Arnold Rimmer

Written by @EllieDangerous
Minutes into the first episode of 'Red Dwarf', Second Technician Arnold J Rimmer is reduced to a small heap of icing sugar. But then, shoommm. He comes back as a hologrammatic smeghead. Played with aplomb by a plummy Chris Barrie, Rimmer really is the biggest git in deep space, which brings me to Space Corps Directive 87772: if you're a sniveling, lily-livered buffoon, your audience will love you. Why though?

Spoiler Alert
‘Red Dwarf’ enjoys throwing us through loops and tangling the linear flow of time, so I’ll respect that by starting with something confusing:

This post is about a very specific Arnold Rimmer: the one we meet at the opening of series one. He leaves in the seventh series to become a heroic version of himself called Ace Rimmer, and we simply never see him again.

Another incarnation of Rimmer does appear in in the next series of ‘Red Dwarf’, but he’s not the first Rimmer and doesn't have the history we've seen him build with Lister. Then there's the restored, middle-aged holographic version of the newer series, and we don't know what's going on there. So this post is about the original Arnie J. The man, the myth, the smeghead.

First off, it's kind of obvious why we like him: he's a really funny character. And it's not just about laughing at him. Rimmer’s one redeeming quality is one he’s completely unaware of: he’s spectacularly witty. His humour comes from a darker place than his crewmates; he's dry and sceptical, and that’s something that appeals to the programme's sardonic fandom. "We'd better get a job", he tells Kryten in series three, "But what jobs are there in a backwards reality for a dead hologram and an android with a head shaped like a novelty condom?"

Another reason why we like the dead hologram is because he's a dead failure. Everyone loves an underdog. From among the entire crew of mining ship Red Dwarf, this guy is the one chosen to come back as a hologram, and we all know he doesn’t deserve it. He’s not smart, noble, skilled, or brave, and his greatest passion is 20th century telegraph poles. He’s about as popular as a vindaloo at a tonsillectomy.

Rimmer cherishes an ambition to become an officer, but he's failed his officer’s exam eleven times. "I submitted a discourse on porous circuitry that was too... radical, too unconventional, too mould-breaking for the examiners to accept", he explains. "Yeah", agrees Lister. "You said you were a fish".

Rimmer's delusions of grandeur are evidenced by the fact that he feels guilty for causing the technical fault that killed the crew of Red Dwarf. In series three, Kryten observes that Rimmer's guilt is misplaced; he'd never be trusted with work that might have serious consequences if not performed right. "Who would put this man, this joke of a man, a man who couldn't outwit a used teabag, in a position of authority where he could wipe out an entire crew?" insists Kryten. "Who? Only a yoghurt. This man is not guilty of manslaughter. He's only guilty of being Arnold J Rimmer. That is his crime. It is also his punishment."

And Rimmer knows it. For despite being a narcissist, on the inside he really isn’t his biggest fan. Series one closes with Rimmer having a savage falling-out with his own clone, and in series two his pessimism and self-loathing quickly warp his living fantasies into waking nightmares.

Poor goalpost head. We understand. He was overshadowed by his brothers and bullied by his father, so we understand his unrealistic ambitions. He spends most of his time with the lucky and well-liked Lister, so we understand why he's bitter. We also understand that he's capable of being something more. In series five, he sacrifices a career breakthrough to save the skin of an officer he's fallen for, and in series six he'd rather battle his evil future self than risk turning into him.

So he really is capable of becoming Ace Rimmer; albeit a more awkward version. That moment when he dons the swishy wig and prepares for liftoff is the perfect farewell. He gets to swan off and attempt life as a talented, charming version of himself. He's given a chance to actually like who he is.

We've always liked him though, and that's kind of weird. After all, most of us know someone similar, or did at school. A Prefect, maybe. One who's obsessed with protocol and possesses few tangible good qualities but acts like royalty. You’d think Rimmer would therefore be a villain, someone we love to hate, but no, we’re on his side. And when he wins we feel a strange squirm of happiness on his behalf.

After all, his only real vice can be summed up by Rimmer himself: "a bit of a cock-up in the bravado department".
I'm organised, I'm dedicated to my career, I've always got a pen. Result? Total smeghead despised by everyone except the ship's parrot. And that's only because we haven't got one.
Rimmer: "Morning, Lister! How's life in hippie heaven, you pregnant baboon bellied space beatnik? What's the plan for the day then? Slobbing in the morning, followed by slobbing in the afternoon, then a bit of a snooze before the main evening's slob? God, you're a disgrace to the species."
Lister: "Good morning, Rimmer."
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 30 July 2015
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