Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Futurama: "The Prisoner Of Benda"

Illustration for article titled Futurama: "The Prisoner Of Benda"

If you're like me, I'm deeply, deeply sorry. Er. If you share the same obsessions as I do—yeah, okay, that's not much better. If, um, you watch things and notice stuff, than you may have had the same reaction that I did when Professor Farnsworth and Amy switched bodies near the start of "A Prisoner of Benda": "Wait, why did their voices change?" It was a mind-switching machine, after all, not a "mind and vocal chord" switching machine which, let's face it, would've been pretty icky. But while "Benda" never explicitly explains this, it's the sort of discrepancy that becomes easier to understand once we saw the ambition of the episode. This wasn't just about Amy and Farnsworth swapping, or Bender and Farnsworth swapping, or any one character swapping with any other one character; this was Futurama throwing everybody in a pile, shuffling, and seeing who got dealt what. Of course the characters had to keep their real voices. Without those voices, it would've been next to impossible to understand what was going on.

There's logic in that, just like there's logic in the way that first brain swap expands outward; as jumbled as the switches eventually become, all of them were properly motivated, and "Benda" goes out of its way to explain why Farnsworth and Amy can't simply switch back to their original selves after the first experiment doesn't go as well as they were hoping. This kind of… math makes me head spin, so I'll leave it to you all to determine whether or not that final massive swap works out under the rules the episode provides. But I'm assuming it does, because hey, that's the kind of show this is. This ep worked better for me than last week's, because the ending was stronger, and because it went that extra few steps with its central premise that I've come to look for. I love how, once the mind-swapper was established, there was no hesitation in exploiting it, and the refrain of "Well, how would you like it if you were in a completely new body?" turned into a punchline in and of itself.

As for the actual character jumps, the Amy/Farnsworth swap was mundane enough, but it got weird fast. First Bender borrows Amy's body to try and steal the crown jewels; then he convinces Emperor Nikolai to swap so he can be all royal and stuff. Farnsworth stays in Bender for most of the time, joining the Circus Roboticus as the daredevil robot, Nonchalanto, while Amy bounces into Leela, then Hermes. Leela jumps into Farnsworth (she wants the senior discount), and, when Leela accuses him of being shallow, Fry switches into Zoidberg. The weirdest swap (and possibly the funniest) is when the robot brain of Scruffy's automated water bucket jumps into Amy's body, and then tries to seduce Scruffy. He rejects her, because it would never work, and it's—ah, it's pretty goddamn hilarious.

Also hilarious? The end result of the Fry/Leela swaps. This was probably my least favorite running plotline through most of the episode, because it seemed to rely too much on Leela being a cliche, the overly needy female character who always interprets some poor, only trying to please guy's comments in the worst possible light. Given that she started off this season by having sex with Zap Brannigan, you'd think she wouldn't be quite so vicious to Fry, who keeps saying extremely nice things to her in the most sincere fashion imaginable. But the arc is redeemed once Fry jumps into Zoidberg, and the two have a repulse-off over a dinner date, which ends with them making out in public, and finally having sex. While still in Farnsworth and Zoidberg's bodies. I don't really know the mechanics of how that would work. (Dear slash-fic writers attempting to answer the implied question in the previous sentence: Stop.) I'm just glad the show went there, and how they managed to make a moment that is both weirdly sweet and at the same time profoundly disturbing. That's quality right there.

In a lot of ways, "Benda" feels like a farce. It sets up a premise, and it spends most of the running time using that premise for increasingly elaborate complications, until everything finally comes to a head in the final minutes. The comparison isn't exact, since not every plot-thread ties together for Farnsworth-Bender's heroics at the UN, but there is that house-of-cards sense of construction, that kind of controlled chaos that leaves the audience wondering just how long can this last? How long before it collapses? Even better, "Benda" has none of the humiliation that usually comes with farce, just a lot of goofy people running around doing goofy things. There's some lesson about making the most of the time you have with the body you're given, but it's not belabored enough to seem pedantic. Really, this is pure silly from beginning to end, using the show's internal logic to arrive in unpredictable places, and bringing to life a piece of fan fiction I doubt anyone has ever had the courage to write. It reminded me more than a little of "The Farnsworth Parabox": a premise that uses the whole cast to just the right amount. Also, there were robot clown midgets.

Stray Observations:

  • So, Nicolas Cage is still making movies, I guess? ("I hate paying $14 to see Nicolas Cage solve things." Unless "Nicolas Cage" is actually a popular fictional character in the 31st Century, a mythological figure based on our Nicolas Cage. Hm.)
  • I'm always afraid when I have to use… math.
  • The quandary here—trying to figure out how many people and swaps it would take to get everyone back to the appropriate body—sounds a lot like something you'd see in a book of logic puzzles. Hence the ice cream headache I get trying to work it out in my head.
  • "Like the heaps of dead monkeys." "Science can't move forward without heaps!"
  • "We're just the people this mind-switcher was made for by us!"
  • "A reverse Turing Test, eh?"
  • "He steps forward, but moves backwards!" "By the gods, he is a machine!"
  • "Aha! The guy in this body has a friend!"
  • "I have everything I ever wanted: money, wealth, riches…"
  • "A floor? We live like kings!"