WARNING: DO NOT SHOW TO HORSES
Not to sound glass half-empty and not to alarm you, but this half-season of Comedy Central's Emmy-award-winning animated comedy is already more than three quarters over! Sorry to bear the bad news (and be a bit confusing) but it's worth mentioning that there are only four episodes left in Futurama's 7A, especially since two of them will air on the same night as a mid-season finale.
That means, there are only three remaining weeks of Futurama this year, a prospect even more depressing since "Free Will Hunting" was definitely no "Fun on a Bun." It wasn't tragedy on a bun either but pacing issues and getting lost pondering the 'big ideas' did result in an average installment. Futurama might have been too smart for it's own good this time, although sentient robots provide a nice stand-in for humanity's ongoing (and apparently pointless, although there was a lot of pointing) exploration of our free will, philosophical musing doesn't always provide the easiest path to comedy.
"Mr. Bender. I realize class has only been in session for 32 seconds but you've fallen in with a bad crowd."
Not that Futurama ever takes the easiest path. It tuns out that both Fry and Bender sleep in underwear but the former takes his off as the latter gets dressed and the next decision starts the robot on his "Free Will Hunting." Nerd glasses or no nerd glasses? The next seven or eight minutes plays out like a self-contained mini-sode with Bender's choice to (first slap Fry for his lack of interest and then) wear the glasses being the initial cause for several effects culminating in the robot having an existential crisis after being declared innocent for his crimes due to his inherent (but not apparent) lack of free will. Back to the nerd glasses. Mistaken for a college student by a sexy coed, uh, bot, Bender decides to enrol in school but can't come up with the $10 000 tuition, which, for some reason, is plastered right on the statue out front instead of the institution's creation date.
"Oh, nothing sordid I assure you. Simply vomit on me, ever so gently, while I humiliate a pheasant."
Not to worry, just over there, sorry, over here are members of the robot mafia (the usual, and only three) and they are willing to lend Bender the ten grand at 10,000% interest. In no time, Bender is not just sitting at the back of the class with the tuffs but having a meeting with the Dean and dropping out to join a gang. And what's the point of being in a gang if you're not going to do a substance analogous to drugs and get a gangland tattoo. But before Bender can get a purple dragon inked on his face, his new buddy Fabrizio is gunned down by a rival gang and the oil-leaking death was one of the best visuals I've seen from the show in some time. Still on his downward spiral (and still in the first act), Bender kicks the body under a nearby dumpster and goes hunting for some Spark to ease the pain. Too bad it's going to take a visit with Hedonismbot to earn the money and even then, that dough belongs to the Donbot.
"A robot free will unit? Impossible! And even if it were possible, which it's not, it would still be inconceivable, which it is!"
The brouhaha with the mafia sends Bender to the Motherboard of Mercy Hospital where he's able to recount the crazy and eventful (too full) hell of a day as well as wax about the importance of making the right decision as to avoid ending up in a pool of one's own blood and urine. Zoidberg like the sound of the pool in what might be the Doctor's only line of "Free Will Hunting." And it feels that he's got more than most of the mostly absent supporting cast. That's a lot of weight for the bending unit to carry and he eventually recruits Fry and Leela to his cause but first, he tries to steal from some girl scouts before the aforementioned court case that finds Bender accused of possession of a substance analogous to drugs and assault with a smelly weapon but acquitted of his crimes (ones he's quite proud of) due to his, and Judge 724's, lack of free will, a concept that is soon conflated with one's inability to make a decision. Bender is distraught about his mental/hardware deficiency, even though Amy readily reminds him that humans are no more certain of their free will, and turns to the Professor, his only hope.
"'How does a robot join this monk outfit?"
While Farnsworth has nothing but bad news for Bender when it comes to his ability to help the robot become master of his fate, he has good news for everybody, a delivery to the Robot Homeworld. Bender's pretty depressed but that doesn't stop him and his best buddy having a deep conversation about gum before the robot has to descend to the planet alone so, you know, the humans don't get killed and stuff. And after a hilarious package drop including a double dose of nerve gas, Mr. Rodriguez decides to mope things over for a while, away from his sweet-bags encountering a few fellow robots on his road to discovery including a wise local farmer (too bad work sucks) and the Council of Robot Elders. Silence! Actually, even the ridiculous council imparts some smart words, saying that the fact that it is predetermined doesn't make it any less important. Silence! Bender's wanderings soon take him, dry mouth and all, to the steps of the Order of the Binary Singularity and, after listening to the Abbot's words while sitting uncomfortably, he's able to find momentary peace.
"Okay, Leela. Decision time. How do we murder the guards? Hockey sticks or sharpened footballs?"
But even the bits to live by aren't enough to sate Bender once he learns that the Creatrix, aka Mom, made her robots with a free will slot for the possibility of future upgrades. And the status of those upgrades? Well, the temptation is enough for Bender to strip away his ties to the monks and go looking for his free will. And just when Fry was beginning to lose faith in his roommate, and the likelihood of solicitors being robbed, the robot shows up to recruit him and his bed buddy Leela (I love how casual they have made their relationship over the years) to make decisions that will lead to them obtaining the mysterious upgrades located at Mom Co (where trespassers are deathsecuted). It doesn't seem like the meat bags are being that much help since Bender is mostly telling them what to tell him but hey, that might be the point? I should have paid more attention in kindergarten.
"Hahah... wait a minute. It sounds like we're getting the short end of that extermination."
The trio breaks into the Research and Development room but cannot locate anything that fits into the star shaped hole in Bender's forehead. Dry does manage to find a chair-gizmo complete with a Bond villain-like reveal for mom. She doesn't do anything particularly sinister though, except fill them in on the history of the free will unit also known as the fever dream of a madman. Cue the flashback with her and Professor Farnsworth that shows him lie to save the world from her wraith but at the cost of robots getting free will. Bender seems to accept that he'll never do anything surprising or remotely interesting but then he surprisingly shows up at the Professor's, gun in hand, demanding the free will unit that the toy version of him has apparently been enjoying for some time. After a little Asimov mixed with Abbot and Costello, Farnsworth ends up handing over the device and Bender decides of his own volition not to shoot the old kook. No wait, that's the safety but at least this time he can be convicted in a court of law.
"Free Will Hunting" was perhaps more impressive than enjoyable and even though they tried to cut through the intellectual heft by having Bender as our spirit guide (is there such a thing as too much Bender?), it was hard to invest in the robot's quest especially when he went all old TV show Hulk and not much was happening. Walking the streets, with the sad music, you know. It also didn't help that the episode of Futurama was so top-heavy that it made the last two thirds feel like they played out at a snail's pace. I understand why they had to tell a 'full story' in the first act - to show the consequence of Bender's choice - but it made the opening sequences frantic while the rest filled large gaps by having him shuffle along aimlessly. I'll admit that the final payoff was pretty rewarding, Bender being dragged out of the courtroom yelling "guilty," but most of "Free Will Hunting" left me at a distance, thinking 'how clever' instead of fully invested as usual. An inconsistent as best.
Futurama returns with “Near-Death Wish,” Episode 10 of Season 7A, Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central. Created by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, it stars Billy West, Katey Sagal and John DiMaggio.