Last week I said there was a problem. But I was wrong. Last week might have been misguided, but held up to this week’s episode, “The Dream Masters” proves itself to be an elegant disaster. It had an idea, and while it was flimsy and had absolutely nothing to do with Sliders, it stuck to its guns and followed through with that idea the best it could. Think of it as an experiment.
You may wonder how I could stand up and defend “The Dream Masters” so thoroughly. Well then let me tell you that I would quite frankly watch “Time Again & World” twice before watching “Desert Storm” again. I have a fair amount of an open mind when it comes to Sliders. My relationship with it has changed over time. It means a lot to me, and while I wouldn’t say it means less to me today, I would say that its meaning has changed.
I would say that I still have an incredible fascination with the show. A bit of pity, and a huge amount of wonder. Sometimes this wonder is good: it’s the awe of the infinite. But more and more it’s becoming me wondering how this shit gets made.
So this, then, is the moment when a huge amount of laziness injects itself into the show. “Electric Twister Acid Test,” as you may recall, was a parody/homage/rip-off of the movie Twister and mid-90s twister-mania. As commenters have pointed out, “The Guardian” has a fair bit of Back to the Future, and “The Dream Masters” is a strange take on Nightmare on Elm Street. Not to mention the hodgepodge of popular culture than went into “Rules of the Game.”
But there’s a difference, a uniqueness to those episodes. “Twister” is obvious, but only really because of the basement scene. Otherwise, it has nothing to do with Helen Hunt & Bill Paxton. Likewise with “The Guardian” and “The Dream Masters.” They use their movie “inspirations” as a starting point, and build an episode from there. There are new ideas in each episode. Fresh concepts on tired tropes.
But then we come to this. I can imagine the pitch meeting for this turd: “guys I just watched Mad Max last night.”
Tracy Tormé hangs himself.
I mean, really. There is absolutely nothing in this episode. I suppose the major problem with it (literally every scene is a major problem) is similar to “The Dream Masters'”: what does this have to do with Sliders? There’s absolutely no explanation of how this world became drought. There’s no explanation of the history of Aquarius, of the Sand Pit, of how a shitty gay-stereotype-barkeep could have made it so far in the slave-trade (so, yes, I’m saving my “Elston Diggs” post for later). The sliders are just plopped into some hamfisted bullshit about “Water Priestesses” and “Love,” and then a midget feels up Arturo.
And yes, I guess I should be happy that there’s a sense of continuity and praise the show for remembering that Arturo is ill— BUT THEY DONT EVEN GET THE ILLNESS RIGHT. So there, no one cares. Also everyone in this episode is terrible. Take the idiot Water Priestess, resplendent in her cutoff jeans:
Her devoted brother//OH WAIT NO THEY’RE BETROTHED WHATEVER
And the dangerous Cutter, a ruthless ninny:
Or wait, is this Cutter?
Okay, that joke is probably Too Soon. Ken Steadman, the actor portraying Cutter, died during the making of this episode. That’s tragic. I don’t mean to diminish that tragedy. But the fact is that this episode isn’t changed by that death. If anything, it’s the only thing that defines both the episode and the name of Ken Steadman. But that definition is moot, because both of those things are still nothing. I’m sure he was a nice guy. But he wasn’t a great actor. And this isn’t a great episode.
I’ll tell you this— generally, I watch this show alone. I talk about it so much anyways, there’s no need to include any of my friends in the actual viewing. But I did watch “Desert Storm” with someone, and their reaction reflects all that is wrong with the episode. They were so bored and struck by how bad it was, that I’m going to have a rough time convincing them to watch another episode with me. It’s not even that they hated it. It’s that it was so undeserving of opinion.
And that is just about the worst sin an episode of television can commit. The willful ignorance of what anyone wants to see. People don’t need to see a husk of a Mad Max parody. They’ll just watch Mad Max. I’m not even talking about Sliders fans here— they already know that they don’t want to watch this. Imagine, though, if this was the first episode anyone had seen of the show. They would never watch it again.
It’s fine that FOX wants this show to be more “accessible” and less “cerebral.” But that still require actual work to go into a show. A logline is not an outline. “The Sliders land on a desert world” is not a script. The fact that this absolute shit was allowed to be on TV is very much a bad sign for the show.
But there could have been a story somewhere here, right? This could, in some utopian ideal alternate dimension, be an episode about roughing it out, the vagaries of desert trading, the hardiness of humanity. A parable about commodity, about the intense problems that arrive when people become property. A story about home and what home is and what it means to different people. A story where the two guest leads aren’t betrothed (and seriously, let me go on a tangent about that— Devin’s been kidnapped since she was what, 8? 9? 11? There’s no indication that he’s seen her since then. So at night, this dude is masturbating to an 11 year old). They’re brother and sister, because it’s less creepy that way (except for the fact that there’s only, like, ten people in Aquarius, so everyone is probably inbred to high-heaven anyways). It could have worked. It could have been, it could have. Could could could have.
But this episode is none of those things. It’s a monkey pissing in its own mouth.
Next week: Let the dragon ride again on the winds of time and relative dimensions in space (Dragonslide).