Space Janitors: S3E3-E6

Space Janitors is a workplace comedy webseries taking place on the Death Star. It’s funny and if you care about spoilers I recommend you go and watch it before reading my ongoing criticisms of season three, which mostly worked even despite the flaws that I’m cataloging in meticulous detail here.

So, episodes three, four, and five do little to advance the main plot. Episode three is about Ellen and how everyone else is bored to tears by the stories of her galactic travels in the past year, and then she finally gets to tell her stories to her friends at the end of an episode after some shenanigans involving a brain parasite. The effects of the brain parasite on the main characters is one of the funniest parts of the third season. They see themselves as frantic, erratic, and driven, having intense conversations and taking extreme actions, but to outsiders they’re just shuffling around and saying “yeah, man,” periodically.

A forcefield in Echo Base engineering comes up, and will be used as a callback later on in the finale, except its function will be reversed. Instead of being activated or deactivated from the inside, where the parasite-crazed protagonists have sealed themselves while overheating the reactor and melting the base, in the finale it will be activated and deactivated from the outside, imprisoning the person trapped inside. The forcefield is activated by stabbing a console rather than pushing buttons in the finale, which is probably why. This is all a bunch of nitpicking, but it’s also 100% of the impact episode three will have on the plot going forward, despite being an entertaining episode on its own. It’s basically the beginning and end of Ellen’s character arc, and Ellen is the only character who won’t really contribute anything to the season finale.

In episode four, the team plays a board game called Haunted Heroes. Dennis has never played before, but everyone else is dreading the game except Darby. Darby convinces them to play anyway, then uses treachery and cunning to destroy each of them in turn until only Dennis remains. Dennis plays a card that basically allows him to win instantly so long as he hasn’t taken any hostile action the entire game, which he hasn’t, having been basically completely absent from the rest of the episode when the unfolding drama of the game took place. The card is pretty blatantly just there to serve the plot, and since it revives and restores the property of its target’s victims, it’s not even clear how it ends the game in victory for Dennis. It’s also not clear why the card revives Ellen’s woods witch at all, since she was actually killed by Edith’s warlord. Darby just supplied the item necessary to do the deed and talked Edith into eliminating the computer before she could become the inevitable victor. Griping about game design aside, the episode is a lot like episode three in that it works and it’s funny but it doesn’t build up to anything.

Episode five is the Hope Day Special, a parody of the Star Wars Christmas Special, and I have no idea how well it does as a parody because no power on this Earth could ever compel me to watch that film. Mike is putting on a Hope Day pageant, and while I’ve consistently described him as laid back, this is the episode where it’s important to note that this is not his only defining character trait. He’s also rather a grump, and now that he’s finally trying to do something other than just be the glue that holds the group together (mostly just the glue that holds Darby to the rest of the group), he gets pretty grumpy when it inevitably goes wrong. Mike’s finale is a magic act in which he pulls a facehugger out of a hat, the facehugger escapes its cage before the act, and the rest of the episode is about everyone trying to catch the facehugger backstage while Mike intermittently shoves one of them onstage to stall for time with an act they’ve made up on the spot. Colin Mochrie from Whose Line Is It Anyway also shows up to make some funny faces at the acts.

Following the theme of the episodes three and four, episode five is funny (though less so than the other two) but contributes basically nothing to the season arc. All of this empty air in the middle of the season is way more noticeable in a season whose finale relied on character arcs that were only clear in retrospect, as opposed to the first two seasons, which also engaged in a lot of these kinds of filler episodes, but generally had season finales that revolved around a single moment of upheaval to the status quo, rather than being a more dramatic culmination of an ongoing character tension. In the first two seasons, an episode’s only obligation was to be funny on its own. In season three, the season as a whole has an obligation to set up the dramatic confrontations between Edith and Roarke as well as Darby and Admiral Ackbar. These three filler episodes are funny, but they miss a chance to be a vehicle for Roarke’s backstory to explain why she went full-on Imperial between seasons and to help establish Edith’s fear that she’s ultimately an Imperial at heart and can never really be a Rebel.

Episode six dedicates itself almost in its entirety to setting up the upcoming confrontation between Darby and Ackbar. Princess Leia and Admiral Ackbar have shown up (amongst presumably many other high-ranking Rebels) for a war summit. Ellen is managing the summit in a somewhat vague and ambiguous way (she’s playing the role of the boots on the ground manager of a professional conference, except it’s a war summit so how much managing is there to do past showing people their quarters, the war room, and telling them when the summit begins?). She pawns the most troublesome visitor, Princess Leia, off to Darby, telling him that if he shows the “guest of honor” around the base, it might get him on his father’s radar. Turns out, Princess Leia is also Admiral Ackbar’s child. This doesn’t stop her from trying to put the moves on a clearly uncomfortable Darby in exchange for a shuttle off the planet, though, because it turns out that plot twist, Darby is by far the least dickish member of his family.

So after spending the better part of the episode getting in touch with Ackbar, the first time they’ve spoken since that season one reveal, Darby is treated like garbage by his father. Ackbar is mainly irate with him for wasting his time when he has important conversations to have with his more important daughter.

All of this was setup once already back in episode one, which was all about how Darby feels like he doesn’t fit in with the Rebellion, that he might not fit in anywhere. His relationship with his father turned out to be completely insignificant, and his father hadn’t even tried to contact him since he showed up at Echo Base. By bringing it up again in episode six, it reminds viewers that it’s a thing and makes it clear that it’s an important thing, something they should be paying attention to, not just a one-off gag. It buries the question “where is this going” in viewers’ subconscious, so that when it goes somewhere there’s a feeling of closure, rather than only being able to tell that they were going somewhere with all of this after the fact.

Edith and General Crane get a conversation together, too…one that pushes them in exactly the wrong direction, though. They have some banter where Edith is shown to have gotten good at mimicking General Crane’s madness, and Mike and Ellen are upset with her because she’s too busy schmoozing with her new best friend the general to remind him that her friends even exist. If your exposure to Space Janitors season three is just through these synopses, you might be wondering why I skipped all the scenes in which Mike and/or Ellen needed something from General Crane, tried to go through Edith, and got brushed off. The reason why I skipped those scenes is because they didn’t actually happen. This thing where an ambitious Edith is leaving her friends behind exists purely for the duration of episode six. It wasn’t set up in Edith’s first interactions with Crane in episode two, and episodes seven and eight will take her character arc in a completely different direction for the finale.

This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s okay for the episode to have a self-contained arc in which Edith has been blowing off her friends in order to spend time schmoozing with her boss, and then comes to realize that her crazy boss is, y’know, crazy and that her friends are much more reliable. The problem is, this is the season’s last chance to clearly set up Edith’s character arc of being scared that she is somehow fundamentally Imperial, and they spend all of their Edith/Crane screentime on a completely different emotional arc instead. They even could’ve worked it into the existing scene with only a tiny tweak by having Mike and/or Ellen say that the clearly disingenuous way Edith is schmoozing with Crane (who appears to be too crazy to notice the disingenuity, and in fairness it’s way more obvious when you can see her radical shifts in personality between a conversation with Crane and when she’s having normal conversation with her friends), or by having Edith think they’re implying that even when they didn’t. This could’ve tied in with another season-long sub-plot that gets resolved here, when Dennis walks in and makes out with Edith, a relationship they’ve been keeping secret at Edith’s insistence with episode 1, because she’s worried that it might harm her career.

These two B-plots could’ve had an episode unto themselves to develop Edith as being terrified of being fundamentally Imperial and yet constantly, blindly engaging in Imperial ruthlessness while trying to climb the Rebel ladder. There could’ve been a scene where one of Edith’s friends asks her to raise a concern with General Crane, and she tries to, but he makes some crazy dismissive response and instead of standing up for her friends, Edith folds. There could’ve also been a scene where Dennis reiterates that he doesn’t like their relationship being secret, and doesn’t like being so clearly secondary to Edith’s own interests. When Edith’s friends get upset with her and Edith gets defensive about her interactions with Crane, she could talk about how they don’t get it because they’re not cuh-razy like she and Crane are (as she does in episode six), and then she could weave in how they don’t think she can roll with the chaos of life because they think she’s some kind of Imperial control freak, but she’s not, she’s a Rebel now, and she does crazy Rebel things with General Crane. This would’ve helped set up Roarke as Edith’s shadow self, and the confrontation between the two as a confrontation between Edith and her own past. That confrontation happens, but it’s a resolution to this completely unrelated emotional arc about Edith neglecting her friends to schmooze with General Crane.

And in exchange for that episode, you could’ve cut the Hope Day Special. Maybe Haunted Heroes. Those were good episodes, and if we could just have nine episodes in season three that would’ve been fine, but budgets are a thing and if you have to have just eight episodes, neither episodes four nor five contribute much of anything to the overall season arc, nor do they shine any spotlight on otherwise neglected characters the way episode three did to Ellen.

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