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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
•Arturo and Remmy’s break-in scene:
•Quinn’s dad’s basement:
•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.”
And it all ends with a tearful reunion on a bookending world where everyone is Naked!!!
Next Week: I knew you were going to say that! (Obsession.)