Futurama’s robot riddle is the show’s most powerful metaphor
Futurama, while largely focused on silly sci-fi comedy, is a show somewhat defined by an undercurrent of philosophical consideration and contemplation. The show delved into questions about faith, time, fate and love – while highlighting the kind of philosophy needed to survive in a wild and strange world.
Futurama is the kind of series where even throwaway characters can have a deeper meaning and connection to the themes of the series. The Robot Mafia is a quirky group of characters, but the fact that they even exist – seemingly from their autonomy and decision-making – speaks to one of the best elements of the series.
by Futurama robots are a unique addition to the universe. The modern incantation of them was devised by Professor Farnsworth (as revealed in Season 4’s “Crimes of the Hot”) at Mom’s request. The ultra-wealthy business mogul has retained control of most of the robots (as evidenced in Season 2’s “Mother’s Day”), though she has allowed many of them to generally perform roles. regularly around the world. Many were built by Mom’s Friendly Robot Company (which at one point even employed Hermes). Soon, robots filled nearly every profession in the universe, from construction to public safety to entertainment. Some malfunctioned and went rogue, like Robot Santa Claus (who embarked on an annual killing spree against the “bad guys”, a corrupted version of his programming). But other bots seem to be able to resist their programming and do something else instead, as their actions are downright criminal.
The Robot Mafia, a recurring group introduced in Season 2 “Bender Gets Made”, is likely by Futurama most cohesive group of criminal characters. Donbot, Clamps, and Joey Mousepad (who shares a performer with Bender) are featured at least once a season after their introduction, often committing crimes and somehow clashing with the Planet Express Crew. Their influence is so powerful and extensive that they can fully assassinate a judge in plain sight in “The Silence of the Clamps” of season 6 without any consequences. If modern robots of Futurama are relatively recent creations, so the Robot Mafia would apparently be part of this generation designed by Mom’s Friendly Robot Company. The question then arises: why has anyone ever built a criminal robot? What function could a “Donbot” actually perform for the world? It seems then that quite openly stupid Robot Mafia might be another example of the show’s most enduring emotional threads.
Robots are shown throughout the show dealing with issues of free will versus their programming which forms a major aspect of the show’s subplots. This extends to breeding (something Bender does himself in Season 7’s “The Bots and the Bees,” leading up to the birth of his son Ben). Bender also proves that robots can act of their own volition, a major aspect of character development throughout the series. He’s not the only robot to do this – Calculous’ original form being a claw used for building cars in season 2’s ‘The Honking’. Calculon has revealed that he became an actor though his programming is something different, a hint that robots even beyond Bender can change their fates.
The robot mafia is the most important proof of this, because it is much more likely that they were designed for something else and chose a life of crime. The Donbot is arguably one of the most independent robots in the series. Like Bender, Donbot actually ended up having a wife and two daughters, gaining an entire family (several of whom have relationships with Bender over the course of the series), suggesting greater free will for the criminal than most – he’s just ready to act on it. The Robot Mafia choose be criminals.
While it’s a morally dubious decision, it’s also one that speaks to the show’s ultimate message. It seems that the robot mafia has effectively taken over the criminal underworld of Futurama – even claiming to be “duly elected” as a criminal union connection in season 3’s “Bend Her”. This suggests that they have risen within the robot community, beyond their programming – making decisions selfish and stupid like Bender, truly establishing their free will. The importance of free will and active personal growth is a major theme of the show, and one of the show’s weirdest elements quietly underscores how important it is to the entire universe.