Futurama, Season Four, Episode Ten, “The Why of Fry”

Written by: David X Cohen
Directed by: Wes Archer
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

Of all the episodes of Futurama we’ve covered and all the episodes of Futurama we ever will cover, this is the one I had to take the longest journey to get to. I never thought much of it and found it a disappointing payoff to all the ostentatious setup, but I get it now – not just because I’ve been studying the show in-depth, but because of life getting me here. This is fundamentally a Chosen One plot, which is what always put me off because I hate them with a passion. But as beloved commentor Raven Wilder once pointed out, it does have the satirical twist in that what makes Fry special is actually a disability rather than an ability, and this leads to the rest of the meaningful content in the episode. Despite how Nibbler initially frames it, this is not Fry being the most important person in the universe, and in fact quite the opposite: this is about Fry being a device that someone else can use regardless of his feelings on the matter.

What drives Fry through this episode is feeling unimportant, which early on translates as feeling incompetent. He likes the idea of being hypercompetent more than he actually wants to be good at any one thing, or even to accomplish one specific task. But what he’s really trying to do is erase the feeling of not mattering – the feeling that if he were removed from the world, nothing of value would be lost, and it’s easiest to recognise this through jobs and tasks that he fails at. This is where his stupidness – such an essential part of his character – shifts from a comic trait to a dramatic (or at least thematic) one. Even if you don’t have a disability, I’m sure everyone can think of situations and problems they simply found impossible to grasp – where no matter what they tried, not only could they not do the thing, they couldn’t understand what they were doing wrong. Fry looks at his world and sees people who keep being useful, and he wants to be one of them.

Nibbler’s universe-spanning plot initially seems to give him the chance to do that with as little effort as possible. Effectively all Fry has to do is fly a scooter thing and push a button and he literally saves the universe. The twist that Nibbler destroyed his life without asking him or considering his feelings shifts that desire to be useful into its ugliest form and forces Fry to reconsider. What strikes me most about the scene is that Fry is absolutely better off in the future and admits as such; Nibbler’s action might have been useful, but that doesn’t make it right. He effectively dehumanised Fry, took away his ability to choose his path, and reduced him to a Tool to serve his own purposes. Fry would never do that to someone else and he’s outraged at someone doing it to him. When the second version of Fry gets back from the adventure, he finds Leela, who loves him not for his ‘usefulness’ but for who he is, which is what he really wants. That’s why his last line hits so hard. You’re as important as you believe you are.

Title Card: Dancing space potatoes? You bet!
Cartoon Billboard: “Much Ado About Mutton”, 1947

Bob Odenkirk guest stars as The Mayor’s Aide, and yes, I was as shocked to learn that the first time as you. He doesn’t really change his voice, but he gets so into the character that you notice that before the quality of his voice. Bob is the brother of Futurama writer Bill Odenkirk. One thing that always put me off about this episode and that I’m still annoyed about is that the Fry who has the majority of the character development is wiped from existence. It’s part of this recurring thing the show has about showing us who Fry could potentially be, and then not only taking them away but taking away even the character’s knowledge of it. Any time the Brains refer to themselves as Gigantic Brains as if that’s not patently obvious makes me laugh. 

“But I know you in the future! I-I cleaned your poop!”
“Quite possible. We live long and are celebrated poopers.”

Amy reads a parody of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. One of the brains drops a reference to “Insane In The Brain” by Cypress Hill. The Infosphere resembles the Death Star from Star Wars. The Nibblonians explain that the Dave Matthews Band does not rock. Fry negatively compares himself to background characters in Mary Worth. After being trapped in an alternate universe, one of the brains suggests singing “American Pie” by Don McLean. The Brainspawn mission is reminiscent of the mission of Braniac from Superman comics.

Iconic Moments: “I did do the nasty in the pasty.” / “Verily. And that past nastification…”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “Where No Fan Has Gone Before.” “Hey, a body! Buff, tan… yeah, this is mine alright.”