Yesterday's Futurama was a fun tale of robotic gangland vengeance, revealing Dr. Zoidberg's deepest insecurity, what Bender would look like as a bumpkin Moon farmer, and why even a psychopathic mafia hitman is a better friend and coworker than Bender.
"Silence of the Clamps" finds the Planet Express crew on a delivery to Long Long Island, where the Space Pope (making his speaking debut!) is presiding over the Donbot's daughter's wedding. The episode somehow gets through this without making any references to the beginning of The Godfather, but it does feature a savage clamping of Calculon by Donbot's chief clamper, who is known as Clamps. (His real name is Francis.)
Because Bender was making out with the Donbot's other daughter in the same stable where the clamping went down, he becomes a mob witness, which ultimately forces him into witness protection. The Donbot makes Clamps join Planet Express so that he can track down Bender. For all his murderous rage, Clamps is a marked improvement on Bender, but Dr. Zoidberg fears that the new employee is encroaching on his cutting turf. Things come to a head when they go to the Moon and meet Bender in his new life as a lunar hillbilly, which forces Clamps and Zoidberg into a final, clamp-heavy showdown.
"Silence of the Clamps" forms a sort of loose trilogy with the previous two entries "Ghost in the Machines" and "Law and Oracle." All three separate Bender and Fry for prolonged periods, and all of them ask, to one extent or another, just why these two are friends. And it's not as though the show has a really clear answer - "Ghost in the Machines" showed that Bender will kill Fry with only the slightest provocation, and "Law and Oracle" suggested Fry was probably better off paired with someone like URL. About all you can say after these three episodes is that Fry and Bender both have a deeply irrational, most likely insane love for each other, although Fry is the only one that displays this openly.
To some extent, they're both victims of their basic characteristics - Fry's stupidity, Bender's amorality/evilness - being ratcheted up to ever more extreme levels in the name of jokes. There are earlier episodes that really got to the heart of the Bender/Fry relationship - "Godfellas" is maybe the best example, and it's easy to forget that "Jurassic Bark" isn't just about Fry's dog - but it's hard to get at that level of emotional resonance when the characters have become so completely absurd. It's not as if the show can't still be poignant, even heartbreaking - "Lethal Inspection" and "The Late Philip J. Fry" pulled that off nicely - but I will say the Bender/Fry pairing has gotten deeply, deeply weird.
Thankfully, the episode doesn't really rely on that relationship, and it's more than funny enough to compensate for the lack of any real heart at its core. Much like "Law and Oracle", it's fun to see a supporting robot get a really meaty guest spot, and it's fun to see Clamps interact outside his usual robot mafia environment. A lot of Futurama plot lines involve characters barely disguising their real intentions, and no one barely disguises their homicidal murdering quite like Clamps, with his job non-interview a particular highlight. Then there's the big Fry/Clamps friendship montage, which really plays up Fry as the ultimate lovable sap and features the greatest possible use of The Clash's "Clampdown."
The episode also makes great use of Dr. Zoidberg, who reveals that the only reason he's kept around is his handiness with the claws. If you asked me to name pairings for climactic Futurama fight sequences, "Zoidberg and Clamps" would probably slot in somewhere below "Scruffy and Richard Nixon's head" - which I still very much hope to see happen someday - but the big showdown is very funny and beautifully animated...indeed, even when the scripts aren't quite as good as you might like, this show is still consistently gorgeous to look at. Zoidberg and Clamps also hate each other enough to indulge in multiple bleeped f-bombs, which I'm guessing the show would not have gotten away with back on Fox.
Much like "Law and Oracle", there weren't very many sci-fi concepts on display here, so this is another episode where one's enjoyment is particularly dependent on the quality of the gags. For me, this was another very amusing episode. Calculon is always a hoot, and his barely rehearsed testimony exonerating the Donbot was probably my favorite gag of the night. The robot mafia has always been one of the show's most fearlessly absurd elements, and the Donbot's daughter Bella is a great addition to an already ultra-meta clan, with her frequent demands of marriage from Bender (even as he's in the middle of making out with some floozy, namely her) and combination wedding/funeral dress being a wonderfully surreal take on mob family tropes.
Before I wrap up, a word needs to be said for Maurice LaMarche. While most of the actors on this show are marvels of vocal versatility, some episodes just seem to be set aside as showcases for LaMarche's voices. Last season, that was "Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences", which spotlighted his work as Lrrr and Orson Welles (and just bagged him an Emmy nomination). I'd estimate he provided about 70% of the voices in this episode - hell, the trial scene alone features Clamps, the Donbot, the Hyper-Chicken, Hedonism Bot, and Calculon, all of which are LaMarche voices. Basically, I've got a pretty shrewd guess which episode he'll be submitting for an Emmy next year...