You can hang almost every problem with Dragonslide and Season Three as a whole on the last ten minutes of this episode. Rembrandt and Wade have literally the best interaction between two characters the show has ever had basically ever. Rembrandt lays his love of Wade’s soul out on the table. He tells her he wants to go home. He doesn’t want this life, he wants his friends, his loved ones. He tells her that at least he can have half of his dream. They embrace, and we’re more in love with them then we’ve ever been. The core foundation of the team is laid, as I’ve always said, with friendship at the feet. I’ve read people say that there’s no reason at this point for any of these people to continue sliding. But Rembrandt gives us every reason in the world. It’s love.
But then, as they draw apart, Professor Arturo busts in and tells them that “actually we have ten more minutes to fill, so let’s actually just look at this HUGE FUCKING DUMBASS DRAGON BECAUSE WHY NOT.”
I mean, really. The episode was over. The plot was basically resolved. The moral of the story was learned, Quinn was safe, the Evil Wizard was defeated. So why do we have the Dragon-Coda? Without it, the episode would be a silly but lovable farce. Instead we have the absolutely painful “dragon’s claw” sequence, and the even more ridiculous “Mallory’s sword can block fire because of course it can” sequence. Now, the fight with the Dragon is certainly in the realm of “so bad it’s good,” but the fact that it comes after such a brilliant scene of affection nulls the joke. After Wade & Rembrandt’s scene— and I’m willing to wager that this would hold true if this was the first episode of Sliders you’ve seen (which I have the feeling is going to be the litmus that I hold much of this season to)— we don’t want a Dragon. The Dragon is forced down our throats, and really the only reason is probably because the Producers thought the word “Dragonslide” sounded cool, but read the script and said “guys, where’s the dragon?” But c’mon— the threat of a Dragon is way more interesting than the CGI Bullshit that we got.
But the strangest thing about “Dragonslide” isn’t that it’s a bad episode—which, despite all that I’ve written above, isn’t true. The strangest thing about the episode is that it feels like it was ripped right out of Season Two. It’s everything— the pacing, the plot, the fact that we even bother talking about the characters. Hell, the first minute or so, I would forgive you for thinking you put in the wrong VHS and were watching your rerun copy of “Obsession.” Part of that is in the writing: the tried and true team of Tony Blake & Paul Jackson, who penned a host of memorable episodes from Season Two (though not Obsession, so that’s weird.) Blake & Jackson are clearly still operating with the values of the second season: there’s discussion of parallel Earth history, an actual attempt to figure out how in the hell a dude could turn into a hawk— we need this kind of stuff. Otherwise, when Arutro finally throws up his hands and says “actually I have no fucking idea I guess that was a real Dragon,” it wouldn’t be earned. His throwing in the towel of science is a character moment. If we hadn’t had the episode’s attempt of world-building, it would just be a lazy writing moment.
It’s a little funny, then, that the same team who wrote “Love Gods” would deliver another episode that puts us in a similar position. I mean, if you can’t tell, I’m not being overly critical of this episode. And it has a fucking Dragon in it. But ultimately, this episode is fun and enjoyable. Every character has a moment to shine, and Wade is treated like an actual human being who has thoughts, feelings, and emotions, not to mention an entire life.
The acknowledgement of life is one of the deal-sealers of this episode. Rembrandt reveals that he was going to ask a woman to move in with him on the day he began sliding. Now, it’s difficult to believe Rembrandt as we knew him in Season One would be able to handle an actual relationship with a normal human being. At first, this ‘revelation’ seems like it’s as last-minute a revelation as “Oh, yeah, in the Navy” was, but it’s actually a very clever bit of storytelling. It’s made obvious in the dialogue, but the fact remains: we don’t know anything about Rembrandt’s personal life because no one has bothered to ask him about it before. This tiny moment actually does the job that Navy-Remmy was actually supposed to, deepening Rembrandt’s humanity. All of his past ranting and raving about his Caddy and his Anthem and the This Is Your Fault, Quinn is just covering up the fact that he actual had a full life before sliding.
I mean, think about it. We know what Wade’s like was more or less like: she worked at a computer store, seemed to be a part-time student of poetry, had a crush on Quinn. She wasn’t really going anywhere, but she was what, 22? She’s allowed not to know what she wants. Sliding filled the emptiness that anyone in their early 20s fills. Quinn was a lonely nerd, with everything to prove. But he was still stuck at the same computer store Wade was. He was too much of a rebel to fit in to the Academic circle, and it wasn’t like he was going to start a ‘zine on Cosmology (thought that would be totally awesome). Arturo had the position he desired, but aside from the occasional shining star of a student like Quinn, it didn’t seem like he was truly happy. He was still haunted by his lost love, and the lack of respect all around him surely didn’t help.
So when we learn that Rembrandt had an actual life outside of his non-existant recording career, it’s kind of hard to deal with. His life might not have been much, but it was important to him in a way that it wasn’t for any of the other sliders. And none of those other sliders ever thought to ask him about it. I mean, it’s both reassuring and disarming that it takes maybe the last pair of Season Two veterans to flesh out Rembrandt Brown more satisfyingly than any other episode thus far. But it’s a start.
But, before you forget, this episode is about Magic. I’m sure it was a fight to keep any of the interesting “Rembrandt” stuff in the episode. Quinn had to go and be a huge dick and risk everyone’s life over some illusionist ‘babe.’ Rom the Ferengi has to pretend to be menacing, but also Max Grodenchik apparently forgot that real humans don’t hunch like the Ferengi do, and comes off as some sort of Hunchback Mercenary.
And then there’s Gareth, and his nonsensical excuse for a “plan to achieve immortality.” I mean, it’s so glazed over. There’s something about bodysnatching, and at one point he has to impregnate Melinda with Demon Semen, but at that point I was just sort of like “Oh, yeah? Demon Semen? Totally, dude.” And really, that’s all the reaction we’re asked of in this episode. And, yeah, that’s disappointing. We know this show can do better. It’s done so way too many times to be able to get a free pass for this. But the fact of the matter is that after “Desert Storm,” this episode just tries just such a tiny amount more that it earns that free pass.
That’s not a good place for a television show to be in. But “Dragonslide” seems like it could be on its way to a mixture of silly-goofy and emotional. It’s a long shot, but there’s no reason to give up, yet. Right?
Next week: Putting out fire with Gasoline (The Fire Within).