If you’re going to invent the idea for a TV show, you’re going to write your ideas for a parallel world on a napkin. And on said napkin, you’re going to have some gimmes. Some easy, first thing that comes to mind kind of ideas. Like, say, “The Russians Rule America,” or “Women are in Charge,” or “The English Rule America.” Sliders burned through those within two months of being on the air. So it’s a surprise to see an episode that seems so obviously napkin-based this late in the game. It’s no surprise why you’d want to use an idea like this as a lead-in ad for a premiere:
So yeah, “Dudes Get Pregnant.” To quote Sam Beckett, “Ho Boy.” After the last two episodes, and their apparent mission to destroy my faith in not only good television, but also humanity itself, seeing the show revert to its “roots” and have a low-key episode without any sort of B-Movie insanity is somewhat jarring. It’s almost uncomfortable to watch an episode where the only thing separating it from last season is the haircuts and the sun. It’s painful, almost. It’s like a twist of the knife— we’ve been wasting our time with living flames when we could have had this? But hey— I don’t mean to complain. This episode is great, and you can tell it’ll be from the opening minutes.
OH HEY WADE’S DIARY LONG TIME NO SEE. Rembrandt remarks on it, cueing in a viewing audience who probably never saw “Luck of the Draw,” and also winking at us fans who are excited to see the diary again. So let’s talk about the diary for a minute. Wade, as a character, has always been defined by her lack of definition. She basically never gets an episode devoted to her. She only exists, at this point, to either give quips because Rembrandt already gave too many in a scene, or to hack a computer because why shouldn’t she hack a computer? It’s clear no one knows what to do with her, and it’s increasingly clear no one cares enough to write an episode that could serves to flesh her out. I know I’ve already answered my own question, but why not just keep her Diary a recurring part of the show? I don’t mean that every week we cut to Wade talking about how she’s got indigestion and is so bummed that she can’t eat a giraffe burger with the dudes or whatever. But every now and then you get a little V.O., and we get to see a little more through Wade’s eyes.
In this episodes teaser, she’s serving as a surrogate almanac— we hear about the alternate history from her instead of Quinn and Arturo, which is sort of unprecedented on this show. And sure, you could argue “yeah but it’s so regressive for her to be like ‘aw it’s so romantic,'” but if that’s your argument for proving that Sliders doesn’t know what to do with its female characters, then JUST YOU WAIT. Honestly, it’s sweet— another moment where we can relax and watch these four characters interact with the familial love they’ve earned. So when a woman busts in on a stretcher and Rembrandt goes to business as instant caretaker, we aren’t really angry at them for neglecting to remind him that “hey, buddy, remember ‘Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome?'” They know Remmy too well to bother intervening. And they know that something’s going to go wrong, that there’ll be some sort of price to be paid, but they know better than to work against that. So when they find out what exactly is the price— that Rembrandt is now fated to give birth to a child who also happens to be next in line for some Royal Action— the look of shock on their faces is maybe the best DUH DUH DUH teaser moment we’ve had in Two Seasons.
You could make up a nitpick on that moment. You could say “gee whiz wouldn’t they have known about that already?” But why bother? You could also say “ugh what a dumb idea a virus destroyed the ability for women to carry a child past the second trimester?” but you’d be wrong. First, it’s extremely more plausible than “Love Gods”‘ magic “ALL DEM DUDES BE DEAD” virus, and second— and this is getting ahead of the game— but this episode is pretty much all dedicated to expanding character. And we should be more than willing to allow for a little bit of plot wishy-washiness to spend more worthwhile time with our characters.
Since this is Season Three, it’s not perfect. But y’know, it’s no more imperfect than any other early episode. There’s a conspiracy in the royal family. Rembrandt falls in love with the double of a past lover. A virus damages a half of the population. The strange thing that’s happening with this show the further I get into Season Three is that my eye is being trained to pick apart every single thing that’s ever bad with an episode. But more and more, there are good points of the episode that don’t escape the critical eye. Something that I would have praised in Season Two I end up pulling apart in Season Three. It’s easy to look at a shitty CG Dragon and tell you what’s wrong with it. But when the formerly exciting adventures through parallel worlds turns sour and drab, it’s hard not to start to question what you’re here in the first place for. And yes, the fact that this episode is sort of a mishmash rehash of a lot of over-used Sliders plot moments is a mark against the episode, but what I’m trying to say is that it sort of calls out how those plot moments were kind of boring to begin with.
That’s a really strange direction to take with this episode. It’s a superb episode in a sea of darkness, but it’s flaws, even as few and far between as they may be, are jarring enough to start bringing the whole building down. But let’s stop burning down the house, let’s focus on some really good things this episode chose to do:
1. Not have the second half of the episode be about Rembrandt avoiding the guillotine. Which technically, it is, but that action is all on the back burner. Cleavant Derricks gets a scene where he lays down why his Danielle is so important to him, and it’s so incredibly moving, and well acted, and amazing that we’re given these minutes of screen time watching Derricks work. Danielle’s reply could seem like psychic magic, but it doesn’t— because we’ve just discovered that Cleavant Derricks is the best actor on the show.
2. Not have there be a surprise CG Magic Element. We didn’t need one. There could have been a dragon, or a unicorn, or some other kind of bullshit, but the producers (I’m guessing, maybe Tracy Tormé came out of the rock he was hiding under and said “guys, no”) realized there was a strong enough non-CG A-plot to carry an entire episode.
3. No British Jokes. Rembrandt makes a joke about pence (which is vaguely nonsensical), but the episode is nothing like “Prince of Wails,” which was actually written with “making fun of England” in mind. Don’t be mean if you don’t have to, Sliders.
Two things to end this with. One, the idea that we have to forever accept the fact that Arturo either cut Rembrandt’s stomach open and pulled a fucking child out (which is terrifying and also totally awesome), or the British World Doctors put a fake vagina into Rembrandt that maybe he still has because I doubt they had time to run to the hospital and say “hey so like, minor mix up can you remove the fake vagina you put in this dude?”
The other thing is the bookend world. And I don’t mean “bookend” in the way that, say, “lawyer world” from “Greatfellas” or the Spiderwasp world from “Summer of Love” weren’t really integral to the plot but were still satisfying ways to show the ways the sliders’ adventures exist outside of the 45 minute bursts we see it in. The “bookend” world that we end this episode with is wayy too obviously a time-padding device. It’s not like there wasn’t more to wring out from this episode’s plot.
But of course, that argument is kind of pointless when you take into account the fact that the bookend world involves a mother throwing her daughter out of a window. Which, if the episode ended there, I would be amazed and delighted because that’s awesome. I don’t know. I feel like Sliders should have the balls to straight up kill a kid. But they don’t have the balls to do that. They do, however, have the balls for that kid to sprout some fucking ANGEL WINGS AND FLY AWAY.
So I guess we can’t have our cake and eat it, too. We have to have some bullshit CG Angel Wings on top of a delightful episode. UUUUUGGGHHH THIS SHOWWWW.
Next Week: BUSTADO on NATIONAL TELEVISION (Dead Man Sliding).