Written by: Eric Kaplan
Directed by: Peter Avanzino
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL
I genuinely don’t know what to make of this one. The premise is that Fry has been infected with parasites that have given him an enhanced body and mind, and that this is what ‘makes’ Leela fall in love with him, and that’s really weird. The first surface-level reading of this is the extraordinarily unhelpful idea ‘get people to fall in love with you by not being stupid, clumsy, and fat’, but what eventually emerges is this idea that Fry’s problem was that he wasn’t articulating himself well enough. He tells her he loves her and she reacts like he doesn’t tell her every other month; most dramatically, he plays her a song on a difficult instrument. We’ve been discussing the Fry/Leela romance basically since we started, and I don’t think a single one of us has said “Fry’s problem Leela-wise is that he doesn’t articulate himself well enough” – it’s more been about his lack of ambition and his inability to take care of himself that would lead to him being dependent on her. It’s a very odd misreading of the show’s own protagonist – not to mention an odd view of romance as something in the words one says rather than the actions one takes, something the show would actually avoid when it showed how the characters maintain relationships – and the only conclusion that makes sense to me is that, well, they didn’t really think this through.
I think that’s what makes the Fry/Leela romance so frustrating to watch – they somehow managed to put a lot of time and effort into developing it but they don’t seem to have worked out how or why they were doing it. It sits in this kind of halfassed no-mans-land of narrative space where it demands the viewer’s interest but can’t justify why we should have that interest. Several commentors have remarked that it feels like the writers had a Fry/Leela Willy They/Won’t They because that’s what you’re supposed to do in a sitcom; I’m very resistant to answers that are what HL Mencken would call ‘neat, simple, and wrong’, but in this case I have to agree because nothing else makes sense to me. It makes it more frustrating because this is otherwise a show that had a very clear sense of what it wants to do and be; the sense of humour, the half-assed dystopia, and the characters all landed pretty quickly. That said, this episode does manage to get some of the way there. What definitely works for me in this episode is the ending, in which Fry decides to sit with the holophoner and learn it the old-fashioned way. It’s possible to read this as Fry deciding to try and ‘earn’ Leela, and I don’t doubt that that’s both Fry’s motivation in particular and the intended interpretation of the writers. But I love it as an example of Fry making a real and sustained effort to explore and understand a part of the world beyond his immediate needs.
In a broader philosophical sense, Fry’s problem is that he has trouble articulating his feelings – specifically, whilst he knows what he loves, what he hates, and what makes him sad, he doesn’t know how to create those things. Fry knows he loves Leela; he does not know how to turn Leela into his girlfriend. He can perceive the world but not control it (this also goes to his general hedonism – he mindlessly guzzles beer and trash TV and junk food, following his nose). I think that he thinks that he can use a holophoner to actualise his feelings for Leela – that she’ll hear the right combination of sounds and see the right combination of visuals to suddenly drop everything and be his girlfriend. I don’t think it works like that – there’s that phrase, ‘women are not vending machines that you put tokens in and sex comes out’, and the reason that’s true is because people in general are not objects to be manipulated and tend to respond badly when you treat them that way. One aspect of learning the holophoner is that it’s a long-term commitment that requires sustained effort in a way that, you know, watching TV does not; another is that it leads to the creation of music, something that’s wonderful just for its own sake. The reason I am so moved by Fry learning to play is that, while he’s following in the footsteps of an infinite number of young men in that he’s trying to get a woman to like him, he’s also participating in the act of creation – of externalising all those feelings into a solid object – and I find that very moving.
Title Card: If not entertaining, write your congressman.
Cartoon Billboard: Aladdin And The Wonderful Lamp, 1934
I haven’t even touched on the Magic Schoolbus-like joys of the characters moving through the human body! One thing this episode does have going for it is that it’s incredibly funny, and much of it comes from jokes about common facts. This has our first real appearance of Scruffy. It’s very difficult to get me to laugh at a joke about a sexy woman because 99% of the time, it’s a not-very-funny joke that really only exists as a cover for indulging in horniness, but the pan up Leela’s body to reveal her snoring inelegantly made me crack up. This episode is notable for having the fewest characters – only twelve.
“Listen, this is gonna be one hell of a bowel movement. Afterwards, he’ll be lucky if he has any bones left.”
(I’ve often thought about this line during and after taking a massive dump)
The title is a reference to the poem Paradise Lost by John Milton, and the main plot is a reference to Fantastic Voyage. The episode opens with “Convoy” by CW McCall. Leela’s apartment is a parody of old Maxell advertisements. Fry’s ‘party in my mouth’ line is a parody of a line from “Flaming Moe’s”.
Iconic Moments: 3. “It’s like there’s a party in my mouth and everyone’s throwing up!” | “Scruffy’s gonna die the way he lived.” | “You’ll never guess where I’ve been!”
Next Week: “A Tale Of Two Santas”. “How dare you lie in front of Jesus!”