It must be really stressful to write something like this.
Think of it— you’re trying to adapt two differing works of science fiction— classic, nigh-untouchable (sort of) science fiction— for a television show with a shoestring budget. That’s a lot of weight on your shoulders, in theory.
The general one-liner about Sliders Season Three is that the show became a nonstop schlock fest of movie monster rip-offs. This is an over-generalization, because at this point in the season, we’re not quite so obvious with our ‘inspirations’ here yet. “Electric Twister Acid Test” was obviously ripped of from Twister. But it hasn’t been that blatant thus far, really. Sure, there’s bits and pieces here and there. “The Fire Within” took some (many) things from Backdraft, but last I checked, “Backdraft” didn’t have a side plot involving super-flames.
No, so far, Sliders has embraced Movie Pastiche with loving arms, but there’s always just a tiny bit of something extra to it thus far. But somehow over the space of a week, there was a catastrophe. A complete and total annihilation of taste that came so far out of nowhere. Because while yes, there’s a really crap CG Scarab in “Slide Like an Egyptian” the scarab was only a small part of an episode that had a lot of totally interesting things going on in it.
Then BAM— “Paradise Lost.” What happened? While the problems with that episode are paramount, one of the clearest is that it’s pastiche without purpose. It’s a recycling of bored movie tropes with 90s aesthetics (barely) stitched together with no thought to warp woof or weft. We have “Radioactive Godzilla Worm” mixed with “Fountain of Youth” mixed with “Town with a Secret.” ”Paradise Lost” was an attempt, then, to create a super-episode. A mega-zord of Sliders that would take this supposed ‘movie mish-mash’ to the next level, dude.
So here we have another attempt to mix and match some concepts. This time, we’re taking part of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” and mixing it, ostensibly, with elements of Larry Niven’s “Ringworld.” We’re talking really vaguely based. I know there wasn’t a wikipedia in 1997, but I guess there were still cliff notes? All I’m saying is that the script is taking the most basic of concepts from the source material and running in a bizarre direction with it.
The argument that leaving the social satire from “The Time Machine” out of “The Last of Eden” is a fair argument to make, but it’s kind of assuming that the intent of “The Last of Eden” is to include any amount of social satire. Now, this seems like a huge amount of apologizing to make, but let’s be real— why would the show at this point in its run all of the sudden decide to get all preachy and politicized? Even in Season One the politics were screwy— “The Prince of Wails” was more of an excuse to make fun of England, and “The Weaker Sex” was an excuse to make fun of gender. Neither had much meaningful things to say about their respective subjects, and if it did come off as meaningful, it was always seemingly accidental. The show was too focused on its supposedly ‘dark humor’ to focus on politics and causes.
So “The Last of Eden” has a bad reputation, but it’s based on the wrong criteria. This is an action adventure/science fiction show. So it’s about time it tried to handle the ‘greats.’ So let’s tackle the two sources. First, we got Larry Niven and his “Ringworld” up in the house. SYZYGY ENGAGE:
Quinn and Arturo love to say “syzygy” over and over again. I hate typing the word out.
So let’s pause for a second and talk about how ridiculously improbably/impossible all this is. I’m already willing to ignore Quinn & Arturo’s “syzygy” gaffe (a syzygy requires alignment, not a bunch of Earths in a triangle), but I can’t ignore the fact that every one of those Earths would be fuuucked. Arturo’s like “only giant tides would happen because of this, and everyone’s like “Derp.”
But hold on a minute. YEAH RIGHT HIGH TIDES. Dude I’m pretty sure all the energy and magnetism would rip all of these fucking planets apart like, so quick. What is up with this faux-syzygy? Let’s fast forward to the inevitable infodump by way of stunned local, Brock.
So not only are there like, a ton of different Earths up in the Sky, but also some DUDES MADE THEM. What! ‘Gineers my BUTT. Ain’t no dudes made a fucking planet themselves, let alone THREE. I know I’m getting silly, but its preposterous. Much more interesting (and believable) is the happenings of the surface, where a group of ‘primitive’ white dudes (I mean, I’m right, aren’t I? Are the ‘gineers that colorblind?) run around watching the earth open up beneath them, and live in run-down Hilton Hotels and eat Magic Fruits. That some dudes built ‘a while ago.’ How long?
In the 1970s. Okay, sure, fine, whatever. Now, I know that since they’re called “Engineers” we’re obviously ripping off of Ringworld. But let’s say you’ve never read or heard of Ringworld. In this episode, there’s no actual evidence that there were real Engineers. The plot of the episode isn’t that we meet a ‘gineer halfway through and he lays out what is up with this joint. We don’t. We only have the word of a dude with a really sketchy goatee:
So I’m inclined to read all this bogus Engineer talk as “creation myth,” and that the fact of the matter was that some scientists, botanists, and architects in the 70s were a little further along than they were on our world, made a bunch of buildings, and fucked off. The same is said of the Old Ones, who went to see what else was in the World. But they probably just wanted to GTFO Goatee-Town. I wouldn’t want to hang with these dudes. THEY EAT CIRCUS FOLK.
Let’s step backwards for a second and recap what happens in the teaser. The team, post-syzygy-derp, finds the locals and is like “hey guys can we mack on your BBQ,” and Mr. Goatee is like “F ALL YALL” and then there’s an earthquake and the ground straight up opens up despite how preposterous that is, and Wade (who, I have to point out is wearing the most 90s shirt ever— a star with a P in the middle, which I am sure is supposed to mean “Porn Star.” Yikes) stands around staring at the sky trying to get a wasp out of her face or something then falls in the chasm. Quinn is concerned:
But Wade’s like “PEACE OUT MOFO” and dies:
So that’s shocking. Wade just fell to her death. OR ACTUALLY SHE LANDED ON AN UNDERGROUND I-BEAM THAT I GUESS WAS MADE OF DONUTS. I mean, one of the upper-crusters falls right next to her, lands about three feet further than Wade, and is instantly dead. Also an INFANT BABY falls somewhere and is totally fine. So either that I-Beam is made of Donuts, or Wade has such strong thigh muscles that she waited until the last moment and then super-kegel’d herself to safety.
But— super-kegel digression aside— the fact is that there’s a huge industrialized world underneath the surface. Obviously, we don’t see the whole zone down there, but it’s kind of implied that it stretches out forever, and that the ‘gineers built the entire earth over the industrialized underworld.
Which, as a single concept, is totally awesome. But, as we learn, the underworld is inhabited by subhumans. We are told that these dudes are the humans of the overworld that stayed behind when everyone left (in 1970). So in 30 years, they degenerated into strange feral cat people who dance like there’s no tomorrow. And that’s where it’s almost ridiculous to even bother saying this episode is a rip-off of “The Time Machine.” Yes, there are two sets of humans, one evolved, one less so (I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which). One is above ground, one’s below. Sure, fine, whatever.
But in all honesty, that’s as far as the comparisons go. “The Time Machine” takes the time to explain the differences between the two ‘races,’ and sets up the social dynamic between the two, and sugar coats it with social commentary about Class and all that kind of stuff that makes it super smart and a bona-fide classic book.
There’s none of that, here. That’s not what this show is here for, not anymore. If anything, this episode is more trying to make a statement about Cannibalism and Ecology than it is about Class War. I don’t know. I guess my problem with this episode is that it’s almost good, and I don’t think that it’s held back by the source material. It’s something else gumming up the works.
It’s actually the fact that every element of the episode is actively colliding against itself. Now, one of the “cool things” about this episode is that the people playing the feral cat people are Cirque de Soleil members. Well, okay. I guess that’s why they swing wildly from I-Beam to I-Beam instead of just, y’know, walking. The effect of their acrobatics just enforces again the problem that’s plagued this entire season: the mismatched tone issue. Once again, we have the ‘serious’ problem of Quinn & Wade trapped below the surface of the Earth trying to rescue a newly-orphaned child from the clutches of Feral Cat Beast-Dancers smashed against the kooky funk of the Circus lighting.
Like, why is there a light that shoots stars on the ground? I don’t get it. Not that anyone thought of it that way— they were probably just trying to spotlight their “guest stars.” I don’t know. Conceptually, the underground portion of the episode is conceptually on fire. But in actual practice, it’s nonsense. It’s also clunky as hell, with half the episode devoted to Quinn and Wade being captured, escaping, losing the baby, saving the baby, getting recaptured, escaping, getting recaptured. There’s nothing said about what it means for these lower-humans to be savages. There’s no point to be made. They just look cool. And while the “rule of cool” is something I certainly believe in, the “rule of cool” does require that something is actually, y’know, cool.
That’s the real problem with the episode. It’s not that it’s not good, or has nothing happening. It’s that there’s a lot happening and none of it is expounded upon. The sliders don’t even react to the fact that the nerds above ground hunt the undergrounders for food. Not like, to take the food they’re carrying. To eat them. And then Wade finds the undergrounders feeding on a fallen overgrounder (these are terms I made up, which sound “cool,” so I’m sticking with them). So there’s a weird circle of cannibalism that actually touches on a weird relationship between the two societies. Never touched upon in dialogue. And what about the bizarre terramorphic body horror the Professor goes through? That’s hideous, that’s terrifying. His arm is growing spines! And why? I don’t know, because he’s sick. But the dude was ripping his flesh off with his own hands. It’s some horrifying stuff that gets completely ignored by the episode. Rembrandt’s like “no biggie, dude, but I can punch you if you want.”
The problem is in the promise. It’s fine to say that the episode rips off H.G. Wells and be disappointed, I guess. The trouble with the episode is that we aren’t given enough to assume that “The Time Machine” is what “The Last of Eden” is going for. I know that sounds like a totally ridiculous way of looking at this episode and trying to defend it. But I can’t really make myself fault an episode for not doing something it isn’t even trying to do. Yes, there are similarities, but the similarities are not the point of the episode.
That being said, what keeps the episode from rising out of the ashes of its bewildered nature is that we just can’t make ourselves care about the people of the world. We can understand why the sliders would get involved, but we can’t make ourselves care about the fools we see. Goatee Man? Who cares? Brock? What a ninny.
We never learn what else is on these worlds, let alone what’s on the other syzygy-worlds. We are given a thousand tasty kernels of possibility and we don’t ever get to learn any more about them. We learn nothing about the true workings of this Earth, just some theories that Quinn makes that we’re left to assume are totally and completely correct even though he knows absolutely nothing about anything going on. Seriously, there was a simple way to fix this: let us meet a ‘gineer. Let him spend an entire act infodumping. That would be less boring than watching Quinn & Wade run around doing nothing. To be completely honest, I am stunned we never saw the cave set. That’s one of two things this episode has going for it.
The other thing, of course, is Arturo and Rembrandt’s heart to heart. I’ll be honest with you: upon watching this episode, when Arturo admitted that he was sick, I was stunned. Not because he was bringing it up, but beacuse I had actually forgotten he was sick in the first place. Remember “The Guardian?”
So yes, Arturo is sick. Very sick with his incurably vague illness. He tries to joke about it to Rembrandt— “well, the good news is, I won’t die tomorrow.” But Rembrandt won’t have it. He feels betrayed— and rightly so! Arturo shouldn’t have kept this from any of them. Rembrandt lays it out— they are friends, and they have to stick together. And sticking together means no secrets.
Arturo at first is upset that he’s not allowed privacy. A part of me wants to side with him. He’s an old man, he’s dying. His life is defined by the three people around him. The know each other probably better than any other set of humans ever have. So in his twilight, it would be hard for him not to feel like his life has already reached its peak. Further souring would be the tainting of the relationship that’s been on the slow burn for the entire season (brilliantly brought back to the fore). Not only is the only World he has these people, but they barely even like each other anymore.
The best part of the scene is that it ends so suddenly. It’s awful for us, as an audience, to have the boring A-Plot interject into our much-deserved heart to heart. But it’s also frankly a much more realistic way of showing us this conversation. Rembrandt leaves, Arturo doesn’t have the chance to explain himself adequately. He throws the husk of his magic fruit to the table, but it falls limply to the floor. Like his actions, like his life, like all that this adventure has become: useless, meaningless.
But of course, by the time they slide, they seem to be on better terms. Rembrandt was hurt, but he understands the Professor. They laugh, stronger in friendship. We, too love them deeply. This wasn’t their breaking point, but it’s not the end— the worst must still be to come.
So we have another episode that bit off more than it could chew. Too much going on, not enough going on. The same problems that persist through the season are in full force here. But still, it’s loads better than “Paradise Lost.” There is soul at work here.
But there’s also the problem of the strange scene at the beginning of the episode. Wade and Rembrandt recall this Episode in Flashback, both confiding that events had terrified them both. But we never return to the present day. We never see Wade and Rembrandt discuss how the events of this episode had changed them. We never see Wade react to the news of The Professor’s illness. I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t disturb her. Why she wouldn’t immediately wake him up to discuss it.
Next Week: It’s falling apart as you watch (The Exodus, pt. I).