Space Janitors: S3E2

As mentioned before, Space Janitors is a workplace comedy taking place on board the Death Star, it’s pretty good and I recommend you watch it before reading me complain about it in excruciating detail. Spoilers for me complaining about season 3 will be below the break.

In episode 2, Darby and Mike discover a mysterious droid and decide to bring it back to Echo Base. Edith learns about this and hilarity ensues as they attempt to get what inevitably turns out to be an Imperial probe droid out of the base without letting it realize that there’s any Rebels here. They bust out their old Imperial uniforms to convince the droid that this is an Imperial base, a callback is made to a season one episode where Darby was mistaken for the Emperor as Darby now uses his Emperor disguise to bestow a medal upon the probe droid for excellent service, a medal which conveniently blocks its one eye, before it is told to move to the other side of the planet and bury itself in snow.

The episode is relayed from Edith to her boss, General Crane.  General Crane is a total nut who believes that “fate” and “destiny” are the only planning needed, and he dresses down Edith for giving orders instead of trusting in faith, although he still ultimately praises her for resolving the situation (probably because she did it with an insane sitcom scheme). Edith is eager to impress him in order to further her career, and plays along with his constant stream of insane deepities.

Reference is made here to Edith being a former Imperial, and there will be callbacks to this later, but this is a character arc that completely failed to gel, and entirely because it is developed completely by interaction between Edith and the bugfuck insane General Crane up until the climax. From the way she reacts to the callback to this conversation in the climax, Edith is apparently supposed to be really shaken by the idea that she’s inescapably Imperial, that she can never succeed in the Rebellion because she’s too much about order and can’t embrace freedom and chaos. Remember, Edith is the one who was outwardly the strongest supporter of Imperial philosophy back on the Death Star, and she was the one who most explicitly discouraged Darby’s drift towards Rebel sympathizing throughout season two. The problem is that no one but General Crane ever references this suspicion, and Edith has General Crane’s complete confidence. Plus, General Crane is crazy and it’s hard to distinguish Edith’s unease at being too Imperial from her unease with the half-dozen other nutcase things General Crane does in this and subsequent conversations between the two.

After Edith and General Crane’s conversation, he goes out and finds the Imperial probe droid and shows off his fancy Rebel insignia for it, thus causing it to alert Officer Roarke on the Death Star to the presence of Rebels on an ice planet. For some reason the probe droid can’t say which ice planet. Here we see the final member of the season two social group, who replaced Ellen during her (at the time unexplained) absence, and also my first major disappointment for season three.

In season two, Roarke “the Rebel killer” is foreshadowed as an infamously brutal officer, rumored to have once sent her entire deck crew to the spice mines of Kessel just because she wanted some spice. When the characters meet her, it turns out that she’s actually just relentlessly cheerful and tries to put a positive spin on absolutely everything, no matter how obviously terrible it is, and worse, she keeps up that positivity even when it’s clearly insincere out of the misguided belief that covering an outright rejection of an idea in the veneer of building on the idea would avoid hurt feelings.

Worse than that, when first meeting the group she makes extremely clumsy efforts to befriend them by commandeering the holodeck for an entire day to give each of them in turn a personal, custom-tailored fantasy, all done under the pretense of giving them some kind of mandatory psychological training. She’s convinced that if she can just use her authority as an officer to coerce them into getting started, they’ll love it and have an amazing time. Edith is forced to read out loud her novel, extremely amateurish and written entirely in private, to the group. Roarke is the only one who applauds at the end. Darby gets to be captain on a simulated exploration vessel while everyone else is his crew, and he completely botches even very basic scenarios, humiliating himself in front of the group by demonstrating just how incredibly far-fetched his ambitions of being someone important really are. Mike is cast as a hard-boiled detective like in the bounty hunter fanfiction he writes, but he completely chokes on the role. The whole thing is a disaster and ends with Roarke explaining that she wanted to make a good first impression and apologizing to the group for wasting most of their vacation day, turning them loose to try and salvage the last six hours of it. Darby, Edith, and Mike walk off to try and enjoy the last six hours of their vacation, leaving Roarke in the holodeck.

And then Mike turns around and asks Roarke if she’s coming. This entire social group is a bunch of fuck ups whose disasters frequently spill out to affect their friends. Mike tells her that making a massive mess of things pretty much means she fits right in, because Mike couldn’t hold a grudge with the galaxy’s strongest tractor beam. That’s season two Roarke: Another misfit like the others who desperately wants to make the people under her command happy, and who’s just absolutely, abysmally horrible at it.

It’s not until later in the show that it becomes obvious, but Roarke has been drastically changed for season three. She’s only similar on the surface level. In season three, Roarke is now Edith’s foil, a ruthless Imperial commander who represents everything Edith was and which Edith fears she might never be able to get away from being. Whereas in season two Roarke was an unflinching adherent to an unorthodox and deeply aggravating command style, Edith was her biggest detractor, quoting Imperial propaganda that “stern leadership is required.” Now suddenly it’s Roarke who’s the model of Imperial command, and Edith who’s developing into an unorthodox Rebel commander who depends on chaos to win.

This dichotomy works fine for Edith, as while Roarke’s command style is unorthodox, it’s still very controlling, and the Imperial past Edith is trying to leave behind is one where she was outwardly very committed to the Empire’s philosophy of order and control. Roarke no longer seems at all interested in actually making people happy or keeping an attitude of positivity, though. Instead, she is Flanderized into only caring about “proper etiquette,” perhaps to try and make her a better villain. This is hit home hard in the season three finale when Edith claims that they intentionally ditched Roarke when fleeing to the Rebellion because they defected mainly to get away from her. The group showed no signs of that level of resentment towards Roarke at the end of season two. The last we saw of Edith and Roarke, Roarke was apologizing to Edith for the insincerity of her positivity and Edith had forgiven her. The most of an explanation we get as to why Roarke has had such a change of behavior is that she’s really bitter about having been abandoned by her friends when they all joined the Rebellion without her, but in the climax Edith says that this is specifically because they were trying to get away from Roarke (and implicitly from other people like Roarke, whom the Empire empowers in general). How can Roarke’s character development be the result of something that only makes sense after the character development has already happened? Was goatee Roarke from the future involved?

It seems like we skipped an episode, if not an entire season. Edith has gone from a staunch supporter of the Empire with perhaps some deeply hidden Rebel sympathies to a Rebel officer with a personal relationship with one of their generals. The secret about Darby being Admiral Ackbar’s son has gone from something that only Mike knew to something that everyone knows and turned out not to be important. Roarke’s entire motivation has gone from trying to make friends through relentless positivity to being committed to etiquette as an extension of being a control freak.

For that matter, Roarke has gone from being a minor officer in charge of one deck crew who was excited to have a chance to be master of ceremonies for the surrender of a Rebel planet to someone who apparently has the authority to decide that the entire Imperial fleet is going to Hoth, including the Death Star. She did get a promotion between seasons (the collar of her uniform now has two stars instead of one) but that’s a Hell of a leap in authority.

There’s explanations you can think up. Maybe Roarke is still a relatively low-ranking officer and just happens to be in charge of interpreting probe data to locate the Rebel base, and when she successfully located the Rebels, she’s placed in command of the spearhead of the assault on Echo Base. Maybe Roarke was actually much more powerful than she seemed in season one, since we only saw her at work when she was assigned to the surrender ceremony, and her very small staff may have been a result of budget limitations rather than an indication that she’s the lowest rung of command.

The problem with these explanations is that the show itself never provides them, and that’s the problem with how season three handles Roarke in general. She is the season antagonist, Edith’s foil, the fulcrum upon which the main plot of the entire season turns, and we spend almost no time with her and receive almost no explanation for her actions and her radical shift in motivation. If there was intended to be offscreen character development for Roarke turning her from the misguided misfit we see in season two into the outright villain we see in season three, then no evidence of that character development made it into the videos.

I suspect this fundamentally the same mistake as the other problem with Edith’s character arc, which also surfaced in this video. The writers had a good idea for a character arc, but they were completely unable to communicate the setup for that character arc through all the sketch comedy. The need to give every scene a punchline has completely obscured which moments were meant to allude to serious character conflicts and which were one-off gags. General Crane brings up Edith’s Imperial past and she’s defensive about it, and he also completely bangs on incessantly about “fate” and “destiny” in place of having any kind of plan or organization at all, and there’s no way to tell in advance that the first is a setup for Edith’s character arc and the second is just a joke about how the Rebel Alliance is still just a workplace like the Empire, just one with a crazy Silicon Valley startup boss instead of an officious corporate bureaucrat who rode someone else’s coattails into a job he doesn’t know how to do. It’s less clear with Roarke, but I suspect that it’s the same basic problem. There was no room amongst all the jokes to establish why Roarke has face-heeled so hard and why she did so before her friends even left. Is it because she was, ultimately, the one who pushed the button to destroy Darby’s homeworld, and she refused to accept responsibility? Is it just because she was, ultimately, a total control freak who wouldn’t give it up to join the Rebellion, as compared to Edith who is ultimately loyal to her friends above everything? It’s never made clear. Roarke doesn’t actually have a character arc. She simply is a villain now.

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