I think everyone here is aware of the hype surrounding this episode. It’s the last televised stand of Tracy Tormé, the last time the creator of the show gets to put his mark upon it. So this should be the be-all-end-all of Season 3 scripts, right? This episode should be the benchmark of all that comes after it.
I’m not sure if this is a real conception, but I feel like there’s an expectation that the work for a show by its creator must be inherently better, assumed to be the best. This kind of really isn’t true for the most part. To take modern examples, both Fringe and Lost both got hugely better once JJ Abrams took his hands off those shows (I mean, I love you JJ, but for real). And to use more contemporary to Sliders examples, Star Trek: The Next Generation improved hugely after Gene Roddenberry stepped back from it, and Chris Carter’s X-Files episodes ended up being bogged down with boring continuity porn (this is me actively refraining from bringing up Doctor Who again). Tracy Tormé is not an exception to this. His episodes are never the best of the bunch. “Into the Mystic?” “Summer of Love?” “Invasion” is probably his best solo script outside the Pilot, but even then its more impressive for its new ideas than its actual storytelling.
This train of thought, of course, is limiting. Tormé certainly had a hand in crafting every script that came through the show. In most cases it’s impossible to know exactly what he added or rewrote. But it isn’t hard to imagine that his interventions ended up making the difference between a Sliders script and a script of any generic sci-fi show (and, if I can break my rule, is exactly what’s going to happen to the show once he leaves). So he knows what he wants out of the show. But by himself, he never seems to know quite how to get it.
Or at least he didn’t until he seemingly pulled one of the best episodes of the show out of his ass. Gone are the unnecessary explosions. This week, we get a reprieve from needless escapes and recaptures. We’re treated to an episode that reveals not only a lot about our characters, but also a lot about the nature of sliding.
The real meat of the episode is a strand of storytelling we haven’t seen on the show in a rather long time: Sliding as wish-fulfillment, and specifically how doubles figure into it. We’ve had doubles before, and not too long ago (hello, alt-Wade from Double Cross!) But the most recent use of double have been plot-driven rather than character-driven. That’s not necessarily a bad thing— Alt-Remmy in “Greatfellas” was a non-entity, but he was an exciting non-entity. Alt-Wade from Double Cross is a little more insidious. If it’s that easy to infiltrate the group, shouldn’t they be more nervous about it happening (yes, I’m willfully ignoring “Post-Traumatic Slide Syndrome” here)? Doubles are ourselves, with minor divergences leading to major differences in personality (Fringe did a great job with this a couple of weeks ago, with two doubles discussing their childhoods and finding no difference between them). When the team encounters doubles, they’re encountering their past, but changed— a left instead of right. Sliding is an interesting micro/macrocosm in this way: not just the Earths that change, it’s ourselves.
This episode takes that concept and makes it real— showing Quinn the moment that could change his double, and giving him the opportunity to be the force of change. Quinn is forced to relive a terrible moment form his past- a huge fork in his life’s road. Quinn’s never been much of a Man of Faith, but this is too much of a coincidence for him— first it was Daelin, now this?
Sliding, for Quinn more than anyone else, has been a grueling moral gauntlet, exposing a guilt-ridden introvert in the place of this increasingly macho persona. Of course, as the universe proved, intervening with the lives of others in disastrous to yourself and others. But again, this is too much for Quinn. His past is so raw and un-dealt with that it blinds him.
It’s the blindness that makes this episode difficult to watch at times. Quinn snaps at his friends for not understanding his actions, but refuses to take the time out to explain them. The more I think about it, though, the more that Quinn’s behavior actually lends a sort of realism to the episode. These are people who spend way too much time around each other. There’s not much left to hide between them. Quinn’s going to protect what’s left of him. It’s weird though that it’s only really now that I get this sense of “earned pricklyness” from the show— Wade’s shrillness in Season Two made no sense at the time— but the team’s tension is much more believable now, simply by dint of the length of this journey. The fact that Quinn and Arturo decide to hide Arturo’s secret from the others is going to cause trouble later— but I’m actually kind of looking forward to it.
But the thing is, at least in this episode as scripted, we don’t understand Quinn’s intentions either. So we, as an audience, side more with Quinn’s mother, who is worried that this “Jim Hall” is going to weaponize her son. We also, hopefully, are a little disgusted by Quinn’s ‘romance’ with Heather Hanley, his third-grade teacher. I mean, sure, she’s attractive or whatever, and it’s clear that Quinn has always wanted to get with her— but is this what Sliding is for? When I speak of “Sliding as Wish-Fulfillment,” this really, really isn’t what I’m talking about. Plus, it gets more to the irresponsibility of Quinn’s actions, as he’s making a tangible mark on this woman’s life for purely selfish reasons. The end of the episode has Quinn throw off a quip at Heather as she catches them sliding: “By the way, my name’s not Jim… it’s Quinn.” So Heather, after getting over the shock of seeing a dude disappear into a fucking hole in the universe, is going to shudder with the realization that she just made out with a 12-year old. HOW IS THAT GOING TO HELP LITTLE QUINN? She’s going to look at the young Quinn and be terrified by the fact that he’ll one day put the smarmy moves on her. Ugh so gross.
But still, one must give kudos to the episode for having the event Old-Quinn’s trying to prevent be so horrible (by which I mean hitting a kid in the knee with a baseball bat [JESUS CHRIST, QUINN]). By showing Kid-Quinn how to prevent himself, he gives him an alternate outlet for the rage he feels. It’s commendable but I still feel… uncomfortable, I guess, about it. Even if he changes that moment for the ‘better,’ how can he know how it’s going to Butterfly Effect out? Kid-Quinn, from this point on, is a different person— Old-Quinn can’t know what kind of person he’ll be. Will he still invent Sliding? Will he still need to? Old-Quinn’s actions are wholly selfish, as much as I’m sure he’d deny it. But he, more and more, is defined by his guilt. Was Sliding a way to run away from this guilt? If so, it’s proving that you can never run away from yourself, no matter how hard you try. The universe will always be there to hold a mirror against you.
It’s interesting, then, that for something that’s ostensibly about infinite possibilities how few possibilities there seem to really be. You can’t escape your past, and you can’t escape your death. This episode doesn’t satisfy itself as just a morality tale about the importance of your past decision. It’s also a meditation on the relentlessness of mortality.
We don’t start the episode with the revelation of Quinn’s impending introspection. We start with a quieter revelation: The Professor is sick. Very sick. He’s got a terminally (and impossibly vague) illness that will kill him, and kill him soon. (The opening hospital sequence is a minor masterpiece in the way that it starts out as if it’s some sort of cyber-dystopic lab, but really is entirely mundane, and all the more horrible for it.) Arturo’s B-plot, as we see it, is his “thirst for life” in the wake of this news. But the focus is really on a couple of hugely moving moments.
There’s a moment in the middle of the episode where the Professor physically restrains Quinn from intervening in stopping his Past-Double from getting beaten up. In it he chides Quinn for using his double as an excuse for running away from all the pain and loss at hand. He drops a heavy blunt load on him:
“You’re angry at me because I’m going to die, and I’m going to leave you all alone.”
This ties in with the scene in the teaser where Quinn confronts Arturo about his illness. Arturo is convinced that he’s got to leave the team, go on and die alone. He’s walking away when Quinn slays him with this: “We need you, Professor.”
The gravity of Quinn admitting this floors Arturo. But it isn’t really until the end of the episode, where we truly see the way that Quinn and Arturo are each other’s emotional glue, that it floors us. The need each other—they’re the two scientists, the two de-facto leaders. Neither of them are equipped for the job. They complement each other. Quinn needs Arturo to be an anchor of adulthood in his life. Arturo needs Quinn to impress him with the goodness in people. His tearful of admission of pride (he says that it’s Quinn’s Dad who would be proud of him, and while that may be true, it’s obvious he means himself) at the end of the episode cements this.
So we have a powerhouse of emotions here. This is truly a ‘big’ episode. We have a script that’s worthy of the cast, and a story that’s worth remembering. If this is Tracy Tormé’s last stand, then so be it. It’s his best work for the show. We haven’t had an episode like this yet this season. It’s proof that not every episode has to be action-packed—as much as watching the show struggle to mix action and emotion has been entertaining thus far— there’s still room for quiet, moving moments.
But this episode also lays down a gauntlet. Because even if Quinn and Arturo argue that they need each other, it doesn’t matter. No amount of love in the multiverse can stop Death and save Arturo. He is dying, and they are going to have to deal with that. From now on, there’s a countdown. This group of friends was brought together by extreme circumstances. It will be broken the same way.
Their days are numbered.
Next Week: Get out of my dreams, and also out of my car (The Dream Masters).