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I Second That Emotion

July 26, 2012

Original airdate: November 21, 1999

Written by Patric Verrone; Directed by Mark Ervin

So we reach season two, and with “I Second That Emotion” we expand the world of Futurama with our first extended look at the sewer mutants. It’s also a Leela and Bender episode, which is nice, because that is the most neglected side of the trio’s relationship. Overall, though, this is a pretty average episode, with a steaming helping of massively annoying Bender.

We begin by establishing that Bender hates Nibbler. Why? Because Nibbler gets more attention than him… at Nibbler’s birthday party. Bender decides to bake Nibbler a fantastic cake (because he’s suddenly become good at cooking I guess) but only so he’ll be praised by everyone else for being so great. Okay. This is one of the very few things I genuinely dislike about this show: Bender in his whiny, pathetic, attention-seeking mode. Him hating Nibbler is fine. Being attacked by the can opener and Nibbler himself were fairly valid reasons for his anger. But because his friends are not spending every second of their lives praising him and watching and clapping at his antics? This is a trait he didn’t really show in season one. “Fear of a Bot Planet” was the closest, but there he wanted fame and adulation and the perks that followed. Here he’s whining and acting out for no meaningful reason. Why is he now so pathetic and insecure? Nibbler proceeds to eat Bender’s cake before anyone tells him how great it was, so Bender proceeds to flush Nibbler down the toilet. Again, his hatred of Nibbler and the act of flushing him is fine. The problem is that his primary motivation is stupid: Nibbler destroying Bender’s hard work on the cake is a valid reason, but instead Bender acts because Nibbler has deprived him of an opportunity for praise. I guess Bender’s behaviour here is meant to be an overreaction, but whiny-attention-seeking Bender is unfunny and annoying and above all was not necessary for the story to work.

Leela is naturally distraught at the apparent death of her pet, but a now restored jerkish Bender of course does not care. This leads to the main plot thrust: Bender gets emotions. Well, specifically he receives an empathy chip so that he can feel the emotions of others, in this case Leela. As the first act clearly shows, he already has emotions, albeit self-serving in some way. Bender has always had the ability to care for others, even if he rarely shows it and even more rarely wants anyone to see it. We see that in his relationship with Fry and with the Countess. But anyway, Bender is forced to feel Leela’s loss and loneliness. This could become tiresome pretty quickly, but Bender’s clear dislike for how he’s being forced to feel, and the chip’s brief delay in actually conferring the emotions, provides some good humour. Fry explains the urban legend of sewer alligators, and Bender resolves to go down to the sewers and see if Nibbler is still alive. But the sewers of New New York are subject to an urban legend of their own…

Yes, the sewer mutants – a race of humans transformed by pollution and radiation, one of the show’s longest-running arcs and the Year 3000’s discriminated minority – turn out to be very real indeed. But contrary to popular belief, they are not actually evil monsters, and although hideous, are pleasant and civilized. The anti-mutant discrimination is one of the show’s best outlets of social satire. The public’s entirely unjustified hatred of mutants is made all the more hilarious given that no one has any problem with aliens like Zoidberg. More absurdity ensures though, as the mutants conclude that Nibbler must actually be “El Chupanibre”, a monster who has terrorized their community and who can only be appeased through a “snackrifice” of an unspoiled virgin, a role for which Leela will have to do. (“Nice try Leela, but we’ve all seen Zapp Brannigan’s webpage.”) When Nibbler arrives, the mutants realize that he isn’t actually El Chupanibre. El Chupanibre is the giant green monster right behind him. Only Bender can fight him off, but Leela’s terror is stopping him from acting. He tells her to start acting more selfishly, which allows Bender to save Nibbler and flush El Chupanibre into the sub-sewer.

A key episode in Futurama lore then, which certainly picks up once whiny-Bender disappears, but is otherwise not so memorable. I have a lot of love for the mutants, and also the delightfully non-moralistic ending. The Professor removes the empathy chip, which is revealed to have burnt out, meaning Bender learnt to experience genuine care for others. Oh wait, no, actually the chip was operating at triple capacity (“And I still barely felt anything! Good night losers.”) So Bender learns nothing and, in fact, Leela learns to be more selfish. So long jerkwads!

Trivia and Quotes

  • Bender’s first run-in with the can opener, which apparently killed his father. And Nibbler takes Bender’s catchphrase literally, but it’s “Nothing a lawsuit won’t cure.”
  • The whole scene at the vets is great: the cat with the pet human, the vet’s baffled response when Bender attempts to have Nibbler put down, that his replacement fang for Nibbler comes from a live animal, “the jaguar didn’t want to cooperate, but luckily he knocked one of my teeth out!”
  • Love the screw the audience joke with the rat poison, which Bender’s uses to actually kill some rats.
  • “Bender! How could you flush Nibbler down the toilet?/Well step one I had to left the seat. That was the first little annoyance, am I right men?”
  • “Uh oh, is this gonna be another crazy experiment that crosses a line man was not meant to cross?” Just a teensy bit.
  • “My friend’s cousin’s caseworker saw one once. It’s a widely believed fact.”
  • Bender somehow managing to flush each of his body parts down the toilet is a classic absurd joke that this show does so well. Well, they are autonomous.
  • Nothing much outstanding in the second act. A few chuckles, Bender being unable to put his own body back together and Fry’s earnest endorsement of  the exit pipe (“Don’t worry, it get’s wider after about a mile”).
  • The mutants’ self-deprecation really is a highlight: “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be eating our brains? You’re mutants/Mutants? Perhaps it is you who are the mutants/Please, Dwayne, have you looked in a mirror lately?” The design of their community is so wonderfully crummy and sad, with the aquarium of dead fish (and one dead bird), the library of porno and Ayn Rand, the church worshipping a nuclear missile. Their treasured possessions are all things people have wanted to get rid of so badly that they actually flushed them down the toilet, rather than just throwing them out. “You guys realize you live in a sewer right?/Perhaps, but perhaps your civilization is merely the sewer of an even greater society above you./No, we’re on the top/Daylight and everything/It must be wonderful/Eh.” I love the weary resignation of the mutant leader as he explains that “everything” that is flushed comes through their home.
  • “So is it true that alligators flushed down the toilet survive down here?/No, that’s just an urban legend./Then what are those?/Crocodiles/We keep them as pets. Then, when they grow too large, we flush them down into the sub-sewer./Some say there’s a freakish race of sub-mutants down there/Please, that’s just a sub-urban legend.”
  • Leela’s parents! Leela’s parents! In the background! I mean, I’ve known they were there for years, but I just wanted to convey my excitement from when I first spotted them. Considering their identity wouldn’t be revealed for another two and a half years this really is a great easter egg, and demonstrates how well planned out this series was.
  • Fry’s two attempts to save his friends – the first not being necessary, the second ending in failure – are nice to see.
  • “If you care about Nibbler, stop caring about him!/I can’t, I love every living creature!/Even me?/As a friend/Damn.”
2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2012 5:27 pm

    Great review, funny episode, awesome tidbits/quotes and trivia, nice easter egg
    as well.

    Also, in the video game Fallout 3 (2007, Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
    there is a city of people that worship a nuclear bomb/missile as well. I wonder
    if perhaps the game’s creators were influenced by this episode? Maybe.

    Keep up the good work btw 🙂

    • August 25, 2012 5:40 pm

      Thanks very much! As for Fallout – it’s possible, they are very culturally aware games.

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