Animation archives Sci-fi

Futurama and the curious case of the Physical File Archive

A scene from the episode, courtesy of Morbotron.

Recently, I watched Season 6, episode 6 of Futurama, titled “Lethal Inspection,” which clearly has a different feel from the episodes of season 4, which ended with”The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings“, if we go by production order of episodes. I mention this because archives are a major part of the episode, as Samantha Cross of POP Archives notes in her short review, writing that this episode, which aired in July 2010, written by Eric Horsted and directed by Ray Claffey, Bender discovers he was built without a backup unit and can die, like his human friends, so he works together with Hermes to seek out the “inspector who originally approved him, despite knowing his flaw but desiring revenge.” The archive itself, she writes, comes about when in their search for the mysterious Inspector #5, they cannot find anything on him in the Central Bureaucracy’s digital database, so they search the physical files, consisting of “a single filing cabinet in the middle of a very large, empty space.” This means, she writes, that the physical archive is “located in an out-of-way, nondescript location” but this could also “describe the entire Central Bureaucracy.” Cross is, she admits, “quite tickled at the image of Bender shaking his fist at a sign that says “Archives”” and still includes it atop the banner to her Twitter account (or at least she used to).

While she makes a good point, there is much more to this episode. Apart from the funny wise-cracks to this episode, it not only connects to previous ones like “How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back” in that it is a criticism of bureaucracy “gone mad,” but it does not paint archives necessarily positively. However, it does bring up tampering with archives and archival materials once again, which was a theme in the 1990s films which I talked about. This is especially the case since Hermes tampers with the records in order to conceal that he is actually inspector #5 (including later destroying the record in an incinerator), which Bender somehow doesn’t figure out. Still, this part about the physical file archive, from the episode, in the central bureaucracy still is funny:

Hermes: The information we need will be here, in the physical files.

Bender: [Rolling up his “sleeves”] Those bastards won’t know what leafed through them. [Hermes opens the door and they run inside, looking around. There is only one filing cabinet with three drawers] It’s on!

Hermes: [He opens the drawer and it knocks Bender down. Hermes looks through the files.] No! This is impossible! Quit blacking out and look at this. Inspectors 1, 2, 3, 4… 6. There’s no trace of Inspector 5!

Bender: But 5’s the one we want. Maybe if I kicked the asses of Inspector 2 plus Inspector 3…

Hermes: Addition never solve anything, man. Let’s cut our losses and go home.

The theme of archives is a strong one in the episode’s plotline, although it is not mentioned at all in the reviews of the episode by Zack Handlen of A.V. Club, Sean Gandert of Paste, or Merrill Barr’s review. Even so, I agree that the episode is one of the more hilarious ones of that season, that I have seen so far. IMDB is the most honest about the episode, describing it accurately as: “Bender discovers that he has no backup capabilities–meaning that he is mortal, and he and Hermes travel to Mexico so that he can take out his frustrations on his inspector.” Although, one review says that “Bender is helped by Hermes in navigating the Central Bureaucracy’s records” but does not mention archives specifically. [1] Brad Houston countered this a bit, saying that the physical archive was “a records center because it contains records that are still semi-active,” not a physical archive, but not expanding on the topic further, unfortunately.


[1] This IndieWire article argues that the following episodes as the most touching of the series: “Near-Death Wish” (S7e10), “The Sting” (s4e12), “Lethal Inspection” (s6e6), “Love and Rocket” (s4e3), “The Late Philip J. Fry” (s6e7), “Leela’s Homeworld” (s4e2), “Game of Tones” (s7e23), “Time Keeps On Slippin’”(s3e14), “The Luck of the Fryrish” (s3e4), and “Jurassic Bark” (s5e7)

By histhermann

Marylander with MLIS who loves archives, libraries, genealogy, reviewing pop culture, and writing fictional stories. UMD '19 & SMCM '16 grad. I've been running various WordPress blogs for a while now, about genealogy, libraries, archives, and more.

5 replies on “Futurama and the curious case of the Physical File Archive”

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