Sunday, August 21, 2016

Red Dwarf VIII Episode 4: "Cassandra"

The Dwarfers join the Canaries and meet Geraldine McEwan. Easily the best episode of Series VIII in terms of both humour and story, this instalment is nonetheless still let down by cheap-looking props and sets, excessive characters and its regular dose of Series VIII Kochanski-objectification.
While the idea of the Canaries is somewhat interesting, in principle it's misconceived and merely reflects the contradictions of Series VIII's overriding premise. It's a plot device enabling the show to do Series III-to-VII style sci-fi adventures, while still retaining the prison gimmick, and it feels like the show trying to have its cake and eat it too. It also exposes the weakness of the prison setting by emphasising the strengths of the show's earlier formula, such that the show itself seems to be aware of the limitations of its own premise. Also, I don't know much about real life convict units, but isn't it a little odd that the Canaries are allowed to run around, fully armed, with no supervision? For instance, what's to stop the hardened criminals from simply shooting Warden Knot or any of the other guards who are sent out with them? I know, it's a sitcom; it doesn't matter.
Despite this, however, the episode succeeds because unlike most of Series VIII it's actually funny and is also somewhat clever. The idea of a computer predicting the future with one-hundred-percent accuracy is interesting and ties effectively back into the ideas established in Series I and II of a deterministic universe, raised in this episode in a slightly self-referential way, which was later discarded by episodes like "Timeslides" and "Tikka to Ride". Geraldine McEwan, unsurprisingly, is very good as Cassandra and brings a welcome presence to the episode. The set in which she appears, however, looks dirt cheap, with elements like a Nineties-looking floor lamp and stand fan, which detracts somewhat from the idea of a highly technologically-advanced computer room. Furthermore, the location work used here, as with much of the show and many UK sci-fi productions, makes the mistake of using rusty old boiler rooms and stuff as the interiors of supposedly futuristic spaceships, which is not terribly convincing. It makes it look like deep space is littered not, as we're lead to believe, with state-of-the-art Space Corps derelicts, but rather with turn-of-the-century ocean liners
Still, there are some great lines in this, including "giving it rizz" and Lister suggesting that the miners' canary would "complain to the foreman" if the air wasn't breathable. The bit in which they pretend to be the prison choir is somewhat cringeworthy, however, and the whole episode feels poorly structured, with repeated trips back and forth to see Cassandra and with Lister leaving the ship along with Kryten and the Cat and then going back in what basically amounts to a comedy diving costume. This would at least be remedied in "Back to Earth" when he goes underwater in something more Lister-appropriate. Kill Crazy is also introduced in this episode, and while he's kind of funny, the character is unnecessary. Above all, however, the episode is too focused on Rimmer.
I know Rimmer's a popular character; hell, he's almost certainly my favourite character in the show. Nonetheless, in a scenario like this it'd be more funny as an ensemble number with more predictions of the future coming true for the characters in unexpected ways. Imagine if, at the end of "Back in the Red", they'd pissed off in Blue Midget and this episode just featured the main cast and Cassandra. It'd probably be far more neat. What does Cat get to do in this episode? To be fair, he has a couple of funny moments, like saying that if Rimmer died he'd have to help dig the hole, and whacking Lister over the back of the head with an axe handle because he confuses their guaranteed survival with an immunity to pain. Kryten, however, has become such a source of exposition that he even figures something out off-screen, just to have it reported by Lister later. The payoff of this is Rimmer's exasperated "Did he really have to figure it out quite so damn fast?"
The ending sequence of Rimmer and Kochanski apparently being forced together by the deterministic nature of the universe would be more effective if we'd seen them interact substantially before, to better establish Kochanksi's dislike of him. As it is, it just feels like another round of the show going "What do we do with this female protagonist? The blokes can lust over her and we can get her sprayed with water and forced to get her kit off." Look, don't get me wrong; I think Chloƫ Annett's a very attractive woman, but the way she's utilised in this just seems to constantly be with no mind other than "good-looking lady who gets perved over by the men". It's mildly redeemed when, after Lister says he doesn't kill Rimmer, she replies, "Oh, but Cassandra promised", probably Kochanski's only funny line in Series VIII (which puts her one step ahead of Kryten).
"Cassandra" is a flawed episode, but it's much better than the others. Issues aside, if this had been the base line for Series VIII's quality I think it would be regarded much more positively in hindsight.

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