I think it’s safe to say that Krysis came with a fair bit of baggage. Out of all series XI episodes, this is the one people thought most likely to be shit, and not without some good reasons. At this point in Dwarf history, many are terrified of the the concept of the Kryten-centric story, with Duct Soup and Krytie TV weighing heavily on minds. Add to that the unenviable ‘episode 5’ position usually reserved for the weaker episodes and the striking visual of a Ferrari Red Kryten and we pretty much had the perfect storm of terribleness just waiting to tear through the fandom.
Shit or good, Last Day or last straw, Krysis certainly does continue the tradition of defying pre-broadcast expectations, and for good or ill the thoughts I had coming away from the episode ended up being a million miles from my expectations going in.
As with all of Kryten’s past episodes, this one touches on the character points you’d expect: his programming, his ability or lack of ability to subvert it, and his lifespan. The problem is that these are character traits that have a hazy continuity at best. The show’s grasp on the passage of time has never been a strong suit, and the episode starts off by asking us to swallow the fact that mechanoids are built to last six million years. Never mind that Hudzen 10 was dispatched to replace him thousands of years previously. Continuity isn’t everything, especially with Red Dwarf, but this feels like a stretch when all it’s servicing is the establishment of a few mid-life crisis gags.
We’re also here for the comedy, though, and this opening scene in the bunk room doesn’t disappoint there. Personally, the quality and delivery of the gags has been one of this series’s biggest strengths. Specifically, the sudden reveal of Cat right after Kryten’s “stupid stupid stupid” rant probably ranks as one of my favourite moments this series, and before then a small snippet of yet more Rimmer and Lister bunk room bantz worked very well, too.
It’s during the scene in the Science Room where we get our first encounter with Kryten’s new red suit, and it’s where a bulk of the previous fears for this episode start to melt away, ready to be replaced with new ones. The mid-life crisis concept isn’t a terribly original one, and the observations about the red sports car are even less so, but I’m happy the scene exists if only for the great spinning around drinks serving trick. Thankfully, and crucially, Kryten’s behaviour is only slightly erratic in this scene and for the rest of the episode he remains consistently and believably Kryten, without any recourse to the depths of some of the Duct Soup or Krytie TV atrocities.
When the crew decide it’s in Kryten’s best interest to find another of his kind the plot unfortunately hits another rough spot. The problem here is that not only do we have an entirely new and greatly significant bit of technology thrust at us after all these years, but we’re also asked to accept the very cheap use of the stasis booths. Before now stasis has been used very sparingly. In Future Echoes Lister is spending days and weeks preparing for his jaunt, and his ultimate goal is to only reemerge when Earth is found. In Nanarchy stasis is also used, but again it’s for a grand purpose; to bring the crew back to Red Dwarf. Now, apparently, it’s being used as a cheap narrative teleportation device. Stasis feels like it should be dangerous, a last resort, and to see it used here to facilitate the grand quest of making Kryten feel a little bit better about himself is jarring to say the least.
And that points directly to another central problem with this episode’s plot, and that is there’s no compelling reason why the things that happen happen. Having Kryten’s mid-life crisis being triggered by the happenstance discovery of the Nova 3 would’ve avoided the logical stretch that mechanoids are supposed to last an impossible amount of time. Alternatively giving some life threatening danger to the crisis would’ve helped necessitate the drastic action that’s taken here, and at least given some more weight to Kryten’s journey into accepting his place in the universe. But Kryten’s in no danger, his situation isn’t placing anyone else in danger. There’s absolutely no reason why the rest the crew couldn’t just let him get over this all naturally.
However, with every frustration of plot contrivances comes more solid comedy, and this time it’s in the form of a wonderful performance by Dominic Coleman as Butler, the Series 3000 mechanoid (and yes, I’m letting one that go). The stage is set perfectly for a David Ross tribute act, and while not mimicking that early performance at all, you can easily see where the two mechanoids diverged from, presumably, being incredibly similar during their time serving on their respective ships. Butler is instantly easy to watch and listen to, and his pomposity and huge amounts of smugness are wonderful to behold. Every single time he turns to Kryten to ask him if he writes, or paints, or “dabbles in medical science” and then pulls that shit eating smirk, it is a unique joy.
Thematically, it’s easy to see where this episode is coming from. This is, in part, Kryten’s Dimension Jump. At the point where both of their ships crashed, the two mechanoids can be assumed to be functionally fairly similar. In Butler’s case it seems to have been easier for him to break his programming (possibly due to being an earlier model?) and pursue the equivalent of his ‘garden’ dream unfettered by guilt, where Kryten was trapped in the loop of servitude, long after his masters had died and only managed to even begin breaking his programming when he was already almost three million years old. So Kryten being continually tortured by the accomplishments of Butler seems a tad unfair, but that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of comedy to be mined form the situation. The encounter with the (stunningly recreated) GELF is probably the highlight, culminating in a ridiculous chorus of “Maaaaaaaah”s that pretty much had me helpless with laughter. I’ve thought long and hard about why this is, and it’s almost certainly Kryten’s face throughout, one that he keeps for pretty much the entire scene.
Kryten’s increasing discontent feels like it should be building to some sort of climax, and we do get that to some extent, but again it feels like the episode really sells us short on the plot. After discovering that Butler’s alteration to Starbug is sending them into a long, slow death dive Kryten’s delight at this apparent fuck up could’ve created some very effective tension in the episode, but instead it’s resolved and over very, very quickly. As such the episode that has failed to set up any sort of credible threat or situation, now heads towards an equally failed resolution, because apart from a few niggling feelings on Kryten’s part and a jealousy chip in danger of overloading for all of five seconds every now and then, there is absolutely bugger all *to* resolve.
And what better way to resolve absolutely nothing, than to have one of the most jarring and baffling scenes in the show’s history? I mean, it’s definitely funny enough and technically very impressive, but the idea of a sentient Universe doing a Morgan Freeman impression is just a little too beyond the pale for me. The far too on the nose performance aside, it rubs up against one of the show’s core tenets. Sure, the Universe re-establishes the fact that Earth is the only planet with intelligent life, but the problem is that the world that Red Dwarf has built up over the years fundamentally does not jive with the fact that the Universe is sentient, because it strips away at the loneliness and the constant assertion that everything – no matter how bizarre – has an origin, and an explanation. I’m almost inclined to believe that this isn’t really the Universe, but it’s not presented in a way that allows much doubt.
Not only that, but it’s a concept that’s almost entirely wasted. There’s a “Mr. Universe” joke that made me laugh, but the plot’s core problem of barely existing is brought to the fore here, as Kryten shares with us a revelation he’s had off screen about the Universe containing love, therefore there is a point to everything. Great. Brilliant. Undermine the show’s entire concept and tone to tell us that all we need is love. Utterly baffling. What’s so frustrating here is that all the parts are here to tie this episode together beautifully. It could be said that Kryten’s talk of love speaks to the fact that while Butler chose a life of accomplishment but ultimate loneliness, Kryten chose to surround himself with friends. Kryten could’ve talked about how breaking his programming through Lister’s friendship and tutelage actually allowed him to feel love in a way that maybe Butler couldn’t, again making his life more worthwhile in the long run. But no. Kryten essentially said “aaah but love” to the literal Universe, and then everyone went home.
I like this episode, I really do. At its core it’s a funny and tremendously enjoyable half hour, with one of the best guest stars in years, an excellent central performance by Robert Llewellyn and the consistently funny dialogue that I’ve come to expect from this series. Unfortunately, it’s let down by a plot that failed to convincingly set up or conclude the central premise, and an ending that did not even come close to justifying the drastic tonal shift that it contained.
TINY TEASER: Subwoofer – Kryten has one installed in his new suit. Presumably in his ARSE
ACTUAL SCENE COUNT: 19 (Series total: 116)
ACTUAL SMEG COUNT: 2 (Series total: 11)