Where to begin with Arnold Judas Rimmer? Presented with this man-shaped bundle of self-doubt, bitterness and neurotic ambition, Sigmund Freud himself would have chucked in his notebook and waved a white flag. But we're made of sterner stuff, so let's roll up our sleeves and dissect the life of Red Dwarf's foremost vending machine repairman.
All Arnold wanted to be was an officer. He cared, he really did. Why, he even went to the effort of scribbling the answers to an important exam all over his legs and arms, and if that's not dedication we don't know what is. Sadly, before he could confound his father, his brothers and everyone who'd ever mocked or doubted him (ie, every single person he'd ever met), Rimmer was horribly killed in the radiation disaster on Red Dwarf. Thus the tragic and sorry saga of Rimmer was brought to a sudden end, only for it to start all over again when he was brought back as a hologram to keep Lister company on the almost deserted Dwarf. It was the ultimate Odd Couple set-up: two very different men developing a grudging respect for each other. Only without the grudging respect.
What almost redeems Rimmer, though, is he's fully aware of what a staggering git of a man he really is. He knows it, but can't do anything about it, and therein lies the poignancy of his plight. Poor Arnie hates himself so much, he couldn't even enjoy the Better Than Life virtual reality game, where your every desire can come true. His own skulking subconscious smegged it all up for him, leaving him buried in sand with a face smeared with jam. Soon after that, even Lister felt sorry enough for him to implant him with false memories of a happy relationship – which was a godsend for Rimmer, whose most significant non-imaginary sexual adventure had been with a slightly concussed Yvonne McGruder.
But just when you think he's actually all right underneath it all, Rimmer has a way of reminding you that yes, you were right to want to punch him after all. Think of the time he stole Lister's body, promising to get it into shape and instead gorging on cigars and mashed potato. And his sheer, weaselly Rimmerishness was thrown into sharper relief with the arrival of Ace.
Oh, Ace Rimmer! He of the shampoo-advert hair, the dreamy eyes and vast reserves of swoon-inducing bravery. What a guy! Or, as far as our Rimmer was concerned, what a smug git. It's fair to say Arnie and his far better, parallel universe self didn't see eye to eye. But in a shocking twist, our Rimmer actually BECAME Ace later on, donning a wig and flying off to do heroic stuff around the cosmos. (Note to the Red Dwarfishly challenged: countless Rimmers from different universes take it in turns to don the mantle of Ace.)
It seemed that Rimmer had finally redeemed himself and we'd never see him again. But we weren't about to be let off that easily. When the original crew of Red Dwarf were resurrected by the nanobots, the original human Rimmer was back. And, not having undergone any of the personal growth of the hologram Rimmer, he was just as much of a scheming rat man as ever. Despite doing his best to betray the Dwarfers and manipulate the crew, this Rimmer ended up in a prison cell with Lister and eventually met his apparent doom when the Dwarf came under assault from a metal-eating thingy. We say "apparent" – the last we saw of him, Rimmer was kneeing the Grim Reaper in the groin and running for it. Was it a hallucination? Did Rimmer die on the Dwarf? Or did he escape into a mirror universe?
Hey, take it up with the fan forums. We'll move swiftly on to nine years later, with Red Dwarf once again populated only by Lister, Kryten, the Cat and... a hologram Rimmer. And here's a question that even a panel consisting of Stephen Hawking, Stephen Fry and Data from the Goonies would have trouble answering: is this the Rimmer who flew off to become Ace, or an entirely new hologram? Don't think about it too much or your brain will start to melt out of your nostrils in a really gross way. To sum up, this latest Rimmer isn't quite so much a smeghead as the human one, but more weaselly than the one who became Ace. Hope that clears it up.