Monday, September 19, 2016

Red Dwarf II Episode 3: "Thanks For The Memory"

Rimmer eats a sandwich and the woman he loves most in the whole world has her tongue down Lister's ear. An episode which I think has been reappraised in recent years and recognised as a low-key classic, this instalment continues the "Better Than Life" introspection into Rimmer's character and combines it, through a mystery plot, with a rumination upon the question of whether a person is the sum of their memories along with some insights into Lister's nature. We see Lister do something well-intentioned, but ultimately a little extreme, to help a person he's been repeatedly shown to not get along with. On Rimmer's part we discover that, while "Terrorform" would later argue that the dominant aspect of his psyche is self-loathing, the root cause of all of his issues is loneliness.

This is used to enable a long but engrossing "bunk room" scene in which Lister and Rimmer discuss the latter's personal life and attitudes towards people. After drunkenly confessing to have only ever had one sexual experience in his life, and also confessing that he would swap everything he had and hoped to have simply to be loved, Rimmer exposes the core and origin of his issues, which can be readily linked to his remarks about his parents from "Better Than Life". The character is probably at his most sympathetic in this episode, as we perceive his emotional stunting and his feelings of inadequacy and isolation.

Nonetheless, we get some good gags through this scene as well, making the whole section one of the highlights of Series II and of the show in general; the humour and pathos are blended almost perfectly. The triple fried egg chilli chutney sandwich, Rimmer's rapidly-changing reaction to eating it, Holly's "state of the floor" joke and Rimmer's reference to Lister as "Mister Fried Egg Chilli Chutney Sandwich Face" are a set of classics. The drunk acting is convincing, and I like Rimmer's joke about the time simply being "Saturday". The aftermath when they wake up is good too, particularly Rimmer's slow realisation of his drunken confessions exactly replicating what Lister predicted, and Holly's joke about the "A to Z of the entire universe, with street names, post offices and little steeples and everything" deserves a bigger laugh. Rimmer's effort to attribute the broken legs and finished jigsaw to aliens is kind of funny, but I prefer Cat's concluding woofer: "I wouldn't like to be around when one of these suckers is making a speech." I also quite like his reference to Lister and Rimmer as "you chimpanzees."

The major visual highlight of the episode is probably the excellent composite of location footage, model work and matte painting early in the episode to convey the sense of the characters on an alien planet with Blue Midget parked nearby and Red Dwarf orbiting in the background. It's entirely convincing and stands out completely from some of the iffier location work elsewhere in the series and in later series. The hologram projection cage is a pretty unnecessary prop, however. Must be a hell of an effort to get that back onto Blue Midget. Some memorable jokes from that scene include Holly's "ahead, groove factor five" and the gynaecologist joke, even if the setup is pretty laboured. I've always found Lister's "the sausages are done" funny for some reason.

The plot element of Lister giving Rimmer his memory comes about surprisingly easily. Apparently it's just as easy for Lister and the Cat to wipe their memories later. I kind of like how, when Lister modifies his memory for Rimmer, Lise Yates refers to him as "Rimmer" even though in the original memory she referred to Lister as "Dave". Cat's line about blowing up the hologram projection suite is funny. I also like the shots of Rimmer after his memory has been altered, including the dream about him, dressed and acting like Lister, with Lise Yates, and the closeup of him waking up excited and happy. The use of a more upbeat, romantic version of the "character" music used in the observation dome scenes is good too. It's interesting to observe how quickly everything happens by that point, with Rimmer and Lister's discussion of Lise Yates being rapidly followed by the confrontation in which Rimmer learns the truth, the observation dome scene and the burying of the black box. It might feel a bit rushed at points, but it gets the job done. The gravestone sequence, however, is a bit difficult to hear, especially Lister's explanation for why he wants the marker.

The whole idea of memory shaping identity could perhaps be explored a little more. For instance, is Rimmer the hologram technically already shaped by the memories of another person, the flesh-and-blood Rimmer who died in the radiation leak? How does that relate to his being given Lister's memories? We get some good lines as a result of the discovery nonetheless, particularly "You've destroyed me, Lister." It's all rather tragic, as Rimmer himself points out, and it powerfully shows the significant potential conflict between memory and other forms of knowledge. I can't help but feel that Lister comes across as a bit foolish as a result of this, but I suppose that's in keeping with his character; sometimes his desire to do good outweighs consideration of consequences. These elements make "Thanks For The Memory" a true highlight of Red Dwarf's history and cause it to stand out as one of those noteworthy exemplars of the show's potential when humour, strong character writing and an interesting philosophical concept were all borne out in a half hour episode.

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