“Give & Take” was the episode I was looking forward to most in this batch…and it was okay. That disappointed me, because I was expecting something great, and got something that was…okay. Admittedly it’s the kind of episode likely to improve over time, with repeat watches, so my opinion on it could well change. But for now?
It was okay.
“Krysis” was, by a landslide, the episode I was looking forward to least.
And it was also okay, but that’s a huge step up from what I expected, and I’ll take it.
Kryten’s an odd character. He doesn’t lend himself as easily to shouldering an episode. It can be done, of course, but compared to Lister or Rimmer — both of whom have clear, identifiable desires and fears that define their characters — Kryten works more naturally as a tagalong.
That’s not meant to be any kind of slight on the character, and it’s certainly not one on Robert Llewellyn, who might be the most consistent performer on the entire show. But Kryten is there to help, by nature. To assist. To serve. Sure, he’s typically the first of the crew to piece together whatever’s going on, but it’s in that way only that he takes the lead. The rest of the time he’s selfless, he steps back, and he lets others go first.
This is who is he is. He was designed to serve, and he genuinely loves to serve. One of his running gags involves how much he absolutely adores cleaning. This naturally endears him to both Lister and Rimmer…the former because he never wants to do it, and the latter because he enjoys issuing orders.
But it’s not easy to build an episode around such a character. The two best Kryten episodes, then, tap into something more universal. “The Last Day” is a kind of riff on general mortality, and “Camille” is a love story.
Very basic stuff. In fact, they’re the kinds of stories you could plug any character into — from any production in any medium — and they’d feel like no less natural a fit.
Was there Kryten-specific and Red Dwarf-specific material in those episodes? Of course there was, and it’s that material that made both of those episodes great. My point isn’t that those episodes failed to find interesting things to do with Kryten; it’s that those episodes were sparked by a creative idea that wasn’t specific to the character.
Also instructive, I think, are the two worst Kryten episodes: “Beyond a Joke” and “Krytie TV.” The former was less “bad” than it was lacking in humor, as Kryten reconnecting with his deadbeat brother Able was better as a concept than it was as an episode of a sitcom. “Krytie TV” was about him broadcasting invasive pornography for prisoners to masturbate to, so Lister trims his pubes.
Those episodes, arguably, were more specific to the character than the good ones. “Beyond a Joke” was about two mechanoids, and the very different ways in which they processed the information they learned about their origins. “Krytie TV” was fucking garbage, but it was specific to Kryten as a masculine character who had been classified as a woman, and so was in a unique position to broadcast invasive pornography for prisoners to masturbate to while Lister trims his pubes.
Based on that alone, the best Kryten plot is the one that’s less specific to who he actually is, and more of a relateable situation that just so happens to be filtered through a robot.
Fortunately, that’s where “Krysis” lands. It’s not a great episode of Red Dwarf, but it actually was not half bad. “Kryten becomes a hotrod” wasn’t a promising direction in my mind — and sure enough that was the worst part, complete with totally unnecessary screeching-tire sound effects — but the episode took us to several interesting places along the way.
It went from being a very frivolous idea for a story to one that, ultimately, I was convinced was worth telling. That’s an achievement.
There was a lot to like in this one, and it’s giving me a good amount of hope for the long-anticipated Cat-centric episode next week.
And it did far more with the mid-life crisis angle than I expected. It also brought that particular thread full circle, as Kryten causes The Universe Himself to question the value of anything.
But the real star was Butler, a great guest performance in a series that’s had a good number of them. (Compare just about any one-off character in XI to just about any one-off character in X and you’ll see how far we’ve come.)
Butler was an absolutely perfect foil for Kryten, being irritating in precisely the right way, getting under his skin for precisely the right reasons. Butler, far from being an embarrassing reminder of Kryten’s early years, has actually used his centuries of freedom to develop intellectually, embrace his artistic side, make friends, and basically become everything a sanitation droid (and Lister’s personal cleanup crew) was never intended to be.
And it’s played perfectly. It’s easy to understand why Kryten would bristle so, and just as easy to understand why Rimmer (and maybe less enthusiastically the rest of the crew) would want to convince him to come along. And all of this is accomplished without, I feel, pushing the audience too far in either direction. I don’t think we’re meant to hate the guy any more than we’re meant to hope he joins the cast; we’re supposed to see both sides, and “Krysis” absolutely succeeds in that. It’s a complex treatment of a character in a show that, lately, feels like it’s lost its complexity.
The more I think about “Krysis,” the more I like it. It fell down a bit here and there, and not all the gags landed or were necessary, but I appreciate what it tried to do, and I largely appreciate how it went about doing it.
I also like that this works as a quiet companion piece to “Beyond a Joke.” In that episode Kryten looked at Able and could say, relieved, “That’s what I could have been.” Here, though, he looks at Butler and can say, jealously, “That’s what I could have been.”
It was handled quite well, and that’s due in large part to the guest performance that does most of the episode’s heavy lifting for us. “Krysis” doesn’t rely on the main cast to tell us what we’re meant to think.
I could have done without so many specific callbacks to previous episodes (416 of them by my count, and surprisingly not one of them was “Beyond a Joke”) but that’s a small gripe. That shows the need for a beltsander rather than a hacksaw, and I’m not complaining.
So, not as good as “Twentica,” but somewhere between “Samsara” and “Give & Take” I think.
“Krysis” is a very pleasant surprise, and this is already the strongest series we’ve had since VI. I’m very excited to see next week’s finale. (The review on that one may be a day or so later than usual. Thanks in advance for your patience!)
Let’s see where it takes us.