“All The Way Down” isn’t the only “Futurama” episode in this ilk. The classic season 5 episode “The Sting” features Leela (Katey Sagal) trapped in a dream after being stung by a space bee (Fry shielded her, but she got the tip of the stinger and thus the venom). The thing is, we don’t know that Leela is dreaming for most of the episode. The show initially presents Leela’s dream (that Fry died) as reality. When things get surreal, the assumption is that she’s going mad with grief.
“The Sting” (sometimes compared to “Inception”) has a more restrictive hierarchy of knowledge than “All The Way Down.” In the latter, we know what is real and what isn’t, but the characters don’t. Even the real main characters have no way of knowing if they are in a simulation as well (technically, they are). However, before Bender can break the bad news, digital Fry decides that the truth shouldn’t matter to them. The nature of the universe is out of their control either way, so they might as well enjoy what they have. In digital Hermes’ words, “I feel, therefore I am.”
This is the same implicit message as the ending of “Inception.” Our lead, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), finally reunites with his children. Beforehand, he decides to test if he’s still dreaming with his personal “totem,” a small top (if Cobb spins it and it falls over, he’s awake). But as his children rush towards him, Cobb ignores the result, and the shot cuts to black before we can see it. Cobb has decided the answer doesn’t matter to him, so it shouldn’t for us either.
“All The Way Down” ends with the simulated magnetar collapsing; digital Fry and Leela go in for a kiss as the universe glitches out. Even if they aren’t real, their love is.
All episodes of “Futurama” season 11 are now streaming on Hulu.