After The Simpsons, one of main things that Matt Groening and David X. Cohen wanted for the cast of Futurama was a gang of misfits young enough to hook up, go on dates and fall in love without requiring weird flashbacks. It’s a constant element of the show, but as Futurama winds down it felt the need to do something truly unexpected: give Dr. Zoidberg a happy romantic ending. If Futurama finally stays gone, which seems its most likely fate at this point, it’s a sweet bone to throw the beloved, oft-maligned doctor, even if it’s not a particularly impressive episode.
In fact, “Stench and Stenchibility” felt so intentionally low-stakes and low commitment that it was almost refreshing after last week’s bold adventure. Half of the episode is devoted to a rather straightforward love affair between Zoidberg and a beautiful human played by Emilia Clarke (Daenerys on Game of Thrones) that’s very simple and not particularly memorable—and the same could also be said for her character. Anyone with a sense of smell is repulsed by Zoidberg, but Clarke’s character Marianne has no sense of smell and finds herself enchanted by his, err, rustic charms. Or something. It still doesn’t make that much sense, but whatever. They fall in love, and Zoidberg realizes that he should do the right thing and use his doctoring skills, such as they are, to give her a new nose and an ability to smell. But due to, frankly, a kind of ridiculous reason, she loves his smell and stays with him and they live happily ever after. Seriously.
The other half of the episode was, if anything, even smaller, focusing as it did on a local, three-block radius tap dance tournament Bender joins. His main competitor is a little girl with a heart condition, but because he’s Bender, he’s determined to win at any cost. He doesn’t, because the girl is even more underhanded than he is. Yet after he inadvertently brings her back to life, they find friendship in tap dancing and a desire to profit from misery. It’s just as simple as the other half of the episode, though no less ridiculous, and ends on an equally happy note, a strange rarity for Futurama.
In the same way that Zoidberg’s half of the episode is meant as a twist to the usual story of his failures, Bender’s is a twist on the many plots focused around his obsessions. Because of this, there’s little here for casual fans of Futurama to enjoy, as it’s mostly meta-commentary on the show and its characters, mixed with a side of wish fulfillment. It also wasn’t the funniest episode, but “Stench” was warm-hearted and seemed to revel in the quaintness of its storylines. For a show that can go anywhere and do anything, it took place in a normal time frame and focused on a romance that occurred right outside the characters’ front door and a dance competition so local it might as well not exist.
Like most of this final stretch of episodes, “Stench” also didn’t feel in any way rote, despite its lack of scope. Neither story really interacted, nor featured subplots, but there was a sort of joy you could see in taking everything down to this tiny, personal level and very basic storytelling. Futurama’s writers knew exactly what they were doing, and while their project wasn’t nearly as exciting as most of crew’s more creative adventures, it was strangely fulfilling nonetheless.