Let me recap the teaser for this episode.
Arturo buys a pretzel:
But then President Clinton comes on the television:
And Arturo drops his Pretzel:
Okay, so there’s a certain amount of ‘free/gimme’ ideas inherent to Sliders. We’ve already gone through most of them— that being variations of the “foreign government in power” alternate history. This week, it’s probably the most obvious idea in the ‘alternate history’ playbook: instead of patriarch, it’s matriarch. Ladies’ choice. Except it’s not choice, it’s law. Or something.
So we have a tricky episode. It’s a concept that’s probably the most controversial, the easiest to end up being accidentally offensive. Women are the dominant gender, Men are second-class citizens. This whole thing could very easily wind up in a ‘let’s make fun of stereotypes’ mishmash of pratfalls and name-calling.
And, unfortunately, it sort of does.
Before I get into that, there’s a couple of things I have to point out. For one, this is the first time since starting this project where I remember enjoying an episode much, much more than I actually did. “The Weaker Sex” isn’t a really weak episode, but it’s nothing compared to “Eggheads,” or hell, even the second half of the Pilot.
You all know how much I’ve been griping about how little Wade gets to do in the show. Now, here we have an episode that’s basically written for her, what should be the first real showcase of the character. Wade’s finally getting off the couch!
And she does get off the couch, but none of it is on screen. She spends the entire episode off frame, working for the Mayor of San Francisco’s re-election campaign. If she’s ever on-screen, she’s only serving to remind us that she’s a woman. Like, seriously. I think she even says “I’m a woman.” That’s a line of dialogue.
I’ll recap a bit of plot so to illustrate my point: the main plot of this episode deals with Aturo engaging in a campaign to become the first ever male mayor of San Fran. It flies against everything Arturo always preaches about non-involvement, which Wade repeatedly tells him. Wade’s role in this episode is pretty clearly supposed to be antagonistic. It never really seems like we’re supposed to agree with her— if we were, the episode wouldn’t devote basically its entire running time to Arturo.
So she becomes a shrill talking head, calling Arturo a sexist nutjob, a patriarchal anarchist, a morally corrupt ne’er-do-gooder. An idiot. Morally reprehensible.
Which would be fine, except for the fact that, in this episode, Arturo is ALL OF THOSE THINGS.
So in theory, this is Wade’s golden moment. She’s the voice of reason here. Aturo really doesn’t have any right to upset the status quo on this world. He’s upset that he’s second-fiddle for once, and this opens up a greater issue with his character: we understand how he feels tread-upon by life. What with Quinn being smarter than him, and all of his doubles having all these things like Power and Love that he’s never had (or has had taken away from him), we’re supposed to think of him as some martyr for Science, or some kind of Walter White kind of tread-upon could-have-been.
But all of that is no reason for him to try to destroy the very fabric of the universe! It’s my understanding that we’re supposed to think of him, and this episode, as comic relief. And it’s true, the episode does a very good job of skewering political ads and elections in general. But honestly, what Arturo is doing isn’t funny. And even if John Rhys-Davies is playing it for laughs, he still comes off as a ruthless asshole.
And that’s before we even get into how the episode actually deals with every other human. Let’s start small, with poor Rembrandt’s storyline. Which basically amounts to “Rembrandt gets laid, then later stops getting laid.” The episode is trying to be funny and say “look! when women have the same amount of power as men, they become the same kind of sexist abusive manipulative slobs that men are!”
THAT IS SO LAZY.
But anyways, this episode is assuming that every last man on earth is a sexist, abusive, manipulative slob, which is fine, I guess, a lot of them are (and I know it’s poking fun at the stereotype of a macho man, but it goes either too far, or not far enough, and misses the mark, muddling the ideas even further).
Also, if Arturo is supposed to be in the wrong about trying to become the first male mayor, then it would also help if we see a female character who isn’t a sexist, abusive, manipulative slob. I guess what we’re supposed to be doing is laughing at the show, saying “hey, isn’t it funny to see women acting out the sleazy roles that men usually play!” But it isn’t funny, it’s just offensive. But then Arturo is also offensive. Quinn eventually is so incensed by the current Mayor’s insulting of Arturo that he quits. But it reads more as Quinn being angry at his manhood being insulted than his friend being insulted.
So then Quinn’s just the same as every other sexist, macho man.
Arturo is running for mayor to satisfy his neverending quest for self-aggrandizement.
Rembrandt is insulted that a woman could be using him, even though he was trying to use her for her ‘record company’ connections.
So basically, everyone on the show is kind of disgusting. Wade is the least offensive, since she’s just reacting to everyone else being disgusting. Like when she tells the dudes that she can get them jobs, they are so disappointed! They’re on a world for six weeks and they don’t have money! They all need jobs! But they were totally happy to have Wade do all the work while Rembrandt gets laid and Quinn and Aturo eat all the food. Fuck you, guys!
But Wade never has a scene where she can say “Guys, your behavior is really offensive to me.” I mean, sure, that’s all she says, but she’s always second fiddle to Arturo’s anarchist rampaging. Her character comes off like a gnat. Or a mosquito. It’s disheartening.
Oof. I’m being really tough on this episode. But that’s just because I just watched “Eggheads,” which did showcased an amazing concept executed brilliantly. This episode has just an amazing of a concept, but fucks it up so horribly, it ends up being embarrassing.
No episode should have have its audience disappointed that an assassin failed to kill off one of your characters. But here we are.
Better luck next week, where it’s The Return of The King.