And so we come to the end… again.
What is this, the third time? And to be completely honest, this barely counts. The finale of the first four seasons meant something, since there was no immediate guarantee the show would be back. The finale finale meant something because, well, that wasn’t a typo. But this? Sure, the show’s writers thought it could be the end, but it doesn’t feel like one. Into The Green Wild Yonder is simply the end of a cycle, the last in a series of a direct to video movies that, at their best, were okay. Never great, rarely good, often lousy, but just as often watchable in a sort of “Oh, this gum has lost it’s flavor but I’m kind of enjoying the chewing” kind of way.
As such, there’s no grand pronouncements to be made. There’s nothing in Yonder that serves to justify or improve upon what came before it, nothing that doesn’t cling to the same faults we’ve been seeing from the start. If anything, it’s more episodic than before, at last that twenty minute segment at the beginning with Bender going out with the Don-bot’s wife. And that was actually one of the movie’s strongest sections; not great, but mildly amusing, and the end was legitimately funny.
The rest, though… See, I wanted to enjoy this, I swear to god I did. It tries for some kind of big, universe-altering storyline, with Fry once again as the only person who can do a thing, and there’s even a great crowd shot (see above) which appears to have nearly every important secondary character to appear on the series in it—and it’s still basically a dud. Like, screaming “when will this end?” at the screen sort of a dud. I suppose that’s not entirely fair; boredom has a way of making minor faults into infuriatingly ungrand canyons, and, from an objective perspective, I’ll say that the last thirty minutes of this were certainly less painful than, say, stepping on a nail. There’s your pull-quote.
But jeez, did we have to go into the gender jokes again? This had the elements of a reasonably engaging sci-fi epic. The green wave that creates life, the evil Dark Ones looking to destroy that life, the horde of psychic folks in tinfoil hats; that’s cool. Oh sure, the actual crisis loses a lot of its impact once you realize the conflict doesn’t directly impact our heroes, and is instead more of an ecological outreach program. Which is nice (putting aside the fact that plenty of species go extinct for perfectly reasonable reasons), but there’s no real tension behind it.
Maybe I’m missing something—the Dark Ones (well, the Dark One) want to destroy all life, and they appear to have impressive telepathic powers (powers which would’ve been useful for them to use when Leo Wong was destroying their habitat, but whatever), but this time they don’t have the power or the tools to kill everything. They just want to destroy the violet dwarf star which is actually a being that contains the DNA of all extinct species. Which, again, is not good, and blowing up the star itself would definitely be a lot of murder, but the “Encyclopod” isn’t a character, it’s a concept, and there’s no suspense in wondering if a thing with no personality which has never been a factor in the show before will live or die. If the consequences of our heroes losing is just “life goes on the same, basically,” it’s not much of a conflict.
I suppose there’s something to be side for a crisis that leans towards optimism. There is probably a version of this that could’ve worked, and every so often, when the movie pauses to glance in awe at an asteroid teeming with new life, or the reveal of the Encyclopod itself, that it’s possible to be engaged with what’s happening. But those moments are fleeting, and even at their best, there’s an impossible to shake impression that nothing we’re watching quite adds up. The story makes use of old elements (the Waterfalls, the No. 9 man), but simply nodding to the past doesn’t automatically make for a well-constructed narrative.
Then there are the eco-feministas, which, just—no. No, this was a bad dumb stupid idea, and it doesn’t get any better as it goes. It’s like someone looked over the previous four seasons, picked out all the hacky “men are like this! women are like this!” jokes, and decided to double down. A bunch of dippy ladies in pink shouting ineffective slogans about peace? Where is the joke in any of this? Sure, you can argue that the men come off just as badly, but even Wong, as rancid as he is, has something of a character by this point. And at least he actually gets shit done.
Frida Waterfall is just a buffoon who likes putting “woman” into every possible word, and her troops are good-natured idiots. Then Leela joins up, and the whole thing turns into an idiotic battle of the sexes riff, one which makes no sense. The show’s female cast is so small that they have to rope in the one-note news anchor lady to flesh out the team; and once again, LaBarbara is on-hand to make choices that really only serve to annoy Hermes.
There’s clearly an effort being made here to make both sides look foolish, but the effort is based on false assumptions, and on a concept of what it means to be a “man” and “woman” that went out of date roughly around the time Fry became his own grandfather. I don’t ascribe malicious intent to any of it, and hey, the women are, in their way, completely right. Leo is a monster who must be stopped. (And man, if you hadn’t already gotten sick of Billy West over-doing that accent, here’s your chance to catch up.) But the jokes about the men are that they’re corrupt or selfish. The joke about the women is that they like girly things. To pull off this sort of two-faced satire, you need to have insight into both of the faces you’re mocking; and it’s clear (as it has been for a while) that the writers only really get the one.
All right, so that covers the barely functional main plot, and the lousy attempts at gender-based humor. What’s left? I mentioned Bender’s storyline, right? I did, yeah. Like I said, it was fine. The conclusion worked because the anti-climax was so unexpected, and so casually handled. All that build up to the inevitable, only for the reveal that nothing of consequence happened, and Bender is free to move on with his life without any damage done—that’s in keeping with one of the show’s main sources of humor, and it’s handled well enough here.
What else is good… Oh, there was a great twist when the feministas are breaking out of jail, and they decide to distract the guards by dressing up Bender as a hooker. Given everything else that had happened, this legitimately caught me by surprise (and suggests that the clumsy “make everything pink!” joke-telling is less a function of intentional prejudice than it is a lack of insight). (See, folks? Diversity matters.) Fry’s doomed efforts to exploit his mind-reading powers generates at least one great gag—women’s locker room—and if nothing else, we get to see an out of control golf-cart slowly run over and kill the headless body of Spiro Agnew. That has to win something on novelty points.
Fry and Leela get a few sweet moments together, although I’d be lying if I said the seams weren’t starting to show. The “I trust you because you’re you” exchanges are effective, but they’re also clearly designed to make us care about something that doesn’t really deserve that level of investment. It’s so easy to generate romantic sappiness between the two at this point in the show’s run that it almost doesn’t count as legitimate character development, not even when Leela finally breaks down and tells Fry she loves him. That’s nice and all, but after everything else that happens, it’s too little, too late.
While the Comedy Central seasons were uneven at best, even the worst episode only ran a half hour long; here, we’re forced to wallow in the mediocrity, and after a while, it starts to sting. There’s a lesson here, about how format is as much a part of a show’s DNA as character, setting, and premise; and about how more time means more opportunities to expose a show’s shortcomings. But as hard as I’ve been on it, I still love Futurama, and I don’t want to end on a down note. Better to respect this season as a fascinating concept which never quite came into focus. Now let’s never speak of it again.
- Opening caption: It’s in the alien language, and translates to “The humans will not defeat us.”
- The Wongs deserve some kind of medal for being relentlessly insufferable caricatures who never became more interesting or likable no matter how often they appeared. No, wait, not a medal. The other thing.
- “It’s like kissing an ashtray full of hot wings!” -Fanny, re: Bender
- While the poker tournament has some amusing moments, it’s a micro version of what plagues the episode as a whole. While Bender is in the tournament to win enough money so he can run off with Fanny (more or less), Fry is just there to try out his mind-reading powers. There are no consequences if (and when) he loses, and it means the scene has no energy beyond the vaguely interesting question of who will win. There needs to be something pushing our heroes to make the choices they make, and that something has to be a lot more urgent than “Eh, why not”; or else the writing has to be substantially better than what we get here.
- I liked the various ways Fry shaped his tinfoil hat.
- “Stop making your point so ineffectively!” -The AV Club
- “Goodbye, sweet goofbag.” -Leela