Written by: Shirin Nafaji
Directed by: James Kim
“All weapons simply pass through and come out the other end, like that ball bearing I once mistook for a mint.”
I don’t about the rest of you, but this is the one I was the most wary of when I saw the episode titles, so I’m amused and confused by how benign and straightforward it actually is. Not to sound like the show’s typical both-sides apathy, but the whole ‘cancelling’ conversation is a deeply tedious one to me; I’m on the side of ‘I don’t care if people get fired for saying something racist or groping a coworker’, but I also don’t hunt people down to yell ‘it’s called consequences culture’ at them. I was suspicious that this episode would be one of two things: jokes at the expense of people getting cancelled or jokes at the expense of people who were doing the cancelling. Neither would be particularly funny to me; the latter would be abhorrent and the former would be tedious.
“I’m filing a formal complaint!”
“It’s pronounced ‘compliment’.”
It comes dangerously close to finger-wagging – whether it’s in the mouth of a good guy or a and guy, I simply do not want to hear the word ‘woke’ ever again – but I think there are two things that make this work for me. The first is that this is a little more sophisticated than that; not much more sophisticated, but enough to feel like a solid idea to build a comedy episode around. Zapp’s cancelling is played as a genuine moral victory, but it’s also a superficial cover for a military-industrial complex that is perfectly comfortable getting rid of men and replacing them with competent women so long as we can keep invading places and taking their resources. It’s a solid foundation for a bunch of cynical jokes.
“You’ve really hit rock top!”
It helps enormously that this is a grounding for character-specific jokes and stories. On a fundamental level, the jokes here are no different from every other Zapp joke and story we’ve ever had – this genuinely feels like a straightforward Zapp Brannigan set of gags where he’s comically awful to people, gets punished for it, then learns nothing. We’re also not only getting Zapp gags, because this turns out to be a Leela story too; this season has had a strange, messy tone, and this is the first to have a full-on classic TV A- and B-plot structure. It doesn’t get as much closure on the subject as I would like, but this is also about Leela’s personal ambitions.
It’s an interesting subject to interrogate; Leela has always been defined by her desire to be successful and normal, and her arc has been one of slowly accepting that not only are there things out of her reach, she never really wanted them anyway (usually, expressed as her failing to be a comic foil and revealing pettiness and insecurity). I enjoy the initial scenes in which she contends with being a big fish in a small pond – she might be the smartest character in Planet Express, but that’s not really a high bar. I enjoy that the ending is her realising that, while she can be frustrated with her day-to-day problems, she finds genuine fulfilment in her life in a way that being groped by weird aliens for a living would not do.
Title Card: If you can read this, you’re too far from the screen
Cartoon Billboard: “Chinaman’s Chance”, 1933
“I, Bender, humbly accept this prestigious appointment. Also, it comes with double salary.”
Kathy Griffin guest stars as Captain Cranky.
Bender gets pushed to the back of the plot, which as always only serves to make him funnier; when he caught himself on the winch, I actually kind of hoped he would have a C-plot stuck there trying to free/amuse himself. I will admit, seeing Kif subject Zapp to a formal complaint is weirdly satisfying, as well as people gasping in horror at Zapp doing what he always does. The Hyperchicken Lawyer acting as prosecution and defence feels like a hilarious absurd conclusion to him being the show’s only lawyer.
“That hurt in more ways than one! It hurt in two ways!”
Zapp wearing a C is a reference to The Scarlet Letter. You may have noticed a few references to Star Trek.
“It’s like a slot machine that keeps paying out air!”
“That sounds like a really boring casino.”