Sunday, August 21, 2016

Red Dwarf VIII Episode 8: "Only the Good..."

Rimmer knees Death in the balls and the original run of the show ends. This final episode more or less encapsulates Series VIII. It's not very funny, it's too focused on Rimmer at the expense of the other characters, and it's essentially two unrelated plots jammed together: one about Red Dwarf being destroyed by a "corrosive microorganism", the antidote for which can be found in a "mirror universe", and a story about Lister and Kryten playing pranks on each other. These two narratives have virtually nothing to do with each other, the "prank" plot only serving to facilitate the characters' surprisingly easy escape from prison and discovery of the microorganism, after which they turn around and go back again to inform the Captain that the ship is being destroyed, winding up back in prison, from which they immediately escape again when Red Dwarf is abandoned. It's very much like the repeated returns to the Captain's office in the previous episode.
I have to admit that the drunk acting kind of amuses me, particularly boosted by the incredibly camp way Graham McTavish portrays Ackerman, with his "super suck" line being a highlight. The scene in which the Cat accidentally makes another inmate his "bitch" is okay as well; it's probably the only memorable Cat moment in the entirety of Series VIII. The "Have a Fantastic Period" banner is kind of funny purely in terms of how utterly stupid it is, but it's another joke more or less deriving solely from "Kochanski is a woman." I always get confused with the order of these episodes and can never remember when this bit and the "Archie" bit appear in the series. It's a particular problem with "Only the Good..." trying to do a dramatic climax to the series while also trying to generate comedy from completely unrelated derring-do.
The other plot is so forced and rushed that it's impossible to take any interest in it; it's such an arbitrary threat to the crew, and the mirror universe is so unexplored, especially because "mirror Lister", who is kind of funny, is left on the cutting room floor. On the other hand, if it was a mirror universe and Rimmer outranks Lister in our universe, wouldn't Lister outrank Rimmer in the mirror universe? Anyway... "Dumb Kochanski" doesn't work because the actual character receives so little characterisation in this series; there's even a deleted line from "Back in the Red" in which she doesn't know what E=MC2 means, which seems highly unlikely. If you watch the deleted scenes it's more like "working class Kochanski" as opposed to "posh Kochanski", which comes across as pretty dodgy. "Smart Cat" is mildly more amusing but the whole idea feels so half-arsed, a sort of feeble "Back to Reality"-esque device but with only half of the main characters making the cut. Why not set most, if not all, of the episode in the mirror universe if they were going to do this? The way in which they pull the "we should go to a mirror universe" idea out of their heads is baffling too. Imagine if every time people needed an antidote to something they went "the only possible way to get this is to rig up an experimental dimension-crossing device using mirrors and find this substance's opposite in another universe." Where's mirror Kryten? The confusion about Talia Garrett's identity is also very old hat. How many times has the "sister confused for lover" thing been done in comedies? They were really touching barrel bottom by this point.
The ending is a total anticlimax. Lister, Kryten, Cat and Kochanski all disappear offscreen. Imagine if this had really turned out to be the last ever episode of Red Dwarf. It would have been a terrible sendoff. Lister's meant to be the main one of the main characters and he doesn't get so much as a goodbye. Nonetheless, the "Rimmer kicks death in the bollocks" scene proves that even with so much of its charm drained away the show could still do something funny and memorable, although I understand that a lot of fans hate that ending. At least we didn't get the ending in which Rimmer simply dies. Nonetheless, I don't understand why this episode couldn't have simply been just another episode, perhaps being something about the five Dwarfers coming to the end of their sentence and having to avoid some situation that would have extended it.
In many ways I prefer the original ending, in which Rimmer is forced to memorise the formula. Probably the only way it doesn't work is because it doesn't provide symmetry with the opening joke in which Rimmer says that the vending machine will only get his revenge when he's captain of the ship. The script seems to forget that if all of the main characters were still on Red Dwarf at the end, Kochanski would be captain, not Rimmer, because she drastically outranks him. Revisiting Rimmer's ambition in this final episode doesn't really work anyway, however, because he's spent so many episodes mucking around, playing pranks and stuff. The original ending also gives little to no closure to the other main characters, who just dance past in a conga line smoking cigars. Still not much of a finale for them.
If we want to imagine how the story was resolved in a way that fits with the newer stuff, the best narrative is probably what they were going to film (but didn't): Series I to VII Rimmer returns as Ace and saves the day (perhaps rather incompetently). We could imagine him then re-joining the crew. I notice a lot of people think "If Back to Earth and Series X Rimmer is a hologram, how does he remember the corrosive microorganism?" which comes up in "The Beginning" in Series X. The "Ace Rimmer" solution seems to answer that question quite neatly: hologram Rimmer came back and saved the ship (and nanobot Rimmer probably did get killed). The problem is that this ending would have been another tedious rehash of the show's better days, with more fan-pleasing in the case of bringing back Ace Rimmer, and I'm glad this ending never actually materialised on screen because I suspect it would have looked shonky and not been funny.
It's odd to hear the cast on the DVD commentary from 2006 or so referring to this as "the last Red Dwarf ever", given that only three years later all five of the main cast would be in "Back to Earth" (albeit one of them in a smaller role). Now there's a tenth series, with an eleventh about to air and a twelfth in production. Even in the documentary for Series VIII, Doug Naylor is discussing the film project and admits that one day he'd give up and go back to making some specials or another series, both of which happened. Thank god for that, as well, because Series VIII would have been a hell of a weak ending for the show. When rewatching "Only the Good..." for this review, I had to throw on "Back to Earth, Part One" immediately afterwards to take the taste away. At least that "the smeg it is" at the end turned out to be justified in the long run.

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