Meltdown, and it's value as an anti-war episode

Discussion in 'RED DWARF UNIVERSE' started by Tex_Rimmer, Apr 24, 2009.

  1. Tex_Rimmer

    Tex_Rimmer First Technician

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    I was watching the "Built to Last" special for Season 4 last night, and listening to the comments about "Meltdown" and how it wasn't showed during the Gulf War, even though it was an "anti-war" episode. Craig was pretty proud of the speech at the end. Problem is, though I am one of the ones who likes this episode, I don't think it works very well as an anti-war episode, and the speech at the end comes off looking a bit silly.

    The reason why lies in the nature of this particular war. It's not an elective one, but Lister treats it as though it were. He, bizarrely, acts as though the Wax War was something the Good Guys were (for some reason) fighting by choice happy?), and something they could just as easily opt out of, if they'd prefer to live in peace instead. That's not so easy to do when you're being attacked on your home turf. He comes off as Marie-Antoinette-like in his cluelessness. Asking why people who are being invaded don't just live in peace seems like asking why the peasants don't just eat cake. Yeah, that must be nice, if you can manage it.

    Also, this war wasn't a bunch of guys fighting over a mud patch somewhere. The stakes of the game, as laid out by Honest Abe himself were that the Bad Guy droids intended to wipe out every one of the Good Guys, to use the raw materials in their bodies. Given the show's premise that Wax Droids = People, that makes it an act of genocide. We might debate whether to intervene to stop a genocide, but surely just about anyone would try to stop it if they themselves were the target. What's next? An episode where he goes back to (non-wax) Nazi Germany, and advises people to go peacefully to the camps?

    The stakes of this war were that if you lose, you die. If you don't fight at all... you die. If you do anything at all except win... you die. Lister's response: "Don't fight, because you might die." was Wacko-Jacko. It's Noodle-Doodle, and makes his speech at the end look ridiculous. "Might die" is still better than "Will Definitely die." The writers had stacked the deck so high that only one answer was possible, and he still got it wrong.

    You can try to argue that no, he wasn't mad at the fact that they fought, only at Rimmer's lackadaisical attitude towards losing all his men. But no, that doesn't work. He said very clearly that he intended to talk them out of fighting at all. That's what Sergeant Presley arrested him for.

    And this also explains to me why they were antsy about showing this episode during the Gulf War. The point that Lister missed, that this was a non-elective war, would not have been missed by the network or the public. The network was obviously afraid of people watching it, and thinking something like "Well, if they're saying this war was unavoidable, then they're saying all wars are unavoidable, which means they're supporting the Gulf War". (It's nutty, but a lot of people think in Black and White like that.)

    It's not clear what Lister was even thinking. Since they didn't have the Matter Paddle, they didn't even have the option of buggering off and letting the droids sort out their own affairs. So, if he'd talked Rimmer out of playing General, what next? Sit around and starve? (I know, "Let them eat wax".)

    In the end, you can blame Rimmer for bad leadership, and for not caring about his men, but not for starting or fighting a needless war. He may have turned Mother Theresa into one of the Dirty Dozen figuratively, but the Bad Guys were going to do it literally. And he certainly didn't get the Good Guys killed. They were dead whether he showed up or not. The only effect of Rimmer's involvement was to get Hitler, Mussolini, Caligula, The Boston Strangler, Rasputin, et al killed, which I find it hard to care too much about. (Well, except for Caligula, I kind of liked him, but you get the idea.)

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  2. magnusgreel

    magnusgreel First Technician

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    I think we're overanalyzing. Rimmer was using a stupid non-tactic that got the "good" droids killed unnecessarily, because Rimmer wanted to play general. Lister wasn't saying they shouldn't fight, period.

    It's funny, but pointless as an "anti-war" episode. Any such "message" is undermined by the extreme stupidity of the attack, stupid even for Rimmer, and the fact that a faulty light bee was supposedly responsible. None of this parallels real life war, unless it's common for generals to go kerflooie and send all their men through mine fields in broad daylight for no reason, killing them all.

    I'm not sure what to say about the fact that Black Adder Goes Forth has them doing the same thing, yet it is anti-war, and more effective. It is, i just can't make the necessary distinction between the BA and RD episodes yet.

    That pretentious Lister speech at the end almost makes me wish for a gang-pummelling like at the end of Tikka To Ride.
     
  3. jacksmith

    jacksmith Catering Officer

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    Lister's speech about how they're all happy now that they snuffed it under a flag of peace is the best bit of the episode.
     
  4. sanja

    sanja Supply Officer

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    Good died, bad died... That's war, somebody dies on every side, that was message... war is death... period...
    And it mostly is... just dieing.
    In real world people survive, but what message would that be in meltdown? war is bad but it is a solution?
    War is not a solution it's deth, people...
     
  5. no_name

    no_name Third Technician

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    Though it is well written, Rimmer's risk story at the beginning totally trumps it. Chris Barrie's performance is hilarious.
     
  6. Tex_Rimmer

    Tex_Rimmer First Technician

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    It sounds like you're accusing them of being deliberately deceptive; not telling the truth that people survive in real wars because it didn't suit the message they wanted to send. Is that really what you mean?

    But again, the 100% casualty rate is not the real problem with the story. The biggest problem is that the "Peace" option offered exactly the same result (i.e. all the Good Guys die that way too).

    Listen again to Doug Naylor's comments on the Season 5 extras disc about story problems with Red Dwarf USA. All the one-liners in the world won't help if the fundamentals of the story don't work, he said, and it's true. This story has a big problem in it in that we're supposed to believe Rimmer screwed up big time and got the Good Guys wiped out, when in fact, it looks like he had no effect on them at all. I still like this episode a lot, but it has some story structuring problems that keep me from giving it the very highest grade. More on how they might have tried to fix those problems in the next post.
     
  7. Tex_Rimmer

    Tex_Rimmer First Technician

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    I think he was. "If you can talk 'em into it, I can talk 'em out of it.". Rimmer never talked either side into fighting, he only talked the Good Guys into training seriously and accepting his leadership. His objection to Rimmer's leadership was that Rimmer was turning "pacifists and holy people into the Dirty Dozen". If his argument was that it would be better for someone like Mother Theresa to be killed without a fight than to lower herself to fighting, the episode doesn't admit very loudly that it's saying this, and far less of the audience would have agreed with Lister that way.

    The lack of alternative suggestions is what makes Lister's speech fall flat. We never heard how many Bad Guys there were, but presumably more than enough to form an Equilateral Triangle. My impression from Pythagoras' speech was that they were doomed if nothing was done, and so the result of Rimmer's leadership, for the Good Guys, at least, as exactly the same as if he had done nothing. That's the biggest problem with the episode right there.

    If that's a problem, how could it be fixed? Well, if we could come up with a preferable alternative and then have Rimmer reject it, the problem is solved. Say, for example, if Lister had agreed that they should be helped to defend themselves, but that Kryten should be the one to direct the effort. (We don't even have to know what Kryten's plan would have been, we would naturally assume it was better than Rimmer's.) Have Rimmer reject this idea on the grounds that his Risk experience surely makes him a better candidate than Captain Bog Bot from Hell, and have Lister and the Cat arrested for trying to depose him. Then, at the end, when he gets his whole army wiped out, and is still happy about it, Lister's speech would make more sense, because a superior alternative had been rejected.

    I think the reason they didn't write it this way is because a) they didn't want to have Lister admit that it might be necessary for people like Ghandi or Einstein to fight even in self defense, but b) they also didn't want to have him admit that it was better for them to die without a fight. Few people in the audience would have accepted that. So they kind of fudged a point and tried to have it both ways.

    To do it the way they wanted, to be able to have Lister say at the end that choosing peace was better than choosing war, they had to have written it in such a way that it was possible to choose peace. The easiest way to do this would have been to let them keep the matter paddle, making it possible for them to have taken all the Good Guy wax droids back to Red Dwarf with them. then have Rimmer talk them into staying there, and defending their "turf". If it had been done this way, then Lister's speech at the end would have made sense.
     
  8. sanja

    sanja Supply Officer

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    No, one thing I like about RD is because it's "realistic" and it has strong black humor messages... So strong people who wouldn't listen when it's presented in original way, listen when RD present's it ;-) I just say they tryed to say war is bad thing on they way and message is OK...
     
  9. Tex_Rimmer

    Tex_Rimmer First Technician

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    The realism isn't an issue, but the message of the episode as written is that war and peace are equally bad. As anti-war messages go, it's hard to imagine a weaker one. I don't think that's the message they intended to send, and that they only did so because the story hadn't been totally hammered into shape.
     
  10. jacksmith

    jacksmith Catering Officer

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    This was less about how war itself is bad but about the justifications. Peace and freedom, two words we hear spouted far too much nowadays to varnsish ilegal oil wars with a sense of reason and goodness.

    Meltdown showed the madness of that via Rimmer, they were going to fight anyway, Rimmer wanted to play general and used them as canonn-fodder, he then believed he had done the right thing, but Lister believed the real evil was Rimmer, taking advantage of them and using them as his tools of destruction, sure there was a war on anyway which makes it a bit redundant but the fact that Rimmer believes he did good and how he justified it was what the war message was about.
     
  11. sanja

    sanja Supply Officer

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    It wasn't presented so well, they say war is bad on they way... I am ok with a message ;-)
     
  12. Tex_Rimmer

    Tex_Rimmer First Technician

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    I think that's the message they wanted to send, I just don't think they quite hammered the story into shape properly. The point that does come through is mostly about regard for the men under your command (which is a much less "hot" issue), rather than anything about war in general. No problem with the jokes though, those were very good all the way through.

    And you could certainly make some good points about that. In World War I, there were actually generals who opposed equipping pilots with parachutes on the grounds that it would make them prone to abandoning valuable government equipment too quickly. That's the same attitude Rimmer had towards his men, only funnier (in a grim way). Much "funnier" than a daylight charge across the minefield (which I never saw the point of).



    Which is kind of silly, considering he'd already seen them executing Winnie the Pooh, so he knew what he was up against. But that's a very Western thing, to disproportionately blame one's own side, because people feel they have some control over that. If the problem is your own leaders, well, you can try to vote them out. But if the problem is the other guys, what power has the man in the street got over them?

    To really make Rimmer as bad as Lister and the writers wanted him to be, the story would have to be written in such a way that Rimmer got them into a war that could have been avoided. I still think the best way would have been to let Lister keep the matter paddle, and create the option of moving all the good guy wax droids to Red Dwarf. If Rimmer then talks them into staying and fighting a war that gets them all killed, then he's really as bad as Lister says.

    On the other hand, maybe the writers didn't WANT to make him that bad. He is a main and sometimes sympathetic character, after all.

    It's still a great idea for an episode. Amateur wargamer (if you can call Risk a wargame. Squad Leader it ain't), gets a chance to do it all for real, hashes it up big time, but is still happy that he scored a "technical" victory. It's a great idea for a story. But I don't think it says much about war in general. It's more about fantasy vs. reality. Rimmer plays the game of war but doesn't understand the human cost. We can extend that message to members of the public who advocate going to war too easily or with too little cause.

    I don't know how applicable it was to the Gulf War or any other modern war. These days, they seem to go to the opposite extreme, trying to reduce friendly casualties to the absolute minimum, even if it means bombing the heck out of the opposing country. What were the Allied casualties in the 1991 Gulf War? Something insanely low, like 100 men or less? No country the size of Iraq had ever been conquered with fewer casualties by the victor, but only because the planes had done most of the work before the ground troops went anywhere near.

    I guess that's the real message of the episode: Good reasons there may be for going to war, but personal glory is not one of them. It's also Rimmer's sole motivation, so we think he's a smeghead. On the other hand, the war he was in was unavoidable anyway, and he didn't get anyone killed who wouldn't have been killed anyway, so we don't hate him too much for that, only for being a smeghead about it.
     

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