You would imagine that I would bristle at the fact that all of the action in this episode takes place in the Chandler Hotel. Which, at first blush, would seem like it’s the laziest bit of anything ever. But really, though, this episode (and certainly the next) are just examples of the show getting awesomely creative at penny-pinching.
It’s not the lazy kind of budgeting, it’s the kind that underlies an actual care going in to the show. “Okay, how do we make the best show we can?” The same thing went into “In Dino Veritas,” too— that was a bottle show to both save money and give a reason for Jerry O’Connell to be missing from the action. In both that episode and this, humble beginnings begat noble conclusions.
Well, maybe “Humble” isn’t the right word… nor is “Noble,” for that matter.
Plus, it’s a meta-wink on the ever-present Chandler Hotel. It’s the kind of wink that Season 3′s god-damned Cave Set really needed— an episode that uses the Cave as a Character, instead of a constant presence that made less and less sense the more we saw it. Here, the Chandler is a Character, and it’s one you’d actually want to spend some time with. That’s kind of amazing, when you think about it. If anything, it makes me wish this episode came earlier (though I understand that’s an impossibility, as Colin is central to this episode [even more central to it than he was in his own introduction]). After this, having spent this much time with the Chandler, we’ll be more willing to accept it. That’s impressive.
I know what you’re thinking— that I would now call this shot “Not Impressive.” But y’know what? No— this shot is awesome. It looks terrible. I know that. We all know that. THAT’S THE POINT. FOR ONCE, THAT IS THE GOD DAMNED POINT.
So there’s a pretty obvious antecedent to this episode. That would be, of course, “The Dream Masters,” Season 3′s foray into horror. Sure, you could make the argument that “The Breeder,” “Stoker,” “Sole Survivors,” and “Slither” are also forays into horror, but you’d be wrong. You’d be wrong because while they each have one or two elements of horror in them— be it Vampires, Snakes, Dick Monsters, Etc.— they aren’t really dedicated to ‘horror’ as a genre. They were indebted more to Monster Movie Tradition than Horror Movie Tradition, and while there’s certainly some overlap there, it’s plainly not the same.
“The Dream Masters” threw itself whole-hog into the tropes of Horror. At the time of viewing, I slagged it pretty harshly. Considering “Desert Storm” was the next episode, I spoke too soon. But I also spoke too soon in the greater scheme of Sliders. “The Dream Masters” isn’t the worst episode by a far margin, and it’s more just a case of a show stretching it’s boundaries and going a little bit too far than it is a case of “DANGER! DANGER! COURSE CORRECT IMMEDIATELY!” That episode was marred by budget constraints/restraints and the larger issue of the titular Dream Masters being completely ridiculous and devoid of tension.
But here, we have a return to “Horror.” But, we also have the show being smart enough to realize that horror doesn’t have anything to do with “sliding.” The episode makes the incredibly wise choice to play the horror elements, the tropes and clichés as funny. It’s not asking us to be scared (though the “Rembrandt is Shaving” scene is a little on the creepy side), it’s asking us to laugh. It’s asking us to chuckle and wonder what’s really going on. Because after the first act gets rolling, it seems less and less like there are actually ghosts running around. So it becomes a mystery— to the characters, who need to de-haunt a hotel and get their Timer out of the “Astral Plane” (where’s Gillian when you need her!), and for us the audience, to figure out who’s at the center of this genre-mashup.