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I guess I just like liking things

Warning: This post spoils an episode of television that aired almost 18 years ago. Like, completely spoils it. If you intend to watch it some time and don’t want to know what happens, it will be too bad if you’ve read this post. Just so you know.

From left: Kryten, The Cat, Lister, & Rimmer

From left: Kryten, The Cat, Lister, & Rimmer

I’m having a little difficulty wrapping my head around what happened on this show last night, so let’s just start with some basics. First, what the show is about:

“The adventures of the last human alive and his friends, stranded three million years into deep space on the mining ship Red Dwarf.”

Now the main characters:

  • Lister: The last remaining human
  • Rimmer: A hologram of a human that had served on Red Dwarf
  • The Cat: A human-like being descended from the ship’s cat (which wasn’t even supposed to be onboard – Lister smuggled him on)
  • Kryten: A service android they picked up along the way
  • Holly: The ship’s computer, but s/he wasn’t in this particular episode

The show is a British scifi sitcom that aired from 1998 to… well, the last bit was in 2012. There’ve been gaps of many years between some seasons, and IMDb has left the end date open, so there might be more eventually? Hard to say. As of right now there are 61 episodes, ten seasons of  6 (or so) episodes apiece, and I’ve been watching them on Hulu.

Now that we’re all caught up, let’s talk about what happened in this episode, entitled “Tikka to Ride.”

The ship has no more curry or vindaloo (Lister’s favorite stuff ever), but they do have a time-traveling device. Lister talks them into going back in time to pick some up, and something goes weird and they end up in Dallas on November 22, 1963. That date might ring a bell for some of you, as it’s the day JFK was assassinated. As luck would have it, they’ve beamed in to the fifth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

Let’s stop there for a minute. It’s not unusual for time-traveling movies and episodes to deal with famous events – that’s part of the fun, right? Oh, hey, the X-Men fixed the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Marty McFly was able to get his parents together, yay! And I think I’ve even seen some time-travel shows that dealt with JFK’s assassination in some way or another, but not quite like this. Let’s continue:

The team doesn’t notice Lee Harvey Oswald in the corner, and in the process of moving around accidentally bump him out the window, then drop a window onto his hands, and then drop him six floors to the street below. Soon police burst into the room and are about to arrest them when they beam out with the time device.

Okay, stop again. Not only are they indirectly involved in the assassination, it’s all handled in a very slapstick-y manner. During this whole scene I keep shaking my head, unable to process it.

It turns out they’ve beamed three years into the future, and Dallas is deserted. They find one dead body out on the street, and then find a newspaper which informs them that JFK lived, but was impeached a few years later because he shared a mistress with a mob boss, but before he was impeached, the mob had made him let the Russians have a missile base in Cuba so that the mob could get in on some drug trafficking. Because of the missile base so close to American soil, all major cities have been abandoned. And, somewhere in the process of all that, Kryten cooks up and serves to the rest of the team the man they’d found on the sidewalk, thinking it’d be all right since humans eat chicken (and because Lister had removed Kryten’s guilt chip so he’d let them go back in time in the first place).

Stopping again. Slapstick assassinations, Presidential affairs, impeachments, mob ties to the government, and cannibalism. And the show is only a half hour long!

The team figures out that they need to let JFK die or everything gets messed up (even for them, as their ship is no longer where it was – since the Russians won the space race, Red Dwarf never existed). So they go back in time to the Depository, but make it so Oswald has to go up a floor (since their previous selves were on the “right” floor), but it ends up being no good because it’s farther away and Oswald doesn’t get enough shots in and JFK is only wounded. (Please note: this puts Oswald on the sixth floor, which is where he shot from in our actual history.)

I am still shaking my head, wide-eyed.

Now they’re stumped, because they can’t keep going back in time because the floors are rapidly filling up. “Oh, wait,” they figure out, “We can just get someone to shoot from the grassy knoll.”


The question is, who? They are stumped again for a while, until Lister says, “I know what to do,” and they beam out again. Next we see Lister in the prison transport truck in Alternate 1966, talking to an arrested JFK. Lister explains the situation, that JFK’s legacy will only happen if JFK dies, so Alternate JFK goes back with them to 1963 and becomes the shooter on the grassy knoll, killing himself. As Alternate JFK turns and walks away, he fades away, since now he never existed. The timeline is restored.

After all that, the guys get back to their ship just fine, but they still don’t have any curry.

I have never seen anything quite like this episode. Sure, I’ve seen shows and movies handle assassinations humorously (think Zoolander or Grosse Pointe Blank), but there seems to be something different when it’s about an actual assassination that happened. Of course, I’m an American watching a British show about an American event, so that helps put it into perspective, and I think that makes most of the difference here. What I mean is, the show was funny and very cleverly written. Yes, I couldn’t believe it was happening, but while it was I was equal parts dumbfounded and humored. If an American show had tried to do the same thing, I don’t know that it would have worked. At one point The Cat referred to JFK as “America’s king,” and it helps to have their viewpoint: not only are these people three million years removed from this event, but they’re British besides. The assassination was never going to mean the same thing to them that it has to Americans.

As I’ve said more than once here, the importance of stories, whether they be books, movies, or TV shows, is that they can help us see things from perspective we wouldn’t normally have. I’m not suggesting that Americans not be so affected by tragedies that have happened in/to our country, but I am suggesting that it’s important to think about such things are viewed by those who aren’t Americans. It can be easy for a citizen of any country to see things only through the lens of being a citizen in that country, and I’m saying that it might be beneficial for us to step outside that every so often.

All that said, I have no interest whatsoever in ever having vindaloo. No, thank you.


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