I’m going to start off by saying I hate Dune, which is what this episode is mostly a parody of, but with that being said I did not hate this episode. “Parasites Regained” is a surprise sequel to an episode entitled “Parasites Lost.” In that adventure, Fry gets worms which make him super-intelligent and basically improve him in every possible way but he chooses stupidity in the end. He ultimately worries that Leela’s affection for him is more about what the worms have made him and not about him. It fits into a theme Futurama has explored before about how intelligence can be a curse whereas mediocrity or even just above average smarts may lead to a happier life.
“Parasites Regained” looks at the flip side of this. Leela’s boyfriend, Fry, is essentially an idiot. When she asks him to see an alien film with her (their version of a foreign film complete with subtitles), he blows her off saying how he doesn’t like to watch a movie that would force him to look up from his phone. While the joke is spot on, I will agree that I’m not a fan of going to the movies to read – it takes me out of the experience. Still, Leela’s offer is picked up by her best friend, Nibbler (Frank Welker who also voices the pygmy hyena moles that show up later). Nibbler – for those new to the show – is a highly intelligent, voracious little creature that poops starship fuel. He can also talk, which Leela keeps forgetting somehow even though he plays games with her regularly, many of which seem to involve actual speech. I guess even the brilliant have their blindsides, right?
After the movie Leela discovers that Nibbler is sick – he has worms and though the vet (voiced by David Herman who also plays The Lord Mayor of Colon among others) gave him medicine the worms have infested his litter-box so every time he uses it, he is re-infected. The worms are causing Nibbler to become gradually stupider until eventually he will be a complete idiot. The sand in the litter box is sacred to Nibbler meaning it can’t just be thrown out, problem solved. Luckily, the Professor is happy to shrink everyone down to a size that will allow them to go into the litter box and fight the worms directly. It’s here that the episode dives into the Dune parody hard. The worms become sandworms, and locals who help out the gang are Dung beetles – sorry, correction: Doon-g beetles (the g is almost silent), there’s even Spice in the form of Glitter, complete with hallucinogenic properties. And of course, spitting. Because, you know the whole moisture thing (it’s a dessert world where water is precious to the point that spilling it as a “greeting” is a sign of respect). I do want to acknowledge some fun facts here: Kyle MacLachlan and Ego Nwodim voice two of the main beetles, and for you Dune/David Lynch fans – MacLachlan played Paul Atreides in the original Dune, nice get, eh?
Ultimately, we learn that the sandworms, which had for most of the episode appeared to be huge creatures with giant mouths, are in fact the worms who had invaded Fry’s body! They form into the giant worm for…reasons? Interesting note: once this reveal is made, they never make the giant worms again for the rest of the episode, but that’s fine, there’s enough Dune parody here to survive the loss of sandworms. And, while the gang recognizes the worms, the worms don’t share the same reaction. Instead, we get a good old-fashioned battle – probably my favorite part of this episode as it showcases a lot of fun kill shots proving that war-prowess is its own kind of intelligence.
In the scuffle a huge cloud of Glitter finds its way to Nibbler who then shrinks himself down to stop the fighting. He’s had a vision – everything is interconnected in the great web of life and he is happy to sacrifice his intelligence in service to it. And, though Leela and the gang initially respect his wishes, Leela can’t stop wondering what he could have seen to make him lose himself. She returns to the Doon-g land in hopes of finding answers in the Glitter and kind of gets them. See, Nibbler was right that everything is interconnected, but he missed a key detail: the worms are infested with mites who are weakening them. Fry makes the semi-cogent argument that isn’t that part of the whole web of blah, blah, blah? But, Leela counters with an equally astute observation, there has to be a limit. If there are layers upon layers upon layers it’s too many layers! The mites have got to go!
Cue a gleeful sequence where everyone is stamping out the mites (a hilariously simple solution to a realistically microscopic problem), thus allowing the worms to improve Nibbler’s mind instead of destroying it. All’s well that ends well as Nibbler curls up in Leela’s arms for the conclusion of this adventure.
As a sequel to one of the more beloved Futurama episodes, “Parasites Regained” has a lot to live up to, but I like that the show isn’t bogged down by this. Instead, it treats the reappearance of the worms as almost a throw away, until later when Leela wonders why the worms aren’t making Nibbler smarter. And, though it appears that Nibbler chooses a different path from Fry ultimately, his intelligence is restored.
For me, this episode was really fun. It took great shots at the idea of “signs of intelligence” like, enjoying foreign films, various kinds of cheese, and…uh…not being from Boston. Along with “signs of stupidity” such as liking American cheese, not being able to predict the end of an M. Night Shyamalan movie, and of course…preferring Tic-Tac-Toe to 3-D Wordle. And it provided some solid Dune parody – which is saying something for someone who could care less about Dune. But my favorite thing was probably how many hilarious throw-away jokes they got in. The Professor coming in to say “Sad news!” only to be pleased to see everyone is already crying, the desert directions were fantastic, and the two times Bender busted out the ole’ soft-shoe were highly enjoyable. Not to mention the sly dig at organized religion and straight-white-males being messiahs.
Overall, I liked this episode. Did it touch my heart as much as “Parasites Lost”? No, but again, those are some big shoes to fill. To me it stayed true to the original message of that episode, which is don’t be someone you’re not just to please someone else (in Fry’s case it was hyper-intelligent to win Leela’s heart, for Nibbler it was becoming brainless to keep “balance” in the universe). I think it’ll hold up well in time.