We’re at the final three episodes of the season. And that, if you’re a Sliders fan, means a death is approaching. Something is lost after these three episodes. They are suffused with a funereal tone. You can make the argument that if these were the final episodes of the entire series, then the show would be better off. If we know what’s to come, that knowledge stains our enjoyment. It will truly never be this good again.
That last sentence, however, suggests that this episode is actually “good.” Which isn’t really to say that this episode is “bad,” but oi does it have some problems.
The first problem is easy, as it’s thrown in our face: WTF IS WITH THE CLOTHES. It was just about the only thing I could remember going in to this re-watch. And yes, there’s a hastily dubbed-in remark from Quinn of “these clothes are so retro.” But that’s no excuse for this:
After spending ten minutes staring at that fucking jacket, it’s the only thing you’ll be able to remember.
Which is interesting, because there’s sor tof a lot going on in this episode. Quinn & Wade have an A-plot, and Remmy & Arturo have an entirely separate B-plot, everyone sort of learns something, both have wild adventures, neither really intersect in any meaningful way. It’s almost too stuffed of an episode, but I’m going to say that that’s a good thing.
See, in this episode, the “youth run the world.” Everyone older than 30 is a senior citizen, an undesirable, fodder, dirt, worthless, over, done. So the world is run by hyped up, freaked out teenagers, while the ‘elderly’ are left to starve in shelters.
It’s a rich concept, if not a little preposterous. And as such, having two over-stuffed plot arcs in beneficial to the concept. Because you (or at least me) really do want to know how the two slices of the age spectrum function. What’s it like to have to fit a life’s work of accomplishments into 30 years? Likewise, once you’re past 30, what’s it like to be suddenly second-class?
I’ll start with the latter first. Rembrandt & Arturo, having been told by Quinn to basically “GTFO of our plotline,” go scrappin’ and yellin’ through town. Arturo, being a man of affluence, pride, and stature (ie, WHITE), is affronted by the concept of being “second-class.” Through the whole episode he codgily rails against the system, yelling at every youth he sees and generally proves this youth-obsessed culture right about old people being worthless.
But then there’s Rembrandt, who kind of just seems like he’s along for the ride, pulling Arturo out of trouble and not saying much. But he’s not, really— for Rembrandt, he’s just back in an extremely familiar element.
Now let’s be clear: Sliders isn’t, and truly be ready for this. There are two instances where the show actively engages in “race” as a topic (or three if you count a funny quip in the Season 3 gag reel)— and they’re all disastrous. One is a moody speech that comes out of nowhere in the middle of an episode that’s basically about swallowing a huge dick monster. The other is an entire episode about ‘race’ that chooses to focus more on cyborgs.
And of course, it’s never even mentioned in this episode. Rembrandt never says “Gee, Professor, now you know what it was like to grow up as an African American.” In fact, I’m willing to bet that the writers of the episode had absolutely no idea they were crafting an analogy for racial tension— and really, Arturo & Remmy’s subplot basically amounts to a longform excuse to make jokes about kids (a problem I’ll get too soon).
Instead, it’s all Cleavant Derricks— the show’s secret weapon, who when called upon always delivers the acting goods. It’s obvious that he understood the script’s secret undertones and played the part accordingly. It’s all in the way he says “no problem” to the cops who try to bust them for breaking curfew. Remmy knows that they’ll take any excuse to bust them. They’ve already got two strikes against them. Rembrandt handles the situation with a quiet grace and resigned dignity, while Arturo acts like a whiny brat. Cleavant Derricks lends a credibility to an episode that all too often leans way too far into the dark side of satire.
Speaking of that dark side, let’s look at Quinn & Wade’s plot.
Like I said, the clothes are atrocious. But the clothes are just a small part of a larger problem this episode has. The entire ‘parallel earth’ idea is basically created as an excuse to make fun of ‘the youth.’ The whole ‘petulant children running the country’ idea, at least as expressed in the episode, is largely offensive to the younger generation. It ages the production team immensely, making the show seem like it’s made by a bunch of stuffy old men trying vainly to relate to the younger generation, failing, then settling taking cheap shots at what they don’t understand.
Which isn’t a way to make a television show with any staying power. The whole problem is tempered, though, by Quinn & Wade reacting to the situation with what starts as detachement and slowly builds to an embarrassed disgust that people who share their faces could be so terrible.
Still, the episode is at it’s core a smarter-than-usual (but still needlessly complicated with ‘twists’ and ‘reveals’ about characters we don’t give a shit about) case of Sliders-by-numbers, enhanced greatly by the fact that they aren’t trying to change the whole of society. They’re only really trying to bring justice to a small group of people (and also stalling a project that not only takes away jobs from ‘elderlies’ [2012 hotpoint!], but also teaches kids to learn by selling sodas). The end of the episode doesn’t even make it clear if they succeed. Arturo’s “can’t save every world you land on” is a great line, and it’s a shame that we couldn’t have had this kind of semi-bleak ending in an episode like “Time Again & World” or “Prince of Wails.”
Cancer is not cured by this episode, but we’re still much better off than we were at the beginning of the season. We’ve made progress, not regression. People are trying to make a decent television show. If we put our minds in 1996, we’ll be excited for this show, excited for the future.
Two points in addendum: First, the fact that the wife of the dude that Alt-Wade probably murdered is no more than 15 is awesome and terrifying, and opens up more eerie implications of how this Earth’s culture operates.
Second, I would be remiss not to mention the giant continuity error in this episode. Rembrandt, at the beginning of the episode, says that they slide “the next day”. Then night comes, followed by the dawn, where Rembrandt says that they slide “tomorrow.” And then he says it again the next day. Basically, by “tomorrow,” Remmy meant “three or four days, I’m not sure but whatever.” Now, I’m not one to be bothered by that things, but this one was a little too glaring.
But like I said at the opening, a death is approaching. This was the last episode produced for Season Two, and all signs were pointing to it being the final season. Meaning for the actors and crew, this seemed like it might have been the end. The show had been on the low end of the bubble for the whole run, and if there was any chance for renewal, there would have to be a price paid in blood. The show as it stood in ’96 wasn’t going to make it on a network like FOX. It wasn’t ever going to be a show like The X-Files— I’d argue that Sliders is too weird to break out of a cult following. And the TV climate of 96 wasn’t as forgiving as it is now, where a show as bizarre as Fringe could pull absolutely shit ratings but still get renewed for a fourth season. Sliders is a show that needed nurturing, but there was no one around to nurture it.
So for every one involved in the show, this was the end. It lends the final scene a little extra bit of heft. The photo of Alt-Quinn and Alt-Wade becomes a memento not only to the failed love of these doubles, but also the cancelled love of Our Quinn and Wade, and for the show itself.
Still, if it’s an end for the show, it isn’t yet an end for us watching it. This tour through Season Two is going to close with the two most imaginative (and bat-shit crazy) hours of TV the show ever produced.
Next week: the Seeds of Doom are sewn (Invasion).