Option A (deviation):
Sliders has always had a difficult time. This episode wasn’t even supposed to be the Season Finale— FOX just kept bumping it up in the running order until they realized that they’d already aired the real season finale and still had the episode left over. It was just too weird, they said. They didn’t know what to do with it, they said. So they aired the episode way after the Season had ended. And then they unceremoniously canceled the show, making this the unplanned and unknown Series Finale.
It is the end, but the moment wasn’t prepared for.
As an unplanned Series Finale, though, this episode does a frighteningly good job of summing up the underlying themes of this series. People, when explaining the show, often hear “oh, it’s like Quantum Leap.” Us fans often say “ugh, Ziggy says there’s an eight billion percent chance that NO,” but we’re sort of lying to ourselves. It’s just that Quantum Leap wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve, so to speak. The goal of Sam Beckett is to “fix history”, more or less, in the most gracious way possible. It’s easy to posit that it was Sam Beckett’s fate to step into the Quantum Leap Device, like he was destined to be an unwitting angel of history.
Sliders struggled with this concept throughout it’s entire run. Part of that is because the writers don’t know where they stand on the matter, but to be fair, it ends up being played in the characters, too. Why is it they who Slide? Are they supposed to intervene? Are they supposed to overthrow the government time and time again? Cure a deadly disease? Create equality for the weaker sex? Re-introduce the Constitution? Basically, the question is this: is Sliding random?
If the pilot is the hypothesis, the episodes the data, then “As Time Goes By” is the conclusion. And, to the undying credit of the show, the answer is blessedly complicated. In this episode, it’s as if the Timer decided to take matters into it’s own hands, and take the randomness out of Sliding, giving Quinn three case studies to try out the show’s thesis. It ends up being a what-if: if you could travel to other worlds, would you try to change them for the better? Quinn tries to argue “yes,” but the show, three worlds in a row, tries to tell him “no.” Even in the case of the 2nd “Daelin” world, where it’s “clear” that her life is “better” after Quinn “saves” her, he still feels defeated—he wanted to take her with him, after all. It proves that the “self” must be taken out of the equation. Daelin might be better off, but Quinn isn’t.
Sliding is random. Sliders must remain observers. Any intervention can lead to the destruction of (at the least) the self, or (at the worst) the destruction of the universe.
These people aren’t meant to be here. As much as Rembrandt wears out his complaints, he’s right. They aren’t divined to slide in order to inflict their definition of “Right” upon these worlds. They are sliding to get home, and nothing more. In a way, it’s really like Science winning out. The Martian Preservationist winning out over the Terraforming Colonist. It’s a tough conclusion for the show to sell, but they make it work. And it’s perfect and wonderful that it would be the Series Finale to do so. If they had any episode following this one, it would cheapen the resolution. We’ve seen the nature of sliding in every way we could, and it’s a beautiful thing that we don’t watch them ride off into the sunset. We watch Quinn cringe at his past decisions. Sliders, in it’s final moments, becomes an incredibly human show.
And for that, I will miss it.
Option B (detour):
So far this Season, we’ve been disappointed. Every week’s had some brighter moments, but they’re held amidst a heaping load of crap. Last week we had an Old-West Town attached to San Francisco, Texas. There were good things to be said about the approach to “Law” as shown in that world. Before that we had a decent idea of “Turn a City into a Giant Prison,” but that was sidled with a poorly-acted maniac, and ended with the Sliders taking someone through the wormhole who we never saw or heard from again. Wade drove a van through the vortex.
The promise we saw in Season One episodes like “Eggheads” or “Luck of the Draw” are so far not present. So when we get to this episode, it’s a shock. All of the sudden, people are trying. There’s effort in the concept, the execution. It’s an episode unlike any other that’s come before it.
And just like that, the Season turns around.
It’s interesting that it took this long to have an episode that applies the “14-year old boy” approach to sliding. By which I mean that this episode is dealing with one of the most obvious “what if” ideas of “anything’s possible:” Hey, now I can get with this chick I never could in High School.
It’s easy to forget that Quinn is a nerd. It’s also easy to forget that he’s only supposed to be, like, 22-23. So when he’s talking about this Daelin woman (who we’ve never heard of before [can you imagine if this episode was about WADE?!] but whatever) we have to remember that it’s only been… 8… years… and he’s still in love with her…
Okay, it’s weird. It comes off as creepy. I mean, Jerry O’Connell plays it well. He is accurately playing the shit out of being a total nerd who gets to M.O. with his High School Sweetie (or whatever). But that doesn’t mean that it’s fun for us to watch Quinn jerkily run his fingers through Daelin’s hair.
But you know, for once, I really can’t complain. The emotional beats this episode has are all immensely satisfying. But really, the key to the episode’s success is the fact that Quinn and his actions are wrong. He’s not right to try to change Daelin’s life, her fate. Even if it seems like it was for the better in one case. Because he isn’t just changing her life, he’s changing the lives of everyone around her.
The fact that he actually destroys an entire universe at the end of the episode is the extreme metaphor for his actions. Quinn thinks he’s doing all of this out of selflessness, but it’s truly the most selfish act. So having him not be the “winner,” the “good duy” at the end of the episode is perfect. The pained look he gives that closes the episode is a bold move, but to end it any other way would be an extreme disappointment. This is an act of respect on the part of the show. Respect to the characters, to morality, and to us an audience.
Option C (center):
There’s just no respect for this show. FOX bumped this episode up to the end because they didn’t understand it. And it’s not like I don’t get it— it’s a bizarre episode. But it’s also a brilliant episode. And, were it not for a lengthy letter writing campaign by the fans and a mild outcry, it would have been the last. There are worse ways to end a show (as we’ll see, of course), but if this was going to be the end, they unwittingly had prepared for the moment pretty well.
This episode, shunted as it was, is a last stand for creativity, and a farewell to the Canadian darkness the show had enveloped so well. FOX agreed to a third season, but demanded high costs. The show would move to LA, and the majority of the production staff would be replaced. FOX would be more ‘Hands On,” not allowing any kind of sneaky business like “continuity” or “putting Conrad Bennish in an episode” or “being interesting.” Using “In Dino Veritas”‘s popularity as leverage, they’d wrench the show out of ‘interesting’ and shove it wholly into “action” territory. The show suffers. But it soldiers on.
Part of being a Sliders fan is accepting this. Part of being a fan of any show is being able to accept change. You don’t just stop watching Doctor Who because Tom Baker leaves. You don’t stop watching Fringe because Peter is erased from the timeline. You don’t stop watching BSG because Colonel Tigh wears an eyepatch.
Of course, in reality, people stop watching shows all the time when they make a production decision that you don’t agree with. But as much as the general Sliders fan bitches and moans about the next three seasons, they still watch them. They’re stuck with the show. There’s something innately endearing about this show that people watch it for. And we’re protective of it, too. We do things like run comprehensive websites about the show, or run a blog where we discuss each episode one at a time. We care about this show, and we want people to know it existed. It’s a part of us and we want to share that with people.
But why? As you’ve no doubt noticed, if you actually watch these episodes when I do, this show is flawed. It’s entirely a product of the time it was created. It’s concept is great, but it never decided how it wanted to follow through with it. At the end of it all, when we carve through the things that make the show terrible, we’re left with Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, & Arturo. Eventually, we’re left with even less. But these four people struck on a chemistry that was frankly magical. It was warm and loving, but never alienating. You could be friends with them, if you wanted. And we are friends with them, in a way. We care about them, and we want to stay with them through thick and thin— whether that refers to what’s going on in the show or behind it.
I’ll miss the show as it is at this point. But I’m excited to continue this project/journey. It’s not like there won’t be good episodes after this. Even the bad ones can have their charm. But it’s still necessary to me, as a fan of this show (for whatever reason), to say goodbye to this era.
So, y’know, goodbye.
Next week I’ll probably take a holiday. But after that I thiiiink I’m going to throw you a curveball. We’ll see. Stay tuned.