If You Can Touch It, You Can Catch It (Slide Like An Egyptian).

Intentional detail in everything although sometimes you had to dig for it. Budget dictated reduced quality in many choices, endurance preferred over luxury or eye appeal. Compromise, and like most compromise, satisfying no one.

—Reverend Mother Superior Darwi Odrade, in Frank Herbert’s “Chapterhouse: Dune.”

Camp proposes a comic vision of the world. But not a bitter or polemical comedy. If tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement, comedy is an experience of underinvolvement, of detachment.

—Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp.

And suddenly we’re watching “Pyramids of Mars.”

What is it with this episode?

At this point, we can tell a turkey. We know when an episode looks like it will fulfill our innermost desires for the plateau of “good Sliders,” or descend to the bowels of “what the fuck did I just watch.”

Still gotta be careful, though, or an Anubis will set your Hi-Rise on fire.

We’re in an Egyptian Culture. An Egyptian Culture that speaks American English and builds Los Angeles exactly the same as it is here, except that they called it New Cairo they add huge Pyramids everywhere that can rotate via computer.

The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.

The sliders arrive in this cultural miasma on the eve of the burial of the Pharaoh. It is unclear whether this Pharaoh is more of a Mayor of New Cairo or a Governor of California, or a President of the United States of …Something. We never see the Pharaoh’s Sarcophagus, we never see a photograph of the Pharaoh. He is just implied.

Worst. Prom Night. Ever.

But then, the derivation of the word Pharaoh comes from the Egyptian term for “Great House,” and it referred to the Royal Palace. So, the Pharaoh of New Cairo is dead, and there is a procession in his honor.

We would then read this as a funeral for architecture, the death of the pyramid. It is unclear what signifies the death of a pyramid would entail. But we humans are nothing if not obsessed with our creations. Our works of stone and steel define us, we box at the heavens with our steel fists.

Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style — but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the “off,” of things-being-what-they-are-not.

The Pyramid is closed, its stellar alignment reached, its purpose fulfilled. Perhaps the ‘death’ of the Pyramid is its completion. The rays of the Sun reach their destination. The child returns to the womb.

Just spin it.

And of course, there’s the celestial reading of a Pyramid. The structure/tomb as conductor towards the heavens. The shaft from the burial chamber up towards a new world. So of course we have an episode of Sliders that deals with Egyptian Culture. They share the same goals. Doctor Mubarik, when Quinn admits he’s a slider, straight-face asks him “are you royalty?” Subtle, effective. This culture not only understands travel through worlds, it expects it.

“Help me, Remmy! Make sure my hair swoop is perfect for my headshot up in heaven!”

This episode, thematically, is about transitions. The pyramid is the architectural reference for the theme. The episode is smartest when it deals with Mubarik’s experiments with the Afterlife (it is at its near-dumbest when it ‘reveals’ that the Kheri-Heb sends healthy patients to her as punishment). It seems natural that this world would start experiments to try to understand the mysteries of their ancients. It seems less natural that they’d do so with via exanguination, but then I guess all that stuff they do to mummies is pretty weird, too.

V-8 SPLASH

So Quinn embarks on a brief journey through the Afterlife. His soul hesitates, viewing the world through foggy eyes, seeing an old friend, trying in vain to save him, unable to do so, forced to run away, leaving his shell. His empty shell. Quinn is dead, and now he will meet his Father in Heaven.

 Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is “too much.”

But his father is different, changed. Glasses where once there were none. Too much hair. A different demeanor. Over time, even in Heaven, people will change. But why? Residual Self-Image fading from memory? A focus on different things? Do we forget ourselves in the mists of the afterlife?

To be completely honest, Quinn’s vision is meaningless. His re-cast father continually spouts nonsense at him. “Remember Quinn, if you can touch it, you can catch it.” Why? What is so important about that? Is the afterlife truly just a banal and listless jungle where vapid and once-meaningful familial interactions are repeated ad infinitum?

So either the afterlife is meaningless, or Quinn was never truly there at all. It makes sense then, for him to deny Mubarik her answer. This culture would be devastated by the revelation that there is nothing after death. And not ‘nothing’ as in Darkness, but ‘nothing’ as in an intellectual black hole. They looked to the stars, found no answers. Quinn quips of his experience in the afterlife: “been there, done that.” Which begs the question: what kind of man will he become? He’s died, and all he found was a football. His father’s ghost sounds sincere, he wants Quinn to remember his old advice. But its meaning is hollow, the lesson unclear.

One is drawn to Camp when one realizes that “sincerity” is not enough. Sincerity can be simple philistinism, intellectual narrowness.

But this forgets the fact that Quinn is not just a man— he is One of Four.

Not even that hideous sweater vest can distract from the ANGUISH.

We aren’t denied this scene. In fact, this scene is probably the greatest scene ever to come out of the show. I’m not exaggerating. When we see Quinn “die,” we are waiting for this scene. I wouldn’t expect the show as it has become to grant us this scene. But it does. And it is glorious in its sadness.

This is your reward for sitting through “Desert Storm.”

This is the moment when all of the pettiness and bickering of the last two months comes crashing down around them. They’ve been at each other’s throats for so long that they’ve forgotten that they’re friends. That they’re in all this shit together. And now one of them is dead.

Camp and tragedy are antitheses. There is seriousness in Camp (seriousness in the degree of the artist’s involvement) and, often, pathos. … But there is never, never tragedy.

So now you see what the strange nature of this bewildering episode is. We slam back and forth between the extreme Campiness of New Cairo and the Dealings of the Kheri-Heb, and the insane amounts of tragedy inherent in the Sliders’ grief over Quinn’s “death.” The two, when separated, are interesting and worthy of their own episode. But when combined, the mish-mash is distracting.

But they still exist. We still have Arturo’s line of “he once told me he had a dream where I was his Father. So often I wished he was my son.” That’s an intense line. A line that defines the relationship (now defined by patience) between Quinn and Arturo. But there’s also his line of “if anyone should have died on this world it should have been me.” Why, Max? Now there’s even guilt in this old man. That deadly emotion rears its head again. Why are these characters so often defined by their guilt? Why is it guilt that seeps through their cracks? What happened to the wonder?

*sigh*

A mutated scarab beetle happened to their wonder.

The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.

I seem to remember a growing sense of unease about Cloning and Genetic Engineering in the mid 90s. I feel like the X-Files were all about that shit— Flukeman, Eugene Tooms. Judge Dredd (the movie). Dolly the Sheep. That sheep was born in ’96. Cloning was real. We’d be overtaken by a cloning army in no time flat.

So it makes sense that we’d see something like it on Sliders. We’ll see things like it again. But why in this episode, where’s there’s already way too much going on? It’s like a reflex— “wait, this is getting too good, let’s scale it back, through some naff CG in there.”

So I guess the Scarab …naps people to death? In its Mouth-Hammock?

So the ‘remaining’ sliders are trapped in the pyramid, in a useless attempt to save the life of some nameless woman Quinn ‘died’ for. The tomb of architecture has closed. Now they have to run from a ‘terrifying’ and ‘hungry’ scarab beetle.

It is a feat, of course. A feat goaded on … by the threat of boredom. The relation between boredom and Camp taste cannot be overestimated.

We didn’t need a scarab beetle. But as ridiculous as it is, it is dwarfed by the single most important even to happen on the show since Rembrandt took a detour in the Pilot. The nameless Damsel in Distress alerts the team about the ‘necrology’ ward and Mubarik’s Death Experiments. Quinn may be alive. The team shares a moment of hope. They’ve got seconds before the Vortex opens. There isn’t enough time. But as the Vortex opens, you can see it on their faces:

“But how will I change out of this hideous Sweater Vest if we don’t SLIDE?”

There really isn’t any other choice.

Kinda don’t get why they wouldn’t put that Vortex in the center of the frame, but that’s just me, I guess.

They try to deny it, but they know it’s inevitable.

They immediately got matching “29.7” tattoos, which they later regretted.

Open & shut. You’re trapped here.

“It’s 2.97 years, right?”

It’s a short scene, but it’s powerful. After so many episodes needlessly drawn out by the ‘threat’ of ‘missing the slide,’ to have an episode occur where they actually miss the slide, and then have the whole sequence take less than a minute is a slap in the face to all the lazy writing that’s come before. The vortex opens as a courtesy, as if it knows they won’t come through. “Just remember what I looked like,” it says.

If you can touch it, you can catch it.

See? Meaningless. You can’t apply that to anything we see in the episode, let alone real life. I’d love to say there’s an overarching plan for the line, and then in the last few moments of the episode they’re revealed, but there isn’t one.

Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” . . . Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is atender feeling.

But there is one more surprise left to behold. After all, this can’t truly be the end.

YEAH UPDATED FOR THE COMING MILLENIUM SLIDERS 2000

The Egyptians are Sliders. The architect has ‘stolen’ a Timer (though I truly don’t believe he stole it— he built a Pyramid, he himself is Royalty), and Quinn steals it in turn. R.I.P. Dope-ass Cellphone. You’ve been replaced by a Dope-Ass Universal Remote Control.

But there’s a mystery here. The Egyptian Timer is counting down. To what? And where is it going? The team, when reunited (in the fucking cave set, though for once I am willing to accept its existence in the plot), discusses this for all of five seconds. But then Quinn decides that mystery isn’t enough, and corrupts the timer’s programming, beginning the adventure again. Back to random sliding, they say.

LOOK AT THIS FUCKING CAVE

But if this is a new Roulette Wheel, wouldn’t the fractal arm that contains their ‘home coordinates’ be placed back in the bet? Is that even their goal anymore? At this point we have to wonder— what is there for them on Earth Prime? These people are rudderless. They have each other back, they’re all alive. But it was all meaningless. Since they aren’t forced to deal with their choice for more than an hour, the lessons won’t stick. They’ll be stuck with each other again, for a longer eternity. Back to random sliding. Back to each other’s throats. Meaninglessness, nothingness.

Quinn is oddly thankless for the others’ sacrifice. I guess he doesn’t have to be— he’s the one that saved them from being stuck in the cave set for all eternity, hunted by a shitty CG Scarab. So the ‘reset button’ is reset— but not unfairly. It’s very convenient for Quinn to have found a new Timer. But it’s not wholly ridiculous.

This shot is so nice, I bet there will be a way to reuse it somehow. 😡

If you can Touch the Vortex, you can Catch the Multiverse in your fingers. It doesn’t matter what vessel you use to travel between Worlds.

Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation – not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy. It only seems like malice, cynicism. (Or, if it is cynicism, it’s not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism.) Camp taste doesn’t propose that it is in bad taste to be serious; it doesn’t sneer at someone who succeeds in being seriously dramatic. What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failures.

Think of a Peanut Butter and Sardine sandwich. The peanut butter is delicious. The sardines are delicious. But together, they don’t mix right. So we have two half-episodes, brilliant by themselves. The two warring ideologies of this episode don’t mix together— the extreme camp of the Kheri-Heb and his Phallic Staff, or the extreme tragedy of Quinn’s “Death” and the Missed Slide. By themselves, those concepts can both fit into what Sliders has become. But together, the strange disgusting beast is hard to digest.

The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful . . . Of course, one can’t always say that. Only under certain conditions, those which I’ve tried to sketch in these notes.

Next Week: Have you nosense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency (Paradise Lost)?

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By Way of Consolation, Have a Scone (Murder Most Foul).

So, there’s some behind the scenes shenanigans I’ve been completely avoiding a discussion of.

But pretty soon I’m going to have no choice but to avoid this discussion, so why not throw it here? This episode kind of ignores the slow-burn of the end-of-friendship, so why not talk about what’s going on under the hood?

Well, in a word: Peckinpah. That name, to Sliders fans, is synonymous with Pain.

Let me back up before I delve into this. If you recall, the stipulations of Sliders’ third season included the move to Los Angeles and a new team of FOX-Approved Yes Men, who’d be there to stop Tracy Tormé from ignoring network interference. FOX wanted action. They wanted Sex. They wanted Adventure and Intrigue. They wanted 90210 mixed with The X-Files (the ones with the big ratings, not those pesky cerebral ones).

Basically, they wanted Silk Stalkings mixed with Beauty and the Beast (the TV show). So why not call in the Executive Producer of both of those shows? Silk Stalkings… hey, man, I don’t know. I’m too young for that nonsense— but I remember its existence being …prevalent to say the least. I don’t think I ever watched it, but I have distinct memories of its constant presence, that feeling of “this is on again?” Beauty & The Beast, though: there’s some television. I don’t know. It’s better Television to strive for than Silk Stalkings.

But honestly, if you’re a show on FOX in the mid-90s, shouldn’t you be trying as hard as humanly possible to be The X-Files? I mean, in 1996/1997, The X-Files is pretty much at it’s absolute peak of popularity. One year off from a mother fucking feature film? Man, that show is still great. But it’s still in Vancouver. I mean, just saying. Moving to Los Angeles kind of kills The X-Files, too. But that’s neither here nor there.

The fact is, David Peckinpah was brought in as an expert. He had a very specific job to do. And the fact of the matter is, he did that job really fucking well. He made Sliders into an action/adventure show way better than Tracy Tormé did. Look, I know that’s a completely controversial thing to say, especially on a Sliders Fan Blog. But I’ve said before, when Season Three is working right, firing on all cylinders, it is good. It’s not great, but it’s good. It is satisfying television— and that’s all it’s trying to do here.

Sure, that’s less than it used to be trying to do. But there’s no point in knocking something that’s actively enjoyable because there’s something else completely different that may or may not be better. Or let me put it this way: even “The Fire Within” was better than “Time Again & World.” David Peckinpah will, later, make decisions regarding Sliders that are downright lousy. Some of those we can blame him for entirely. Some of those were influenced by his bosses.

But this dude has a seriously bad rap on the message boards, where he is often referred to as “Peckinballs” and most threads dissolve into jokes about his ineptitude. Which was fine in 2001, but in 2006 he died suddenly of a heart attack. And I don’t care what he did to your favorite show, he died young, he left family behind, and that’s tragic. So I’m going to respect this dude when he deserves my respect. When he doesn’t, I’ll let you know.

But, I have to say, if this is the episode where I introduce this dude, I’m going to have a hard time knockin’ him, because this episode is awesome.

Do you guys remember how heavy laptops were in the 90s? Apparently these people also have Super Strength.

I mean, just look at this wild teaser. It’s pure 90s slink. Power suits abound. The Sliders are not going to fit in here, that’s for sure. It isn’t long before Mr. Grumpo himself gets in serious trouble.

Get used to that face, bro.

Here’s the thing: the team would have absolutely zero idea that any of this had happened, or what to do about it. Were it not for a conveniently chatty bartender who they run into in like every world this season named Elston Diggs who tells them exactly enough to get the plot in motion.

Also Digg’s hair— dictated by what, exactly? Why was it Rainbow in “The Dream Masters?” Ugh this guy.

Okay, since this post already tackled the Peckinpah, let’s use it to tackle the other thing I’ve been meaning to tackle: Elston Diggs (which means I’m going to have literally nothing to talk about when I get to “The Breeder.”) Now, as an idea, Diggs is fine. Diggs is great. One of the best parts about the first two seasons was how there was a tiny network of bit parts that kept showing up. Mace Moon, the Electronic Salesman. Pavel the Taxi Driver. Conrad Bennish, jr. And of course, Gomez Calhoun, the innkeeper. I miss you, Gomez.

Diggs, though, is a bartender. That’s fine. I’ve talked (read: joked) at length about how often the team is drinking all the time. So it makes sense that they’d be in bars all the time. It also makes sense that they’d drink at the same bar all the time: these people really need their stability, after all.

So now we have Elston Diggs, who is the very embodiment of the ‘token gay bit player in 90s television shows.’ Even just saying that Diggs is gay seems ridiculous. It’s gay as defined wholly by stereotypes: a fey voice, a limp wrist. It’s mildly offensive, and doesn’t have a place on a show that knows better.

But does this show know better? After all, what amounts to “casting” these days is basically completely reliant on “sex appeal” and …nothing else. So casting based on stereotype is the name of the game at this point. Diggs is problematic. But he’s also a bit player, so it almost doesn’t matter.

Also overshadowing his stereotyping is his function on the show— a living almanac. I don’t understand why the show has pretty much never  figured out a graceful way to give the background for these parallel worlds. The almanac was cute, but it was still ridiculous— you can’t piece together 6 billion years of history from one tiny book in five minutes. The only time the show’s ever been subtle about it was in “Double Cross,” where they just walk around taking in the scenery, figuring out what’s going on with the world as they go along, reading newspapers and pamphlets— using their eyes and ears.

Diggs, though, just spits out exactly what they need to hear at exactly the right moment. He’s the laziest of writing crutches, every time. And the sliders ask him the most brain dead questions. Like in Dragonslide, when Wade point-blank says “is everyone a Druid on this world?” WHAT? That’s the clunkiest most ridiculous question ever. But Diggs, blank as he is, smiles and says “Yes, the bullet points of this alternate history are this: blah blah blah.” That happens every time. It’s alright in “Desert Storm,” since he’s almost his own independent character. But even then he’s underused and that episode is awful anyways and full of missed opportunity and UGH THIS GUY.

ELSTON DIGGS: THE ANIMATED SERIES. ONLY ON THE WB.

So the Sliders in this episode wonder where Arturo is, and Diggs tells them exactly where he is, and thank god now the plot can begin.

THE S—FILES. ONLY ON THE WB.

So let’s dig into this episode. I said it was good, and then I talked about problems. But Diggs is a problem of the whole show, not just this episode. What’s going on in this episode? Why is everyone wearing business suits? Well, on this world, efficiency is King. Everyone works a 100-hour work week, running around wired and working as much as they can all the time. This world seems to be in pretty good shape, financially, and as we’ll see, they’ve got technology pretty well in hand too. Normally, this is where The Professor would hem and haw about unfairness and blah blah blah. But The Professor’s been drugged, and he’s being taken to real meat of this parallel world.

Arturo, if you don’t cooperate, I’m going to take your temperature with this thing.

So obviously, the human body/mind can’t withstand the pressures of 100-hour work weeks forever. People bend, they slag, they break— they fracture. So when someone becomes a “Fracture,” they’re given a Government-Paid/Mandated Holiday. They’re taken to Theme Parks where they’re hypnotized into thinking they’re a player in a living play. A ren-fair where half the people actually think they’re who they’re playing. A living stage.

I will forever admire these folks ability to keep a straight face.

Arturo, apparently not having a double on this World, gets the big treatment, and is hypnotized into thinking he’s Reginald Doyle, a Sherlock Holmes-lite kind of dude. Quinn, Remmy, and Wade all get parts in the play as well (this is a sticking point to fans— how would they get such choice roles around Arturo? I’m going to venture a guess and say that if Remmy could use his threatening “I’m an angry G-Man” shtick at the Lab, he could use it in the park, too.)

Anyways, that’s a super ambitious parallel world idea. And it’s all in the service of throwing the Sliders into a Sherlock Holmes Dickensian Mystery Plot. But you know what? AWESOME! Bring it on! There’s no living flame involved in that idea. It’s more natural than most ideas we’ve had this season.

And, somewhat shockingly, the show goes for it. It’s running on all cylinders, and every part of production is on the same page. The costumes, the lighting— for the first time in ages, I didn’t notice we were on the backlot. Which just goes to show how lazy the show’s got. It doesn’t take much to convince or fool us— I just want you guys to try.

And try they do. Even the casting is back in good form for the first time since Logan St. Clair.

Hey man, I just took the screencap. I didn’t film the episode. Don’t look at me.

Now, at first we’re all thinking: “Ho Boy, how can she breathe in that thing?” But the way the episode runs, this is how we’re supposed to read this. She’s a bubbly home-town innocent, playing the part she’s always wanted to, whether or not it involves wearing slightly degrading costuming. She plays that part really well.

See, that’s the difference with this episode. For once, all the tones line up. It’s a mystery show, and a bit of a lark, a Holmes pastiche— and everyone is on the same page.The actors are all playing this the same way. The semi-cartoonish Evil Doctor fits in fine, because that’s his role: the secret mastermind. The grumpy Sheriff character does a good job too as a false antagonist. He really sells his “let them die these people are too important” speech (a speech with surprised me at its inclusion and subtlety: it’s a line that reveals more about the values of this parallel universe than anything Diggs ever said). Even the comedy works right— Arturo’s “have you lost your marples joke, the line about the Scone. Genuinely funny, and intentionally so! 

The rate this is going, you’d be forgiven for thinking this episode was a porno.

So in the episode, Arturo/Doyle is investigating a series of Jack the Ripper Murders, which at first are fake. But halfway through, someone actually starts killing people. The switch from lark to horror is really well handled, and mostly is carried all on Wade’s face. Even smarter is the fact that even when Brainwashed, Arturo is smart enough to get to the bottom of the real mystery. It’s really nice to see him at the top of his game, even if he doesn’t know it for himself. It’s also a pleasantly creepy thing for him to have figured it out because the “smell of blood” was lacking from the earlier crime scenes.

STEP ASIDE ROBERT DOWNEY JR.

So, obviously, everyone who needs to get busted gets busted, everyone is happy, Wade kicks a ton of ass (which is great), Rembrandt overcomes diversity and “uses his key” to open a door, which is the most unintentionally hilarious moment of the show until “Stoker.” But there’s one more thing I want to touch on, which is the bandit fracture kid that steals the timer.

Thanks for finding your key light, Kid.

Because that is how you pull an infodump. That 12 year old fills in every lingering question we had about how this world works, while still adding some new and interesting ideas. He could probably make a timer himself— he all but says so. At the end he says “one day I’ll find you guys.” Which is corny, but kind of exciting. This kid is smart, and a real person, and he’s actually a really good kid-actor. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing the dude again. I haven’t been able to say that about anyone in a really long time.

I mean, I understand the desire to block your shots well, but c’mon…

So sure, Wade throws a Vortex halfway up to Mars. That’s a little silly. But let’s not forget the fact that for once, the people watching the Vortex actually act like they’re watching a HUGE HOLE IN THE FABRIC OF SPACE OPEN UP. The Sheriff’s wide-eyed reaction to the Vortex, so contrasted with the “oh, yeah, sure, that’s normal” reaction that we usually get, is enough to make me forgive the CG Faux-Pas.

Yes, an “O” is the shape of the Vortex.

So here we are. This show can be a Pastiche if it wants to be. You could whittle down Season Three to like, a 13 episode run and it would be, like, the most fun Season of Television ever. That’s not a bad goal to have. Especially when they’re this good at it.

Next Week: The Final Ride of the Dope-Ass Cellphone (Slide Like an Egyptian).

Pulling My Dead Mother Off My Chest (Season’s Greedings).

Did we need this? Who was asking for a Christmas episode? Sliders at this point is so much at the whim of its Network that it’ll do whatever they wish it to. So here we are, a miracle of coincidence, we’re airing an episode in December, and it’s so full of the Christmas spirit you could choke a reindeer.

But, once again out of nowhere, and much like “The Prince of Slides,” we have the show pull another semi-gem out of its ass. “Season’s Greedings” is as obvious as you’d expect it to be— the plot basically amounts to nothing more than “slavery is bad/honesty is great/Christmas is even better.” It’s the tried-and-true “message” episode. But it’s what’s in between these easy plot points that make for a much better-than-what-the-average-has-become episode.

And naturally, it’s because Wade takes center stage in this episode. I mean, sure, the episode takes every opportunity to throw her back to the sidelines, but Sabrina Lloyd (as sort of usual) steals back every scene she gets.

I don’t know, if I was in the “Home of the Haut Dog,” I’d be pretty thrilled.

Like I said, there’s a lot going on in between the preaching. Last week I brought up the fact that there are cracks starting to grow between the characters. The journey is starting to lose its wonder. I know I always refer to Wade as the only true “Happy Wanderer” left of the four, but over the course of the season (though really just the last two weeks), the spark’s left her. I mean, just imagine the Wade from “Summer of Love,” and look at Wade now. It’s night and day.

This emotional scene is heightened by the use of Elf Costumes.

Just take this scene. It’s the age-old argument between Quinn and Wade. Wade expresses disbelief that they’ll ever get home. Quinn is offended and declares harsher than his usual chill self that they will get home. Usually the argument/scene is stopped right there. But this time Wade holds her ground— “are we, Quinn? When? Tomorrow? Next week?” It’s harsh, it’s surprising, it almost seems out of character. But this is coming from a character who just last week was expressing her extreme loneliness. It’s not much of a stretch to go from loneliness to despair.

But Wade’s not quite at Despair yet, is she? She’s been in “Denial” for the last two years. The idea that “They’ll Never Get Home” has only been brought up when she’s at her most cynical, and it never really seemed like she meant it. Here, it’s barbed and full of anger. The bile in her voice betrays the wry way she says it: this time, she believes it. She’s admonishing Quinn for his optimism. We’re never getting home, and it’s childish to think so. That’s such a far cry from the old Wade. It’s distressing.

Extra distressing is the fact that she’s saying it to Quinn. These people are around each other all the time. The know each other better than any two people can really know each other. So Wade knows exactly what button to push with Quinn. She’s going to push his Guilt button. She’s going to imply that “we’re never getting home, and it’s your fault.” That’s brutal. But at the end of the day, it’s true.

The thrill of getting her braces off has long since passed.

It would already be rough for that exchange to occur while the happy time of Christmas is shoved in your face. But that’s not enough. Wade has to deal with running face to face with the double of her Father and Sister.

“Hi, we’re two extras.”

Wait. I mean,

“Hi, I’m Overacting.”

Before I get into how kind of fucked up this situation is, I need to pull back and gripe about Wade’s Dad. I don’t know what the director was thinking here. Something like “no no no, let’s step back from familiar, and start treading into more ‘creepy Frankenstein Pedophile’ territory.” Seriously, throughout the episode this dude pontificates so slowly I would have forgiven you if you thought he was a Wizard.

I don’t know. Maybe he’s reacting to the extremely heavy-handed dialogue he’s got to meter out. “The Spirit of Christmas is as Dead as My Wife and Unborn Child,” he drawls every five minutes, just to make Wade even more fucked up. See, here’s the alternate history here:

•Gravity is maybe totally weird.

•Capitalism is like, totally revered, I guess?

•Someone decided that Council Tower Housing could be combined with Strip Malls.

•Wade’s Mom got Pregnant Again, as usual.

•Unusually, she bought the farm before the crib.

It’s a totally distressing scene. The amount of disparate emotions running across Wade’s face are heartbreaking. First, it’s denial— she doesn’t want to deal with this, not here, not now. But then she realizes that it’s a tiny slice of Home— the abstract concept she doesn’t believe in anymore. She decides to embrace this tiny Christmas gift… and they have no idea who she is. She never existed on this world. It crushes her.

And sure, she gets her “actually I’m your daughter from a parallel world” speech, and a touching reunion with her sister, and everyone smiles and it’s great, and won’t you stay for dessert. But come on. You know that as soon as Wade gets through the other side of the Vortex that brief taste of familial love will turn to ashes in her mouth, and she’ll be as sullen as she was at the start. But pyrrhic as it may be, at least they overthrew a government, right?

A) What a great shot. B) I would have loved to see them at least TRY to fit all that through the Vortex.

Now, just because it’s a cliché and I’m choosing to focus on the minor parts of the episode, doesn’t mean that the A-Plot isn’t totally without merit. The idea of the “supermall of slavery” is not a bad one, if not totally original (by which I mean it seems really familiar— if there’s a specific example of one in some classic SF novel, let me know). But obvious as it is, and the episode is really, really trying to beat you over the head with it’s GREED IS EVIL mantras, it doesn’t really come off as patronizing to the audience. Rembrandt’s susceptibility to the SECRET EVIL SUBLIMINAL ADVERTISING OF GREED is well handled, given time over the episode to develop into a problem that starts funny and ends up a little disarming. It’s frustrating to the Sliders to watch Remmy descend into something they don’t understand. This frustration mirrors their anger at the people of the Mall for allowing themselves to get embroiled in the endless debt, but the more they learn about the vagaries that are going on behind the curtain, the more their frustration comes off as frustration at the fact they couldn’t have gotten their earlier.

And he’s STILL dressed with more dignity than usual…

And Arturo’s subtle rebellion, of using his job as Professional Santa Creeper as a soapbox of Good Will, is actually really cute. When that brat kid comes back asking for forgiveness, it’s a more powerful ‘win’ for Arturo and the Team than Quinn’s needless punch-out of Bernsen at the end.

HEY KELLY I REALLY LOVE YOUR HAIR NO REALLY WHY WOULD I BE LYING

Speaking of this Aggressive Male Posturing/Total Horn-Dog (yikes), what is it with Quinn? Wade is hurting. Arturo is dying. Rembrandt is becoming more sullen by the minute. So what does he do? He tries to fuck Wade’s sister. OH YEAH GOOD MOVE DUDE. He switches on the charm like, two seconds after Wade is at the verge of tears. It’s horribly inappropriate, but he never even stops to consider his actions.

The more horrifying part of this is that it doesn’t even read as jarring for Quinn to do this. This post isn’t the place for the discussion, but it’ll come soon: Quinn has changed, and it really isn’t for the better.

But at least he isn’t a living Skull-Beast.

Looking over this post, I keep seeing the word “actually,” as if I’m downright stunned that the show can be good. That may read as a cynical drag, but it’s actually just honest. This episode is pretty good. It’s probably Season Two kind of good. If you changed the haircuts a little bit, toned down the garish colors, it’d probably be Season One good. But at this point in the show, any bit of “goodness” is a surprise. Quality is a shock, and can’t be believed. I’m getting to the point where I can’t trust the show the way I used to.

But still, the undercurrents are intriguing. The threats to this friendship are bubbling up, and each time they pop out, it’s the best part of the episode. So whatever’s coming, I’m still excited for it. It’s about to be 1997— it’s time for a change in this dynamic.

Next Week: Elementary, My Dear Whatever (Murder Most Foul).

Confidentially, I Adore You (State of the Art).

Sliders doesn’t have a legacy. It didn’t leave a mark on popular culture the way that The X-Files did. The X-Files has a lot of shitty episodes. Any show does. But the pop-cultural memory of The X-Files forgives it these missteps. Sliders has not experienced this forgiveness. It isn’t even that it’s remembered for its mistakes. it’s that it’s not remembered at all, and therefore can’t possibly be respected in any way. It can’t even be respected enough for its DVDs and Netflix Queues to be listed in the correct order.

Sliders legacy is subtler than that. It lives on as a shadow, a branch against the window in the corner of your eye. It’s only the tiny quirks that become remembered. I remember an evening at a friends house and seeing Mel Torme in “Greatfellas” and not knowing why I should be interested. A friend of mine did a skit in his middle school history class that was called “Slippers.”

When I was first championing Sliders in high school, another friend of mine beamed with delight: “Oh, fuck yeah! I remember that show. Wasn’t there an episode where the sky was purple?”

Here’s where that friend is today:

Okay, that was cruel. But you see my point. It’s the tiny details that the general public (this is discounting most of us, the chosen few of the Sliders Fan Community) may remember. And yes, a World with a Purple Sky is quite a memorable thing.

Does Universal own a cul de sac somewhere in Burbank? Or is this also a part of the backlot?

Not so memorable, however, is the episode that gives us the Lilac Sky. “State of the Art” isn’t the worst episode. We haven’t gotten there, yet. It’s nowhere near as bad as “The Fire Within” or “Time Again & World,” though it shares a lot of the same problems with those two monoliths to crap. Let’s just go through it, I guess it’s worthwhile. First off, there’s the lilac sky. Sure, it’s pretty. It’s an interesting idea. It makes sense— why shouldn’t the light reflect differently from World to World? It gets you to thinking about the nature of, well— nature. But why is it here? Why is it in this episode? That’s a quirk, sure, but it has no bearing on the episode. It has no bearing on the plot, or on the weird emotional undercurrents (more on them later) that anchor the episode. The sky is just …there. And that’s fine, I guess. Things just are, sometimes.

But this is a piece of television, where nothing should ever just be if you’re doing your job correctly. If you write an episode about a desolate yet immaculately kept world devoid of humans but brimming with Androids at War with Nothing, why would you just throw a Lilac Sky onto the heap? You’ve got Androids— you certainly have enough to talk about.

“Yeah, I mean, this is cool and all, but like, DRAGONS are SO much COOLER.”

So there we have it. This is the “Robot Episode.” I’ll try to bullet point the alt-history to this:

•Aldon Robotic Technologies invents emotional androids.

•Those androids kill all humans on Earth, I guess?

•Aldon invents other robots to kill the killer Robots.

•But there still aren’t any humans anywhere?

•The Robots still build Hum-Vees, because Fuck Mother Earth.

I feel like there was a Hummer in “Rules of the Game,” but I also feel like this is the real first example of the Sliders Hummer, a terrible beast that will rear its ugly more than the dreaded Cave-Set. I guess it makes sense for the Robots to drive Hum-Vees. But I think they look stupid. They look like what someone would think a cool military vehicle would look like. Just like how when Doritos redesigned their bags they looked like what someone would have that “cool” was in the year 2012 would be if they were living in the year 1989.

Except Doritos have more personality than these so-called Personality Robots.

MAGIC SHADOW HAT

Let me have a slight tangent here. “Prometheus,” a movie I’m sure all of you were very excited about, was not the cure for cancer that I feel like most of the world thought it was going to be. it was certainly exciting for most of the time, and coughed up some wonderful imagery. But it had little to no soul, and every time it pulled up an amazing idea, or touched on God’s place in the Universe, it reeled in horror from what it had done and instead had someone get crushed to death or whatever.

But undoubtedly the most enduring part of the movie will forever be Michael Fassbender’s “David” Android, a Milk-and-Baubles masterpiece of present-day acting. Fassbender took the general “look intrigued and cock your head” school of Robot-Acting and made it genuinely believable. Robots would be awkward. They are the living embodiment of the Uncanny Valley. But there’s a difference between acting like you’re made of plastic and acting like you actually don’t have a soul. This “DEREK” robot is the worst kind of lazy acting you can find on television. Ostensibly hired because he’s “Cute” in that 1996 sort of way, he’s also dumb and lifeless as a board. Which I guess is fine if he’s supposed to be a robot. But nowhere in his behavior does he actually come off as one. The only time he actually pulls off being a robot is a complete accident— the scene near the end when a PAUL rips out his robo-girlfriend’s spine (which, if it weren’t for the last minute of the episode making it all okay, I would give this episode high marks for the insane body count it amasses). The dude is so unconvincing as an actor (not to mention he is totally marble-mouthed and unable to say any line straight), he doesn’t convey any sense of emotion whatsoever. Which I guess is perfect if you can’t feel anything. But frustrating for us if you can tell he’s actually trying to.

The never-ending quest to out-90s itself.

His robo-girlfriend Erica is certainly more convincing as a robot, in that Blade-Runner-sort-of-“I’m-a-robotic-adolescent-unable-to-control-my-urges” kind of chilling way. But when they’re paired together, the tone is wrong. They’re mashing up in a way that doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t read as “differing make of model” or some sort of fanwank-y kind of reasoning. It reads as one actor at least making an attempt at robotics and another either not even bothering because it’s too hard, or (and I’m guessing this is closer to what it really is) he’s being actively directed not to seem too Alien, so we (as an audience/key demographic) can fall in love with him easier.

My lips say no. My heart also says no.

Since I’m going to be going back and forth throughout this episode pointing out all the inanities, I might as well get down and say why this one’s a bewildering dud. “State of the Art” is the most bizarre failure of screenwriting I’ve ever seen allowed to be on a screen. It reads as if someone explained what an action teleplay was, and what a ‘plot point’ was, and then said, well, “go with it!” So we have action sequence after action sequence after action sequence where either nothing or the same thing happens, or just both. A conversation is interrupted by a surprise attack from the PAUL robots— even though we’re told they scan the buildings every 22 minutes, they’re still a surprise. But seriously, every scene seems tacked on to the last. It’s so banal and repetitive that it actually makes it difficult to follow what’s happening. There are two scenes set in the same prison room. When Quinn is re-captured in the last 15 minutes, I blinked at the screen, confused that there was still more to the episode. Ten minutes later, I blinked again.

That guy’s really keeping a LEG UP on things, AMIRITE??!?!

It’s almost impressive how much they actually managed to cram into 45 minutes. But it’s all wasted, as anything that’s worth developing is interrupted by another endless chase-and-capture scene. I mean, let’s sit down with this World’s premise. There are only robots left on earth. Most of these robots are hunted by other robots. There’s a scene where DEREK watches his friend-bot get picked apart by scavenging robots, the door is opened on a more fulfilling avenue of storytelling: this World is cutthroat— ragtag gangs on ‘bots scavenging their dead? Roaming the streets in gangs? Wary of the central compound? That sounds great! The Warriors with Robots. Can you imagine?

Gooby plz

So like I said earlier, the tone in this episode is all mismatched. The beginning of the episode, where there’s what I suppose is a comedic moment of Wade thinking that she’s “got a bad feeling about this,” and the other sliders finishing her thought in unison. Is this supposed to be funny? It kind of just doesn’t make sense, as a joke, or as something real people would say or do. Likewise, in the “touching” scene where Rembrandt all of the sudden feels worthless, and says to Quinn “I see recessed lighting, you see wires and electricity.” Rembrandt, that’s the same fucking thing. All of the emotional beats are tone-deaf to the scenes at hand, and kind of also to humanity in general.

Gotcha.

I mean, this is an episode that gives us Quinn paired with Rembrandt and Wade paired with Arturo. I don’t think that’s ever  happened before. But it’s squandered with a sudden return of Season Two Wade, shrilly defending the civil rights of Robots while Arturo quite rightly tells her to shut the fuck up. There’s actually a ton of genuinely revealing character moments in this episode, if you can prop your eyelids open with toothpicks enough to pay attention. Wade, before DEREK puts the robo-moves on her, is actually opening her heart up a little (why? I don’t know, because he’s a robot and whatever?). The lilac sky’s made her homesick with its alienating difference. She admits that even though she’s surrounded by friends, she feels completely alone. It’s a stunning revelation. This is Wade, and so far we’ve never seen her anything less than plucky. Even when concerned or shrill, she’s still a happy wanderer. So to hear her admit such a deep level of emotional defeat is a little depressing. And sure, we can chalk this off to the fact that its shoehorned into the script and should maybe not even be considered canon.

FOUR ON THE FLOOR

But this sort of gets in to another piece of the midden puzzle. You can tell throughout the majority of the scenes that the cast is actively bored with what they’re doing. This is the moment where they’ve stopped trying. But Sabrina Lloyd noticed that there’s actually the tiniest bit of actual substance to be chewed out of her ‘I’m alone’ scene, and she fucking jumps on it. She sells the shit out of the scene. So we sort of have to believe the scene, or at least Wade’s end of it. It’s one of only two convincingly acted scenes in the entire episode. Same goes for the ‘reconciliation’ scene with Wade and Arturo. The only time the cast enjoys themselves is with each other, that much is certain. At this point, they probably aren’t even talking about their characters anymore— the loneliness they feel is the show’s fault, and these actors are stuck in a job that wasn’t what they thought it was. And just like the in-show Sliders, they’ve only got each other. So why should they bicker? They bicker because the screenwriters want them to bicker. So when they get to patch it up, it’s a relief for them as characters and actors. It’z a bizarre bit of accidentally meta action. It goes back with the complete tonal mismatch of everything going on in the episode.

At the head of this miasma of lack of direction, of course, we’ve got Aldon.

This role was very big on dignity.

Hey, guess what? He’s a robot, too. Wow. Who knew. But let’s focus on his performance throughout the episode (willfully ignoring his strange near-neck-beard). He’s a cartoon, chewing scenery and being such a ham as to make Kirk blush. Which on one hand is fine— if I read this crap heap of a script, I’d treat it with about as much of a lack of respect. But his hamminess is at odds with everything else happening in the episode. Quinn and Rembrandt are too bored to work well with his ridiculous posturing. It’s an age-old story cue: Mad Professor, All Alone, Grasping at the Only Friends He Has Left, Becomes a Jailer of Friendship. But there’s still something to mine out of that plot other than “NOW YOU WILL STAY WITH ME FOREVER btw experiments.”

ROBO-DERP

But there it is again: loneliness. You’d think it an accident, but as much as it pops up, it truly can’t be one. But all the robotics and mad scientisting is all in the service of the real plot: how we deal with being alone. We know how Aldon deals with it: he makes a robot sex slave, and tries to turn real humans into robots, twiddles his thumbs for all eternity. We can freak out like the old ERICA model, or mindlessly put the moves on anyone in front of us, like DEREK.

But there’s a stranger kind of loneliness that inhabits the sliders: the loneliness that occurs even when you’re with your friends. These four people might be closer to each other than anyone else they’ve ever known, but at a certain point, it’s going to stop being enough. They may be each other’s constant, but the anchor is starting to get rusty. Over the course of this season, the show’s started to take a lot of time opening up the cracks between these four people. Quinn’s started to take charge and not really include anyone else in whatever he’s doing. Wade’s lonely in a way the others can’t help. Rembrandt’s starting to think more and more about the life he left behind. And Arturo is going to die.

So amidst all of this Dream/Desert/Dragon/Fire/Robot/Twister nonsense, we have a subtle arc growing through the season. The team is drifting apart. And as much as I don’t have faith in the show to give me a satisfying conclusion, I’m almost excited to see what happens when the drift becomes permanent. Something big is coming soon, and when it finally comes, it’s going to change everything.

Next Week: Merry Christmas, you Bastards (Season’s Greedings).