I’m going to say this at the outset: Justice is not one of my favourite Red Dwarf episodes. It doesn’t completely suck, but… well, the proximity of the escape pod to Justice World after (presumably) three million years seems a little convenient, and a whole lot of the story relies on Kryten’s hitherto non-existent ability to insult Rimmer at will. Maybe it’s just the continuing development of Kryten’s character, or maybe (this being Justice World and all) it’s because Rimmer actually is ‘an incompetent vending-machine repairman with a Napoleon complex, who commanded as much respect and affection from his fellow crew members as Long John Silver’s parrot’; either way, we’ll forgive the potential plot-hole just because the deadpan mechanoid delivery of such lines is fun to watch.
Anyway, to the episode. The crew find a escape pod from a prison ship, and unsure whether its occupant is the (potentially) beautiful Barbara Bellini or a Simulant who looks like a cross between a psychotic Borg and Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, they locate the original destination of the prison ship, and decide to open the pod in the safety of Justice World.
As is the nature of these things, they get distracted by Rimmer’s misplaced sense of guilt about killing the crew, which leads to Kryten’s insults and the best use of the word ‘yoghurt’ in any science fiction show ever. During Rimmer’s appeal hearing, however, the escape pod opens, and… somebody gets out.
The theme here is, obviously, Justice; inside the Justice Zone, ‘whatever crime you try and commit, the consequences happen to you’. Scientifically improbable, to say the least, but a neat story idea and certainly as it plays out here, an interesting way to explore the ideas of justice, guilt, punishment and so on. Lister certainly gets the message when he inadvertantly sets light to his treasured leather jacket.
On the surface this might seem to be quite a humanistic and almost revenge-centred form of justice, wherein criminals get what’s coming to them until such time as obeying the rules becomes second nature. But on another level, the victims are taking no part in revenge; if it’s needed, vengeance – and as we see during the course of the story, a form of forgiveness – is given out by the unseen ‘Justice Field’.
All of this is quite neatly summed up at the end of the episode in Lister’s philosophical musings on justice, religion and free will:
Mankind’s history has been one long search for justice. That’s what all religions are about: they accept life as being basically unfair but promise everyone will get their just desserts later: heaven, hell, karma, reincarnation, whatever. Those guys who built the penal colony tried to give some order to the universe by creating the Justice Field. But when you’re living in an enviroment where justice does exist, there’s no free will. That’s why in our universe there can never be true, eternal justice – good things will happen to bad people, and bad things will happen to good people. It’s the way it’s got to be. Life, by it’s very nature, has to be cruel, unkind and unfair.
Back to the story: in a very real way, Rimmer is sentenced by nothing more than his own sense of guilt (which, as we discovered in Polymorph, is very much Rimmer’s defining emotion), and very nearly kept there by his own foolish pride not allowing his counsel to do what needs to be done to get him off the hook.
Forgiveness is not always an easy thing; and sometimes, like poor old Arn, we can find it harder to forgive ourselves than to forgive others – even if, like Arnie, what we perceive to be our wrongdoings are really nothing of the sort. So, forgive people, forgive yourself, and maybe you won’t end up of the receiving end of a Justice Field.
If you object to your own counsel once more, Mr Rimmer, you’ll be in contempt.
But the fact is, of course, we’re all far more like Rimmer than we are Kryten; we’re not programmed to be helpful and not call someone a smeg-head when he acts like one. We do that stuff and, because whether we like it or not we are surrounded by the Justice Field many know simply as ‘God’, our default setting is to receive whatever punishment is due (and it may well be said that 9,000 years alone in deep space is pretty close to what God dishes out).
But we also have a defence counsel. A defence counsel who will do whatever is necessary to get us off the hook; He probably won’t resort to petty name-calling – at least not in public – but He is willing to go to places a lot lonelier than 9 millennia alone in deep space, a lot scarier than fisticuffs with a rogue simulant, so that we don’t have to.
The trouble is, of course, that being Rimmer by nature, we tend to argue with Him when we don’t like what He says, or object to what He is trying to do for us… or just forget that He’s even there at all.
Don’t be a yoghurt.