Last night's Futurama was short on laughs but big on ideas and wonder, weaving a Leonardo-themed conspiracy that featured rat-powered robots, 16th century spaceships, the smartest planet in the universe, and so, so many clockwork gizmos.
There's something a bit...off about "The Duh Vinci Code." I'm not sure if it was the pacing was just a hair too slow, the staging of the jokes wasn't as sharp as usual, or the general lack of scoring robbed the episode of some of its energy, but I've watched the episode twice and still can't quite get into it. A lot of the jokes were really quite good, although it seemed as though the show was trying to stretch 80% of an above-average episode into regular length, and as such the material felt stretched very thin and consequently, not as funny.
But I'm going to leave that aside, because I don't feel like carping about an episode with such marvelous ideas at its core. Admittedly, a warmed-over Da Vinci Code parody doesn't seem all that inspiring, and Futurama's attempts to push Dan Brown's nonsensical conspiracies and unlikely leaps of logic into even more absurd territory didn't quite work, if only because the source material is pretty much self-parody anyway.
The thing is, the episode clearly didn't really care about making fun of The Da Vinci Code so much as inventing an entirely different and much more fascinating Leonardo conspiracy. (Those hoping to discover the Space Pope's dark, twisted secrets must have been sorely disappointed.) You see, Leonardo was actually a space alien from the planet Vinci, a world of scholarly super-geniuses who live for centuries. Leonardo, however, was the dumbest man on Vinci, so he went to Earth to become the smartest person and greatest inventor in the world, even if it was just some shitty backwater planet.
And what incredible inventions he left behind! There's the rodent-powered robot Animitronio, with gems for eyes and wooden stakes for legs. Disguised as an apostle in The Last Supper, he's a delightfully eccentric and only slightly murderous robot, with one of the silliest Italian accents ever and a penchant for throwing skeletons in heaps. But the real highlight is Leonardo's clockwork-driven, wing-powered interstellar spaceship. The amalgamation of several different inventions, it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen on Futurama, and a marvelous homage to the sorts of bizarre contraptions that pop up in pre-19th century proto-scifi.
After the conspicuous lack of Fry in last week's entry, I was glad to see him take centerstage in this episode, although it would have been nice if Leela had come along for the ride. (They're clearly not dating, but Leela was quite nonchalantly up for having sex in the catacombs. What the hell is their relationship right now, and do the writers know or care? And if they don't should we? But I digress.) Instead, Fry was paired off with the Professor, and I'll admit I enjoyed the results. It's easy to forget that Fry is the Professor's extremely distant ancestor, and the closest thing to family either one has. The show has never really examined how the insane but clearly brilliant Professor can even relate to someone who is quite possibly the dumbest person in the universe.
The answer: he can't, at least not without Fry demonstrating his value by selflessly and accidentally throwing himself into the gears of Leonardo's doomsday machine, saving the mega-geniuses of the planet Vinci. (Like I said, this episode has some absolutely amazing ideas.) There's a mild theme here about the dangers of intellectual superiority, something summed up by the Professor with what had to be the line of the episode: "They treat me like I'm stupider than them just because they're smarter than me!" The end of the episode featured a meeting of the minds on board Leonardo's crazy spaceship and was almost heartwarming, a charming reminder about having a good heart and making the best of what you got. That's an admirable lesson, I suppose, even if you're so dumb that you actually use a nail to hammer in other nails.