Controversial opinion I know but hear me out on this. The Late Philip J Fry is often cited by both fans and the creators of the show itself as being among the best episodes of the series.
As a story in its own right its very well written and well acted, it contains plenty of great laughs and some really touching moments too, such as Leela’s message to Fry (see above). It also has at its core a very interesting premise from both a comedic and science fiction perspective, and it features wonderful shout outs and parodies to some of the greatest sci fi stories ever told, from The Time Machine, to The Planet of The Apes, to The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy.
So with this in mind why would anyone dislike this episode. Well when you actually look at it closely you can see that it completely ruins the Fry and Leela relationship and the story of the show overall.
The story sees Fry, Bender and the Professor accidentally travel forwards too far in a machine that can only travel forward in time. Arriving in the year 4000 the three of them decide to travel further forward in the future to a point when a machine that can travel backwards is invented. Unfortunately they go too far and arrive at a point when all life is extinct on the planet earth.
Thus realizing that there is no way back the three of them decide to travel to the end of the universe itself. They survive the death of this universe and arrive in a second universe which has an identical history to our one.
They decide to travel forward to the correct point in this universe, but again arrive too late. So they decide to travel forward to the end of this universe and arrive in a third universe with the same history where they finally arrive at the correct point. Though they end up killing their duplicates in the process. Fry is reunited with this universe’s Leela.
Now as you can see the problem with this episode is that technically it kills off the characters of Leela, Zoidberg, Hermes, Amy and Cubert. All the versions of those characters that appear in future episodes are duplicates.
The first Leela who we will just call Leela-1 for the sake of practicality is not Leela-3.
Some fans have argued that it is the same Leela by stating that in Futurama time is a cycle so what happens at the end of The Late Philip J Fry is simply that they are thrown backwards in time, but sorry that isn’t the case.
The Professor states clearly that they are witnessing the creation of a new universe, not the old one they left. He also when they arrive in the third universe they eventually settle in says that this universe is several feet shorter than their own one. Thus its clearly meant to be a different universe but with the same history, therefore Leela-1 is not Leela-3. Leela-1 is dead.
Okay Leela and the others are replaced by duplicates who are exactly the same so you might think what’s the problem, but sorry for me there is still a huge problem.
Leela-3 is not Leela-1. She didn’t go through all of those past adventures with Fry like The Sting, The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings and many others. That was an entirely different character. Furthermore the Fry that she went through all of those adventures with is not the same Fry as the one she is with now. That Fry is killed by the original when he and the Professor and Bender land on and crush their duplicates.
Thus this affects future episodes for me such as Fun on the Bun when we see Fry and Leela remember past adventures from series 1-4 as technically they didn’t share them together.
You can see how that might throw a spanner into the works of the Fry and Leela relationship. It also contradicts what we saw in the season 5 opener where Fry did manage to build a Leela robot exactly like the original and wasn’t happy with her because she wasn’t his Leela. Here its exactly the same situation. His Leela is dead, but he is happy with a copy?
However whilst The Late Philip J Fry may spoil later episodes somewhat this way it has a far worse effect on previous episodes.
Its sad now whenever you watch previous episodes that are Fry and Leela heavy such as The Sting (a fave of mine) as you now know that Fry and Leela ultimately had an unhappy ending.
The Leela from that episode ended up alone. She spent her whole life almost angry at Fry for something he didn’t do and worse she ended up with Cubert. Aside from the fact that that is quite creepy. (I certainly can’t watch any episodes from season 1-4 with Leela and Cubert the same way again. Not that I liked them much anyway,) but still its quite creepy watching them and thinking that Leela and Cubert will end up having sex with one another!
Its very sad to see Leela end up with a horrible guy who mistreats her, cheats on her with her friend and then dumps her, divorces her and takes half of her well earned money.
It also at the same time ruins other characters too. Amy is made into a irredeemable bitch. She stabs her friend in the back and has an affair with her husband. Whilst Amy may have been mean to Leela in the past this I feel was a step too far and again makes you hate Amy when you watch previous episodes from season 1-4 as you think she is going to end up stabbing Leela in the back, stealing her husband and run off with her money.
Also Zoidberg is given quite an unhappy ending too as he is fired and completely forgotten about by the rest of the crew. I think this was also a bit too far as even though the others were meant to mistreat him it was always hinted that they cared for him underneath.
For all of the main characters from the first 5 seasons to have such sad endings is terrible for me.
Particularly when you see how nice things could have worked out for them in series 7. Leela does end up with Fry, a guy who really loves her for who she is, Zoidberg ends up with a woman who similarly cares for him for who he is.
For me The Late Philip J Fry is an episode that I simply have to scrub from canon in order for me to enjoy the show as a whole.
I think there is a lesson to be learned here that the worst episodes of a certain show for some fans can be ones that change the storyline in a certain way. An episode that is just bad, boring or dull like That’s Lobstertainment can just be dismissed and forgotten about, but one like The Late Philip J Fry which actually might be a good story, brilliant even in a number of ways can still be viewed in a more negative light by a fan like me.
If I had my way Fry would have just travelled forward in time in universe 3 to when the machine that could travel backwards in time was invented and used it to go back to the correct point in universe 1 and be reunited with that version of Leela. Leela-1 is the Leela I wanted to see in the series finale marry Fry, not some clone from another universe.
Though I liked the series finale seeing Fry and Leela have a great life together I still felt unhappy with it thanks solely to The Late Philip J Fry. Due to that one episode it is established that that wasn’t the Leela from series 1-4, the whole original series run, that was in that episode. She’d been dead for trillions of years. It was simply her clone that had actually spent most of her life with a Fry clone that our Fry killed in cold blood that had that happy ending.
I wonder what her reaction would be if someone dug up the original Fry that she had actually fallen in love with’s corpse.
Exactly why I don’t like The Late Philip J Fry either -.- did the writers have a bad week and decide to use their characters as punching bags or something?
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So glad there is someone else that doesn’t like this episode. Its not just the fact that they make them have horrible lives but the way they make them horrible to each other. Leela just fires Zoidberg, Amy stabs Leela in the back. Its annoying thinking that’s how they ended up the versions of those characters from the first 5 years
I’ve never accepted the tragically-popular notion that one shouldn’t “think” too much about TV shows, especially comedies, but should either relax and enjoy them or just stop watching. So I agree with your criticisms.
FWIW, this episode didn’t turn me off entirely to “Futurama”, but it was indeed a come-down and part of a general cooling-off process for me. I was a devoted fan until the series got dumber and more crass in the last couple of seasons.
Speaking of long-winded rants nobody wants to hear, I have one about the way even the best shows, especially comedies, decline and eventually self-destruct in their final season(s). That’s the short version.
One universal element in this sort of decline is what I term the writers “cannibalizing” the characters. By this I mean that their flaws and darker aspects are magnified; in a nutshell, characters become dumber, meaner, and nastier to each other– exactly as “Burrunjor” points out.
I understand the comedy-writing principle that “evil is funny”, “pain is funny”, etc. For me, that works up to a point– but when the writers cross a line, as in this episode and later ones, it permanently damages my appreciation of the series.
Apparently we’re the exceptions, though. Over the years, I’ve found that family and friends don’t seem to be bothered, much less creeped out, when TV characters turn thoroughly rotten and/or episodes shatter long-standing character traits and situations beyond repair.
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it’s just a tv show who the hell cares about your opinion. The universe is identical, meaning exactly the same, you twat. It might technically mean different people, but they still love each other, and you are just assuming that cubert was a bad husband.
Well Cubert did cheat on Leela and take her money, plus based on what we see of him he doesn’t seem that great a guy. Remember Zoidberg “he’s a terrible person”.
Also whilst they are identical they are ultimately not the same person. I don’t think its so unreasonable to think that’s a bad idea to replace a character with a clone. The clone saga in Spider-Man similarly was badly received for doing that in the 90’s (and later retconned).
Really this is like a much better written Clone Saga. Also technically the man this Leela loved was killed in cold blood by Fry.
I don’t know something bothers me about this. It’s the same person but not the same… Soul?
Well Bob Douchebag…the point is the real Leela died…she never got a happy ending. If you care about the characters that would make you sad.
I know I’m wayyy late to the party, but I like to think about this episode the same way I think about The Simpsons “Threehouse of Horror”; not completely “cannon”. Really puts my mind at eaze and helps me sleep at night.
Great article by the way, you make some solid points
Are you trying to ruin futurama or something?
This was one of the best episodes and you had to go into the nitty gritty pointless minuscule facts which don’t matter. Who cares if it ain’t the same Lela? Not me you fucking that. If he loves loves her he loves her. Fuck a duck you fucking assailed Shit arse.
Just because you’re too stupid to think Gay…doesn’t mean everybody else is.
The nature of the characters is changed by the absence of Bender, Fry and The Professor. So the timeline depicted is only a possibility. When The Professor responds to Fry on the meaning of life, wasn’t the universe really answering with the big bang? There isn’t a second or third universe or Leela for that matter. I posit hey are one and the same, born from the same Human Spirit that exploded the cosmos. The proof is the need for the paradox correction.
edit: Emphasizing the universal paradox point as well as the spiritual aspect, in addition to the time machine appearing 10′ above the old one it was also 3′ to the right of it. Why? It could have appeared the moment they left and dropped down exactly where the old one was but it didn’t. The spatial existence of the time machine was constant. The universe moved to correct for the paradox. Again, there would be no need for a paradox if they were clones or copies as evidenced in Rebirth.
I think of it this way, after the “Late Phillip J Fry” Fry and Leela’s relationship is reset. In “That Darn Katz” Leela says she doesn’t have a man. I imagine she senses the rift between her and the Fry from two universes ago. For her, Fry is the equivalent of a person after a serious head injury, there might be just enough different that she has to reconnect with him. It might also explain why Fry says their time together in “Meanwhile” was a little lonely for him. He has lost everyone he has ever known (including Leela) twice before. Leela can chalk their differences up to her ebbing and flowing doubts of Fry, he can’t.
Faux intellectualism, intentionally self-aggrandizing yet self-depressive.
The concept of time travel and that the universe is cyclical, either physically or historically, is not factual. It is entirely fictional or artistic, or theoretical, if you truly believe it. You supposition to argue it either way holds no more merit than someone else’s. Why? Well, I am glad your pretentious, unhappy self asked.
Farnsworth describes as “the second Big Bang,” verbatim. He never once described it as the “creation of a new universe” as you put it, verbatim. Indeed, everyone can agree with his observation that “this universe is exactly identical to the old one.” Your authoritative disagreement is rooted in a misguided confidence of your knowledge on the physical nature of the Big Bang; those who have an open mind and a suspended sense of disbelief are not so arrogant with the known unknowns as to present a fraudulent view of reality as fact. Nobody knows the true nature of the birth of the universe.
This is all disregarding the laughable suggestion that even with the exact “same history” (verbatim), that Leela-3 has nothing in common with Fry-1 when we already agreed they share the exact set of history beyond Fry’s excursion to the future. If you want to argue about the existence of a soul or some other spiritual belief, just come out and say it. Don’t waste people’s time simply because the same exact molecules MIGHT not (ignoring the equally valid artistic interpretations for cyclical time and/or Everettian quantum superposition of the states of the universe) be in Leela-1 as they are in Leela-3.
To your other point, Robot Fry WAS happy with the Robot Leela he built, knowingly, with his human consciousness. The only reason he stopped kissing it was because its human doppelganger came back and complicated the matter with two Leelas. And if you’re going to pedantically argue another fictional plot device, that the consciousness was not identical in their corresponding robot bodies, the point is moot because the real Fry was never given a choice between the two: he first appeared only at the end of the episode. I invite you to watch “Rebirth” again so you are not arguing out of your ass.
To your last point about the evolution of characters once Fry, Farnsworth, and Bender disappeared, have you never heard of “nature versus nurture”? Did you notice Cubert became an unproductive slob as an adult? Do you think that he was always meant to be that way, or with Farnsworth as his parental guardian he would have become a bright and active person? With Farnsworth as Amy’s boss, lifelong mentor, and former doctoral advisor? With Fry as all of their upbeat friend? Of course the characters became different when characters central to their lives vanished. Beyond that, your expectation that characters, fictional or real, will always behave consistently with their immediate public personae is childish and will ultimately lead to some heartbreaking revelations for you. People change, and human nature is historically and demonstrably both good and evil.
This story took artistic liberties and, like all good art, revealed a lot about the person interpreting it. You are a sad, sad person who hates your own self to no end and yet is eager to share that hatred with the rest of the world. We care little for it.
It’s funny because your final statement reveals the same thing about you.
I appreciate the depth and the detail of thought that you’ve put into these things. It was an interesting read. I agree that they do matter, and a future Leela technically is different, but sometimes in cartoons a new episode is the same thing as a clean slate. The following episodes could be intended to be seen as the original characters.
This episode pretty much killed the revival for me. And it was iffy to begin with.
I can’t believe your getting such aggressive posts from some people.
There is no way around it. In the end all but 3 members of rhe cast died and we are supposed to be happy becaue they are replaced by ” identical ” versions. That’s screwed . Far more so because Fry killed his equivalent self
Making it even worse is it creates a level of deciet in their relationship going forward (granted I imagine the rest of the series ignores the episode).
It’s awful all-around.
I’ve always liked the episode but I do have to agree it’s quite poignant to think that the original Leela dies after a miserable life like that and the original Fry will never realise that the Leela he ended up with was not HIS Leela.
People try to frame this episode as reflecting that Fry and Leela’s relationship was so strong that not even the end of the universe could keep them apart, which is just not true, because the end of the universe is ironically what kept Fry from ever having any chance of going back to his original Leela ever again.