Space Janitors: S3E1

Space Janitors is a comedy webseries about a pair of janitors who work on the Death Star. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough that I recommend watching it if you think the premise sounds interesting. It’s a total of twenty-four episodes between five and fifteen minutes (ish) a piece, so it’s not that hard to binge. I’m getting that out of the way up front because I’m spoiling the Hell out of this so that I can complain about its third season.

Specifically we’re going to be complaining about season three. Episode by episode. I have very mixed feelings about season three. On the one hand, the finale was pretty well executed, but on the other hand, it feels like the finale to a season they didn’t actually film?

Episode 1

First of all, let’s introduce our characters. If you’ve seen the show recently, you can skip this oversized paragraph. Season Three opens with the space janitors Darby, who’s ambitious but doesn’t have much skill or luck and is semi-regularly a bit of a jerk, and Mike, who is more laid back. They’ve defected to the Rebel Alliance and are shoveling snow on the driveway of Echo Base. Darby attempts to convince Mike to get together and have a get together of all their old friends from the Death Star, nearly all of whom have defected, but Mike has joined a book club that’s meeting on top of the timeslot, and Darby declines Mike’s offer to come to the club. Darby goes around to his other friends and there are similar excuses: Edith, formerly a droid psychologist on the Death Star, is now a mid-ranking Rebel officer and says she’s too busy going to the war room. Edith is secretly in a relationship with an ex-stormtrooper named Dennis. He’s a clone grown from a vat and is apparently designed for loyalty and ease of manufacture above all else, and his intelligence and accuracy have suffered as a result of the overspecialization. That, or the Empire’s genetic engineers suck at their job. The first two seasons depict it as a pretty dysfunctional workplace, so either one. Regardless, Dennis now runs the cantina at Echo Base and agrees that he and Darby are the only two defecting Imperials who never seem to have found their place while frequently interrupting the conversation to obliviously have friendly chats with a half-dozen Rebels in the bar. Ellen (technically LN), a droid who defected long before the others (retroactively explaining her absence in season two), is basically 100% unsympathetic to Darby’s nostalgia for the Empire and being the only one who hasn’t really found a place for himself since joining the Rebellion, and instead just goes on about how much fun she’s had traveling the galaxy.

There’s a couple of things set up here in the first half of this first episode, but only a few of them will really be delivered on. Edith is ambitiously trying to climb her way up the Rebel ranks, and she doesn’t want people to know she’s in a relationship with dim-witted Dennis, and this will get a payoff later on. While all of the main characters were kept down by the petty bureaucracy and workplace backstabbing on the Death Star, Darby is the only one who’s failed to flourish amongst the generally healthier workplace of the Rebels, which could’ve led to him confronting the idea that the reason he’s never gotten anywhere in life isn’t because he was stuck in the Empire, but that maybe “janitor” really is the highest thing he can aspire to. This is never brought up again.

At the end of the episode, absolutely no one shows up for Darby’s get-together. Not even Dennis, who runs the bar it’s being held at. Instead a Mon Calamari is there, who is one of Darby’s many thousands of brothers, because Darby was given a race transplant at birth to hide him from the Empire since his father is Admiral Ackbar.

Brief aside about Darby’s parentage, there’s a bit of what’s probably intentional anti-climax here. Admiral Ackbar being Darby’s father was the big reveal at the end of season one. Then throughout season two, Darby slowly comes to terms with the fact that he’s got Rebel blood and eventually becomes more and more disloyal to the Empire. No one else showed any signs of particular disloyalty to the Empire. In fact, Dennis gave a speech to several other clones (also named Dennis) encouraging them not to hope for early retirement to Pyus Dunes, the paradise planet where clones who survive their full eight year tour of duty are sent. Edith is outwardly more committed to Imperial philosophy and propaganda than anyone else in the group (although a Rebel spy does at one point suggest that she might be the least loyal of the group deep down). LN wasn’t even in season two, and Mike is too laid back to have any particular political opinions. Darby is almost certainly the one who convinced the group to defect, and very probably did so because he thought that in the Rebellion, where his father is an admiral, he could finally be somebody.

Now here he is, the only one showing up to his own Death Star nostalgia party, because everyone else fits into the Rebellion better than he does. The only other person in the room is one of his five thousand siblings, because it turns out being Admiral Ackbar’s son still makes him completely insignificant. The anti-climax of the main plot arc of seasons one and two being resolved offscreen, that resolution being that it was actually nothing to get worked up about in the first place, and that it’s only being referenced here after the fact is probably intentional and certainly adds to the sense of disappointment Darby feels about the whole situation. So that’s nice.

Darby runs off to join some snow people and despite having missed his get together completely, they all get together to save him from the snow people that they think have kidnapped him. There’s a parody of Han searching for Luke, as upon being informed that it’s too cold to search for Darby tonight, Mike says “then I’ll see you in the morning,” with the same cadence as Han Solo’s “then I’ll see you in Hell” up until delivering the anti-climax. Plans to set out first thing get pushed back to 10:30. The whole thing comes off as though all of Darby’s friends really don’t care super much that he’s trapped outside overnight on Hoth. The episode is pretty strongly setting up Darby’s friends as actually having drifted away to the point where they’re not willing to take any risks to ensure his well-being. Fair enough, Darby is frequently an irritating, self-centered jerk, and while he’s shown the ability to empathize and grow as a person in the first two seasons, he hasn’t come that far and is still mainly looking out for himself.

Then at the end of the episode when Darby’s friends do show up to find him living with the snow people, we learn that Mike actually passed up a job in engineering so that Darby wouldn’t be alone on janitorial duties, something Darby was too busy moping about being one of five thousand Ackbar kids to notice. So, the Han Solo parody segueing into all of Darby’s friends showing total apathy to his well-being was just for the sake of the joke? Or did they somehow know he’d be alright running straight into Snow People territory in the middle of the night on a murderously cold ice planet?

Space Janitors generally has this problem where it has some pretty good ideas for character arcs and character development, the line-to-line dialogue is funny and engaging, and the actors have the talent to pull it off, but it all fails to stick the landing. Character arcs are barely even referenced before being resolved, or sometimes the direction of the arc is heavily obscured by characters acting counter to their motivation for the sake of a joke. The jokes work in the moment because no one scene is out of character. You could plausibly see Mike deciding that he’s only going to stick his neck out so far for Darby and you could also plausibly see Mike deciding that Hell or high water Darby is his friend, the problem is that Mike is depicted both ways just minutes apart from one another. That’s not an incidental character trait, that’s the main arc of the first episode. You can’t hang the climax on Mike’s unwavering loyalty to Darby if that loyalty wavered during the same episode.

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