Okay, that was pretty awful.
Easily the weakest of the run so far, “Officer Rimmer” is an episode that seems to exist only because multiple Rimmer episodes have worked very well in the past. (Mainly “Me^2” and “Rimmerworld,” but we’ve seen the replicated man in many others.) But it’s missing something important: stuff to laugh at.
My biggest concern with Dave-era Red Dwarf, prior to this series at least, was that it wasn’t very funny. It had the odd great moment, the solid plot idea, the good performance, but overall I just wasn’t laughing.
That changed with this series. It really felt like the show I remembered. Maybe these episodes weren’t as funny as the classic years, but they were funny enough to stand beside them. “Twentica” was great. “Samsara” and “Give & Take” were less great, but they kept me laughing.
“Officer Rimmer” didn’t. Something just felt like it was missing…some crucial little part that failed to keep the gears turning. Which is a shame, because Rimmer episodes in general tend to be very good. He’s a rich character who at heart is both a deeply selfish bastard and a half-decent guy. There’s a relateable inner conflict to the man that fuels the show’s funniest moments and its most affecting.
Early in Red Dwarf, it was Chris Barrie who understood his character best. Lister and The Cat took a while to get going, whether that’s down to the actors, the writing, the direction, or any number of other things. But watching the very first episode of the show — for all of its other flaws — it’s clear that Chris understood what made Rimmer who he was.
It wasn’t enough to know that he was insufferable…Chris knew why he was insufferable. It wasn’t enough to know that he was self-important…Chris knew what fed that self-importance. And, more relevant to this episode, it wasn’t enough to know that he wanted to be an officer…Chris knew what made him want to be an officer.
Chris understood Rimmer, which is what made the character work so well, what made it worth spending so much time with him, and why it was worth duplicating him. Multiple Rimmers meant multiple paths of insight. Multiple avenues for comedy, sure, but that would have been true of any character, and it’s not as though anyone’s clamoring for an episode full of Cats.
Rimmer is a terrible human being who both doesn’t have to be terrible and is fated to be terrible. He has positive qualities — he’s organized, he’s professional, he’s always got a pen — but he presses those qualities too hard, for the wrong reason, on the wrong people and in the wrong context. He turns them into negatives. He, quite literally, works against himself.
He’s nearly always this side of lovable, and he never drifts too far in either direction. The lessons he learns aren’t temporary, exactly, but they don’t tip the scales enough either way to change him for good. He’s a man who should know better, and one who week by week does know better, yet is still tripping endlessly over the line between good guy and utter bastard.
In short, Rimmer, as a character, has a lot to offer the show. And “Officer Rimmer” just makes a bunch of copies of him sit in a room for a while, and then a monster comes.
The episode starts off well enough in theory. A while back I wondered about ethical conflicts. It’s easy, in a narrative, to create ethical conflict by having a character do something good, which backfires horribly and becomes bad. It’s nowhere near as easy to reverse the ethical conflict: have a character do something bad, which actually turns out to be good.
The problem, as I outlined it at least, is that good people will be devastated to know that their actions resulted — however indirectly — in a bad outcome for others. When you reverse it, however, there’s no such innate reaction. Bad people might accidentally bring good into the world, but they don’t care. It won’t keep them up at night. They might be disappointed, at most, but they’ll go on with their lives, doing more awful things, and never look back.
“Officer Rimmer,” impressively, reverses the conflict and pulls it off.
The crew receives a distress call from another ship, with one crewman aboard. The ship is on the verge of being destroyed in an asteroid storm, with an explosion that will take our crew down with him if he gets any closer. Rimmer happens upon a very Rimmer solution: blow the guy up before he gets close enough to do them any harm.
Only the missile doesn’t blow him up. It blows his wing off, knocks him out of the asteroid storm, and saves his life.
Selfish intention, selfless result. And Rimmer doesn’t just shrug and move on with his life because the rescued crewman is so grateful that he offers Rimmer a promotion. It’s a nice way to reward questionable ethics, and complicate the situation for the rest of the crew as well. In short, it’s good.
The other crewman was bio-printed, and the bio-printer jammed, because printers jam, and his head was printed all screwy, because when printers jam they print things all screwy, which is a pretty dumb visual joke in itself.
It doesn’t get any better when the crew sit around insulting his appearance while the guy is in genuine mortal peril. I believe Rimmer would do it. To an extent, so would The Cat. But I definitely don’t believe the crew as a whole to be that assholish. At least not until after they were sure he’s okay.
Then they rescue him, and that’s fine. Rimmer starts instituting officer-only elevators, corridors, and TV-programming, which is…fine, too, I guess. Not especially funny, but not horrible.
Then we remember we have a bio-printer, though, and at one point Rimmer verbally decides to print a shitload of copies of himself and stuff an Officer’s Club with them.
We’ve seen multiple Rimmers before, of course, but always due to side effects of some other decision. I don’t think Rimmer’s ever said, “Eh, I can’t think of anything else to do in this episode, so let’s just pack a room full of me.” Here, though, that’s basically what happens, and it rings false.
Maybe Rimmer would clone himself once, and that clone would have to be subservient to him. It rebels, though, and prints a bunch of other ones to gang up on Rimmer Prime. Or maybe Kryten gives Lister his (very good) bit of non-instruction about operating the bio-scanner, and Lister prints a bunch of Rimmers either a) accidentally or b) to teach Rimmer a lesson.
I could see those things happening. I really can’t see Rimmer printing off dozens of copies of himself for the fuck of it. Especially since he didn’t do anything but serve as doorman for his own club full of them. (He printed off a barbershop quartet, but he wouldn’t have printed off a doorman?)
Anyway, some time passes and Rimmer realizes that he didn’t print out an evil monster version of himself with multiple heads, and he might as well do that before the bio-printer vanishes from existence next week. Everyone runs around for a bit, Rimmer rescinds his officerhood (which…is a thing you can do, I guess?), and Lister fires a gun at the episode, killing it instantly.
Seriously. We’re dropped straight into the credits with no resolution at all. Yes, presumably Mt. Rimmer is dead, but that’s not how resolutions work, and Red Dwarf knows that.
At any point, in any episode, we could cut right to credits with the implication being that whatever the problem was has sorted itself out and we’ll get to a new thing next week, but that’s not storytelling. That’s getting bored and giving up.
It felt careless. It felt narratively sloppy. And the way the episode ended makes it feel like it wasn’t all that interested in itself.
“Officer Rimmer” didn’t sound all that exciting, but that’s because we’ve seen the show trod similar territory in the past, and I didn’t think it could find a way to surprise me.
Sadly, it found a way to surprise me.
Join me next week, for “Kryten Becomes a Hotrod.”