In 2012, there’s something romantic about “The Union.” People look back on the 70s and 80s and think, “Arthur Scargill, wasn’t he a nice man?” Nowadays, there’s riots, and London’s on fire. Here in the US, that banding-together against The Man spirit has taken the form of the Occupy movement. But the Occupy movement is toothless, a group of trust-funded aimless children who never bathe and latch on to any sort of micro-movement that appeals to them. That’s a generalization, of course— and I should point out that I firmly and wholly agree with the basic principles of Occupy and of Unionizing in general— I just disagree with the way Occupy’s chosen to make their claims.
But back to The Union. Science Fiction, in the 70s/80s, was often occupied (har har) with the idea of The Union. There are great examples of classic Doctor Who taking the issue head on (What’s up, Green Death?). The idea of “the common man is crushed by the system” is one of the oldest tenets of story-telling, sci-fi or otherwise. Sliders has tackled it from the side— “Prince of Wails” and “Fever” (and yes, I guess you can count “Time Again & World,” but I’m not going to) were both examples of small groups of citizens being tossed around in a torrent of a Government outside of their control.
But those groups/stories were never organized under a Union. Sliders never based a story off of the Coal Miners of England in 1972. So when, in this episode, the team lands on a world where the entire city of Los Angeles is a glorified Oil Foundry, and the Company works the workers into the ground, denying them anything and everything, even Health Insurance, we’ve got ourselves the makings of a real cracker of an episode.
Somewhat surprisingly, the team at first doesn’t want anything to do with the Union and the Machinations of the Planet. They’re more concerned with just finding work and laying low until the slide. Naturally, Wade gets involved when she discovers how far the Corporation is actually going in their quest to remove their workers’ rights. And this where the episode takes a slight downturn. The episode didn’t need a subplot where there’s a murder mystery and a secret arsonist working within the Corporation. The threat that the Union faces is greater than any silly murder/revenge story. But really, the episode should get credit for giving The Union a face, not just some faceless mass of humanity that we’re supposed to care about because of course we are. Wade’s journey through the episode is brilliant in this way. She carries almost all of the story revelations by herself— the meat of the character moments in the episode are all on her shoulders.
Or at least they would be, if this episode weren’t actually about A LIVING OMNIPOTENT FLAME THAT CAN TALK AND FORM INTO A SHITTY CGI “HUMAN.”
I semi-apologize for the alternate-dimension entry above. But do you see what I’m getting at? There could have been a wonderful episode here. A call-back to the more human-centric episodes of the first season. Instead, we have a sketchy framework background of a world that just serves as an excuse to shoot in the Universal Studios Backlot again (more on that later). The only thing that this episode does to redeem itself is the fact that they don’t shoot in that fucking cave set that we’ve seen every week for no fucking reason.
But even then, this episode commits maybe the laziest of production sins that the show, and maybe any show ever of all time, will commit. As much as it’s a pain and obvious and distracting, I understand the need to continue to shoot on the backlot. It’s a part of the compromise of the show’s move to Los Angeles. It’s a great money saving resource. Fine. Save that money. But get creative with how you choose to shoot the backlot. And I’ll admit, the episode’s choice to make a lot of the cars from the 50s is one step to making the backlot creative. The next step would be having an actual reason for making a lot of the cars from the 50s.
But I’m digressing from my point. Let’s watch a scene from the episode, in which Wade and Rembrandt are trapped in a burning building, unable to escape (I guess the door is locked and they were tired).
Oh, wait, I’m sorry. That’s actually just BACKDRAFT THE RIDE. THEY DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER TO STAGE THEIR OWN FIRE. THEY JUST FILMED FUCKING BACKDRAFT THE FUCKING RIDE AND STITCHED IT TOGETHER, REPEATING THOSE DOORS BLOWING OPEN LIKE TWENTY TIMES, AND THEN CUT IN SOME SHOTS OF WADE LOOKING CONCERNED.
I’m sorry, but that’s unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable. I’m willing to forgive the episode for its foray into fantasy with the stupid fire being. I’m willing to forgive the waste of story with The Union. I’m willing to forgive Rembrandt’s weird sunglasses. I’m willing to forgive almost every stupid ridiculous bullshit part of this shitty episode. But to insult me so completely by just filming Backdraft The Ride and not even make any amount of effort to hide that fact? Unacceptable. They might as well just show this the next time they jump through the fucking vortex:
That’s more or less a joke. But look how well that’s aged over time. Then watch “The Fire Within” and tell me how much fun you had. And I’ll ask you to wipe the drool off your face because Yes, I’m Sorry, You Fell Asleep. Arturo, in one of the only charming moments of the episode, geeks out to Quinn about the Fire Beast being basically the coolest thing that has ever happened ever of all time (other than, y’know, SLIDING). But his excitement doesn’t translate to us. We don’t share in it. We’re bored and waiting for him to shut up so we can watch Ally McBeal.
So I guess, before I put this crap to bed, that I should talk about Wade’s little admission that she, like, really wants to squeeze one out. This comes in the middle of Backdraft The Ride, which is a pretty awkward time to tell anyone that fact. I mean, sure, she thinks she’s about to “die.” I don’t know. I’m torn. I don’t think it’s out of character, per se, though we’ve certainly never heard any sort of indication that she’s wanted a baby before. I think what rankles me about it is the fact that it’s impossible to take it seriously when I’m watching fire burst out of a door for the fourth time in as many minutes. It’s a potentially powerful character moment squandered in a lousy excuse for a TV show.
That’s the epitaph for this episode. And if we keep on this trajectory, it’s going to be the epitaph for the entire show.
Next Week: I’m going to be taking a holiday week, because I’ll be at CAKE, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo! If you’re in Chicago, please come out! I’ll be selling some new comics, and some old favorites, and every cartoonist you’ve ever loved/should love will be there!
Next Next Week: Rembrandt One-Ups Wade and Squeezes One Out Himself (The Prince of Slides).