It begins with the Cosmos.
Of course it does. What other beginning would be so apt? We all began in Space—
did you know we’re all made of stardust?
—some astral collisions ad infinitum joining and rejoining from cosmic dust—
you, me, your Father, all of us
—to astral fragment to stellar globes—
our atoms were formed in the stars
—to us as an Earth, as a Species, as a people—
but not the stars you can see now, the older ones
—as people. Human beings with sentience, with thought, with emotion.—
The ones that went Nova.
We all want our endings to be as grandiose as our beginnings. It’s the most appealing part of our own Creation Myth. Of course, “The Big Bang” is based on facts, on Science, on data, hypothesis, conclusion.
But at the end of the day it’s just another story, a way to base our lives in something wonderful, something beautiful, something truly awesome.
We look to the stars, those remnants of ancient suns, and see ourselves, we see our families, our ancestry, our beginnings.
It is a comfort.
Or, it is our ending.
Sliders is a show that keeps up a façade of optimism. Time and time again it shows immense pessimism in the name of the Human Condition. Nearly every double they’ve met has betrayed them. Humanity as a whole lets them down. Societies and governments need to be overthrown, often unsuccessfully.
Now, here, even Science betrays them. A physically impossible globular cluster is coming to destroy the Earth. Our past lives return to destroy us. The beginning joins with the end. It falls apart as you watch.
We will make new stars.
But here we are, watching a war play out on so many levels. Remember “Dead Man Sliding?” There the show put itself on trial, convicting the show it once was for the crimes of the show it had become. Here it becomes more brutal. It’s no longer a trial, but a rebellion. A civil war. The show has become Janus with his hands at his throat.
This is more than just an episode. We’re greeted with a “part one” in the title. That’s all well and good, but the fact remains: this is the first two-parter since the Pilot, which sort of doesn’t count. This is a big deal. We’ve been working towards this, haven’t we? All the evidence is in place. The stakes have only once been this high. The battle lines are drawn. This is the showdown within Sliders— and, as we’ll see, the showdown with the sliders themselves.
This is what we’ve been waiting for— what we’ve been building towards.
This is it.
We have a world in danger— a danger outside the government. A danger, though inaccurately depicted, is at least based in a familiar reality to our own. Then there’s the politics. A magazine showing us, not telling us, pretty much all we need to know about this alternate history without resorting to a huge and ungainly infodump. It’s better than an almanac, but it’s still reminiscent.
So we are rewarded for paying attention for the first time since Season One. This woman seems to be, if not a Scientist, then at least familiar with Science and in charge of Science Station and calls a Real Scientist on the phone. So the military is in charge of a lot more here, ostensibly. Russia’s at our throats. The Cold War got Hot.
Bam. Sliders is back.
But then the other Cold War we’ve been watching comes to the front. This Military Scientist is attack from behind by a mystery man with a needle, draining a fluid from her spine. He then injects himself in the neck with the needle, and takes on her face.
So there’s that. You cannot more accurately portray the differences between the Beginnings of Sliders and Now. But let’s take this at face value: what are we really seeing? As far as we know, we see two injections, a slightly rippled face, and a twin. All we have right now is a mystery. Sure, a slightly silly mystery, maybe. But we have no explanation for this. So let’s leave it for later.
Then, after the teaser, the gang slides onto a couch. The ‘couch gag’ here almost seems out of place in what passes for humor in this season. Which actually brings up a good point I haven’t thought of: how humorless the show’s become. I mean, sure, it’s hilarious— Dragonslide was a total laugh riot. But I’m not sold on how much the writers actually meant for the show to be funny. The last time there was an earnestly comical episode was “Dead Man Sliding.” And, despite what I previously wrote about Season One’s comedy episodes, was a real tour-de-force.
But the thing here is that the Couch Landing works within the episode. It’s just a part of the action, rather than jarring up against the tone. The crazy hobo dude is a little more problematic, but he’s in and out of the episode in like, two seconds. Sucks for his apartment, though:
So a bleeding Doctor Jarabek sputters out some Science Nonsense about Trajectories and dies. More mystery! More questions! But here’s the thing: this is really exciting! We’re getting a genre-mashup that I don’t think we’ve seen on Sliders before! It looks like we’re about to get a spy movie episode! We’re getting a James Bond movie! We’re getting a show with Russians in it that relies on a slightly less offensive set of stereotypical “Evil Russian” plots— or at least one that’s slightly more based in a sense of reality. The Pilot’s xenophobia was one of the more troubling parts of the episode— why would a World ruled by the Russians instantly be a dystopia?
Here we just have an extended Cold War. That’s fine! Bring that kind of story on.
But there’s some trouble in this scene. Our characters watch a man die. The Professor shows remorse at this: he knew a double of Jarabek. Rembrandt has his Pain Face more or less glued on at this point. They’re the two old dogs, made weary by the death that’s come to surround them. But it’s the two kids that are trouble. Wade, someone who previously would be instantly moved to tears/vomit by seeing a dead man, takes this death in with an alarming lack of emotion. It’s a far cry from earlier in the series, and the awful thing is that it doesn’t even read as a false character moment. I’m not surprised by her reaction.
I am surprised by Quinn’s callous quip: when Arturo says that he attended Jarabek’s lectures, Quinn says “not anymore you won’t.” What?! The Professor into the dead visage of a man he knew! And you’re making jokes? About death? Remember “The Good, The Bad, and The Wealthy?” What kind of man has Quinn become?
It’s not really an “Action Hero” move. Not much of Quinn’s behavior these days ever strikes me as “action hero.” It just strikes me as a man totally unsure of himself who knows that his actions have a frightening lack of consequence. Sure, he broke an entire Universe once, but that was because he was trying to help someone. The lesson should have been that he should stay uninvolved. But the lesson he seemed to take was that he just shouldn’t give a shit about anyone.
Keep that last in mind as we work through this episode. We’re about to meet someone you’d never in a thousand years would be important to the show.
Even if I didn’t have all this pre-cognitive knowledge, I would think that something’s weird about the episode’s reverence to this Captain Maggie Beckett. As far as we know, she’s just this week’s guest star, the eye-candy that Season 3 has loved to throw at us for no discernable purpose. Here we have a vaguely unlikable over-enunciator, and we devote the majority of screen time to her.
So who is Captain Maggie Beckett? Surprisingly, we’re given huge swaths of knowledge about who she is. She’s a General’s Daughter, a Former-Fighter Pilot. There’s always been weight on her shoulders, pressure from all sides. Her husband, Scientist Doctor Jensen, was crippled in a skiing accident, “forcing” Maggie to ground herself. I put “forced” in quotes because while choosing to spend more time with her husband is exactly the right decision, it wasn’t exactly up to her, and it’s pretty clear it wasn’t her first choice. There aren’t just cracks in his marriage: it’s barely a marriage. Maggie kind of clearly doesn’t like her husband at all. It’s the General’s Daughter in her seeing weakness, and trying to fight it. But she can’t help but kind of detest her crippled husband, and his connection to her spreads the weakness all over her.
So she’s a problematic character. While all of the above helps us understand her, none of the above actually helps us like her. But think of this: could you write such a detailed description of Wade? Rembrandt? The Professor? Quinn maybe. But we’re spending way more time than we ever have before to give a guest star a personality. It’s kind of a ballsy choice for the show to make. But Maggie Beckett is a pretty wildly unlikable character, so we’ve got to take what we can get with her, especially if the episode is so intent on shoving her in our face.
The Sliders, being pretty inept at breaking and entering and also not really bothering to tie her up or do anything that would prevent it, are snared into the world of Maggie Beckett, Intelligence Officer, and the foibles of her Superior Officer, Colonel Angus Rickman, for some reason that will never be explained and will forever irritate Sliders fans, is a Brit in charge of a Yank Military Base. Also, it’s Roger Daltrey:
Remember, though, the Cosmos.
So this episode is basically “Last Days” part II. The world is going to be destroyed in two days, the Sliders leave in three. But Tony Blake & Paul Jackson, some of the last Season Two writers left, are scripting this off of a treatment from John Rhys-Davies himself, so they know better. And they do a good job of making this episode nothing at all like “Last Days.” We’ve got all this Cold War Paranoia to deal with here.
That’s our way into the episode. We’re seeing the Earth prepare for its death from the most paranoid of groups. So paranoid that they make sure no one else finds out about the impending destruction of the World. It’s a perfect excuse for keeping the action limited.
But blessedly, we don’t spend our running time in the Backlot. The show takes over a beautiful building for the entire length of the episode. It’s so much more tolerable to watch Roger Daltrey mumble his lines while not blinking when there’s so much good looking architecture behind him. It makes the unseemly actions that go on around him all the more easy to stomach.
So the Sliders are given an ultimatum. They must help Jensen perfect his own Sliding device so they can try to save some of the people of this world. But it’s only some. Rickman pretends that he’s alerted the President of the impending disaster, but he truly hasn’t. He’s only going to take certain members of his military base with him. Someone has to choose who gets to slide and who has to stay and die.
Let’s not forget that this two-parter is designed to completely destroy the sliders emotionally. So of course it is Wade who is charged with making the list of people who get to live. It’s already such a small list. Not even 300 people! Sure, it’s people she’s never met, but this is Wade we’re talking about here. She feels each and every name like it was her Mother, her Sister, her Father, Quinn, Rembrandt, Arturo. She might have watched a man die earlier in the day, but that was sudden, shocking, out of place. This list has her name on it. These deaths are on her. To Wade, every time she knocks off a name— even if some part of her still believes it’s for a ‘greater good,’ she’s becoming a murderer.
It’s unfair. Completely unfair. But she has no choice. And this is the one moment where Colonel Rickman doesn’t come off as a cartoon. He reminds her that they have to build a new world. Start from scratch. She’s right when she tells him that they do need to have children there. But he’s right when he insists on taking personnel with Type O-Negative blood. She can’t help but continue the list. She’ll watch Quinn slide with Maggie, and be fully aware of the fact that it represents a divide that can’t really be bridged again. A rubicon in the friendship.
Arturo relegates himself to the sidelines, at last being the scientist he always wanted to be. Finally working on a project that will save lives, and perhaps more importantly, be worth remembering.
Rembrandt spends his time wandering aimlessly around the base. Eventually he makes his way to the sewers (at least it’s not the cave set), and finds a lonely kid named Malcolm.
Look, I’m going to be honest: this would be a totally great and moving plotline where it not for that kid being totally awful in every way. This is the perfect plot for Rembrandt. He’s returning to his roots of being the ‘everyman.’ He finds himself in chaos, and is drawn to the most mundane thing around him. So he finds another outcast, another soul on the edge. But Malcolm doesn’t come off as a lost soul, he comes off as a petulantly dead-eyed ninny. But then I guess he gets that from his Father:
These four people can’t help but get involved in this mess. “Sliding is improvising,” Quinn says. These people take what is delivered to them, and get involved if they have to. But the longer they slide, the less they actively try to get involved in things. If someone runs up and yells “hey, let’s overthrow the government,” they’ll oblige. If someone says “hey, you’re sort of a hostage, but also you’re going to help out some innocent people,” then there they are. But it’s not fair. This time it’s a little too much.
Quinn’s always been the ‘leader,’ in a way. But it was never spoken, and he’d never admit it to anyone. Even now, in “action hero” mode, he’s still reluctant to take charge. But in the back of his mind he knows that Arturo is still dying. Someday soon he’s going to have to just go ahead and be the man in charge. That knowledge makes him petulant. But it also gives him the resolve to stick with sliding, to roll with the punches.
Even if said punches involve sliding within a slide with an irritating Ex-Fighter Pilot who clearly wants to fuck you even though she’s married to a crippled scientist. A huge chunk (actually maybe it only seems huge because it’s dull) of the episode is devoted to Quinn & Maggie ‘scouting’ new worlds for the Exodus. It’s an interesting idea. It’s kind of just shrugged off. But this is the first time since El Sid we’ve taken someone through the Vortex and actually dealt with the consequences. It’s also the first time since Invasion that we’ve slid through a vortex not our own.
But we aren’t really treated to ‘consequences,’ because Maggie is like “NO BIGGIE QUINN LET’S SLIDE ALSO I’M IN CHARGE.” Quinn tries to tell her that “hey Maggie we’re in the cave set nothing ever good happens in the cave set,” but she’s like “I’m not listening Quinn I’m going to feed this huge fucking rabbit with my BODY.”
Yeah sure fine whatever. Thankfully we have Maggie meet a double of Maggie, who, ha ha ha, is actually exactly the same as Maggie-Prime. So we get the ridiculous scene where Maggie tells Quinn basically how to get her naked in order to get the timer back.
It’s the Cold War of the show coming back to stir things up, cause trouble. You can just see Tony Blake & Paul Jackson sending drafts in and getting back all these horrible notes that destroy everything they’re trying to do. So we have Maggie Beckett with a truly interesting backstory with a damaged marriage, and then we have her shamelessly hit on Quinn. We have an interesting idea for a parallel world, and then we have a cartoonish Englishman running the US. We have a woman actively trying to make a cuckold out of her disabled husband.
It brings us to one of two betrayals that end the episode. We started with the promise of mystery. The night-needler stands in the light, and reveals himself:
We had the potential for truth, for accuracy, for something within the realm of possibility. And we are betrayed to our cores, as the other side wins the battle of ridiculousness. Rickman’s injections form him into a shapeshifter— another B-Movie Reject. Taste, at last, is defeated.
And then we have Quinn, who is totally okay with Maggie’s offensive behavior.
Quinn’s arc in all of this mess is one of guilt, and the attempt to shirk responsibility for this guilt. His choice of shirking at this point to just throw his hands in the air and say “it’s a parallel world, who cares?” So fine, he’ll accept Maggie’s advances. This is fun. No one used to do that to him back home.
That four-lettered word. Quinn casually tells Maggie that they’ve been sliding for 3 years. Which is an immense amount of time. It’s easy to forget that it’s been that long. Home, at this point, is nothing more than an ideal. It’s become so beyond a memory it’s a false utopia. A dreamworld. A fairyland.
We, as an audience, know this vision to be false. We know that wherever Quinn is, it isn’t home. It’s some false vision, perfect for Quinn— it gives him exactly what he wants to see. It gives him a squeaky gate. A gate we know has been oiled. It gives him the sounds, the sights, the smells of “Home.” And it gives him guilt made flesh.
Here we learn the darkest seed of the guilt festering in Quinn. We learn that he chose to Slide— remember, on a whim— on his Mother’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom, for a present I’m going to disappear for the rest of your life, leaving you alone and empty, having already lost your husband, and now your son. Staying here would be sweet. It’s the goal, still, isn’t it? But why, now, after all these years, would the roulette wheel spin him Home, when he’s not ready? Forget the fact that it’s only Quinn, and his companions, his happy wanderers, aren’t even there. He’s busy.
But this illusion grants him further pain. Maggie can’t breathe our atmosphere. He can’t even stay— not that he could to begin with. He’s got some ridiculous notion of ‘what’s right,’ and ‘what’s right’ is ‘saving this military base from itself.’ So Quinn bottoms out. He’s home and has to leave. What could possibly be worse than that?
Punching an innocent man in the face— a man who was only trying to help Maggie live, and leaving your mother—again— her face contorted by an unbearable amount of grief.
This is how we end the first part of this episode. Quinn has debased himself to be as unlikable as Maggie. Devastating his mother once wasn’t bad enough, he had to do it twice. The lessons of “As Time Goes By” corrupted him, made him angry. He will buck against the Multiverse to get what he wants. Which, it turns out, is for someone to pay attention to him. So he clings to Maggie, a new and powerful woman who respects his Vortex. Forget his friends, still trapped on a world they don’t want to be on.
But actions have a way of catching up with you. And here is judgement. The world is still going to end, with all of them on it. The cosmos is reaching its arm to grab you by the throat and destroy you. Quinn doesn’t own the universe. He feels guilty and put-upon? Pah.
The Universe will give him something to feel guilty about.
Next Week: we hear you, we just aren’t listening (The Exodus, pt. II).
This post marks the one-year anniversary of Think of a Roulette Wheel! That is an absolutely crazy thing to think of. A whole lot has happened behind the scenes in that year, some good, some bad, some really good, some awful. But I would like to thank all of YOU dear readers/commenters. Special shout outs to ireactions, durkinator, pete5125, for being the longest and most avid commenters— but there’re some new voices that are already making this blog even more of a special thing, so WELCOME! You guys are the reason I can keep up with this crazy thing.
Super also (of course) special thank you to Earth Prime, the premier Sliders fan site, for A) being a great resource, and B) featuring this ol’ blog on the front page! Thanks guys!
Last but not least, all my friends who put up with me talking about Sliders 24/7, 365. It’s been hard on them sometimes (ha ha ha), and I appreciate them continuing to be my friends despite my obessions.
Let’s think on the good times by (re)watching this: