Written by: Patrick Verrone
Directed by: Mark Evrine
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL
I was thinking about this before watching it and was surprised to realise that I would put it in the ‘essential’ category with no qualification. The less interesting reason for this is that, as the first episode of the second production order, the show has taken a massive step forward in its style. One of the wonderful things about television is that the breaks between seasons give the creators time to think about what does and does not work about what they’re doing; famously, the Writer’s Strike of 2008 cut Breaking Bad’s first season short and that’s widely considered to be why the second season ramps up so quickly. In this case, the episode is playing at the same level as “A Big Piece Of Garbage” while also being much messier, which as a result makes it feel more alive. I am, of course, a sucker for thematic unity – and this episode does have a unified story, more on that later – but so many of the great one-liners are these ridiculous offbeat choices; this is the episode where Fry bursts into a room asking “Have you seen my sombrero?”, completely and hilariously destroying the seriousness of, uh, Bender flushing himself down the toilet, and the comic timing of Bender responding to Leela’s emotional changes is always different but always perfect. It’s like the series has freed itself from a more rigid structure, and now it can follow strange intuitive leaps.
This applies to the characterisation too – we now know these characters well enough to follow them down some strange places. We’ve seen Bender’s childish ego before, but this feels like its truest expression so far. It’s delightful to me that I find Bender so likeable even as he’s utterly cruel – him flushing Nibbler is genuinely upsetting to watch, and yet I still love to watch him go. Some of this, of course, is that I am to a degree childish, cruel, and callous, and can enjoy watching Bender playing out my worst instincts; the big thing that makes Bender fun to watch is that he’s completely honest about his nihilistic, selfish hedonism, and there’s something vaguely sympathetic about how he’s driven by the desire to be the centre of attention and the Most Loved Guy In The Room (“This will teach those filthy bastards who’s loveable!”). I’ve never been a huge fan of morality plays, in which characters act out the Right thing to do so that we can copy them in real life; I’m much more a fan of the exact opposite, where characters can play out my worst impulses, and, now freed of them, I can go out in the world and do the decent thing, and Bender feels like my id unleashed.
But really, this is an episode all about Leela. I was genuinely surprised and delighted to find that this episode not only really develops Leela and not only really develops my favourite aspect of her character, but does so by mirroring her with another character – in this case, Bender. It’s actually kind of funny how closely they parallel each other – Bender is impulsive and Leela is the most disciplined member of the cast; Leela knows how things are supposed to work and Bender knows how to make things work for him. The most important difference, I feel, is that Bender doesn’t really care how people see him but craves their love while Leela is indifferent to being liked but is driven to be seen as a normal, intelligent person. To put it another way, Bender thrives on attention while Leela thrives on acceptance. Maybe this is why she’s smart – she wants to be seen as a smart person, so she does the things a smart person is supposed to do (this certainly describes some of the smart – or ‘smart’ – people I’ve known). The flip side, though, of doing the things you’re supposed to do is repressing the things you want to do, and we can see that conflict playing out in Leela for the first time. It’s played as an offhand joke, but I genuinely find the ‘lesson’ of the episode delightfully subversive – the goody-two-shoes of the group learning to let go of that image for something more authentic and abrasive. This feels of a piece with the show’s larger morality and an extension of its ambivalence towards Fry specifically and the notion of Goodness in general. Just as Futurama gets why Fry is lazy whilst ultimately showing the unpleasant direction his life has taken, it gets why Leela commits to being a good person whilst showing how repressed and angry she is. One way of looking at Fry’s overall arc is that he gradually figures out how to achieve the things he wants, and conversely one way of looking at Leela’s arc is that she allows herself to chase irrational things, and this is a big step in that direction.
Title Card: Made from meat byproducts
Cartoon Billboard: “Fresh Hare” (1942)
This episode opens with a cold open advertising Glagnars’ Human Rinds, and the fake ads were always my favourite cold opens (barring one, which we will get to). Adding to the increase in verbal wit is an increase in detailed animation – my favourites are Bender pointing himself backwards at one point when complaining about Nibbler, and his disembodied arm waving goodbye to El Chupanibre after flushing him. I love the exhausted vet the crew visits – both the animation and Dave Herman’s performance (especially his startled reaction to Bender saying “You’re gonna have to put him down?”). Like Homer and Bart Simpson, Fry becomes even funnier when pushed to the background, where most of his lines are the weirdest thing he could say but Billy West imbues them with hilarious conviction (“They’re just responding to my personality!”). Leela’s parents cameo in the background of a shot, but it’s ruined by the fact that their designs were changed by the time we see them properly in a few seasons. Bender gets his shiny metal ass bitten.
“Oh, and the aftertaste!”
The title of the episode is a reference to the song of the same name by The Miracles. One of the animals in the vet’s office is a rust monster from Dungeons & Dragons. The unexploded nuclear bomb is a reference to Beneath The Planet Of The Apes. El Chupanibre is a reference to the Mexican legend of El Chupacabre. Bender finds copies of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in the sewer. Fry’s guide in the sewers is a parody of the Let’s Go travel guides. Leela’s sacrifice to El Chupanibre is a parody of King Kong. The vet uses a sonic screwdriver from Doctor Who. Bender whistles “Sweet Georgia Brown”, hinting at his future love of the Harlem Globetrotters. The characters sing a variation the lyrics to “Happy Birthday”, because it was believed at the time that the lyrics of the song were under copyright but not the melody.
Iconic Moments: Just the one! “Have you seen my sombrero?”