Television

The Death of Seymour the Dog

Futurama writer Eric Kaplan explains the most soul-crushing scene in cartoon history—and learns that the show later undid it.

Still of an old decrepit dog from the end of the Futurama episode "Jurassic Bark" playing on a TV
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Pituk Loonhong/iStock/Getty Images and FOX.

This interview is part of a series about the 50 greatest fictional deaths of all time. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Slate: I don’t think there is a single death on this list that made me more mad when I first experienced it than Seymour’s. What was the origin of this soul-crushing episode ending? Was your goal to crush souls?

Eric Kaplan (screenwriter, “Jurassic Bark”): Well … [long pause] … you know, yes. Not souls, but—we always tell ourselves that we make choices for the good of others, and those stories we tell ourselves are often convincing, but it doesn’t mean they’re always true. So the point of that episode is Fry tells himself a story that Seymour never would have waited for him, and he would have wanted him to go on with his life. And you can see why that story is useful for Fry to believe. But it’s not true.

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Primo Levi writes about Auschwitz, and he says that no one who has ever seen the Gorgon ever reports back what it was like. So we’re all in a position of ignorance writing about death. Maybe one of the emotional roles that stories play is that they let us experience an ending. In real life, the one ending that we’re gonna have, we don’t get to report back. So by having a story that has an ending, we kind of get to imagine what it would be like to have the ending, a death, and then come through to the other side and have some sort of perspective on it.

It’s interesting to hear this meditation on death and the stories we tell ourselves in the context of a cartoon dog.

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The spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.

Well, a lot of viewers found that spoonful bitter and difficult to swallow! Seymour is in the proud tradition of sad pet deaths in American culture—Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows. When you were writing this episode, were you trying to tweak that archetype? Or pay homage to it?

What I was thinking about was the true stories of dogs that have waited for their masters for decades. There’s a Japanese dog who did that. If you reflect on the character of Fry a little bit, he’s a commentary on a particular kind of American protracted adolescence. When he learns that everybody that he knows has died a thousand years ago, he’s happy, because he gets to hang out with robots! And that’s kind of a dark insight, that his life was so meaningless to him that he was eager to leave it behind. So the idea that a dog loved him tugs the heartstrings.

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And when he has a chance to do something for this one creature he did once feel a tie to, he doesn’t, out of what he thinks is respect for this creature that was once important to him.

Yes. He’s wrong, but it’s plausible. It’s a plausible story that he tells himself.

Some readers might not know that in later Futurama episodes and movies it’s revealed that Seymour’s post-Fry life was not quite as lonely as it seemed.

I haven’t seen those. But if you say so, I’ll take your word for it.

So you didn’t work on those.

I worked on a couple of movies but I didn’t work on the later season, after the third or fourth resurrection.

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Not to stir the pot, but what do you think about the later revelation that Seymour, it turns out, did actually spend all those years with, I believe, a clone replica of Fry in—

What?!

A clone replica of Fry, in perfect happiness.

Well, that’s some nutty baseball, that’s all I can say. I don’t want to criticize the work of other writers in Slate, come on. But that’s what we would call, in the philosophy trade, some nutty baseball.

Read more about the 50 greatest fictional deaths of all time, including picks from Kaplan, Stephen King, and more.

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