We’re here! We’ve made it! Okay, I’ve made it. It’s the end of the first season of Sliders. (And this is a pretty good time to tell you that I’m probably going to take a two-week break before Season Two begins.) But this whirlwind is pretty crazy, and it’s never really a place I thought I’d ever end up. Which is funny, because I don’t think it was that clear that the production team thought they’d end up there, either. Sliders was never loved in it’s first season (or ever, but that’s for later). The show was constantly on the verge of being cancelled. This danger of hard work being squandered, instead of leading to some blasé work, instead led to a triumphant hour of television.
And how does it start? With Wade narrating a diary she’s decided to keep! And finding a dog! They’ve slid into a world that keeps tabs on it’s population— there are only 500,000 people on the whole planet! And this lack of anyone makes it a bit of a paradise. Naturally, it’s an appealing world to make a new home on.
Now, you’d have a really, really hard job of convincing anyone that this first season of Sliders has had a unified ‘plot-arc,’ other than the premise of the show in general (they’re looking for home. Next week: they’re still looking for home). But theres’ still been more and more throughout these last episodes of the strain of switching realities every day or so. The characters are starting to be fed up with it. Or if not fed up, than at least just realistic.
Arturo was fighting (albeit piggishly) for something he ‘believed in’ in “The Weaker Sex,” and gave thought to staying on that world. He wanted to reinforce his pro-dude message. Remmy wanted to stay on Remmy-World because of course he would, he loves himself and found a world where everyone loved him back.
Quinn has never wanted to stay. Chalk it up to guilt, or optimism, or stubbornness, but he always is totally adamant about ‘getting home,’ which even 9 episodes in, is starting to seem like something that will never, ever happen.
If you had to choose, Quinn would be called the ‘leader’ of the group. Part of this is because of Real World reasons: Jerry O’Connell is the ‘star’ of the show— the first billed —the ‘sex symbol’— the key to the demographic— the guy the network likes the show for (as much as they try to put Wade in belly-shirts).
In terms of how the show works, ‘in-universe,’ Quinn has to be the leader because (and Rembrandt will back me up on this one) this is all his fault. He got them into this mess, and he’s really still the only person who can realistically get them out of it. Quinn’s a wild mix of guilt and determination. They’ve got to get home so he can forgive himself.
So it hurts even more that the pluckiest Slider, Wade Welles, happy wanderer, should be so willing to give up the journey. She’s not hopeless, she’s just trying to be realistic. And who can blame her, really? It’s been months since they’ve been home. When you add up al the time they’ve spent on the adventure, it’s a bit of a shock to realize how long they’ve been gone. The cracks are growing, starting to show. For the first time, they aren’t immediately threatened in the first hour of being on a world. It only makes sense that they should hang on to it.
Before I go into why exactly they shouldn’t hold on to this world, I want to talk more about he scene that contains the “let’s stay here” discussion. It comes after a mildly funny sequence where Quinn & Wade go horse riding, and Quinn bumps his head on a log. Quinn tries to make a move on Wade, and she totally and immediately shuts him down. “I thought we said we weren’t going to do this,” she says, to which Quinn replies “when did we decide that?” And it’s true— they’ve never discussed each other so clearly before.
But this decision is actually just Wade being super smart and mature— a football field’s length of growth from the girl in the pilot who “should get her head examined.” She knows full well that the relationship between the four of them is the most important thing in their lives. Not only the most important, but basically the only thing they have left of home. If Quinn & Wade tried to date (which, honestly, how could that ever work when they always have to share a room with two older dudes?), it would inevitably fall apart (relationship pessimist, here), and the whole group would be unbalanced.
Wade knows that can’t happen, and it’s clearly insulting to her that it wouldn’t even occur to Quinn. So blind is he in his assertion that they’ll get home that he can’t pay attention to the plain truths that Wade is throwing in his face: that they might never get home, and they should start planning for that possibility.
I’m just going to come right out and say that this is the best episode of Sliders (sorry, “Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome” fans!). It’s not the best alternate world— I’d probably give that honor to “Eggheads.” But this episode is the best plotted, for starters. It’s the only episode this season that gives everyone something to do. Quinn gets to run around feeling ignored and gets to try to save the day. Arturo gets to be smart and paternal but still has meaningful things to add. Rembrandt gets a “Remmy gets laid” story that actually has gravitas. And Wade’s the out-and-out star of the hour.
The episode goes so smoothly from the first third of “should we stay in this utopia” to the final two of “oh shit Wade’s in trouble DYSTOPIA DYSTOPIA!” that you don’t even notice the transition, even though the vibes are so different that they might as well be completely different episodes.
So let’s get into the last two-thirds. It turns out the fabulous Lottery that Wade wins that gives you infinite riches and limos and other rich white people dreams is actually another form of population control— at the end of Wade’s shopping spree, they’re going to have her “make way.” SHE GON’ DIE.
Even though the episode shifts at that point (which I should certainly add is beautifully foreshadowed by the conversations Arturo has with the man in charge of Wade’s Lottery win— the man feels as though his job makes him a hypocrite because he’s afraid of death, to which Arturo ponders and admits confusion), it doesn’t turn into some clumsy action schlock like, say, “Fever” or the “Pilot.” There’s still a good amount of quiet suspense that bursts into a bit of action right at the end. But then there’s Rembrandt’s scenes with Julianne, who is more than happy to die for the Lottery— for the betterment of the world.
Remmy is truly heartbreaking to watch as he gets frustratedly torn apart by the fact that he just can’t understand the way this universe works. He can’t wrap his mind around choosing to die.
Arturo has some small, powerful scenes where he solemnly contemplates this world’s ways. He abhors murder, but is it really murder on this world? The lottery is a thing of choice— if you aren’t comfortable with ‘making way,’ then don’t play it. The only reason that Wade’s in danger is because they didn’t understand what they were getting into— not because of some grand problem with the structure of the universe. There’s no fascistic government that’s trying to kill Wade, it was just an accident on her part.As a scientist, and kind of just as a human, Arturo can’t help but want to agree with the ways of this world.
Quinn, of course, tries to be a hero and save everyone all the time. But at this point in the show, he just isn’t equipped to do so. He’s no action hero, he’s no MacGuyver, he’s no Walter White (as in he can’t use science well enough to save the day, not as in ‘he’s going to run over two of the lottery goons and shoot one of them in the head’). He’s still just a grad student who’s really smart. But it’s not going to be enough.
So in the final minutes of the episode, of the season, and of what was almost the entire show, we get the beginning of a huge shift in dynamic. We have the team is the most palpable sense of danger they’ve been in since the pilot. Sliding has started to lose the fun, the wonder.
The team reluctantly agrees to let Wade take a fellow doomed Lottery winner, Alex Krychek (okay, his name is Ryan, but whatever) with them on the Slide. A new slider! Quinn’s obviously jealous, but knows he can’t stop them from taking him because it would effectively be murder. He’s excited to have made the slide— his first slide!— but he’s still an outsider. Our four sliders have been doing it for so long. There’s a great sense of relief that they’ve made it, but they’re still unsure of what to make of the new guy.
Which is precisely when Quinn doubles over.
The all run over to him, Krychek confused, and everyone else in crisis mode. Wade gets down next to Quinn, and pulls out a hand covered in blood—Quinn’s blood.
Wade Welles— poetry major, part-time computer saleswoman, happiest of the happy wanderers— lets out the most blood-curdling scream of terror and anguish with every ounce of her soul.
Cut to black.
And that’s how we end the first season of Sliders.