Airdate: 26 March 1992
On an expedition to an ocean moon, the Boyz from the Dwarf find something alarming: Not only is there an abandoned Space Corp Seeding Ship filled with corpses, everyone and everybeing on-board has committed suicide. It's not long before Lister, Kryten and the Cat find themselves coming down with crippling depression. Rimmer, back on Starbug, has worse news: Something, the thing responsible for all the suicides, a gigantic squid monster, is coming for them.
Fleeing, the boys cram back into the 'bug and try fleeing. It doesn't work, and they end up crashing into an underwater cliff-face, killing them all instantly.
Game over. As in, literally, game over.
The four awake in a strange room, where a reassuring voice tells them that for the last several years they've been playing a fully immersive video game, as it welcomes them back to reality. All four are disoriented, but especially the former Cat, who's been saddled with ludicrously oversized buck teeth. A technician soon comes in, and asks them how they're doing. He's got some surprise revelations. Apparently, Lister was supposed to get Kochanski (in fact, it's the whole point of the game for him), and Rimmer was supposed to be a secret agent for the Space Corps, guiding Lister to his ultimate destiny as creator of the second universe.
The former boys are more than a little dubious about all of this, and concerned since their memories aren't returning, but they're quickly shuffled off to a nearby lounge, to try and figure things out while a new bunch of players take their place. Red Dwarf's a popular game, after all. In the lounge, they quickly learn their identities: The Cat is actually a sad, unfortunate nerd called Duane Dibley, Kryten is actually a cop named Jake Bullet, working in Cybernautics, Lister is an affluent man called Sebastian Doyle, and Rimmer is his destitute half-brother William.
Going out into the parking lot, the four discover the state of the world they live in, a world in the decades long grip of fascism, where the government offers fabulous prizes to people willing to inform on their families and friends. They find Sebastian's fancy car waiting, but before they can get in, they're distracted by an armed man chasing a child for stealing an apple. Not even Jake Bullet can pull rank, since Cybernautics is actually just traffic control. Then the man sees Sebastian, the "Voter-Colonel". As the Voter-Colonel, it's his job to "purify" democracy, mainly by killing dangerous voters. The man sees the child again, and opens fire... only to drop dead when Bullet shoots him.
Suddenly, things snap back to Starbug, where the four really are, stuck in a group hallucination, despite Holly's best efforts. In their fantasy, the group flee, "pursued" by the agents of the fascist government. They wind up in an alley, each despondent at their apparent lot in life, Kryten still massively overwhelmed by killing a human. At Duane Dibley's suggestion, they all decide to stick their heads together so they can all be shot in the head at the same time...
Fortunately, Holly manages to get a signal to Kryten, getting him to open up an emergency extinguisher, actually releasing a mood stabilizer into the ship. Before the crew can actually kill one another, they snap out of it. Turns out the Squid's toxin was responsible, pushing them into trying to kill themselves via sheer despondency, via subverting their natural traits. Cat via his mind-melting shallowness, Rimmer by removing his ability to blame his parents for his crappy life, Lister by convincing him that he's a mass-murderer for a totalitarian state, and Kryten via his guilt.
As for the Despair Squid, Holly took care of it while the boys were out. With that done, and no reason to stick around, Starbug heads back to Red Dwarf.
Tropes present in this episode include:
- Always Someone Better:
- One of the major elements that drives Rimmer to the brink of suicide is the fact that in "reality" he's a pathetic wastrel despite sharing an upbringing with Lister, who is his uterinal half-brother and a wealthy politician.
- Also used on Lister/Doyle when he looks in on the new players and sees them easily pulling off being action heroes, and walks away clearly wondering if he really is that much of a failure to have achieved so little in all his time in the game.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Rimmer despairs that he's on the run from the fascist police with a murderer, a mass-murderer, and a man in a bry-nylon shirt.
- Awesome Mc Cool Name: Kryten really likes his new name, Jake Bullet.Kryten: "Jake Bullet"? I like the sound of that. That sounds like a man who gets things done by cutting corners and bucking authority. And if those pen-pushers up at city hall don't like it, they can park their fat asses on this mid digit and swivel! Swivel 'till they squeal like pigs on a honeymoon!
- Badge Gag: Kryten flashes his Cybernautics badge at a secret policeman. Turns out they're just traffic control.
- Brick Joke: When Kryten gets a bit too into bragging about how Jake Bullet of the Cybernautics unit must be, Rimmer brings him back to earth by pointing out, for all they know, Cybernautics could simply handle traffic control and Bullet just happens to have "a rather stupid macho name". When confronted by the secret policeman, Kryten tries to talk his way out of it by flashing his badge and announcing himself as Bullet from Cybernautics. He's promptly informed that Cybernautics handles traffic control.
- Crapsack World: The world in the hallucination has insanely popular, fully immersive video games that can be played for years, without the players suffering any muscle atrophy. It's also a fascistic nightmare where anyone who might vote the wrong way is "purified" by voter-colonels, and even the theft of a single apple is grounds for being shot, without any care that the thief is a child.
- Crapsack World, Escapist Sanctuary: Though the crew initially believe that they only played for four years because of their own unsatisfying real-world lives, it turns out that the game is incredibly popular in the society they've awakened in, to the point that there's a two-year waiting list, though the crew don't find out why until they leave the gaming arcade: the real world is a fascist dystopia where petty larceny is punishable by death and anyone who might vote against the ruling party ends up on the receiving end of a mass-execution.
- Cutting Back to Reality: The audience is given no indication that the emergence from VR is a hallucination up until the Dwarfers have to escape from the police in a dramatic car chase... whereupon we cut back to the crew in the midsection of Starbug as they sit down on a bunch of crates and act out the chase - complete with swerves, bullet wounds, and driving over a spit bridge - all while Holly remains in the background, trying to tell them that they're hallucinating.
- Darker and Edgier: Easily one of the darkest episodes in the series, with an ominous tone and a climax that very nearly sees the cast Driven to Suicide. Of course, it also happens to be one of the funniest, too.
- Deadly Euphemism: The "Ministry of Alteration", which Col. Sebastian Doyle heads, is in charge of "changing" people. That is, they change them into dead people.
- Despair Event Horizon: The end result of the Despair Squid's toxin. It works on men, cats, holograms, droids and even fish. But fortunately, not on ship's computers.
- Epic Fail: The hallucination claims the boys had accomplished a grand total of four percent playing Red Dwarf. Lister was supposed to start the second Big Bang and end up with Kochanski, while Rimmer was supposed to find out early on he was actually a top-flight badass meant to guide Lister to his ultimate destiny, rather than be the smeg-head he usually is. And they never visited the Planet of the Nymphomaniacs; some players stay in that particular part of the game for years.
- Everyone Has Standards: Even Rimmer is visibly disturbed by the description of the fascist world they live in.
- Facepalm: Rimmer does this when it's revealed that Jake Bullet is really just a traffic cop.
- Ghost Planet: The entire ocean moon is devoid of all life, thanks to the Despair Squid making everything kill itself.
- God Guise: In the Red Dwarf game, Lister's ultimate fate when played properly is supposed to be jump starting the second Big Bang with Starbug. This is meant to be ironic - Lister, the ultimate atheist, being God. Which is strange because Lister is outright stated to be a pantheist and it's Rimmer who scoffs at the notion of God.
- This surely shows just how poorly Lister was being played. Sebastian Doyle couldn't even get the fundamental religious outlook of his character right, getting it entirely reversed!
- Gone Horribly Wrong: The seeding mission on the ocean moon was intended to create life and speed up evolution. It certainly worked, alright.Lister: Those planet engineers really screwed up in a big way here, didn't they? Playing god. The evolutionary process threw up a life force so much stronger and more deadly than any other species... damn near wiped out everything on the entire planet. Spreading despair and destruction wherever it stuck its ugly mush.
- Immediate Self-Contradiction:Rimmer: "Billy Doyle". Well that's a name that came from the wrong side of the the tracks, isn't it? You can see it all now - a youth spent in and out of corrective institutions. A string of illegitimate children; the wife will be all white shoes, no tights and blotchy legs. Has to take up petty crime to cover the court orders for maintenance. Before he knows it, he's standing in a bank with a sawn-off shotgun; somehow it goes off. An old lady gets both barrels through a crocheted bobble-hat. All he can do is hide. But where? And then it hits him: with all his ill-gotten gains, he can buy four years in a computer game and wait until the heat's off. So ends the Ballad of Billy "Granny Killer" Doyle. (on realising it's himself) "William Doyle." Good old Bill Doyle. You know, that sounds like a hell of a good name to me! Probably connected with the Boston Doyles; old money, blue chip stock.
- Irony: In his fantasy, Rimmer is Lister's half brother ("same mother"). As revealed in "The Beginning" and material that's All There in the Manual, John, Frank, and Howard are only half brothers to him too, again same mother. And the man they call 'Father'? He didn't father any of them.
- Meaningful Name: Andy the Technician states that the name of the derelict, Esperanto, was a clue on how to defeat the Despair Squid.Andy: "Esperanto"? Hope. Hope defeats despair, the Despair Squid. It's blatant, isn' it?
- Mood Whiplash: Just as the fantasy gets supremely bleak, it cuts back to what the Boys are really doing: Standing around in Starbug, sleep-walking their fantasy (because, well, Red Dwarf doesn't have the budget to show the epic car chase they think they go through).
- Mundane Solution: Andy claims that the Despair Squid could only be defeated by the guns on the science ship, which would have required some quick lateral thinking and linguistic knowledge note on the part of the Boyz. Holly took it out limpet mines instead.Holly: There's enough fried calamari out there to feed the whole of Italy!
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Subverted when Kryten tries to sound tough with the name Jake Bullet ... only to discover that his Badass-sounding 'Cybernautics Division' is traffic control.
- Nightmare of Normality: The lion's share of the episode, featuring the crew being reduced from their almost semi-heroic roles to a bunch of even more dysfunctional gamers.
- Non-Indicative Name: Jake Bullet, the kind of name you'd think is some sort of Cowboy Cop, is actually in traffic control. Lampshaded in-universe.
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: While the Boyz were trapped in the hallucination, Holly killed the Despair Squid with limpet mines.
- People's Republic of Tyranny: The totalitarian state of the hallucination. There are election campaign posters... for the fascists, who have been in power for thirty straight years. Citizens are addressed as "voters" and shot if they vote wrong, sometimes en masse.
- Psychological Torment Zone: What the Despair Squid's ink causes in a full on dose. The hallucination is shared, but hits each victim in a way specifically designed to utterly destroy them.
- Rimmer is first told he wasn't supposed to be the total smeg-head he usually is, the "prat version" of Rimmer actually being a deep cover identity which most players of "Red Dwarf" quickly suss out. Then, he's robbed of any ability to blame his parents and upbringing for his crappy station in life by being the half-brother of the successful and rich Sebastian Doyle.
- Lister is told his ultimate objective in the game was to wind up with Kochanski in an epic romance story. Then he's told he's the head of the secret police for a totalitarian government, which clashes badly with his self-image as a morally upright slacker.
- Kryten is tricked into believing he killed a man, even if it was in defence of a child, going against his programming.
- And the Cat is the easiest, since he is so mind-meltingly shallow that just being an utter nerd like Duane Dibley is enough to drive him to suicide.
- A Rare Sentence: Upon encountering a fish of a species "similar to the Earth haddock" that appears to have "voluntarily closed its own gills", Lister raises a pertinent question, only to then quickly realise it's not a question that's asked every day.Lister: Why would a haddock kill itself? [Beat] Why am I even asking that question?
- Rewatch Bonus: Lister's first words after waking up from "the game. "Lister: This is a very very bad dream, right?
- Running Gag: After learning his identity in the hallucination, all the Cat can say is "DUANE DIBLEY?" at random intervals.
- Simulated Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic Reality: Already set in the series' post-apocalyptic universe, the episode is set on an ocean world where the Despair Squid has wiped out all life on the planet, including the researchers who were testing the enhanced evolution in the first place. The Boyz from the Dwarf soon discover that the squid's ink is a hallucinogen so powerful that it plunges them into a shared dream designed to attack their self-esteem and drive them to suicidal despair. Ironically, this particular delusion begins with them waking up to find that their experiences on Red Dwarf were just a four-year-long VR gaming experience.
- What Could Have Been: In-universe, Andy the technician reveals all the plotlines that usually come of successful players of Red Dwarf. Later on, Lister takes a look at another game in progress, and rather than Red Dwarf's usual sitcom antics, instead the other players are in some kind of epic space-opera with a macho Lister in a steamy relationship with Kochanski.