Red Dwarf Review: Series VIII, Story 2: "Cassandra"

Airdate: 11 March, 1999

“The rest of the series will be held in low light by the fandom, except for “Pete Part Two”… which will cause people to contemplate canceling their TV license.”

Synopsis: Lister gets the crew to sign up for the Canaries, thinking that the Canaries are the prison choir. To their disappointment, they’re the prisoners that get sent on the most dangerous missions, the assumption being that they will die. Whilst on the mission, they come across a sentient computer, Cassandra, who can predict the future. She’s especially good at predicting the deaths of the crewmembers, saying that they will die within 1 hour, with the exception of Rimmer (“YES”), who will be dead in 20 minutes.

Review: One would think that the pathetic excuse of a series premiere would signal that the rest of the series was just a massive time sink. Actually, that’s only partially true.

In fact, this episode was good… almost great, in fact!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s no such thing as pure perfectionism. In my review of “Back to Reality”, I never said that the episode was flawless. I said it came very close, but I also said that I don’t believe in pure perfection. This episode basically takes a look at that viewpoint and asks: is that correct? After all, Cassandra has the ability to predict the future with a 100% success rate. She’s able to predict the demise of the crew… sort of. As the episode goes on, we find out that the Canaries are pawns in Cassandra’s game… possibly. Her screwy (in a good way) wording of the scenario helps confuse the crew, driving Rimmer mad. It’s pretty damn interesting, with the twists and turns keeping the viewer sucked in. It almost feels like I watched an episode from Series IV… almost.

You see, while this episode is good, the very best episodes of Red Dwarf had just a few more complexities that added to character. For example, “Thanks for the Memory”, despite its lack of a “traditional” antagonist like Cassandra, helped develop the relationship between Lister and Rimmer, as well as their characters, in such a strong fashion. This episode, while good, is still somewhat more shallow than what would be done in Series II or III. But hey, small victories.

Despite more of a focus on plot, there is still quite a bit of good character comedy and development. Putting Rimmer with what was essentially his replacement was a strange maneuver, but it worked. This also added a second layer to the new Rimmer’s character, albeit one that’s more subjective: did Rimmer intentionally break the pipes whilst stuck with Kochanski? If so, he’s a perverted jerkass who deserved to be harpooned. If he didn’t… he’s still a pervert, but he’s not completely depraved. I did like how Lister reacts to the truth about Cassandra. Needless to say, it’s a pretty good reflection on his character: he might not be too bright, but his moral center is strong.

Really, the biggest problems with this episode come in act 1. Holly has officially been derailed from just senile and a tad bit loopy to a total idiot. Sure, 200 years alone will do that to a computer, but still. It was better when we saw him have some sense of depth. Oh, and he gets nothing to do anymore. Sure, I should be used to that (the computer wasn’t in Series VI and most of VII), but still. If you’re only going to make him an idiot, why bring him back? There’s also Kill Crazy, who, while getting a few funny lines here and there, will (if I can recall) become one of the most annoying characters in Red Dwarf history.

Humour is alright, for the most part. The damn “canary choir” joke, though… Remember when the Cat, Lister, and Rimmer could make singing funny, and when Doug Naylor could time it perfectly? Remember that?

Even with this episode’s faults, it’s hard to fathom another episode in this series that will match it. It actually feels like a classic episode. While it might not be as fantastically constructed as, say, “Quarantine” and “Polymorph”, it’s still a damn good episode.

Tidbits:

  • Need I say that the acting is still top notch? Even in poor episodes that I’ve reviewed, I have not seen any of the actors put out a wrong foot.
  • Technically, this episode was premiered on 7 March 1999, NOT 11 March. The reason? KTEH-TV, a PBS affiliate in San Jose, chose to send the entire series out on that date. (For those unaware, PBS is sort of like the BBC. However, program schedules are far less centralized: thus, affiliates have more control over timeslots and airdates for non-news programs). However, I am going with the BBC Two broadcast dates.
  • If you know Greek mythology…. this episode becomes more brilliant.
Favorite Scene: The scene where Lister confronts Cassandra. It’s three minutes of television perfection.
Least Favorite Scene: Lister, Kochanski, Cat, Rimmer, and Kryten should never form a choir group. Ever.
Score: 7.75.
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