During the Entangled Instant Reaction DwarfCast I proclaimed this episode to be my favourite of the series so far, which is something that’s endured over a number of rewatches. Every other episode has undoubtedly had stronger elements and, in the case of Lemons, had a neater and better story. But what I think Entangled has in absolute bags is a pleasingly familiar, traditional feeling with the best main cast performances of the series so far and tonnes of great laughs.
Surprisingly, given the controversial elements of episodes 2 and 3, I think Entangled has seen the most extreme splitting of fan opinion. In general, people either rate this as their favourite thus far, or the worst of the worst. If at times this review seems to be going to address criticisms from a straw man, that’s because I think more than ever I feel I need to explain exactly why I like this episode so much and why some of the things that are bothering others are not bothering me. Whether I can achieve that without being reduced to screaming “BUT I LIKE THIS BIT YOU WANKERS I HATE YOU ALL” remains to be seen, but I’ll try.
The first scene of the episode features, as always, Lister going about the his daily routine until the plot comes along and hits him in the face. It *would* be nice if there was a little more variety to this formula, but I do like these little glimpses into the working life aboard ship, which is something we got loads of in series VI. Special mention here must go to the first big laugh of the episode when Lister discovers his huge kebab “on the monitor”, which really sets the tone for the episode. If it’s delivering one of my favourite gags in the first scene, then it’s a safe bet it’s going to make me laugh throughout.
I’ll admit to being fairly worried when Rimmer started on his Health and Safety spiel, but it settles down very quickly and avoids being predictably tedious because of how right it all feels for Rimmer. Anything that allows him to be overly officious is always a good avenue for him, and it’s used well here especially how nicely it’s tied in to the drive plate accident. This desperate sort of pointless officiousness, flying in the face of the fact that everyone is now dead, brings his morning roll calls brings Bodysnatcher to mind, which is strengthened by the fact that Chris’ performance this series and in Bodysnatcher occasionally have similar quirks.
It’s interesting to note that if the accident dialogue between Lister and Rimmer is to be taken at face value, then this is indeed the ‘old’ Rimmer, or at the very least a combination of the two, melded together by either an in-universe explanation or narrative convenience. If I was to be totally honest, though, I’d hazard a guess that Doug doesn’t give two shits as to which Rimmer this is. He’s just Rimmer and that’s all that really matters. If the mystery itself *does* matter to you, thought. then it is nice to have it remain a mystery with just the odd clues for us to piece together. What I do know for sure, though, is that the Rimmer we see in this scene is certainly the closest Chris has come to truly recapturing the old magic.
In his Lemons review, John made special mention of the ability of Red Dwarf to push the boundaries of the traditional sit-com form and reach beyond the three walled sets to provide a story with huge scope. Red Dwarf has almost always managed to do this to some extent through the use of model shots and clever location filming, but the task of widening the scope of the setting has been made a lot harder for this series by dint of the fact that there was simply no money for the traditional two weeks of location shooting. In the first four episodes of Red Dwarf X we have had a grand total of one (1) location scene, but that in itself is part of an episode that with the use of one incredible and economically built set and just one matte painting, managed to convincingly set itself in India, 23AD.
Despite Red Dwarf always managing to break free of feeling like a restricted, claustrophobic studio sit-com, I think it was most successful during the Starbug set series simply because of the fact that Starbug feels like it’s covering larger distances, and at a greater speed, than Red Dwarf. In Emohawk, one minute the crew are dodging an Enforcement Sphere and the next they’re crash landing onto a GELF moon. Because first contact with these elements happen while they’re on board Starbug, the action can escalate much more quickly than if they’re starting on Red Dwarf, and then have to leave the ship to investigate further. This also allows the story to cram in more encounters, because in the back of our minds they’re in a nippy ship to surface vessel, and encounters are expected in that environment in the way that they’re not when the crew are trundling through space on Red Dwarf. What Entangled has done is bring that sort of quick fire encounter to life on Red Dwarf itself, when really we’re not expecting it. This had lead to some people thinking space seems a little crowded, but that’s because finding a GELF moon and a space station right next to each other is absolutely fine when they’re seemingly zipping along in Starbug, but less believable when they’re on Red Dwarf, whose size and slow nature gives more of a feeling of loneiness in vast, empty space.
This clash of styles between the day-to-day survival of the Starbug series and the more easy going, automated existence previously seen on Red Dwarf has given this series, and specifically this episode, a unique feeling. In the very first scene of the episode, we see Lister apparently starting his shift in the drive room, scanning the local space for any sign of life. This active searching and quest finding would never been seen when the crew’s MO was simply “get back to Earth, I suppose”, but it’s something that was pervasive through series VI and VII because they had the more immediate goal of finding Red Dwarf. In Series X that immediate goal is finding Kochanski and this, with the added absence of Holly (previously the literal face of Red Dwarf’s automation) provide moments like this when we see the crew actively piloting and operating the ship in the same way they previously did with Starbug. For that reason, I *expect* them to have more encounters, because they’re actively looking for them. And, despite Kryten’s comment about this only being the second inhabited moon they’ve found in a decade, Lister’s discovery of the populated BEGG moon sat perfectly comfortably with me. In addition to this, with the search for Kochanski always in the back of the viewers mind, I think it gives an added layer of excitement because any discovery like this could be vital to that mission.
Next up, I’d like to talk about Lister’s cock and, specifically, the device rigged to it. It’s not big, it’s not clever but it *is* quite amusing (the joke, that is, not Lister’s cock). If we really need to search for a reason why they specifically rigged up his nads, then consider the Blerions from Doug’s solo novel Last Human. They were a breed of GELF which highly prized sperm because they’d been (in the main) bred to be sterile. This is pure fan wank, but if the BEGGs had any similar inbred sterility, then it would make sense that they’d target Listers most valuable organ. Also, you know, cocks are also funny, so there’s that.
Now that the series has properly settled down, we’re starting to see more assured performances from everyone. I think Chris is only *properly* starting to nail the character in this episode and, above all, Danny and Robert put in absolute blinders. Robert does still occasionally stumble over a line or two, but I think that’s entirely a production issue given that most of the scenes are wrapped up in one or two takes which sometimes is clearly not enough to get his more complicated speeches nailed down, but the synchronous Kryten and Cat lines are really excellently performed throughout the episode, especially considering most of these scenes were done live in front of an audience. This is definitely not something they could’ve as comfortably pulled off in the first few weeks when they were all finding their feet, so it’s nice to see how assured and confident the performances are getting.
The concept of the crystals themselves are interesting and, apart from the potential for comedy, appear to exist purely to give an in-Universe explanation for plot contrivances, and this is probably the source for the episode’s biggest problems. As a concept, they’re fine because they’re basically just a new form of the luck virus, which itself provided convenient get out clauses for the plot, but that also brought with it a good source of humour. Where the synchronicity fails, though, is the manner of its execution in two key scenes. Causing the BEGGs to choke is fine (although it took me a little while to actually notice what the fuck was going on in that scene) but Kryten’s later explanation causes me to think the concept has not been properly thought through. The fact that the choking was always going to happen but Kryten and the Cat’s increased emotion made them more aware of the synchronicity doesn’t really tally with how I thought the whole thing works. Does this mean that they would always choke at that exact time or was it originally supposed to happen much later in time? According to Kryten their presence in the tent doesn’t actually cause the choking, but if that’s the case then surely the crystals have absolutely nothing to do with anything? Surely the BEGGs didn’t purely choke just because Kryten and the Cat were in a position to notice it? I’m tempted to follow Lister’s lead and just dismiss it with a “who cares?” but it’s a shame that the actual nature of the crystals’ effect on actual events wasn’t properly nailed down, and because of that its nature as a plot convenience is all the more apparent.
The second iffy scene is the sudden realisation of Irene E / irony connection, but that’s purely because it feels a bit unnatural and forced. Unlike the BEGGs choking (and later the series of events that leads the crew to the E.R.R.A space station), though, the rules of the synchronicity are much clearer here because the coincidence itself could’ve easily gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for Kryten and the Cat’s heightened awareness, but the way the sudden realisation is crowbarred in there is a bit jarring because, despite it making sense from a plot point of view, it didn’t really seem earned.
But I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit here, as I’ve cruelly killed the BEGGs before I’ve even mentioned how much I enjoy their main scene. Steven Wickham plays the jocular but dangerous chief very well, and the humour in translating from BEGG to English is well mined, especially the moment when it’s revealed that the chief has eaten someone from an English boarding school. I’m not sure why, but that concept is just inherently more amusing than if had simply been someone English and the addition of the boarding school detail is a very nice touch. There’s tonnes of great dialogue here, most notably the description of Rimmer as a “sexy light man with the lady legs” and the Cat as “your scented shiny friend” which are two perfect, basic descriptions of the characters, worded very amusingly.
If anything, this episode probably tries to cram too much into half an hour. If this was an episode purely driven by the quantum crystals and the situation with the BEGGs it would be fine, but we also have the E.R.R.A institute thrown in there for good measure, which is definitely a concept that deserved more time to be properly expanded on. The concept of a scientific institute based entirely around people making the wrong decisions is absolutely great (and carries on the long standing tradition of the crew bumping into old research vessels and facilities to make use of the technology therein) and the whole long speech by Kryten is excellently undercut by the reveal that it was, of course, a failure.
However, it’s probably at this point that the episode reaches its weakest section, and this seems to be not without good reason. Doug recently revealed the original final two episodes this series had to be scrapped when it became apparent that the necessary location shooting would not be affordable on the budget. These episodes apparently included Kochanski. I think it’s a reasonable enough assumption that the ape they find in stasis – who will later be transformed into Irene E – was originally supposed to be Kochanski. The heightened sense of coincidence and Lister’s knackers being in mortal danger are both plots that also fit very well into her return, and I can’t help but think it would’ve made for a much more satisfying conclusion. If that’s the case then everything that follows this discovery was a (fairly) last minute rewrite. To compound this, there were further reworkings of these scenes once it became apparent they couldn’t use the ape suited actor as much as they intended, so the slightly troubling character of Irene E was written in to wrap up the episode. With all that in mind (and, granted, I’ve basically made up the Kochanski bit) I’m more inclined to forgive this episode’s messy and slight unsatisfying closing scenes.
Irene herself certainly isn’t terrible, but she’s a character that has barely any screen time so her characterisation extends to nothing more than “she gets everything wrong and is weirdly forward with Rimmer”. Poor Irene frankly didn’t stand a chance in the survival stakes and after she basically begs Rimmer to fuck her, she duly trips over his box of health and safety forms, in to the airlock, and then proceeds to accidentally flush herself into space. A slapstick ending fitting for her character. Her late insertion into the episode made this swift and unceremonious ending sadly inevitable, and it’s a shame that there wasn’t a resolution that was a little less sudden and, well… weird, but I genuinely believe it is entirely saved by Lister’s final “have you got a pen?” punchline, which was sold so perfectly by Craig that I’m willing to forget any misgivings I have about Irene and this very troubled last 5 minutes.
As with the previous episodes this series, misgivings about plot and guest characters can be easily mitigated by good, old fashioned genuine laughs. Logic problems aside Entangled has delivered the most interesting and idea-rich plot yet, but also by far the biggest laughs. More assured writing and ever improving performances have a gone a long way towards elevating this episode above all that came before it, and I really hope this a trend that can continue over the next two weeks and into Series XI.
TINY TEASER: Kebab Instructions – Ah, now. This was obviously referring to the opening scene, but we can’t seem to remember why the word ‘instructions’ is there. We’re pretty sure there was a snipped gag about how the kebab was so massive, Kryten had to give Lister directions for eating it. See it on the DVD, probably!
ACTUAL SCENE COUNT: 26 (Total so far: 98)
ACTUAL SMEG COUNT: 4 (Total so far: 12)