After Kif, his second in command finally has enough abuse and lodges a formal complaint, the insanely toxic Brannigan (Billy West) is sentenced to 8 hours of mandatory sensitivity training following an official hearing featuring two beloved Futurama characters (the overly permissive Judge, and the southern chicken lawyer). This loss leads to DOOP reaching out to Leela and offering her a position as a pilot, which comes at a perfect time for the as of late stuck-in-a-rut, “only best employee of the month” Planet Express Captain. However, both Zapp and Leela’s stories take some surprising turns.
Zapp’s sensitivity teacher is a strange-looking man by the name of Dr. Gary Kind (John DiMaggio, usually the voice of Bender, who doesn’t appear much in this episode), who at first blush seems to be exactly that, until he puts his three charges through lots of torture before revealing himself to be a maniacal cancelled captain himself. He tricks Zapp and the other three ex-captains into stealing a DOOP ship, firing on Zapp’s former command post, The Nimbus, and then threatens to befoul a nascent civilization’s precious natural resource all in the name of revenge. His rage towards “wokeism” results in his ultimate demise, but ironically this is only possible because once the 8 hours is complete, he is reinstated as a DOOP captain.
Leela, in her first assignment as a DOOP captain, takes The Nimbus to a planet on a peace mission. But, she quickly learns the treaty DOOP desperately wants the planet’s Queen (Qing Airee as voiced by Tress MacNeille) to sign is nothing more than a trick to gain exclusive rights to their natural resource (air). Leela’s morals aren’t pleased by the deception, and the planet’s people are exceptionally handsy making their customs cringe-worthy to her. Still, before she’s forced to compromise herself, Kind and his kidnapped crew appear to wreak havoc. Ordered to fire on Dr. Kind, Leela refuses as it may kill innocent bygropers. Instead, she heroically saves the air from a stinky fruit, earning a Medal of Valor before being dishonorably discharged for disobeying the DOOP President’s command to shoot Dr. Kind. Back at Planet Express, Fry comforts Leela by telling her she’s the best her, while Zoidberg asks for consent before licking the remaining durian fruit off her face.
Overall, this was a fine episode. Some of my favorite jokes throughout this series have come thanks to Zapp Branigan’s over-inflated sense of sensuality. The character is clearly meant to be a fun jab at William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, having a similar cadence and sexual aggression whenever the female sex is present. What makes him endearing instead of repulsive are the brief moments of self-awareness Zapp can display. Here, though he initially offers many of the same excuses workplace abusers typically invoke (“it was just a joke!”, “it was a different time!”, etc), by the end of the episode his vow to be a kinder captain feels sincere – even if we know he’s unlikely to stick to it. Which is a shame for Kif, who suffers the most at Zapp’s hands, though perhaps having Dr. Kind shower on the bridge was traumatic enough for Zapp to never do it again, Kif can hope at least.
As we’re discussing Zapp and his poor behavior, it begs the question of how he hasn’t been reprimanded before. Well, DOOP is a pretty messed up organization, as shown in this episode. Although it bucks the sexist trend by having all its male members wear skirts, and all female members wear pants, the actual “mission” of the organization is revealed to be fairly horrible. This helps to explain why someone as dimwitted as Zapp is made a captain, while a more sensible intelligence like Kif, is sidelined to second in command. Consider that independently minded Leela loses her brief employment as a captain not for being bad at the job, but for valuing life over the mission objective – in this case, duping an entire planet into signing away the rights to their own natural resource. The fact that the planet’s inhabitants happen to be tailor made for someone of Zapp’s particular hands-on approach to diplomacy has a kind of needless convenience to it. Yes, it’s funny, but in general, Zapp’s behavior cannot possibly be conducive to smooth inter-planetary relations.
Great jokes also elevate this episode. Zapp’s insanely inappropriate behavior, including taking a “thinking” shower on the bridge for all to see (resulting in the usage of 3 years’ worth of stored water), using Kif as a loofa, and then later a towel, massaging the judge’s shoulders at his hearing while having no problem telling her she should smile more, and just his general incompetence throughout is amazing. The man does not conclude that the best weapon against a ship made out of fire would be a water cannon, and once he does, he stumbles into using Kif’s “blood” instead because he’s wasted all the ship’s water. The court scene alone is priceless with the Judge allowing anything and everything, resulting in the country chicken lawyer (named The Hyper-Chicken and voiced by Maurice LaMarche) being both defense and prosecuting attorneys. Leela’s fear of stagnation compared to Hermes commendation of it, the point driven home by a series of saddening photos accompanying her “Only Employee of the Month” plaque. Zapp’s fellow sensitivity trainees include a flasher who exposes others to a bright light in his chest (Flashnut voiced by David Herman), and a woman who throws food at her subordinates (affectionately “named” Cranky Captain voiced by Kathy Griffin) when angry. I especially loved the throw-away joke that referenced the Professor’s smell-o-scope.
To me this felt like a solid Futurama episode, which, for the record, is how this resurrection process tends to go. The first maybe couple of episodes create a rocky start but once the creative ball gets rolling the show starts feeling comfortably like itself. I’m looking forward to the penultimate episode next week.