Worshipers? This ought to liven up my endless tragic voyage.
March 19, 2002
Who doesn’t like space pirates? Well, most sci-fi writers and fans, I guess. Gene Roddenberry flat-out forbade any space-pirate plots on Star Trek, and once he kicked off Rick Berman wasted no time in putting out a space pirate story (a two-parter, no less). Then there was The Ice Pirates, an 80s space comedy of which I have unpleasant but mercifully meager memories, and which would suggest that even to parodists, the subject matter is pretty much fallow. In any event, tonight’s episode starts with a space pirate attack, done in bravura Futurama style: the pirate fleet has actual rigging and sails and fires old-fashioned cannonballs that put some pretty serious dimples in the Planet Express’s hull. The pirates get off one good line – “Too late I realize that me children are me only real treasures” – before getting blown up by the Planet Express’s weapons. Well, actually by Bender, who curled up for a nap in the torpedo tube: he’s fired into the pirate ship and goes reeling off into space, beyond the reach of a horrified Leela and Fry, who can only watch helplessly.
Bender eventually slows himself, and drifts. Not much happens for a while. Space, it turns out, is awfully silent and awfully empty, and it struck me, watching this silly cartoon, how rarely even legitimate science fiction lets you feel the vastness of space; there’s always sweeping music and grinding engines and weapons firing, when the reality is just endless, unchanging monotony. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones and a civilizations starts growing on your outer chassis.
Bender eventually fosters not one but two microcosmic civilizations, one fore and one aft. The frontmost civilization worships him as a god (they supply him with beer), the aftmost thinks there is no Bender and that the other culture is made up of rubes ripe for the picking. Bender’s attempts to intervene only worsen the situation, and when he leaves them to their own devices, they promptly exterminate each other. He’s alone again–for a while.
Soon he runs across a remarkable being, a galaxy-like intelligence that meets most of the important characteristics of God: all-knowing, all-seeing, endless and eternal. He consoles Bender, who is wracked by guilt over his failure to preserve the creatures who worshipped him. The best approach to being God, God informs him: Do just enough so that no one can be sure you’re doing anything. Think about that, then think about our own civilization and its clumsy, groping quest to understand the divine. Has there been a wiser insight into the nature of divine worship on a prime-time sitcom? I think not. And they want to cancel this program.