This week’s episode was, in a word, surreal. Not that Futurama hasn’t dabbled in the unexpected, but I’m not sure they’ve done it in quite this confusing of a way before. While “The Prince and the Product” begins as any other normal episode, with the Professor appearing to announce this week’s delivery, it then follows a very strange trajectory. Essentially, it plays out as a Saturday morning cartoon of sorts complete with commercial breaks aimed at selling toys to the child audience.
The main plot involves delivering a package to the King of Space (David Herman), (an excellent opportunity for Fry to grovel) a macaroni portrait of his late wife the Queen. As Fry and Leela set about hanging the portrait, the Prince of Space (Phil LaMarr) appears and immediately takes over an injured Fry’s position to assist Leela with the portrait, winning her heart in the process (that’s what early onset sciatica will get ya!). Once Fry discovers Leela has fallen in love with the Price he’s distraught and our first commercial break begins.
Windos are wind-up toys with a finite spring life, apparently. The mini-story centers on Fry and his impending death due to his spring winding down permanently. Fry is weirdly ok with dying, but Bender is having a hard time and tries turning to religion for help. Spoiler, it does not help. So it’s off to the mountains to see a guru, unfortunately, the trip wears out Fry’s spring and he expires. Naturally, Bender performs spring-to-spring resuscitation, reviving Fry, but killing himself. Fry is now sad and goes to see the guru who tells him about reincarnation. Unlike religion and “heaven”, reincarnation turns out to be true as Bender returns in the form of a plane…which then crashes and burns. He’ll be back, kids, it’s ok.
In the meantime, we return to the current Futurama episode. The King forbids the Prince to marry a space commoner, and although Fry is relieved at first, he sees how sad Leela is and fights the King’s rejection. Fry’s anger results in the Queen’s portrait being boiled (she needs salt), which pisses the King off enough to challenge Fry to a duel.
Our second commercial break is for a toy called Round Wheels (wheels sold separately). As everyone but Zoidberg goes to make a delivery, the sad crab car watches from a distance. Later, the news shows a mysterious online video that has been resulting in the deaths of locals, following a phone call. Amy happily answers the call from 666-666-6666 and is promptly killed. Fry and Leela are next. But, when Bender gets the call the Professor and Hermes tail him in hopes of catching the killer. The Professor doesn’t make it, but Hermes’ limbo skills come in handy allowing him to discover the murderer is none other than Zoidberg! Being left out all the time made him murdery, so he’s been taking parts of everyone and making them a part of himself. In classic Zoidberg fashion he fucks it up and winds up foiling his own plan. The homunculus-car quickly crashes into a wall but Amy had the good sense to buy the warranty, and all ends well.
Back in the episode proper, the duel between the King of Space and the Fry of Earth is underway. It’s a joust, where Leela takes Fry’s place as champion because she’s the better fighter. She kills the King, but quickly discovers he had the Prince act as his champion so she actually killed her love. Fry is ok, but the Prince is dead and Leela cries leading us into the final commercial.
Rubber Ducks! Never put live ducks in your child’s bathtub, it’s a whole thing. Upon returning from a delivery, Fry and Amy get into a brief tiff about the edge of the water, leading the Professor to propose an exploration to see if said edge exists. After some travel the ducks (the Professor, Fry, Amy, and Zoidberg) discover land, and a new breed of beings. Eggulons are egg-shaped people who can wobble but won’t fall down – well, kind of. Leela, Bender, Hermes, and Scruffy watch as the ducks approach their shore. Leela is immediately attracted to Fry, who returns her affection, but the mixing of species causes friction between the two people. It’s war! Or…peace-fighting, either way there are casualties. The eggulons can fall down. And, though Leela and Fry both die, they proclaim their love assured that it will live on past them. It kind of does, as Leela’s egg-self hatches into a baby-duck-self, and Fry’s duck-self lays a baby-egg-self. It’s very fucking weird but we now return to the end of the episode.
Fry attempts to comfort Leela about killing the love of her life, but she reveals that she wasn’t actually in love, it was a spell! A magic spell? No, the Professor appears on a screen for no apparent reason to declare it was a science spell! Of course…that’s a thing. We end with Bender as the ship who quickly crashes into Earth.
Two words sum this episode up pretty well: The fuck. As in, what the fuck did I just watch? Don’t get me wrong, “The Prince and the Product” has some very solid jokes throughout and I really enjoyed the different iterations of the crew as toys, along with some callbacks to classic Futurama scenes, but overall it is a complete mystery of an episode. It vaguely reminds me of the “What if” episodes, except that those had a clear construct built around the inclusion of separate mini-stories – much like The Simpsons Halloween episodes. Here, there’s no explanation for why the toy commercial stories are happening, and the main storyline is extremely stupid.
Still, if we take the episode for the surrealist adventure that it appears to be then it can be enjoyed as such. Again, a lot of the jokes are winners for me: Bender’s search for comfort at the thought of impending death resulting in “Heaven” being a disappointment while reincarnation proves worth consideration is a great dig at organized religion (well, the ones that don’t tout reincarnation at least). The “Round Wheels” not including wheels is fantastic – any parent can appreciate that one. Even the “flat-Earth” undertone of the Rubber Ducks tale is amusing, not to mention the clashing of cultures resulting in all-out war. If a theme can be found amid this crazy collection, it boils down to love and death.
The main story has Leela falling madly in love with someone she barely knows, while Fry expresses his love for her in the defense of her honor (even though it may very well cost him their relationship). The death of the Prince allows Fry and Leela to resume their time-tested and long-established love. In the Windos story, Bender’s love for his friend causes him to fear death, seeking out a way to come to terms with the idea of mortality only to give his life for his friend’s rather than watch Fry die. It’s then Fry’s love for Bender that motivates him to complete the journey to the guru and discover a meaning to life and loss. The Round Wheels storyline sees unrequited love turn bitter and toxic – Zoidberg longs to build a platonic love with his coworkers, yet they spurn his attempts until he can no longer tolerate the loneliness. Death becomes a salvation as he forces each of his “friends” to join him in becoming one monstrous vehicle (again, the spiritual concept of a soul is presented as existing so long as some part of the “person” remains). Oddly though, Zoidberg’s remaining parts on his car do not constitute enough to allow him to live-on as his friends do, once his hood is destroyed the crab is dead. And finally, the Rubber Ducks tale brings it all home, with the classic star-crossed lovers. Fry duck and Leela egg just aren’t meant to be, well, not in this life anyway.
There’s also just plain old sight gags that make this episode a joy to behold. As mentioned, the interpretation of these characters as different toys is done fantastically. The callback to the scene where Fry first wakes up to “the World of [Windos]!” is a nice touch with a skewed perspective to make it fit. The different ways the Planet Express building and ship are presented in these different worlds shows the consideration that goes into these seemingly random tales. Even the method of delivery themselves is altered (though we don’t get to see the ducks delivery). An interesting note of observation: Two of the episode proper scenes end in tears, and two of the commercial stories end in crashes, while the last episode proper scene also ends in a crash. The only one that doesn’t end tragically is the ducks, because while it’s true everyone dies, the two lovers are reborn and allowed to live happily ever after.
I’m not normally a fan of surrealism. As art it can be interesting and inspiring in the way a dream can be, but as a movie/show or book I feel it comes off as too confusing to make a decent point. Barbie took a surrealist approach but made it work and I have to say Futurama succeeds in the execution as well. While my interpretation of the episode may not be everyone else’s, at least I was able to get something out of it. That’s a win for any episode, let alone one as batshit crazy as this was. I will say, of the many things that puzzled me about this episode the running gag of the cat and dog are a mystery. In one way, they tie everything together as they appear in each commercial story, but only at the very beginning and quite briefly. Still, I don’t recall seeing anything in the episode proper that explains their existence. Ah well. Tis’ a fine episode, none the less.