, I’ll say that the second best joke in this episode is the title. It’s a reference to the comic Love and Rockets and potentially to the band who took their name from the comic. Love and Rockets was a comic created by three brothers and primarily written by two of them, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. What’s notable about the series is that the brother did not really coordinate their stories in any way, with Gilbert’s taking place in Central America and featuring a magical realism storyline and Jaime’s taking place in Los Angeles and being more grounded. I think that the juxtaposition of fantastic and grounded, human stories has influenced many subsequent series, and I would have to believe that Futurama is one of them. If you haven’t ever read it, give it a try.
Leela finally learns the truth about her cyclopic origins and it will bring a tear to your single large eye.
The Professor (Billy West) builds a machine to make glow-in-the-dark noses and decode alien language which produces a lot of toxic waste. Bender (John DiMaggio) offers to dispose of it, which he does by dumping it on the sewer mutants. The mutants don’t appreciate this.
Leela (Katey Segal) gets named “Orphan of the Year” for becoming a spaceship captain, and receives it while telling the other orphans that they should be proud of who they are. However, she tells Fry (West) that it was a lie, because she only ever wanted a family to love her. She hopes that her parents are looking down on her, only for it to be revealed that her parents Turanga Munda and Turanga Morris (Tress MacNeille and David Herman) have been watching her the whole time… because they’re mutants living in the sewers.
The mutants finally get fed up by Bender’s dumping and pull him, Fry, and Leela into the sewers, preparing to dump them in the lake which Bender’s waste has made so much more toxic. The three are saved by two strangers who know Leela’s name. The crew follows them through the sewers to a house which has a ton of stuff about Leela. The mutants catch up and try to execute them, but the strangers convince the mutants to let them go. Leela dives into the mutagenic lake to pursue them, emerging to find out that it had no effect on her.
Back on the surface, Fry gives the note found on Leela’s baby basket as a child to the Professor so that he can decipher it. He uses the nose machine and eventually gets a result. In the sewers, Leela chases the two strange mutants and confronts them in their home covered in Leela memorabilia. She suspects they’re the mutants who killed her parents and is about to kill them when Fry unmasks them, revealing that they ARE her parents (something the audience already knew). Fry reveals that the note, while indecipherable, was written on recycled paper from the sewers, meaning that her parents were mutants, not aliens. In a flashback, it’s revealed that the pair left Leela on the surface so that she wouldn’t be subject to mutant discrimination. Rather than being mad at them for abandoning her, Leela embraces them, happy to find them. It’s revealed in further flashbacks that Leela’s parents have always been looking out for her from afar.
Well, this is what has to happen when you suspect that the show is not going to get another season: Wrap up those plot threads. This one had long been dangled, though not as directly as the secret origin of Fry that comes up later in the season. Back in season 2’s “I Second That Emotion,” Leela’s parents are shown in a crowd of mutants, and their resemblance to Leela is painfully obvious, but that is pretty much it until this episode. According to the DVD Commentary, they had decided they should wait at least 3 seasons to reveal Leela’s origins, even though they were written before the pilot was shot (that’s why there are mutants in the sewers in the Pilot).
This isn’t a bad reveal by any means, since ultimately we were going to need an explanation as to why Leela appeared to be the only real cyclops in the universe despite her searching everywhere for evidence. This resolution shows that the reason why she couldn’t find them is that she was looking everywhere except below the Earth’s surface, because she’d been told she was an alien her whole life. It’s a great way to not impugn Leela’s intelligence while still making the solution viable.
The ending to this episode is one of the best tearjerker moments in the series. It’s so well done and so heartwarming that it would stand out more if it weren’t soon to be overshadowed by “Jurassic Bark,” which pretty much dominates the “I’m not crying, you’re crying, but I’m also crying” charts. Still, they perfectly convey how Leela’s parents have really done their best to be involved in her life, despite not being able to ever be near her. The fact that it’s completely silent aside from the musical accompaniment, like most of Futurama’s best montages, only makes it tug harder at your heart strings. I can’t hear “Baby Love Child” by Pizzicato Five without thinking of this sequence… but to be fair I don’t hear that song much.
I enjoy this episode a lot. Sure, it’s not the funniest, but it does do a good job of focusing on Leela’s emotional journey and it gives us a happy ending that was well-earned. I can’t ask for much more than that.
The awards that are given to the “Orphan of the Year” always give me a chuckle, because they’re just the right amount of tragic and amusing. They include “Diligent Flosser,” “Has Tasted Every McDonald’s Sandwich,” (which I think is genuinely impressive if you mean EVERY sandwich they’ve made in every country), and “Successfully Switched from Heroin to Methadone,” which is a reference to Annie Hall. However, I have to appreciate the one that says “Often seen in the Background of News Spots,” because a few minutes later, he appears in the background of Leela’s photo with her Orphan of the Year award, one of the most random quick call-backs in the entire run of the show.
Amy and Kif have been getting serious, but somehow forget the old adage “no glove, no love.”
Kif Kroker (Maurice LaMarche) and Amy Wong (Lauren Tom) have been dating long-distance for a while, but the lack of contact is starting to hurt their relationship. The crew of the Planet Express ship is sent on a delivery near Kif’s ship, so Amy smuggles herself onboard and re-directs the ship while the others are asleep. When they finally arrive at Zapp Brannigan’s (Billy West) ship The Nimbus, Kif takes Amy onto the Holo-Shed, where he tries to romance her until it malfunctions and brings a number of evil beings to life. Amy and Kif flee to the bridge where Zapp shoots a hole in the ship. In the process of saving Kif from explosive decompression, he loses his right glove and has skin contact with everyone in the room. After the situation is resolved, it’s revealed that Kif is pregnant, as his species can reproduce from absorbing genetic material from anyone they touch if they’re in love with someone.
Kif is happy, but Amy isn’t ready for kids. The Professor (West) tests Kif’s offspring against everyone in the ship (and Zoidberg (West), who was sleeping in the testing machine), it’s revealed that Leela (Katey Segal) is the one whose DNA impregnated Kif. Kif points out that in his culture, it doesn’t matter who the DNA was from, but who caused Kif to become fertile that is considered the mother of the offspring, so he names Amy his “smizmar.” At the baby shower, Amy’s parents talk about her new responsibilities, leading Amy to run away.
Kif goes into labor and is returned to his home planet in order to give birth, accompanied by Bender (John DiMaggio), Fry (West), Leela, and Zapp. They meet the Grand Midwife (Tress MacNeille), who begins the birthing ceremony without Amy, until she arrives to assist in the birth of Kif’s tadpoles and defend them from predators. Kif reveals that the babies will come out of the swamp in 20 years and Amy says she’ll be ready then.
This episode’s a good inversion of the traditional unplanned pregnancy story that shows tend to do, like Murphy Brown having to give birth alone after the father of her baby wanted nothing to do with her. For reasons that are mostly because humans tend to anthropomorphize protagonists even if they aren’t human, the pregnant character in most stories pretty much had to be female. Because of this, most stories about a male character having a baby makes the focus the shock THAT a male can have a baby, rather than dealing with it as a normal pregnancy like this episode. However, aside from that, this episode doesn’t have much to distinguish it in the 2nd or 3rd acts, aside from Tress MacNeille’s hilarious work as the Grand Midwife. Also, if anyone points out the movie Junior, I’ll be really disappointed in you.
The funniest part of the episode is absolutely the first act where the holo-shed figures come to life, mostly because the show immediately throws out a few of the horrible repercussions that could come out of that or even out of having a “holo-shed.” It’s not just the idea of bringing random horrible villains to life, but Zapp points out that last time it happened he got stuck with a bunch of paternity suits. In other words, in this universe the holo-deck is actually used for EXACTLY what everyone knows that technology would be used for in real life. To paraphrase The Good Place, humans will immediately use any nascent technology for porn. In addition, the randomness of the assortment of the holo-shed villains is hilarious (see below).
The one thing that really bugs me about this episode is: Why didn’t Kif mention this is a thing his species does? If he’s in love with Amy, then every time they kiss they’re risking him getting pregnant and that’s DEFINITELY the kind of thing that you should be telling a partner before intimacy.
Other than that, this episode is kind of middle of the road for Futurama, but still funny.
7 Words: Real holographic simulated Evil Lincoln is BACK!!!
Seriously, the emergence of the random villains in the holo-shed is the best part of the episode. They are: Attila the Hun, Jack the Ripper, Professor Moriarity (of Sherlock Holmes fame), and, of course, Evil Lincoln. I love this assembly: One real figure (Attila), one real figure of unknown identity (Jack the Ripper), one character from real fiction (Moriarity), one character from speculative fiction (Lincoln). It’s just so perfectly odd.
Bender decides to be the greatest chef in the universe without a sense of taste, a title formerly belonging to Guy Fieri.
Bender (John DiMaggio) is watching Good Morning Earth with Morbo (Maurice LaMarche) and Linda (Tress MacNeille) and special celebrity guest chef Elzar (John DiMaggio). Desiring to be a cook, Bender tries to make brunch for the crew as the Professor (Billy West), shows Zoidberg (West) and Fry (Still West) a bottle with a tiny ship in it. Zoidberg promptly breaks it after the rest of the crew leave the room to go to brunch. It’s revealed that Bender’s cooking is completely inedible, something he overhears the crew complaining about. Hurt, he runs away and tries to convince Elzar to teach him to cook. Elzar refuses, so Bender joins a group of hobos riding the “space rails.” At the same time, Zoidberg attempts to frame Fry for breaking the Professor’s bottle.
Eventually, Bender lands at a hobo jungle named “Bumbase Alpha,” where he meets a homeless cook named Helmut Spargle (David Herman), who used to be a celebrity chef and the teacher of Elzar, until Elzar replaced him. In order to get revenge on Elzar, Helmut trains Bender to cook. Bender finally attempts to prove his skills by making a meal for Helmut, but the food is so awful that it kills him. Before he dies, the old cook gives Bender a diamond vial containing the “essence of pure flavor.” Bender challenges Elzar to a battle on the program Iron Cook. Meanwhile, the Professor falls for Zoidberg’s ploy to frame Fry via fake confession and an “I Hate Bottles” shirt, so Fry pays him $10 for the broken bottle. Zoidberg begins to feel guilty.
On Iron Cook, Bender and Elzar are ordered to cook a meal with the secret ingredient of Soylent Green (probably not the one that’s made of people… probably). Elzar makes a delicious looking meal that includes its own bribe, while Bender’s food resembles burnt piles of mud. Bender secretly adds a few drops of the “essence of pure flavor” to his dishes. Despite the horrifying appearance, everyone agrees Bender’s dish is superior. Bender gives a speech which leads Zoidberg to confess to framing Fry, trying to kill himself (what the hell, show?), then framing Fry for his suicide attempt breaking a sword. The Professor reveals that the vial contained only water… laced with LSD.
This episode is one perfect example of how Futurama can take a tired trope and make it hilarious. This is the traditional hero’s journey a la Star Wars and Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, except that everything in it is broken.
Bender’s motivation for going on the journey is based on him supposedly being offended that his friends (accurately) describe his food as horrible. This is less a call to adventure and more just being petty. He tries to find a mentor only to have Elzar refuse to teach him, which Bender accepts, and for Helmut to teach him but not improve his abilities at all. He undergoes a challenge against Elzar and wins, but unlike the monomyth, he’s completely unchanged at the end. He gives a speech indicating that he’s realized that fame is unimportant, only for it to be revealed that he’s recorded it and forcing everyone to watch it repeatedly. He hasn’t even become a better cook, he just has a vial of LSD that will never be referenced again. I honestly think this kind of episode inspired the version of the journey that Dan Harmon uses as a model for Rick and Morty that I covered in “The Ricks Must Be Crazy.”
The main character
notices a small problem,
and make a major decision.
This changes things
to some satisfaction, but
there are consequences
that must be undone
and they must admit the futility of change.
Admittedly, the subplot about Zoidberg breaking the bottle and framing Fry is pretty weak and honestly only seems to be in there because they wanted to have Zoidberg do some Vaudevillian slapstick with the bottle. He does deliver the fun line of “Oh, no! Professor will hit me. But if Zoidberg fixes it, then perhaps gifts!” but aside from that, not much to it.
Overall, the Bender plot is strong enough and has enough fun elements to make this episode a solid finale for Season 3.
I think it’s the future railroad names. The ones we see are: “Baltimore and Orion,” which is a take off of “Baltimore and Ohio,” the famous B&O Railroad from Monopoly; “Wrath-of-Conrail,” a reference to the rail system that serves the Northeast US; and “Starlight Express,” a reference to the musical about a steam engine which is performed on roller skates. I dunno why, but those make me laugh every time.
It’s time to get a heavy dose of the 1980s in the year 3000. It’s awesome… awesome to the max.
Planet Express is having a stockholder meeting and Fry and Zoidberg (Both Billy West) sneak off to find food at another meeting. First, they go to a Bot-Mitzvah, which doesn’t let Zoidberg in due to not permitting Shellfish or Swine (get it?). They then go to a recovery group for people who were cryogenically frozen, like Fry, where he meets “That Guy,” (David Herman), a 1980s stockbroker who had himself frozen to get a cure for his terminal boneitis. Fry invites him to join the Planet Express company at the stockholder meeting, then nominates him to be CEO of the company. He ends up being elected by 1 vote, due to Scruffy the Janitor (Herman) having four times the shares of anyone else and Hattie McDoogal, the crazy cat lady (Tress MacNeille), hating the Professor (West).
Now that That Guy (real name Steve Castle, but it’s never mentioned) is in charge of the company, he makes Fry Vice-Chairman and decides to attack Mom’s Friendly Delivery Company, the leading package company. Mom (MacNeille) vows revenge, but with That Guy’s 80s know-how, he gives the company a complete makeover to raise its stock price, then sells it to Mom, firing everyone.
Fry tries to block the takeover to save everyone’s jobs, but it turns out that Zoidberg sold all his shares to That Guy for a sandwich, giving That Guy majority control over the company. Just as the takeover is approved, That Guy dies of boneitis, which he never bothered to cure. Fry takes over the company, then ends up deciding to turn it back over to Professor Farnsworth. Leela (Katey Segal), Bender (John DiMaggio), Hermes (Phil LaMarr), and Amy (Lauren Tom), show up and try to convince Fry to sell the company, because as major stockholders they’d all be wealthy, only to find out that giving it to Farnsworth made the company worthless again. The crew ends up going back to work.
This is one of the funniest episodes of the show and certainly one of the episodes that I most frequently quote. It’s basically putting Gordon Gekko in Futurama and watching how it plays out. Naturally, this results in the episode completely and totally satirizing the common image of 80s stockbrokers as greedy, soulless, monsters by making That Guy the greediest monster imaginable, having no real substance as a person.
That Guy is just a perfect pastiche. He only ever references the 80s and its culture, from the music (Safety Dance) to the language (Awesome… Awesome to the max) to the commercials (the Apple 1984 Commercial) to the business ethics (“Friendship to me means that for two bucks I’d beat you with a pool cue till you got detached retinas”). He is focused solely on profit through appearance, rather than through actual work (noted by the fact that after he takes over, Planet Express stops delivering packages). His focus is solely on tearing down the work of other people for his own gain. Even more than Gordon Gekko, That Guy is self-aware that he’s being a complete monster, and he relishes every second of it. He considers being an 80s guy who wants to make as much money as possible as the whole of his identity, to the point that he forgets to cure his boneitis just because he gets too caught up on trying to capitalize on Planet Express. I have to give a special recognition to David Herman’s performance, because no matter how insane the things That Guy says can get, I always genuinely feel like he’s really trying to sell them to the listeners. He makes me think of Alec Baldwin’s speech from Glengarry, Glen Ross, but done by a muppet (sadly, that video is not yet real):
This episode also brings back Mom as an antagonist, something that I never realized only happened once per season for the first three seasons, but this time she’s really not directly trying to destroy Planet Express. Instead, she’s just serving as an equally plutocratic ally to That Guy, while simultaneously being a target for his own plot. Despite the fact that Mom hates That Guy’s attacks on her, she still gives in and agrees to his terms for the buyout, something that would have made him richer than ever. I suppose maybe vengeance just works differently for billionaires?
Overall, this is just a fun episode from start to finish. If you aren’t quoting it now, watch it and I guarantee that you will.
So many of the jokes in this episode are amazing that it’s basically just a string of hits. From the beginning where they do the Bot Mitzvah and the Cryo Support Group to the final sequence of watching the price of Planet Express fluctuate with every line Fry says, I think it’s all gold. That’s why it’s pretty hard for me to pick, so I’ll do the top 3:
1) When Hermes tells That Guy that they can’t compete with Mom
Hermes: We can’t compete with Mom! Her company is big and evil! Ours is small and neutral!
That Guy: Switzerland is small and neutral! We are more like Germany, ambitious and misunderstood!
2) That Guy’s first speech to the team:
That Guy: Let’s cut to the chase. There are two kinds of people: Sheep and sharks. Anyone who’s a sheep is fired. Who’s a sheep?
Zoidberg: Uh, excuse me? Which is the one people like to hug?
That Guy: Gutsy question. You’re a shark. Sharks are winners and they don’t look back ’cause they don’t have necks. Necks are for sheep. I am proud to be the shepherd of this herd of sharks.
3) The stocks on the exchange, including Kirk – 1.25 and Gorn +2 (because Gorn would really win the fight), are all hilarious, but it’s the one that I spotted this time that takes the cake: eπi -1. That’s a reference to Euler’s identity (e^(i*π) = -1), one of the most profoundly beautiful equations in math. It’s quick, but I love that Futurama is filled with math jokes.
While on a delivery, the Planet Express crew are attacked by Space Pirates (they’re like pirates, but in space). Bender (John DiMaggio) is trying to take a nap in a torpedo tube and ends up getting shot at the pirates’ ship. Since the Planet Express ship was already going at max speed when they fired him, they cannot ever catch up with him, leaving Bender to drift through the cosmos, alone, until an asteroid lands on him. The asteroid is populated by tiny people called “Shrimpkins,” who quickly start worshipping Bender as the “Great Metal Lord.”
Bender attempts to be a god to the Shrimpkins, choosing one, Malachi (Maurice LaMarche), as his prophet. Bender orders them to make him alcohol, which quickly starts to ruin the Shrimpkin’s society, causing massive deaths, maimings, and crime rates. Bender sheds a tear for the plight of the people (which he caused), which causes a flood that threatens Malachi, Jr. (Lauren Tom). Bender saves Malachi, Jr., earning him praise and prayers from the rest of the people. He attempts to answer the prayers. The ones that pray for wealth are given a quarter, which kills them. The ones that pray for sun are burned by Bender reflecting light and then blown into space by Bender when he tries to extinguish it. Bender begins to realize that his actions tend to harm the Shrimpkins more than they help.
On Earth, Fry (Billy West) and Leela (Katey Sagal) go to meet the Monks of either Dschubba (a star) or maybe Teshuvah (Hebrew for “Answer”), the possessors of the most powerful radio telescope in the universe, to try and search for Bender. When Fry actually asks them for permission to use it, they refuse, but when they are revealed to be pacifists, Leela locks them in a laundry room. Fry tries to survey the entire universe, but Leela points out that even if he spent his entire life there, he wouldn’t even be able to check even one billionth of the observable universe, because duh.
Malachi warns Bender that the colony of Shrimpkins on his ass have turned into non-believers because he doesn’t talk to them (which is weird, because A) he can turn his head 180 degrees and talk to them and B) they could easily move). Bender refuses to intervene in the conflict, citing the fact that he keeps making things worse. The two sides start a sudden nuclear conflict that obliterates everyone except Bender. As Bender goes through space, he spots a galaxy signalling him in binary. He signals back and the Galaxy (West) talks to him, leading Bender to suspect that the Entity is actually God or at least a computer that collided with God. Bender and the Entity talk about the nature of being God, with the Entity giving him the advice: “If you do too much, people get dependent on you. And if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch like a safecracker or a pickpocket.” The Entity reveals that it can’t send Bender back at this time.
On Earth, Fry is about to give up searching, when he randomly spins the dial and broadcasts a message saying “I wish I had Bender back,” which happens to be beamed directly to the Entity, who sends Bender back to Earth, resulting in him landing directly in front of Fry and Leela. As they start to leave, they realize that they left the monks locked inside. Tempted to just let them pray for help, Bender says that God told him that they can’t trust God to do anything, so he leads them back to release the monks. The image pans out to God laughing that “’When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”
Look, this is a masterpiece. The writer, Ken Keeler, wrote 14 episodes of Futurama, most of them excellent, but this is his magnum opus. This entire episode has provoked hours of thought from me and when a work manages to inspire an amount of introspection that is dozens of times longer than it takes to consume, then it has officially gone above and beyond just entertaining.
There are so many different ways to look at the events of this episode. Honestly, you might have more questions than you got answers from the viewing. Bender certainly seems to have received almost no definitive answers from talking with the Entity, which is, appropriately, exactly what the Entity was trying to convey:
If you’re doing things right, you aren’t going to give people the answers, you’re only going to remind them that the answers exist, and then let them find things on their own.
Basically, in this episode, the purpose of a god is to have a source of hope when things seem hopeless, not to give you the power to part seas or command bears to kill children (II Kings 2: 23-24). Without hope, people turn to despair, and when people despair, they don’t give a thought towards preserving or improving the world. This has long been a position adopted by a number of schools of philosophy and philosophers (including, famously, Voltaire). Here, we find out that this idea has so much merit that even God decided it was the best way to do things.
The episode also shows us the fault in the alternative: Granting everyone’s wishes would make them complacent if done perfectly, and would likely come with a ton of unexpected side-effects if done poorly. Bender tries to be a helpful god to the Shrimpkins, but giving them what they want only brings about their destruction, albeit in a more gradual manner than when he fails to heed them at all.
The episode also indirectly addresses one of the greatest questions in theology: Why do we praise God for saving us from himself? Bender is praised and worshipped for the “miracle” of saving Malachi, Jr. from a flood that he actually caused. Similarly, people who are saved from fires or even have their bible saved from a fire that takes their home and kills their pets often praise God for that small salvation, seemingly missing that God could have just stopped the fire in the first place… or not started it. In this episode, the answer is not “god is a dick,” but more “everything is part of a plan too grand to be comprehended.” Is that a satisfying answer to why kids get cancer and die or why earthquakes devastate entire countries? No, but it’s enough to keep you from despair.
Ironically, despite the fact that the episode often interacts with the Entity as if he is the Judeo-Christian God, the message of “when you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all” is closer to the teachings of Taoism, which states that when a master governs well, the people will believe they did everything themselves. At the end of the episode, we don’t know exactly whose wishes are being answered. Does the Entity send Bender back because Bender wants to go? Or because Fry prayed for it? Or because the monks are praying to get out? Is it all of them or none of them? We don’t know, and that’s the point of this literal Deus Ex Machina… involving both God and a machine.
Faith is believing that things are being done for a reason, even if it’s one that we’re never able to fathom. It’s believing that there is something watching over the universe. This episode tries to not only justify faith, but also to justify why faith is supposed to be difficult. If you knew God existed for sure, you can’t have faith. If the universe seems completely without meaning, then you can’t have hope (although, other episodes on this list have posited philosophical answers to that). For a 22-minute cartoon about a robot, this episode manages to touch upon and convey an incredibly complex set of concepts, and, true to the nature of such things, leaves it to the viewer to find their own answers.
The craziest part? “Roswell that Ends Well” was sent for consideration at the Emmy Awards rather than this episode. It won, so I’m glad that the Emmys recognized the fact that Futurama deserved it. I imagine they just thought it would be controversial to submit an episode where God tells someone “You were doing well until everyone died.”
Oddly, I don’t think there are that many great jokes in this episode, because the episode itself is so much more than just the usual series of gags. That said, my favorite joke is when Bender finds a candelabra within the swag he stole from the Space Pirates and the ensuing scene:
… [w]hat good is a candelabra without– Wait! I know!
Ah, the pity. Fated to drift forever through the void as gravity’s plaything. Oh, cruel fate, to be thusly boned. Ask not for whom the bone bones. It bones for thee. The only thing that keeps me sane is the thought that I have all eternity in which to perfect my art.
Naturally, he immediately breaks the piano when he misses a note twice. This whole scene is just so wonderfully odd, while also encompassing what a being who is facing an eternity of solitude might feel. It basically gets us through all of Bender’s initial existential crises that arise from dealing with his situation, allowing the episode to move on from there.