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Why I love Arnold Rimmer
Wednesday 2nd September, 2009Posted by on
If there is a more misunderstood character in science fiction than Arnold Rimmer then I don’t know who it is.
I have recently heard it said that Rimmer could never have become Ace Rimmer in the seventh series episode, Stoke Me a Clipper. They claim it is out of character, and I want to set the record straight as to why they are wrong.
I can identify with AJR. He is one of life’s losers. He didn’t become a loser due to making the wrong decisions or stuffing up opportunities. He simply never had them in the first place. Rimmer is a man who just wanted what everyone takes for granted: a good career, friends and the love of a good woman.
But as we all know Rimmer never got to be an officer. It was the sole driving ambition in his life, to “get up the ziggurat lickety-spit” as he would often tell Lister. In the first real peek into his psyche, series two’s Better Than Life we see his ambition realised when he is promoted to Admiral in his fantasy world, with admirers surrounding him and hanging on his every word. Even when he realises too late that he doesn’t know the end of a particularly long joke his audience still love him. One junior officer even asks for his autograph. In the novels he would become even more obvious in his desires by becoming immensely rich, famous and married to the most beautiful temptress to come out of South America.
Which brings me to women. In reality the only happiness he has experienced with women is a single brief liaison with the ship’s female boxing champion Yvonne McGruder. Lister will undermine this happiness with regular jibes about her being confused by concussion but again the novels show a woman who does love him. This one brief romantic encounter is the last he will achieve in his lifetime. His only other coupling will come after he is dead. For now he is reduced to reading books about how to pick up women by hypnosis.
As Clint Eastwood memorably iterates in the second Dirty Harry movie: “A man’s got to know his limitations” and AJR knows his. Even in a fantasy computer game his subconcious won’t let him be happy. Once the Cat has made his father insult him it all starts going downhill for him.
Suddenly gone is the affluent lifestyle and even the memory of the sexy, loving Yvonne McGruder is replaced by the unglamorous pregnant wife and a succession of screaming children; his e-Type Jag replaced with a Morris Minor; his teeth falling out as he takes to the bottle. In the novels Rimmer’s wife even leaves him for his own brother.
This wrenching from happiness to misery is repeated in season five’s Back to Reality. His brief return to mortality in season three’s Timeslides is also cruelly cut short. This is a man doomed to a life of nothingness.
The Lister of the first two series is a man who understands the misery of Rimmer and even sides with him on occasion, feeling particularly sorry for him when AJR gets a letter telling him his father is dead. In series two’s Me² Rimmer is even hated by another exact copy of himself. Eventually Lister will delete the replacement, showing a loyalty to the Rimmer he has known.
But as soon as Kryten comes aboard he is relegated from being Lister’s companion and even flagrantly ignored when he tries the simple order of “Launch scouter“. Kryten undermines him at every opportunity, correcting Rimmer’s mistakes over Space-Corp directives in a very obvious and humiliating way. When Lister breaks Kryten’s programming in Gunmen of the Apocalypse, Kryten gleefully learns the phrase “Smeg-head” and eventually says it to Lister. Lister is no longer concerned with Rimmer. This is not the man who tried to disguise what he’d done to Rimmer’s camphor-wood chest.
But it is series four’s Dimension Jump which really brings it home to Rimmer just how unpopular he is. It starts with Rimmer, the Cat, Kryten and even Holly trying to sneak off for three weeks fishing, leaving Rimmer alone. Rimmer says,
“I tried to be liked, god knows I tried. I regaled you with amusing stories of when I was treasurer of the Hammond Organ Owners’ Society. You never laugh. I offer to talk you through my photo collection of 20th century telegraph poles. You’ve always got some excuse! None of you like morris dancing! Would that break your hearts, every once in a while, the four of us getting our knees in the air — the jingle of bells, the clonk of wood on wood? But no, every time I suggest it you all pretend to be ill.“
Although a cheap joke is made at Rimmer’s expense the underlying sadness of a man who just wants to be one of the gang is brought into focus. We now know just how alone Rimmer is. And then it’s made worse. Ace Rimmer arrives.
Ace Rimmer. The man that Arnold really wanted to be. Handsome, charismatic, dynamic. Ace gives Rimmer a hard time about the things he can’t do. “Smoke me a Kipper. Can you do that?” To be fair to Rimmer, there’s not much he can do as an inconsequential hologram.
Which is why in series five’s Holoship Rimmer, who is now roundly ignored, takes the first chance to jump to a ship where he can be tangible and be appreciated. And there he meets the great love of his death, Nirvanah Crane. And she loves him. So much so that she’s willing to give up her life for him.
And in the only episode of Red Dwarf which can make me cry, Rimmer does the noble thing. Finding out too late what Nirvanah has given up for him, shocked to his very core that someone actually cares for his well-being, he gives it all up for her. All his life he sought happiness and finally he has it.
But the price is too high for Rimmer. He will not accept that this amazing woman is gone and he relinquishes all that he has gained for her. Rimmer is a good man.
Which is why I have faith in Rimmer. And in the series six episode finale when Lister, Kryten and the Cat have been killed, Rimmer again proves his immense character by sacrificing his life to undo the future. This is not the cowardly Rimmer the perceived wisdoms tell us of. In The Inquisitor Rimmer bravely stands up to the inquisitor. In Gunmen of the Apocalypse rather than using guns or knives to fight from a safe distance, Rimmer becomes the close-quarters fighter Dangerous Dan McGrew.
There are numerous occasions when Rimmer steps up and is prepared to do his bit. Like Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army, this is a brave man often thought of as a coward. True he has his cowardly moments, but these are just for a quick easy joke by the writers.
So when an Ace Rimmer tells Arnold of the sacrifice of all the Arnold Rimmers and Rimmer sees the planetary ring made up of hologram light bees he is moved to make the ultimate sacrifice: his very identity. This is not out of character, this is just another sacrifice for the greater good.
And this is why I love Arnold Rimmer, the most complex of all the Red Dwarf characters and possibly the most three-dimensional character in any sci-fi.