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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6 thoughts on “If You Can Touch It, You Can Catch It (Slide Like An Egyptian).

  1. I sometimes ask friends if they watch Sliders on netflix my buddy use to watch it (he actually thought the sci-fi season #4 was the best because of the Kromaggs, but season #5 when it was Rembrandt and a bunch of people from other earths trying to get back to our earth lost him…made him hate the show: this is one of the reasons if I was in charge of season #5 knowing how short term the show was (18 and done I would of prety much let Jerry do anything he wanted for his continued involvement in the show…done with my tangent)

    But, continuing his step-son about 16 years of age said he liked the episodes where they tried to make fun of old movies like the dinosaur episodes and twister episodes…Wow when I was his age I liked Star Trek and other old sci-fi and I got that the special effects where bad compared to STTNG and STDS9 but never because the show was thought of as a paraody, but I can’t be that mad…I remebered when it was on live I had to sell it to my new roomate that couldn’t understand the love for the show, he had never seen it til I moved in and it was early season #4, that you whatch it to laugh they have bigger than life ideas and a $100 budget, it was once a better show when they where in Vancouver and $100 spent like $200.

    Ok, this episode, wow they cover alot of ground and do it in a way that ends up being a mid grade episode…I mean this is a show that has 6 constants that need to be in the show or else, and that is a timer, a wormhole, and the 4 sliders, not much else they are going to a diffrentworld every episode so they don’t even have to reuse the same sets(they do, but they don’t have to it’s a 300 mile radious)

    So we have Quinn losing his soul as evidence by his non-reaction of his friends stranding themselves on the egyption planet and a new timer(this one should be very intresting cause Quinn didn’t do anything but find a new fangled device that was counting down, he was told it was a timer, but how did he know, he never opened it up or did anysort of test, I would wonder if it had the same 300 mile radious test, wher it was going to take me etc…I know from whatching the series to completion that the egyption timer has a VOODOO CURSE, all that touch it will experience the worst sort of tourment and eventual death…I assume the only way to escape said death is to return it to it’s rightfull owner something the sliders never did.

    Let’s see the architect that stole it died, Quinn died and came back so that tricked the curse, sadly Arturo is tricked by Quinn and is the next to touch the cursed sliding devise, how many will die because of coming in contact with this devise….

  2. I seriously cannot WAIT to delve into the mysteries of the LIVING CRYSTAL. Seriously Season 5 has so much Bonkers/Nonsense Technobabble I am going to cyber-wet myself with hyperspatial glee.

  3. You’re right. There’s really a missed opportunity here — if only for the new timer. Who built it? What were their intentions? What are its capabilities? Can it do things the old one couldn’t? Are there things the old one could do that this one can’t? Instead, it’s just a different prop. Admittedly, replacing the cell phone was unavoidable; the Motorola casing were becoming impossible to find. But they ended up doing very little with the new timer until near the end of the series.

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