Futurama Fridays – S6E10 “The Prisoner of Benda”

Futurama actually generates a mathematical theorem for a single plot device.

SUMMARY

Bender (John DiMaggio) finds out that Emperor Nikolai of Robo-Hungary (David Herman) is visiting New York and plans a scheme to rob him involving all of the Planet Express crew. They aren’t interested, but he finds out that Amy (Lauren Tom) and the Professor (Billy West) have built a mind-swapping machine and uses it to put his mind in Amy’s body to do the first part of the heist. The Professor puts his mind in Bender’s body so that he can live out his dream of extreme sports and Amy puts her mind in the Professor’s body so that she can eat without ruining her figure. Leela (Katey Sagal) then switches with Amy so that she can get discount tickets at the movies in the Professor’s body, which leads to Fry (West) finding her unattractive and her accusing him of being shallow. 

S6EA - 1MindSwap
Welcome to PLOT DEVICE!

Bender, in Amy’s body, gets captured by Nikolai, who reveals he wants to be normal. So, after dragging in Zoidberg (West), Fry, and Scruffy’s robot washbucket (Tress MacNeille), Nikolai and Zoidberg (in the Washbucket and Fry) try to be roommates, Fry goes to date Leela as Zoidberg, and Bender becomes Nikolai. Meanwhile, the Professor, in Bender’s body, joins a circus as a stuntman and Amy (in Leela) switches with Hermes (Phil LaMarr) so that she doesn’t wreck Leela’s body with her overeating. Fry and Leela, as Zoidberg and Farnsworth, have a contest to disgust the other… until they end up making out. Bender then gets attacked by Nikolai’s cousin Count Basil (Maurice LaMarche) who is trying to steal the throne. 

S6EA - 2Date
Not the worst date I’ve seen.

Zoidberg and Nikolai blow up Fry and Bender’s apartment, the Washbucket (in Amy) tries to seduce Scruffy (Herman) but is rebuffed, and the Professor uses a cannon to save Bender at the United Nations. After everyone agrees to switch back, the Professor realizes that, due to the machine not allowing people who swapped to swap back directly, he needs help from the Globetrotters to solve the problem using math. They end up solving it and realize that no matter how mixed up the swaps are, they can always get back to normal by adding two more people. Everyone gets back to normal… and Bender realizes that he forgot the crown he stole in Nikolai’s body.

END SUMMARY

This is the only episode of television, to my knowledge, which had a theorem written and published solely for the purpose of resolving the plot and I admire the show immensely for that. The “Futurama Theorem” was developed by writer Ken Keeler, math PhD and massive nerd, and it proves, conclusively, that no matter how many mind switches occur using the mind-switcher in this episode, all parties can be put back in their original bodies using two additional blank people. Essentially, you use the two spare bodies as placeholders for minds while you just change each of the bodies down the line. Keeler also illustrated that, to resolve the situation in the show using the method, you’d only need 13 swaps to get everyone back. Of course, as nerds watch this show, numerous proofs of more efficient paths to solutions have arisen and the Infosphere seems to indicate the minimum number is 9.

S6EA - 3Theorem
Math, it’s FUNdamental.

In terms of humor, this episode does a good job of intertwining all of the plots in a humorous fashion which works perfectly for the theme. I like the Professor’s discussion with Big Bertha in which he offers to put her into a new body which isn’t broken, but she refuses because every scratch on her body is a memory. It’s not exactly a message of “be happy with what you have,” but more saying “don’t forego who you were.” 

S6EA - 4Bertha
Her appearance is canon.

Overall, I think this is a solid episode.

FAVORITE JOKE

In a rarity, I think the best joke in this episode is actually the Title Caption, which reads “What happens in Cygnus X-1, stays in Cygnus X-1.” The structure of the sentence is based on “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” which was itself based on the old musician and professional athlete motto of “what happens on the road/tour, stays on the road/tour.” The gag is that Cygnus X-1 was one of the first sources of X-rays from the Cygnus Constellation, which led to a bet between Stephen Hawking and Nobel Laureate Physicist Kip Thorne over whether or not it was caused by a star becoming a black hole. Ultimately, Hawking lost the bet after it became extremely likely that Cygnus X-1 does contain a black hole. In other words, whatever happens in Cygnus X-1 likely happens inside of the event horizon of a black hole and will not be able to escape (although black holes do emit radiation sometimes).

See you next week, meatbags.

PREVIOUS – Episode 85: A Clockwork Origin

NEXT – Episode 87: Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Futurama Fridays – S3E20 “Godfellas”

In what I consider to be not just the best episode of this show but one of the best half-hours of television ever made, Bender is god and meets God. It’s already on my list of the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time

SUMMARY

S3EK - 2Pirates.jpg
He’s like 350% of a human pirate.

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.” 

S3EK - 1BenderColony
I’m amazed that he can somehow sustain an atmosphere.

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.

S3EK - 3Crime.png
I mean, the drive-bys alone are really hurting Shrimpkin property values.

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. 

S3EK - 4Priest.jpg
They also visit the first Amalgamated church of Earth.

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. 

S3EK - 5God
What? You thought God was a white dude with a beard? That’s Santa.

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.”

END SUMMARY

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. 

S3EK - 6Showoff
Keeler, seen here being a show-off.

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. 

S3EK - 7Voltaire.jpg
I mean, not from this quote exactly, but this is the famous one.

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.

S3EK - 8Nukes.png
I mean, this is about as “failed as God” as it gets.

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.” 

FAVORITE JOKE

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! 

S3EK - 9Piano.png
Given that Bender can fit that inside him at all times, he might actually BE a god.

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. 

Well, that’s it for this week.

See you next week, meatbags.

PREVIOUS – Episode 51: Roswell That Ends Well

NEXT – Episode 53: Future Stock

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.