Last night's Futurama delved into Fry's relationship with his forbidding, somewhat insane father, as it proved key to preventing a deadly outbreak of the 31st century's most dreaded disease: a little something called the common cold.
"Cold Warriors" is an episode much in the vein of classics like "Luck of the Fryrish" and "Jurassic Bark", as it flips between two stories set in Fry's past and his present (or, to us, the future). Both revolve around ice-fishing and the common cold - back in 1988, young Fry catches a cold after falling through some ice on a winter fishing trip with his father. Trying to make the most of things, Fry enters a science fair where the first prize experiment will be shot into space. Fry's entry involves infect his guinea pig with the virus, and then shooting it into space to see whether cosmic rays cure the cold or something. Also, we learn Fry's predecessor as Panucci's Pizza delivery boy was some loser would-be law student named Barack, which is the sort of minor throwaway gag that I can't imagine would provoke any reactions whatsoever.
Anyway, back in the 31st century, a similar ice fishing accident gives Fry his first cold since coming to the future. This is bad news for Earth, since the virus died out 500 years ago, and there's no telling what horrific things the cold could do to a world that no longer has any immunity. (It appears it does pretty much just what colds do today, but that's besides the point.) President Nixon, Zapp Brannigan, and Sergeant General Ogden Wernstrom (WERNSTROM!!!) hatch a plan: quarantine all of Manhattan, and throw it into the Sun.
"Cold Warriors" was a pretty great episode, but then I'm generally a sucker for this sot of episode. While I wasn't crazy about last week's exploration of the Professor and Zoidberg's past, I do think the parallel storytelling approach tends to work very well for Fry. While this episode doesn't have the emotional wallop of "Luck of the Fryrish" or "Jurassic Bark" - and to be fair, it doesn't really seem to be aiming for that anyway - we do get some nice insights into Fry's past and the world we left behind.
I'm also predisposed to like this episode because I'm kind of fascinated by Fry's dad Yancy Sr. Thanks to our hero's past nastification, Yancy Sr. is also his own grandfather, and I've always wondered whether he too might eventually have some role to play in one of the mythology-driven episodes. Now, there's absolutely zero indication or acknowledgement of any of this, but it's still good to finally get some sense of Yancy Sr. as something approaching a complete character, rather than the insanely jingoistic military nutcase we've seen before
Admittedly, he's still mostly an insanely jingoistic military nutcase in this episode, but we are given some idea of the relationship he and Fry shared. He was a harsh, unforgiving father - at one point, he actually seems to briefly condone Yancy Jr. killing the cold-stricken Fry - who offered Fry pretty much zero emotional support, but all that came out of a place of love and caring, deep down. The end of the episode is a sentimental one, and it's pretty blatant emotional manipulation, but still, I'm willing to buy into that as a positive spin on the relationship Fry shared with his father.
Like I indicated earlier, "Cold Warriors" doesn't exist in the same league as "Luck of the Fryrish" or "Jurassic Bark." There's no real shame in that - "Luck of the Fryrish" is my pick for the show's second best episode, and "Jurassic Bark" is right up there too - but the fact is that there's less to learn about Fry's connection with his father than there was with his brother or his dog. With Yancy Jr., we learned that their lifelong conflict ebbed away after Fry's disappearance and Yancy Jr. finally grew up, which provided a powerful arc. And "Jurassic Bark"...well, that was just all friendship and heartbreak rolled into a big tearjerking ball.
There isn't that same journey for Fry and his dad. The big moment of understanding comes, chronologically speaking, right at the very beginning of the story after Fry felling into the ice, even if it's held back to the end of the episode. To some extent, this functions as an emotional twist, the idea being that it casts new light on the events we've seen before and gives us a new way to understand Yancy Sr.'s cruelty. But that revelation isn't quite as powerful as it needs to be for the final scene to really work, at least not on the same level as Futurama's past attempts at this sort of thing.
What does set this episode apart is the fact that the Fry flashback episode isn't purely about Fry - the entire world is in danger here, and New New York will be incinerated if Fry can't remember his past. The common cold plot makes for some good gags - Bender's general refusal to be nursemaid was fun, as was the CDC's ultra-advanced method of preserving quarantine, which involved whacking Leela with a broom - and for some awesome visuals. The idea of placing an entire city under a giant covering seemed awfully reminiscent of The Simpsons Movie, but I'll excuse any minor borrowing on the grounds that Futurama went the extra step by trying to throw Manhattan into the Sun, which is pretty awesome.
Ultimately, this feels like a really good episode of Futurama that really should have found a way to take that one last step into classic territory, if only because its spiritual predecessors were so fantastic. But it feels churlish to criticize "Cold Warriors" for that, so I'm happy to enjoy what we've got, particularly when it features one of the more gloriously delirious Buzz Aldrin cameos in an increasingly long list of gloriously delirious Buzz Aldrin cameos.