Episode Title: "Ghost in the Machines"
Writer: Patric M. Verrone
Director: Ray Claffey
In this episode, Bender dies!
No, really he does… and within the first few minutes too. After watching Fry (Billy West) choose to save a human over a robot, Bender (John DiMaggio) becomes incensed that his friend values human life more than robot life and elects to commit suicide in one of the many suicide booths around the city. Unfortunately, the suicide booth Bender chooses turns out to be one that he previously dated. And she makes sure that his latest suicide attempt actually works this time.
Forced to exist as a robot ghost in robot limbo, Bender makes a deal with the Robot Devil (Dan Castellaneta) to regain his corporeal body in exchange for scaring Fry to death. And if he doesn't follow through, Bender will spend eternity in robot hell.
Towards that end, Bender uses his newfound ability to possess machines and continuously attack Fry. At one point, even Reverend Lionel Preacherbot (Phil LaMarr) shows up in a great callback to the original "Exorcist." And yet Bender still nearly succeeds in causing Fry to die after one last heart attack sends Fry into exile from Earth to avoid technology. So Fry catches the first ship to the planet of the Amish.
Yes, I said planet of the Amish… the Space Amish to be exact. They were one of the best new gags to come along on "Futurama" in a while and I loved their wooden carriage space ships. Even Fry's attempt to speak in the Amish way was funny. The return of the Robot Devil was also welcome, as was the apparent grudge against Fry that the Robot Devil is still holding against him from the fourth season finale. I love continuity shout outs like that.
But there is an emptiness about this episode that I can't quite shake. It's surprisingly average and the comedy wasn't as strong as it usually is. "Futurama" has used the mortality of its cast to great effect before. However, Bender's demise never quite feels as tragic or emotional as it could have. I think that the lighter tone by Patric Verrone was intentional. But that decision keeps the episode from reaping the drama from Bender's death the way that Fry's previous death resonated in "The Sting" or the all-time sadness found at the end of "Jurassic Bark."
There are a few good character beats when Bender realizes just about how much that Fry cared about him. That was a fitting touchstone for their friendship and it was also amusing to watch Bender follow Fry around on the planet and pantomiming the chores as a way to feel included. Bender and Fry's subsequent reunion was also a good moment, especially when Fry used his brain for once and figured out that Bender was behind his hauntings.
"Ghost in the Machines" is enjoyable enough, but I'm still waiting for "Futurama" to really knock an episode out of the park the way that the show normally does. This is the kind of episode that the "Futurama" writers can do in their sleep. I just want to see them aim higher.
Crave Online Rating: 7 out of 10.