‘Free Will Hunting’
The opening five minutes of Free Will Hunting are fun, fast and full of action. In the episode, Bender gets a $10,000 dollar loan from the robot mafia so that he can enrol at a robot college. He immediately falls in with a bad crowd, drops out of college and gets addicted to a robot drug known as “Spark”. After spending all of his money on the drug, he is still addicted, so he decides to sell himself to Hedonismbot for five dollars. When he’s received the money, he returns to his spark dealer, only to be approached by the robot mafia who want their money back plus interest. Subsequently he attempts to rob a troop of girl scouts, but is arrested and sent for a trial. The opening sequence of the latest episode of Futurama is almost played out like an entire episode, and this works really well.
During Bender’s trial, his lawyer argues that he isn’t in control of his actions because he is a robot, and robots lack free will. The judge recognises that Bender’s programming led to this series of unfortunate events, and much to Bender’s disappointment, he is released of all charges. After the trial, the Planet Express crew travel to Chapek 9, also known as the robot home world, to deliver a package. As humans are not allowed on the planet, Bender is sent out for delivery, but he decides to stay on the planet and embark on a journey of self-discovery.
His lonely walk through the robot planet leads him to a group of robot monks, who inform him that robots do have a free will slot. Bender returns to earth and with the help of Fry and Leela, journeys to Mom Corp to find a free will unit. Mom informs them that such a unit doesn’t exist, as Professor Hubert Farnsworth never perfected a prototype that he invented whilst working for Mom. Bender approaches The Professor, who eventually gives him the free will slot. Now able to decide what he wants for himself, Bender shoots The Professor, and is sent for another trial. He is convicted for attempted murder, and celebrates as he is taken away.
In many ways, this episode reminds me of Danny Boyle’s 2013 psychological thriller, Trance, due to its fantastic opening sequence. Unfortunately, like Trance, Free Will Hunting didn’t retain this sense of pace. Instead, it became too complicated and confusing.
I liked the fact that we return to various locations that have been used before in previous episodes of the show, as it adds a feeling of continuity. It was also nice to see some old characters such as the infamous Hyper-Chicken, an incompetent lawyer who clucks violently at the judge during Bender’s trial. Ultimately, I felt that the return to previous elements of the show really improved the episode because it gave loyal Futurama fans something to look back on and enjoy. The throw-back to previous episodes just shows the success and longevity of the show.
Free Will Hunting is a Bender episode, and perhaps the finest Bender episode since season three’s Godfellas. The writing is clever, but like last week’s Fun on a Bun, the jokes are conceptually funny rather than laugh-out-loud visual gags. This isn’t a problem due to the brilliant opening sequence of the episode, but I do wonder if the show can keep up with other animated comedies like Family Guy and The Simpsons, which have consistently produced laugh-out-loud jokes in every single episode.
Sadly, the one problem I have with the writing of the show is that it feels like they are running out of time. We saw this in The Butterjunk Effect where there was just too much content for a twenty minute episode. Perhaps the writers have become used to writing longer episodes after the release of the four Futurama films in 2008. Maybe they are doing this on purpose, and the opening sequence was an ironic comment on the criticism that they have received for unsatisfactory and disappointing endings to several episodes of the show. Having said this, the opening alone deserves praise for its tempo, energy and sharp humour.