Futurama, Season Four, Episode Eleven, “Where No Fan Has Gone Before”

Written by: David A Goodman
Directed by: Pat Shinigawa
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that when one talks about the world, one is really talking about oneself; in this episode, Futurama ends up revealing so much about its nerdy worldview by focusing so tightly on Star Trek. In this episode, the game is to limit its usual wide scope of references to that one show, something I don’t think the show has ever done before; the closest is that one time that one segment of “Anthology Of Interest” did a parody of The Wizard Of Oz, but not a whole episode – “Roswell That Ends Well” flows between references to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gomer Pyle, and The Big Bopper, for the love of fuck. The only real references outside of Star Trek in this episode are to Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Wars! The obvious reason for this is because Star Trek makes up a significant part of the show’s DNA. Sounds, visuals, even an important tertiary character are all lifted from the original show. Every episode is an implicit love letter to the show; might as well write an explicit one.

Whether intentional or not, I believe there’s somewhat of a spiritual connection between the two series as well. The strange thing about going back to Star Trek now is seeing that it’s deeply spiritual – not just in the sense of finding God and god-like aliens, but in exploring Good and Evil, in trying to see things and ideas you’ve never seen before, and most of all in looking for that sense of the divine. Later iterations of Trek would ease in and out of that idea; Deep Space Nine has entire arcs about God and religious belief whilst most of the rest of the franchise has downplayed it in favour of exploring the franchise’s extended mythos. I believe that, while it’s flavoured in a much nerdier way, Futurama goes to this same divine place – a mystical sense of finding some higher plane of existence. “Godfellas” is the most obvious, but “Xmas Story” gets there, and “The Series Has Landed” gets there. There’s also the fundamental geekiness of Star Trek, just as heavily built on a joy in making references as Futurama, even if those references are to Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes and classical literature. In its own way, this show is a true continuation of Star Trek, and the fact that this is mere millimetres away from basically being a true episode of the show is proof of that.

This episode is also built around observations about the fandom that grew up around Star Trek, and that’s just as revealing as anything else. Star Trek has always had an incredibly diverse fanbase; the show was originally popular with doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other highly-educated well-off viewers that we would now associate with HBO shows, and it is of course the original source of the slash fanfiction fandom. For a show about the infinite universe, it’s always had a particularly blinkered viewpoint, and here that pays off brilliantly in how perfectly it tweaks a particular brand of entitled, pissy, childish nerd in Melllvar – it manages to cast a real-life Star Trek villain as a fictional Star Trek villain, and it can do so with the nuance and understanding that comes with knowing Melllvars and, indeed, working to avoid becoming Melllvar. References done not for their own pleasure but to lord over your superiority; a shallow understanding of the source material that leads to disrespectful takes; fannishness not as an expression of joy but as an expression of ego. I often criticise this show, but it’s because I know it’s above all of that. This is an act of joy.

Title Card: Where no fan has gone before
Cartoon Billboard: “Hiss And Make Up”, 1943

This guest stars Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig as themselves. Jonathan Frakes also cameos. DeForest Kelley appears but does not speak, due to being too busy being dead, and James Doohan’s agent flatly turned the crew down. All of them are great, really diving into the personas that the writers give them – I particularly like Koenig’s aggressive bitterness and Takei’s intense overacting. The show plays Shatner as gleefully egotistical and it makes a joke out of his spoken word performances; roughly two years later, Shatner would release the album Has Been and blow everybody’s mind with something soulful and beautiful that in retrospect makes this look a bit dickish. Bender manages to anchor this episode by simply being himself (“I dunno, I’m feeling pretty good about it.”).

“You know what six movies average out to be really good?”

The title is a reference to a line from the opening narration of every episode of Star Trek. “The impossible has happened,” is a reference to the very first line of the very first Captain’s Log in the very first real episode of Star Trek after the unused pilot. The opening scene shows the Planet Express Ship fitted with the Enterprise nacelles. Melllvar is lifted from the companion in the episode “Metamorphosis”. In the Church of Trek, we see two people dressed up like the infamous black-white aliens from “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”. One of the Star Trek virgins sacrificed is wearing a shirt that says “Beam me up Scotty, there’s no intelligent life on this planet”, which is an old bumper sticker that riffs on an apocryphal line from the show; as the virgins are sacrificed, the throwers say “He’s dead, Jim”, which is Dr McCoy’s catchphrase.

The ship that chucks the Trek tapes is the Eagle from Space 1999, and the shot of said chucking is lifted from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. The props we see from the show come from the Star Trek episodes “Spectre Of The Gun”, “Who Mourns For Adonais?”, “The Gamesters Of Triskelion”, “The Ultimate Computer”, and “The City On The Edge Of Forever”. Nimoy says goodbye to Shatner using a line from The Wrath Of Khan. The trivia contest uses quatloos, the currency used in “The Gamesters Of Triskelion”. The image of the ship firing lasers replicates the poor special effects of the original show. Shatner ripping his shirt was a joke about what happened on Star Trek constantly, and he uses the stage fighting visuals from the show. Leela raising a stone above her head is a reference to the fight scene from “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. Nichelle Nichols uses her fan dance from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Nimoy attempts to nerve-pinch Tesla. Melllvar’s ship resembles a Romulan Bird-of-Prey. The ending lifts from the endings of Star Trek episodes.

The wheelchair with the beeper references “The Menagerie”. Shatner’s line “Let’s get the hell out of here!” is a reference to “The City On The Edge of Forever”. A sign refers to the Christine Chapel, which is a dual reference to the Sistine Chapel and the character Nurse Christine Chapel on Star Trek. Fry initially thinking Melllvar is a child is a joke about the episode “The Squire Of Gothos”. Welshie’s death is very similar to the death of Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Bender finds a Tommy Gun, which is most likely a reference to the episode “A Piece Of The Action”. The characters refer to the Star Wars Trek, a mass migration of Star Wars fans. Phew!

Iconic Moments: “I’m literally angry with rage!”
Biggest Laugh: This is another line that has deeply influenced my sense of humour, with Nimoy’s sincere gravitas put into a deeply silly line. 

Next Week: “The Sting”. “Burn on that old crew! The only things they did better than us was suck and die!”

DN’s Note: So, Hulu is bringing Futurama back! I’ve done some calculating, and these reviews should run out in mid-April 2023, so I’m hoping they don’t start airing until at least then, and then I’ll follow the episodes along live.