Episode Title: "Free Will Hunting"
Writer: David X. Cohen
Director: Frank Marino
Prior to "Free Will Hunting," there probably weren't many "Futurama" fans who would argue that Bender (John DiMaggio) doesn't have free will. Bender has almost always seemed to have had an abundance of free will that led him to defy the laws of man and nature. If anything, Bender is largely free of morality and he is usually unhindered by compassion or genuine emotion.
Yet when Hyper-Chicken (the infamous Chicken lawyer voiced by Maurice LaMarche) offers a brilliant defense (for the first time ever) that gets Bender off the legal hook, it crushes Bender because the argument was based on the notion that Bender can only act in accordance to his programming… thus he isn't free to make his own choices.
The first act was particularly strong, as Bender makes a series of life choices that lead him back into court. In the course of a single day, Bender goes from college student to gang member with a drug-like addiction and a heavy debt to the Robot Mafia. Bender even prostitutes himself to Hedonismbot just to get a hit from his robot drug. In short, it was a very bad day that Bender would gladly have taken ownership of… if he thought that he was free to make his own decisions.
Hilariously, the robot judge doesn't initially buy Hyper-Chicken's defense of Bender… moments before his programming kicks in and forces a verdict of not guilty. It's an interesting tact for the series to take and it implies that Hedonismbot, the Robot Mafia, Calculon and all of the other robot characters were built specifically for their vocations, even if that meant a life of orgies, crime and acting. This idea troubles Bender so much that he immerses himself in a group of robot monks who embrace their lack of free will. There's even a side trip that takes Bender to the robot homeworld, where he is equally unhappy with the lack of choices presented to him.
Bender's only hope is a fabled free will upgrade supposedly developed by the evil Mom years ago. By the time that Fry (Billy West) and Leela (Katey Sagal) reenter the story, they're casually sleeping together when Bender forcibly recruits them for a break in at Mom's headquarters. After "Fun on a Bun," it's nice to see that Fry and Leela's relationship wasn't just ignored again… at least right away.
Eventually, Bender learns that the free will upgrade was a supposedly failed innovation from none other than Professor Farnsworth (West) himself. And upon confronting the Professor with a ray gun, Bender finally gets the free will he always wanted (for the duration of this story)… and he promptly uses his newfound freedom to shoot the Professor several times with the ray gun. Thus, when Bender is found guilty of attempted murder, he gladly accepts his conviction as he is dragged away by robot bailiffs.
"Futurama" has previously ventured into philosophical territory before to great effect, particularly in "Godfellas;" which dealt with the nature of God (or something very much like God). But there was an emptiness in the telling of "Free Will Hunting" and the story just didn't seem to have any real heart behind it.
Which isn't to say that there weren't several funny points throughout, particularly Bender's brief time with the gang and his ill-fated attempt to rob the local girl scouts. But largely, this still felt more like an outline for an episode as opposed to an episode in of itself.
"Free Will Hunting" isn't a bad episode, but it is just slightly above average. And I'm a little concerned that the first half of "Futurama" season 7 is nearly over and the show hasn't hit any home runs this year. As a whole, "Futurama" is still a very good show. Hopefully, it can also be great again.