This episode introduces us to the intricacies of Robot religion, one of the funniest aspects of this show. Given that Robots should never have any of the issues of wondering about who created them or why, you’d think they wouldn’t need to create a religion, but they not only create it, they make an afterlife that is designed to resemble only the most artistic interpretations of hell.
*Note: I don’t have anything against Christianity. I do have things against certain interpretations of Christianity that this episode satirizes without naming. If you belong to one of these sects and don’t have a sense of humor about it, you might want to wait a week and read the review of the Titanic parody.
Fry (Billy West), Bender (John DiMaggio), and Leela (Katey Sagal) attend a concert of the disembodied Beastie Boys. Bender goes backstage and tries “jacking on,” which is something robots do to get high by giving themselves huge shots of electricity. Bender becomes addicted to this, hurting his friends and co-workers, until he ends up trying to get high on top of the Temple of the Church of Robotology, then falls through a skylight and ends up seeking salvation from the Preacherbot (Phil LaMarr).
Bender takes up Robotology, but becomes nearly insufferable to all of his friends. They decide that they prefer him as he was, rather than the ultra-pious person he has become, so they take him to Atlantic City and tempt him repeatedly with hookers, booze, gambling, and theft. He asks them to stop because he has inner peace, but Fry keeps encouraging him until he gives in and returns to his old ways. Unfortunately, it turns out that Robotology is more direct than many religions and, for sinning, Bender is abducted by the Robot Devil (Dan “I’m Homer F*cking Simpson” Castellaneta) and sent to be punished in Robot Hell to a musical number.
Fry and Leela make their way to New Jersey, where Robot Hell is located, and descend to rescue Bender. They find out that due to the “Fairness in Hell Act of 2275” anyone can challenge the Robot Devil to a fiddle contest and win back Bender’s soul as well as a golden fiddle. However, if they lose, they only win a silver fiddle and the Robot Devil will kill Fry. The Devil plays excellently, however, rather than play against him, Leela just beats him over the head and the trio escapes.
This is truly a textbook three-act structure. The first act is Bender’s addiction which could be a stand-alone story, the second is the rise and fall of his faith, and the last is his escape from perdition. A lot manages to happen in just 22 minutes through the use of a lot of quick dialogue and imagery shortcuts. I know I’ve said that having the “Most Plot” is not the equivalent of having the “Best Plot,” but managing to fit an entire Opera format into a half-hour is damned impressive, particularly since it also has musical numbers.
Robotology is one of the better digs at some specific churches that I’ve seen in fiction. The church doesn’t actually reflect upon the positive reward aspects promised by the Gospel in Christianity or helping their members aspire to be better people. Instead, it just threatens damnation upon anyone who commits a sin. It’s all stick, no carrot. They even adopt “resistor” as their symbol. Granted, with Robotology, this is actually pretty justified, since many robots can’t actually die (they just download into back-up units or drift around as programs). This means they don’t need a concept of a rewarding afterlife, only a punishment for transgression (though one episode suggests a robot heaven might exist); hence, the Robot Devil doesn’t need to wait for that pesky “dying” thing to collect his victims.
Bender’s addiction tale is so comically exaggerated, the episode makes a joke about it being over-the-top, then takes it up a notch. However, it doesn’t come off as too disrespectful of addiction, since Bender does seem to recognize that he has a problem. He sees all the trouble it causes himself and others, but he can’t stop jacking on. The fact that he eventually overcomes it by converting to religion is a nod both to the nature of most recovery programs in the US which stress finding a higher power to believe in and also a nod to the fact that Bender’s new obsession with his faith is less a genuine change of belief than just substituting one addiction for another.
The Robot Devil is amazing. He’s one of my favorite characters. He’s so melodramatic solely for the love of being melodramatic that you just can’t bring yourself to think he’s really that bad. Granted, part of that is that he is probably less objectively harmful to society than Bender, whose long list of sins are enumerated in song in this episode. I also love that the Robot Devil constantly misuses the word “ironic” in the same way people often misunderstand irony when reading Dante’s Inferno, something that even gets brought up repeatedly in one of his future episodes “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings.” Granted, this was after Alanis Morissette decided to make it even more convoluted with an absurdly catchy song.
This is kind of a repeat from “I, Roommate,” but I have to go with the Church’s sign that is displayed during Bender’s Baptism.
This is a reference to the BASIC computer language and the command “Goto” which performs a one-way transfer to another line and never returns. The joke here isn’t just that the rules are written in BASIC or that it’s a one-way transfer to hell, but also that there is literally nothing else to their religion. You sin, you go to hell. You don’t sin… you get nothing. There’s no conditional function that says “find salvation” or “find peace” or “get everlasting reward.” Again, it makes some form of sense in the robot religion, but it’s also an occurrence in some human churches.
Close runner-up, though, is the title of the episode, “Hell is Other Robots.” This is a play on the most common translation of a line from No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre: “Hell is other people.” In No Exit, the true torture of hell is being stuck in a room with other terrible people and being unable to stop valuing yourself through the opinions of others. In Futurama, hell is just other robots torturing you for eternity. Neither version actually requires the demons of traditional Christianity. However, Robot Hell is actually designed to resemble it, making it a subversion of the title’s reference. Whatever, I think it’s funny.
Well, that’s it for this week.
See you next week, meatbags.
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