Luci, Bean, and Elfo
Image: Disenchantment (Netflix)

On Futurama, Fry’s romantic interest in Leela was a series-long arc. Though it eventually culminated in their coupling, the established pattern was Fry would hit on her or ask her out, she would reject his advances, he wouldn’t listen and continue to pursue her, rinse and repeat. Some of these storylines haven’t aged particularly well in a culture with a much firmer understanding of “No means no,” but the discomfiting aspects of Fry’s behavior are mitigated by his slacker-like qualities and Leela’s self-possessed, bad-ass nature. Fry never posed a serious threat to Leela because she would just kick his ass if necessary. Yet, the unrequited affection of a loser with a heart of gold remains a staple in Groening’s post-Simpsons work, evidenced by Elfo’s passive-aggressive interest in Bean.

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In “Chapter IV: Castle Party Massacre,” Elfo’s pathetic attempts to woo Bean take center stage, at least until he’s literally upstaged by Vikings. After Zøg accidentally drinks polluted water, despite recognizing that water shouldn’t be a grey color, he leaves Dreamland for a spa weekend to recuperate. Bean, frustrated that guys no longer want to sleep with her because they’re afraid Zøg will kill them, decides to throw a rager in order to meet some new men. Unfortunately, all the guys at the party are well aware that she’s a princess and that she’s off-limits. Cue Elfo, who, after 300 cubes of cheese and some malicious needling from Luci, decides to take his shot with Bean when she’s vulnerable and depressed.

This is classic passive Nice Guy behavior that has existed for time immemorial. Unlike in Futurama, however, the power balance isn’t tipped completely in Bean’s favor. Elfo doesn’t pose a threat to her necessarily, but Bean isn’t exactly teeming with agency either. She might be royalty, but she’s still trapped in Dreamland, a place where she can only feel free when she’s breaking the rules or risking other people’s lives. So, Elfo takes advantage of Bean’s emotionally weakened state, even though his overture amounts to, “Can you ever see yourself going out with an elf?”

Fortunately, Disenchantment sports enough self-awareness about Elfo’s behavior. Luci chastises him for burying his intentions instead of being upfront with his feelings (“Dude, decide what you want, drink ‘til you have the nerve to go for it, and then keep drinking so the inevitable rejection doesn’t hurt so bad.”), and his general insecurity isn’t treated like a virtue. Instead, Elfo becomes the bad guy when Vikings crash the party and Bean goes off to hook up with leader Sven. Frustrated and jealous, Elfo crashes and ruins Bean’s sexual encounter by spilling the beans about her true identity. After Bean storms off, he quickly realizes that he was trying to control her, just like her father, and feels requisitely guilty.

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Elfo later redeems himself and receives his comeuppance by episode’s end. The Vikings eventually murder all the party guests and plan to take over Dreamland before Zøg returns. Bean convinces Sven and his clan that their polluted well water is actually the elixir of life and that drinking it will provide them with immortality. To prove its purity, Elfo volunteers to drinks some and proceeds to become violently ill. Luckily, the Vikings also drink the water and, in their sick state, are lured into the ocean. Dreamland is saved from Viking rule, and Elfo proves to Bean that he’s willing to stick his neck out for her, even if he gets sick and there’s no romantic reward.

Besides the Elfo business, “Chapter IV” is the first Disenchantment episode to flow pretty well. The action is mostly contained to Zøg’s castle, the premise is simple and concise, there’s a funny B-plot (Zøg’s spa getaway ends up being a torture session with a deeply annoying guy named Chazz, but it turns out that the torture is the treatment), and the digressions are amusing and kept to a minimum (Odval and Sorcerio hold a secret orgy in the basement). Though it’s not wall-to-wall jokes like “Chapter III,” its sense of narrative rhythm is much appreciated.

Plus, “Chapter IV” has a nice ending: Elfo watches the sunrise with Bean and Luci, and Zøg quickly discovers that Bean hid all the dead party guests in the chimney upon returning and he blows a gasket. Even in Dreamland, actions have consequences.

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Stray observations

  • On Disenchantment Signage: “Runoff Springs Health Spa: Thirstiest Leeches In Town”
  • My favorite stray joke in the episode is the guy who expresses his frustration with the flexible rules of Dreamland, and by extension, Disenchantment. “Things get confusing in a world with occasional magic and curses. While I am a fan of such worlds, I just feel some more clearly set out rules for what can and cannot happen would help us…” Cue the non-talking flaming arrow piercing his chest.
  • The scribe guy is also a nice touch: “Embarrassed yet unbowed, the scrivener makes his egress, but he would continue to listen outside the door unbeknownst to the princess…”
  • “What is this, my first rodeo? What’s a rodeo? What am I talking about?”
  • “Wait a minute, you named your pet squirrel Bloaty before he died and got all bloated!” “And your name is Sven and you’re a Viking, so we’re all a little obvious here, aren’t we? Drink up!”

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