Without Condition (In Dino Veritas).

There are two ways of reading this episode. One is the emotional, fan-community, character-driven angle:

CHARACTERS TALKING:

WADE TALKING ABOUT QUINN/NOT YELLING:

EVERY CHARACTER GETTING SOMETHING TO DO:

AN ACTUALLY INTERESTING WAY TO DEAL WITH A LUDICROUS IDEA FOR AN ALTERNATE HISTORY:

This one is a little vague, but yeah.

And then there’s the FOX way of seeing the episode:

DINOSAURS:

DINOSAURS:

HOLY SHIT DINOSAURS:

OH FUCK DINOSAURS:

DINO DINO DINOS:

MOTHERFUCKING DINOSAURS:

MOTHERFUCKING RATINGS:

So there you go. This episode has Dinosaurs. Technically, it only has one dinosaur. An Allosaurus, which, y’know, points for not just making it a T-Rex.

But this episode is really tricky. Because, yes, they slide into a world where San Francisco is an animal reserve for the endangered species of Dinosaurs. The entire city is just wildlife and forest—all thanks to a really good cave set (which is the last time I’m ever going to say that about the show), and inspired location shooting.

But that’s only part of it. That cave set is inhabited by two persons— a forest ranger and a dino poacher. It’s here that I step back and lay loose the inspiration behind this episode:

Right. First: dang, trailers sure have changed since 1996. Second: not that you’d know it, but there’s a character in that big-time Hollywood movie played by a nice young man named Jerry O’Connell.

Right, so we have to engineer an excuse for Quinn to disappear. But that wasn’t even the original reason for crafting this episode. Sliders, being (now) ostensibly an ‘action/adventure’ show, is an expensive show. Location shoots! Guest stars! And countless shots of a vortex! Corners need to be cut. And instead of pulling a pre-BSG BSG and literally cutting the corners off of the paper, they go to the tried-and-true TV trope of a ‘bottle show.’

For people who don’t read thousands of blogs about TV shows all the time, a bottle show is an episode where the majority of the action is filmed on one set to cut costs and rein the budget in.

So that was the original intent of “In Dino Veritas.” But Jerry O’Connell’s need to go shoot a big-ass movie necessitated a re-tooling of the plot. So instead of everyone sitting around a campfire, we get three quarters of the team and a subplot involving Dino-Poaching. The whole “poacher/ranger” plot is pretty ingenious. O course if there were dinosaurs, there’d be poaching. The list of potential medical uses fo dinosaur parts is inspired, as is the retort about the dino-sex glands. Imagine the dino-furry porn on this world! “Pterodactyl Sex”, but real!

I digress. The idea was always to have a dinosaur, but it was going to be a background threat. Somehow, though, the FX team found they could make a CG Dino on the cheap. So there’s another level— dinosaur action.

It’s the latter that complicates things. FOX didn’t know what the fuck to do with this show, but here, in this episode, they’re handed ratings on a silver platter— Jurassic Park on TV. BAM. Primetime. Money. Revenue. Whatever.

The thing is, this episode couldn’t be any less about Dinosaurs if it tried to be. It’s actually the third episode in a row that I’ve watched that cements the idea that this show is less about alternate histories than it is about friendship. I mean, that’s incredibly corny. But the middle of this episode is dominated/defined by an extended conversation between Arturo & Wade about Quinn.

Pond Broodin'

Wade starts soft, saying how she used to have a crush on him. But it’s different now.

“I just really love him, you know? Without condition. I’d give my life for him.”

So there’s that. You could hang the entire series on that one line. All that she puts into that line: the delivery, the look in her eyes. And the fact that the lie-detecting-truth-collars (long story) don’t electrocute her.

But’s it’s the thing I’ve been arguing for weeks: that this show isn’t the story of four people travelling from universe to universe. It’s the story of four strangers becoming a family. Wade’s declaration of love effectively closes the book on the whole ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ non-plot, but in a more satisfying way than any single episode could. These people, they’re more than just companions. Like I’ve said, they’re all they’ve got.

Arturo follows it up with a heartwarming story about the first time he met Quinn, an impetuously intelligent nag of a student. Arturo’s excitement about the memory is moving, and serves to inspire the gang not to worry about Quinn. That’s the thing— not only is Quinn important to them, as a friend, he’s also a symbol of instigation, the impetus for belief in themselves.

He can see his career blossoming off the horizon...

It’s probing to be a little hard to explain at length what the importance of Quinn Mallory is to these people. I mean, certainly, he’s the “one who got them into this.” It’s his job to “get them out of it.” But he’s also the one character who hasn’t changed very much since this journey. I mean, he might be more sullen every now and then, but he’s still more in it for the sights than anyone else. Wade, when she’s not shrilly yelling at people (though her shrillness in this episode is a deserved moment and services her character rather than diminishes), is morose about their dwindling prospects of getting home. Rembrandt has calmed down remarkably as well. But the key thing is that they’ve undoubtedly started to look to Quinn as the de facto leader of the group in a way they never had before.

I’m rambling. I’ll table this discussion for later— there’ll be more opportunities to bring it up.

We have to talk about the fact that the scene that informs the emotional underpinning of every adventure from now on comes in the middle of an episode with a fucking dinosaur in it.

HEYY GUYYS

I’m supposed to be nice (I guess). I should be nice. It’s 1996. It’s a television show that doesn’t have a huge budget. But let’s be honest: this dinosaur looks really bad. Like, really bad.

PUT YA HANDZ IN THA AIIIR

I mean, it’s feet don’t even look like they touch the ground. The whole thing is preposterous. But, like I said, I have to be honest: this dinosaur is the reason Sliders got a third season. There is no analogy well-enough fitting to describe how much of a  double edged sword this dinosaur is (see what I did there?) “In Dino Veritas” netted Sliders it’s highest ratings ever. And while this is more or less undoubtedly because FOX promoted the shit out of it, putting it in the sweeps and devising s “SLIDERS IN JURASSIC PARK” campaign. No shit it had high ratings. Half of those ratings probably came from people who had never seen the show before. But those people were only going to be confused about why they should care about these strangers complaining in a cave. “The fat dude wants to be left behind?” They’d say. “Sure, I don’t care. Leave him.”

"need... neeed... needle," he said, later.

But those ratings, while not as honest as they might otherwise be, mean that no matter what, FOX has the ratings to prove that action will sell. So this episode secures and seals the fate of the show. Nothing can really be the same after this. Any ground Tracy Tormé had won just won’t matter anymore.

HAIII GUYYZZZ

I’m going to be in an alternate dimension where I don’t write this blog next week (IE, “vacation.”)

But the week after that… Sliders fanfiction is born (Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome).

Same as Me: You Go On Without Her (Obsession).

Tracy Tormé, creator of Sliders (y’know, in case you forgot), thought this episode was “middle of the road.” And while I admit that the alt-history of “erryone is psychic” is more or less bullshit, calling “Obsession” a decent-at-best episode constitutes a problem for the show. It brings us back to the show’s biggest problem: the unanswerable question of “What is Sliders supposed to be?”

At this point, we’ve settled in to a sort of willy-nilly approach to story telling, an “anything goes’ miasma of interdimensional proportion. Taken in the most negative of ways, this means that “alternate history” doesn’t matter— if a writer has a kooky idea for anything, all he has to do is shoehorn Quinn, Arturo, Wade, or (yes, or) Rembrandt into it, and BAM! Instant Sliders episode.

But in the most positive of outlooks, this means the show is a huuuge potential sandbox. More Twilight Zone than Party of Five (or whatever). If there aren’t any boundaries to what you can do on this show, then you can truly do anything (right? Isn’t that how that logic would work?)This week and last weeks’ episodes not only prove that the ‘sandbdox’ approach can work, they also prove that this show only works when you anchor it around the characters.

In fact, this episode might even be as close as we can get to knowing what this show is actually about. At it’s core, it’s about the bond between these four people— what happens when you’re separated from all you know— how these people rely on each other. Sliders, in it’s kooky mid-90s way, it sort of a precursor to Lost (and if I was writing this blog a year and a half ago, damn would my hits go through the roof).

In the interest of actually talking about “Obsession,” I’ll return to the point I’m trying to make later. Like I said, this episode is about a world full of psychics. But (thank Christ) it’s much more than that. It’s an honest-to-goodness “Wade-centric” episode. The first and best since “Luck of the Draw” (oh, and hey, they’re written by the same dude [Jon Povill for president]).

So here’s the shorthand skinny: Isaac “Psychic” Hayes hits Remmy in the foot with a car, which causes two things to occur:

•Rembrandt gets laid.

• Wade (who is imprisoned is a glitzy psychic mansion, later freed by Arturo and Remmy because Arturo pays attention to what Wade reads; gets a “Romeo and Juliet” idea to ‘poison’ her— then they steal an ambulance and drive it to a lake) has a rough couple of days.

BULLSEYE

I mean, I know. But it’s really well plotted, with twists and turns that do a better job of misleading you than they have the right to. The whole endgame, where the Sliders leave Quinn in the dark in order to fool Wade’s psychic fianceé (I mean, I know), is brilliant for two reasons. Not just because “not knowing the plan” is the only way to fool a psychic (so y’know, kudos) but because Quinn is left actually believing that Wade is dying. From Quinn, we get no playacting: we get the real deal.

It hasn’t been since (again) “Luck of the Draw” that we’ve seen Quinn so raw over Wade. Even in “Gillian of the Spirits,” where it was entirely possible that he’d never see her again, he didn’t seem too worked up over it. He just seemed… resigned. But why? What’s the difference? It’s fair to assume that the reason Quinn is ragged because, to him, Wade’s death is undoubtedly his fault. Which is preposterous: if she actually took real sleeping pills, that’s her decision. But everyday, Quinn is forced to remember that his little experiment is the reason for every little thing that happens to these people. So even if it’s Wade’s decision to kill herself, she’s killing herself because of Quinn’s actions.

But still, it’s not as if Wade would ever angry at Quinn for bringing her along. Rembrandt, having had his broad comedic strokes toned down this season, hasn’t been egging Quinn on about how everything is his fault/ everything is shitty because of his / I WANT MY CADILLAC BACK/ etc. But you just know Quinn still feels it. He’s been much more despondent this season, less the plucky go-getter college student he was in the first season. Slidings seems like less fun to him (and since he’s been shot, I can’t really blame him). We’re starting to notice the beginnings of the ‘downward spiral of guilt’ that defines Quinn Mallory’s character arc.

Or maybe he's just jealous that everyone else gets to make out all the time.

Now, with pretty much everyone’s arc (except Rembrandt’s, but that’s for later), we (yes, we, you’re included) have to start this tangent by admitting that most of this is projection. I doubt seriously that the writers sat down and decided that “over the course of the series, these characters will change and grow in these ways.” I mean, maybe they did (and that’s what they’re supposed to do), but they were also probably far too busy trying to keep the show out of FOX’s jaws— trying to craft shows that appeased the “make this an action show” suits while still adhering to their own goals.

So when I say “Quinn has a lot of guilt and it’s starting to show,” I’m not speaking to any decision on Jerry O’Connell’s part. I’m speaking to mixture of facial coincidence— Jerry looks bored, we read it as Quinn looking despondent. But I’m also speaking to what we know of the character of Quinn Mallory. We’ve been watching this show for, what, a season and a half? We’ve gotten to know these people, and (barring weird ‘prayer candle’ shit) we know how they tick. And we can chart difference in these characters. Rembrandt’s certainly maturing, for one. But Quinn has really changed the most, and not for the better (that’s a clunky sentence, but also WHATEVER THIS IS THE INTERNET 2012 [yikes i will regret that later {but I don’t care enough to remove it}])

Every time they fail to get home, it hurts Quinn a little more. Remember how excited he was in “Eggheads” to auto-set the dope-ass cell phone? And then how excited he was at the ‘chance’ to go home in “Into The Mystic?” Now remember the last time they even bothered to look up a double of Quinn’s. It’s entirely possible that Quinn’s just given up on the whole “getting home” thing. The best he can do is keep everyone alive as long as possible. He’s taken it upon himself to be the group’s caretaker.

ACTING

So when it really looks like Wade is going to die, it’s too much for him. Not only is he about to lose a friend (or more, who even knows anymore), he’s also losing the stability of the team. He’s also gaining more guilt: if Wade really dies, he’s failed the only mission that’s still feasible— the only thing he has in the world is keeping these people alive. Wade doesn’t die, of course. But she could have as far as Quinn knows, and that’s enough to break down Quinn just a little more.

And y’know, it was this episode that reminded me why I loved/love this show. It truly is these four happy wanderers: their bond, their relationship, their quirks. It’s them I love, and it’s for them I watch this occasionally brain dead show. If (and, spoilers, when) they leave the journey, the shadow they cast will be impenetrable.

But hey, look, I just spent a billion words in a Wade-centric episode talking mostly about Quinn. Next week, I promise she’ll get a little more time. Because, y’know, that Prime Oracle sure doesn’t like the look of the next world they’re headed to:

I see... mutated... earthworms... shitting... magical life elixirs?

Next Week: Life finds a way (In Dino Veritas).

Cool It Shall Be, Mr. Brown (Gillian of the Spirits).

There’s a problem I face when talking about an episode like this. This doesn’t speak to any sort of poor quality episode. In fact, maybe the first thing I should say is that this is without a doubt (for me), the best episode of the season thus far (I mean, not that it has a ton of competition). But how do I talk about something that I flat out love? How will inspiration strike?

Tiddy-boom.

In this episode, a bolt of lightning strikes the vortex, shunting Quinn into an “astral plane.” Let’s start there. On paper, and sure, in practice, saying something like “Quinn is trapped on the Astral Plane” sounds soo dumb. Somehow, though, they make it work here. We’re never really told that Quinn honestly believes he’s on an “astral plane.” But that’s the closest equivalent he can relate it to, to help the rest of the team (and us knaves in the audience) understand his situation.

No more Pizza on an empty stomach, Q-Ball...

One thing I do like, if I may return briefly to the “astral plane” subject, is Wade’s brief half-explanation of how the ‘plane figures into Astrology. It’s a throwaway line, but it opens up a huge world of possibility. It connects Sliding and the nature of Interdimensional Travel into a larger world, a more spiritual world. The show never did anything with this (even when they go to a world with Mages and Druids [ugh]), which I would say is a missed opportunity, were it not for the fact that this show has no idea what it’s doing most of the time, and any such ‘mysticism + vortex’ episode would probably be a trainwreck of the highest degree.

But as much as I might like that line and it’s unexplored implications, it actually comes in the middle of what’s sort of a nagging problem in the episode. It’s a return to the Season One Style “Wade Problem,” in which the show, not having any idea what to do with her character, chooses to have her character do whatever. Usually in Season One, this “whatever” usually meant “nothing.” But here in Season Two it actually means “whatever needs to happen to pad out a minute or two of the script.” So, all of the sudden, when they enter a Church —which was Rembrandt’s idea, seeing as the only person on the team who has even breathed a mention of God before, this makes sense— Wade says “I’m going to say a prayer for Quinn” and goes over to light a candle.

Though it actually looks more like she's trying not to throw up.

Whuuut? Look, this isn’t me bashing religion or anything (I’ll let the show do that in Season 4). But to see someone who wasn’t very long ago donning hippie robes and expounding on the Zodiac solemnly light a prayer candle for her BFF seems really bizarre. It doesn’t come off as a ‘character revelation.’ We aren’t learning some new bit of information hitherto unknown. We’re just watching the writers throw darts at a picture of Wade that has different actions written on it (half an inch to the left and she would’ve danced a Rhumba). Rembrandt may be nothing more than a plot instigator, but Wade’s role as a plot-reactor just gets more and more frustrating. Especially when the only time she does assert any sort of personality, she’s right back to maximum “shrill” setting.

Quinn can take it, though. What a trooper.

Whatever, though. I forgot until like, a second ago that Wade kind of makes up for everyone in the fake-out “Peace Out Forever Quinn” scene when all she says is “damn you.” Emotionally, it’s on par with her refusal to Make Out with Quinn in “Luck of the Draw.” It’s a good moment, and not really what you’d expect (but in a good way).

A missed opportunity to play Prince's "Damn U" over the credits.

And Gillian! The titular Gillian of the Spirits —a teenager who somehow is mentally tuned to higher planes— she’s our link to Quinn, and she is excellent. I mean, really. Let’s think of the parade of guest stars we’ve had this season… actually, let’s really not do that.

More like "Gillian of the Great Bangs," amirite?

So sure, Gillian’s arc is that of “misunderstood teen” with a paranormal twist. And if Gillian wasn’t so good— if Deanna Milligan  (that’s right she is so good I’m bothering to look up who played her— oh hey she was a prostitute in that one X-Files with the Hair & Nails fetishist who was maybe also Satan) didn’t sell her frustration, her heartbreak, her despair and indignation so perfectly— that’s all it would be (as in, a “misunderstood teen” arc- that last sentence got wayyy out of hand). The way the casting usually works out on this show, you’d expect Gillian to be as bad as the fucking kid in “The Good The Bad and The Wealthy.” This episode shouldn’t work at all. But it does, and it’s pretty much all her fault.

Work it, girl. Whatever 'it' is you may be 'working', continue to do that.

This episode is also plotted better than anything else we’ve seen this season. I mean, we’re still in that sort of escape/capture/escape territory, certainly. We’re even saddled with a “fuck, I broke my dope-ass cell phone” plotline.

I like how they're so confused about why the Timer doesn't work. MAYBE BECAUSE IT IS BURNT TO A CRISP?

Most episodes this season would have just left us with “Quinn’s disappeared.” But here we have the sliders landing on a world where the necessary tech to fix the dope-ass cell phone is illegal. And then we haveve the only person able to fix it being a double of Quinn’s dead Dad. And that’s all while Quinn is stuck on an Astral Plane. And that’s while Gillian learns the lesson of self-confidence. Sure, it’s not Moffatt-era Doctor Who, but compared to, say, “El Sid,” it might as well be Pale Fire.

Hide your kids, hide your wife...

Let’s all forgive the episode for that whole “yeah you only get a minute with the Vortex” faux-pas, and give it a victory lap for all the other great things that happen:

•Rembrandt ribbing Wade about her and Q-Ball gettin’ bizzy:

So, girl, give me the deets: did he Tip it or what?

•Arturo and Remmy’s break-in scene:

Maximillian Arturo: Secret Agent Prof.

•Quinn’s dad’s basement:

WHO PAINTED THIS???

•And of course, the best delivery of any line ever delivered on this show, Gillian’s heartwrenching admission to Quinn: “you’re the closest thing to a best friend I’ve ever had, and I can’t even hug you.”

OHH, IM GOING TO CRY LIKE A MAN, AS HARD AS I CAN

And it all ends with a tearful reunion on a bookending world where everyone is Naked!!!

THE MALE ALWAYS COMES THROUGH (see what I did there?)

YYYYEAAHHHHHHHH!

Next Week: I knew you were going to say that! (Obsession.)