My Ears Do Not Hear You (Electric Twister Acid Test).

There are strange things afoot in this week’s entry. Or, let me put it this way: I’ve never seen Stand By Me. So I feel like I’m missing out on something. Actually, the only thing I’ve seen Corey Feldman in that isn’t “The Two Coreys” is, well, this. At the very least I’m simply bewildered by the goofy-ass handshake this dude and Quinn engage in.

Like, is it a joke about Sliding? A secret recognition of their repressed homosexuality? WTF IS THAT HANDSHAKE?

That being said, I have to admit that after last week’s non-entity of a guest star, this “Corey Feldman” is actually not bad. He’s a little one-note (and the note is ‘dully gruff’), but I’m willing to accept that a dude who spends his life as an outcast under an electrified desert would be a little gruff and dull.

This is a joke about modern music criticism.

So here’s the skinny: this episode is the beginning of what is known as a distressing trend on the show. But even if we’re pretending to not know the future, as I’m doing (poorly), there’s still a little something that’s too hard not to notice.

Those moments where you hit "pause" to take a screencap and say, "aw yiss." Because you've hit "Mid-Blink" gold.

I mean, this scene looks like the first scene in Twister. Like, a lot.  And there’s the fact that they call the tornados “Twisters” instead of, y’know, “tornadoes.” I mean, I know that “twister” is a totally acceptable nickname for tornadoes, but shouldn’t we trying to make it less obvious that we’re “referencing” the movie Twister? Or should we make it rally obvious and put the world “twister” in the title, too, and maybe throw in some other pop culture reference that’s actually probably too obscure for your intended audience of drunk teenagers to understand? To be honest, I’m surprised they didn’t call the episode “Twisterslide” or something equally asinine.

SPRING BREAK FLASHBACK

It would be really, really easy to look at the bulletpoints of this episode— “electric” twisters, Corey Feldman— and say “wow, that sucked.” But that’s not exactly true. I mean, yeah, there are flaws. Corey Feldman’s beard is a flaw. You could argue that what we get for ‘alt-history’ is ridiculous (and about this: maybe I missed the one line that explains it, but are we actually supposed to believe that these, like, 20-30 people are the only humans left on Earth? Or was this a more localized thing that devastated only California and made it so the rest of the world couldn’t help out? If it’s the latter, then I will totally accept that it’s a little less ridiculous. If it’s the former, then we’re getting into a problem similar to Star Trek’s “I am the President of the Whole Planet” thing)— and while ‘electric tornadoes’ are a scientific impossibility, we have to give the episode points for at least even trying to explain them.

Look at this cave. Remember this cave. Hold this cave in your heart. It will be with you. For all time.

And even without all that, I was pretty engaged by the whole “dictator under the guise of good” village plot. I mean, sure it’s done to death, but never before on Sliders, and it wasn’t just tacked on to the more interesting ‘twister’ plot. The story, for all its strange difficulties, is actually pretty well put together. It’s not an obvious thing that the leader of the village would be partially responsible for the twisters. The fact that Corey Feldman is his son is a little more obvious. But still— there are sort of a lot of ‘new’ characters running around, and they all get something to do, a little moment to shine here and there.

Soon you'll be a Vampire, and later John Lithgow will murder you and leave you in a bathtub.

So I watch this episode and I’m enjoying it. And if I’m a “diehard” Sliders fan, that’s the opposite of what I’m supposed to do, right? Write off the majority of Season Three and beyond?

I don’t know what’s happening. Maybe it’s my excitement for watching actual episodess again instead of crummy comics. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s my mood. Maybe I have no taste in anything. I’ve already (mentally) proved that I have differing tastes in Doctor Who episodes (I dug “Earthshock,” loved “Four to Doomsday,” thought “Time-Flight” was pretty alright), so maybe I also have crap taste in Sliders episodes? I don’t know.

I don’t claim to be an authority. This blog is one of opinion first, ask questions never. But so far I’m three episodes into Season Three and I’m having a great time. I would rate all of these episodes (yes, all) pretty high.

RIDE THE LIGHTNING

All of which is certainly not to say that I would rate this episode above “Luck of the Draw.” But lest we forget that Season One had “The Weaker Sex,” and Season Two was rife with turkeys. I don’t think my enjoyment of this episode is a case of “tempered expectations.” Or maybe that’s inaccurate— this is Sliders, you should be going into this with tempered expectations.

That said, this shot is totally awesome.

Here’s the thing, and it’s a thing that semi-unfortunately has to be brought up often. Sliders is without a doubt a product of its time. And it that time, television is a more powerful form of media. 1997 isn’t a pre-internet world, but the web at that point is still an infant. In this day and age, the internet is where culture lives and dies. Sliders wouldn’t work today (at least not as it was aired in ’97). It’s so reliant on 90s tropes and signifiers that it would either be torn apart by the fact of its sheer mediocrity, or just boiled down into a set of goofy memes and cheezeburger cats.

Funny that I should be reading about "The Twin Dilemma" as I type this up. (The joke being that this, too, is bad.)

So this episode is about Twisters. And it came out after Twister. But the 90s saw the beginning of the trend of Big Media “having the same idea at once by coincidence.” It started with Asteroids— today, it’s Vampires and Snow White. Sliders is no different— it’s just a very obvious casualty of this trend, because we can see that previous seasons don’t buck to the trend (“Fever”/Outbreak comparisons aside).

But even then, that argument relies on having the internet and being able to stream the show on demand. In 1997 there weren’t DVDs of Sliders (If there were even DVDs then— at the very least they weren’t the mass public’s form of media), there weren’t even VHS tapes unless you dubbed them yourself. We couldn’t have this kind of group discussion of the “dumbing down” of Sliders because there wasn’t a forum to do so outside of like, use.net groups. So for most people in 1997 (and I don’t mean Sliders diehards— I mean the general TV/Nielsen Viewing Public), “Electric Twister Acid Test” was a typical Sliders episode, not an out of the blue “what happened to my show” moment— this was your show.

SHRED THE DRAGON

And the thing is, at the end of this season, we’ll come to the point where the majority of episodes are like this, not like Season One. The vast majority of Sliders is an action adventure show steeped in 90s signifiers. So the argument of “Sliders shouldn’t have a kid skateboarding a tornado” doesn’t really hold water. Of course he’s shredding a twister! It’s 1997! The real criticism should be that he’s shredding it too late in the 90s for the joke— the moment is more Capri-Sun than %100.

 

I’ll cap this discussion there, mainly because comparing Sliders to a war between the aesthetics of Mass-Produced Juice Bags and Sonic Youth is the best thing I’ve ever written. But also because I’ll be returning to this time and time again. So for now, let’s just revel in the team bobsledding out of the Vortex. In all the glory of 1997.

"The Last Ride" of Dignity.

Next Week: All of this has happened before, and it will happen again —especially if you still kneecap that teenager (The Guardian [unless I do another Intro Post, since “The Guardian” is kind of a big deal]).

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Have You Looked At The Heavens (As Time Goes By)?

Option A (deviation):

Sliders has always had a difficult time. This episode wasn’t even supposed to be the Season Finale— FOX just kept bumping it up in the running order until they realized that they’d already aired the real season finale and still had the episode left over. It was just too weird, they said. They didn’t know what to do with it, they said. So they aired the episode way after the Season had ended. And then they unceremoniously canceled the show, making this the unplanned and unknown Series Finale.

It is the end, but the moment wasn’t prepared for.

As an unplanned Series Finale, though, this episode does a frighteningly good job of summing up the underlying themes of this series. People, when explaining the show, often hear “oh, it’s like Quantum Leap.” Us fans often say “ugh, Ziggy says there’s an eight billion percent chance that NO,” but we’re sort of lying to ourselves. It’s just that Quantum Leap wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve, so to speak. The goal of Sam Beckett is to “fix history”, more or less, in the most gracious way possible. It’s easy to posit that it was Sam Beckett’s fate to step into the Quantum Leap Device, like he was destined to be an unwitting angel of history.

Sliders struggled with this concept throughout it’s entire run. Part of that is because the writers don’t know where they stand on the matter, but to be fair, it ends up being played in the characters, too. Why is it they who Slide? Are they supposed to intervene? Are they supposed to overthrow the government time and time again? Cure a deadly disease? Create equality for the weaker sex? Re-introduce the Constitution? Basically, the question is this: is Sliding random?

Her hair would have you think otherwise.

If the pilot is the hypothesis, the episodes the data, then “As Time Goes By” is the conclusion. And, to the undying credit of the show, the answer is blessedly complicated. In this episode, it’s as if the Timer decided to take matters into it’s own hands, and take the randomness out of Sliding, giving Quinn three case studies to try out the show’s thesis. It ends up being a what-if: if you could travel to other worlds, would you try to change them for the better? Quinn tries to argue “yes,” but the show, three worlds in a row, tries to tell him “no.” Even in the case of the 2nd “Daelin” world, where it’s “clear” that her life is “better” after Quinn “saves” her, he still feels defeated—he wanted to take her with him, after all. It proves that the “self” must be taken out of the equation. Daelin might be better off, but Quinn isn’t.

His grimace would (not) have you think otherwise.

Sliding is random. Sliders must remain observers. Any intervention can lead to the destruction of (at the least) the self, or (at the worst) the destruction of the universe.

The "space is a curtain" thing going on here would have you think otherwise.

These people aren’t meant to be here. As much as Rembrandt wears out his complaints, he’s right. They aren’t divined to slide in order to inflict their definition of “Right” upon these worlds. They are sliding to get home, and nothing more. In a way, it’s really like Science winning out. The Martian Preservationist winning out over the Terraforming Colonist. It’s a tough conclusion for the show to sell, but they make it work. And it’s perfect and wonderful that it would be the Series Finale to do so. If they had any episode following this one, it would cheapen the resolution. We’ve seen the nature of sliding in every way we could, and it’s a beautiful thing that we don’t watch them ride off into the sunset. We watch Quinn cringe at his past decisions. Sliders, in it’s final moments, becomes an incredibly human show.

And for that, I will miss it.

Option B (detour):

So far this Season, we’ve been disappointed. Every week’s had some brighter moments, but they’re held amidst a heaping load of crap. Last week we had an Old-West Town attached to San Francisco, Texas. There were good things to be said about the approach to “Law” as shown in that world. Before that we had a decent idea of “Turn a City into a Giant Prison,” but that was sidled with a poorly-acted maniac, and ended with the Sliders taking someone through the wormhole who we never saw or heard from again. Wade drove a van through the vortex.

The promise we saw in Season One episodes like “Eggheads” or “Luck of the Draw” are so far not present. So when we get to this episode, it’s a shock. All of the sudden, people are trying. There’s effort in the concept, the execution. It’s an episode unlike any other that’s come before it.

And just like that, the Season turns around.

It’s interesting that it took this long to have an episode that applies the “14-year old boy” approach to sliding. By which I mean that this episode is dealing with one of the most obvious “what if” ideas of “anything’s possible:” Hey, now I can get with this chick I never could in High School.

And her hair is exactly the same as in High School, too!

It’s easy to forget that Quinn is a nerd. It’s also easy to forget that he’s only supposed to be, like, 22-23. So when he’s talking about this Daelin woman (who we’ve never heard of before [can you imagine if this episode was about WADE?!] but whatever) we have to remember that it’s only been… 8… years… and he’s still in love with her…

Okay, it’s weird. It comes off as creepy. I mean, Jerry O’Connell plays it well. He is accurately playing the shit out of being a total nerd who gets to M.O. with his High School Sweetie (or whatever). But that doesn’t mean that it’s fun for us to watch Quinn jerkily run his fingers through Daelin’s hair.

But you know, for once, I really can’t complain. The emotional beats this episode has are all immensely satisfying. But really, the key to the episode’s success is the fact that Quinn and his actions are wrong. He’s not right to try to change Daelin’s life, her fate. Even if it seems like it was for the better in one case. Because he isn’t just changing her life, he’s changing the lives of everyone around her.

To put it mildly.

The fact that he actually destroys an entire universe at the end of the episode is the extreme metaphor for his actions. Quinn thinks he’s doing all of this out of selflessness, but it’s truly the most selfish act. So having him not be the “winner,” the “good duy” at the end of the episode is perfect. The pained look he gives that closes the episode is a bold move, but to end it any other way would be an extreme disappointment. This is an act of respect on the part of the show. Respect to the characters, to morality, and to us an audience.

Option C (center):

There’s just no respect for this show. FOX bumped this episode up to the end because they didn’t understand it. And it’s not like I don’t get it— it’s a bizarre episode. But it’s also a brilliant episode. And, were it not for a lengthy letter writing campaign by the fans and a mild outcry, it would have been the last. There are worse ways to end a show (as we’ll see, of course), but if this was going to be the end, they unwittingly had prepared for the moment pretty well.

This episode, shunted as it was, is a last stand for creativity, and a farewell to the Canadian darkness the show had enveloped so well. FOX agreed to a third season, but demanded high costs. The show would move to LA, and the majority of the production staff would be replaced. FOX would be more ‘Hands On,” not allowing any kind of sneaky business like “continuity” or “putting Conrad Bennish in an episode” or “being interesting.” Using “In Dino Veritas”‘s popularity as leverage, they’d wrench the show out of ‘interesting’ and shove it wholly into “action” territory. The show suffers. But it soldiers on.

Part of being a Sliders fan is accepting this. Part of being a fan of any show is being able to accept change. You don’t just stop watching Doctor Who because Tom Baker leaves. You don’t stop watching Fringe because Peter is erased from the timeline. You don’t stop watching BSG because Colonel Tigh wears an eyepatch.

Of course, in reality, people stop watching shows all the time when they make a production decision that you don’t agree with. But as much as the general Sliders fan bitches and moans about the next three seasons, they still watch them. They’re stuck with the show. There’s something innately endearing about this show that people watch it for. And we’re protective of it, too. We do things like run comprehensive websites about the show, or run a blog where we discuss each episode one at a time.  We care about this show, and we want people to know it existed. It’s a part of us and we want to share that with people.

But why? As you’ve no doubt noticed, if you actually watch these episodes when do, this show is flawed. It’s entirely a product of the time it was created. It’s concept is great, but it never decided how it wanted to follow through with it. At the end of it all, when we carve through the things that make the show terrible, we’re left with Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, & Arturo. Eventually, we’re left with even less. But these four people struck on a chemistry that was frankly magical. It was warm and loving, but never alienating. You could be friends with them, if you wanted. And we are friends with them, in a way. We care about them, and we want to stay with them through thick and thin— whether that refers to what’s going on in the show or behind it.

I’ll miss the show as it is at this point. But I’m excited to continue this project/journey. It’s not like there won’t be good episodes after this. Even the bad ones can have their charm. But it’s still necessary to me, as a fan of this show (for whatever reason), to say goodbye to this era.

It's the end of the show as we know it (and we'll get over it eventually).

So, y’know, goodbye.

Next week I’ll probably take a holiday. But after that I thiiiink I’m going to throw you a curveball. We’ll see. Stay tuned.

The Carrot & The Stick (Invasion).

The Multiverse is a lonely town.

Think about it. In all these adventures, we’ve only met two people who were also sliders, and they were both Quinn. Sliding thus far has been an isolar world, with the only familiarity able to be encountered being dark mirrors of your soul. So imagine if suddenly your little island of a life suddenly blows open? if you realize you aren’t alone, there are other people who share this life?

Now imagine if these people you encounter were terrifying ape-beasts who devour human eyes and are hell-bent on conquering every alternate Earth in the Multiverse?

HEY GUYSSSSS

“Invasion” is probably the most important episode of the series, and not just because it introduces a villan that would ultimately shape the future of the show. “Invasion” is a true crossing of a line. It’s genuine Sci-Fi in away that the show rarely resembles (and yes, I know the premise is that a dope-ass cellphone opens portals to parallel dimensions). It has elements of Sci-Fi/dinosaurs every now and again, but here we have basically some mother fucking UFOs shootings some mother fucking lasers.

Look at that mother fucking LASER.

And to be frank, it’s awesome. Seriously (and this is a moment where I am writing on a use.net board in 1996), but the idea of the Kromagg Dynasty is totally amazing. It opens up the world of Sliding in a way that we didn’t even know was possible—even necessary. And it’s frankly brilliant to have the first non-double sliders be not only hideous, but also purely evil.

Also cool it with the "guilt," Quinn. No one cares that you killed this dood.

We’ll start with the ‘hideous’ part first. It’s long been something we’re forced to willfully disbelieve, but it is awfully convenient that every world they slide to is inhabited by humanoid bipeds that have the same language as the sliders (Star Trek has half of that problem, too— the latter half being hand-waved by ‘Universal Translators’). There’s a way to ‘fanwank’ this that doesn’t require religion— we haven’t had it explained yet, I don’t think, but the reason the Sliders are always in San Francisco is because there is a thing in the dope-ass cellphone called a ‘geographic stabilizer’ that gives them a four-mile radius (wow, good thinking, Quinn!) To connect this to humanoid dimension, let’s say that (here’s where the fanwanking comes in) if you were to map the —which we’re defining as all the universe that splinter off for every choice made— it would probably look like an infinite fractal (you should be stoned while you are reading this). And like any given Timer most likely has a Geographic Stabilizer, I feel like it’s safe to say that this Stabilizer makes it so that each Timer can only slide to a finite amount of Universes— only one arm of the Fractal, if you will. Y’all better quote me on this shit, yo.

Anyways.

So it’s important that the Kromaggs are not Aliens. It would deflate there inherent terror. To have them really be another evolutionary possibility of Homo Sapiens makes them scarier for the same reason all the ugly mirrors of the Sliders’ doubles are— the Kromaggs show us the absolute of our dark sides.

Nobody here but us Bead Curtains!

And in a way, the Kromaggs are a superior evolutionary chain. They seem to have, in addition to being ‘masters of gravity,’ an incredible telepathic power— able to create hallucinations and probe for information. They’re more technologically advanced, clearly. I mean, obviously, there are problems with a species that’s set on conquering the multiverse, but one gets the sense that, like their closest S-F brethren, The Borg, they are conquering Worlds to better them. It’s easy to read their refusal to speak English as egomaniacal, but if we’re being honest, English is a crap language that’s really hard to translate most of the time. Other than, say, Maths, pure thought is certainly a highger form of communication. Gotta make way for the Homo Superior.

See guys, careless prop making like this is what bought up Alien vs Predator.

And then they put a tracking device on one of the sliders. Why? What’s the big deal about Quinn Mallory (or whoever). Is it just because he managed to deflect them, outsmart them? Because he successfully weaponized his timer into becoming a dope-ass cellphone/gun (don’t even get me started on that, because UGH)? At this point in the “Kromagg Arc,” such as it turns out to be, the team are a bunch of nobodies. Flies, gnats, air. What’s the use in conquering their/our Earth?

See, for as much as the Kromaggs are an amazing idea, after watching the entire episode, they really are only that. An amazing idea. Once again, the show bites off more than it can chew, and just like “Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome,” turns in a clumsy hour of TV that represents something far more incredible than it presents.

I don’t know if I’ve watched a more awkwardly paced episode of television. “The Young & The Relentless” had egregious errors in terms of internal continuity, but it was paced well and gave ample time to both it’s A & B plots. “Invasion”‘s pacing is oddly start/stop and herky jerky. I’m usually a fan of multiple slides in an episode, but the detour to French World here just serves to effectively and narratively stop the episode dead in it’s tracks. And of course the conversation that they have there— about the dangers of the Kromaggs and the difficulty inherent in warning everyone— is important and has to be in the episode. I give the writers points for creative structuring, but the shift in mood is so jarring that it really seems like the conversation should move to the end of the episode, bookended with the “tracking device” reveal.

Plus, what the fuck were Wade & Remmy doing for all that time? Sitting on an immobile Tilt-a-Whirl?

And of course, there’s the Manta Ship Exploration Scene, where Quinn & Arturo explore the same six by six area of a space ship for eight hours straight. They try to save it by dubbing in an “it’s getting dark” from Rembrand, but it’s just so obvious that they didn’t have enough money to build more than one room of the spaceship. The whole sequence reads like the worst kind of lowest-budget Doctor Who, with Arturo & Quinn as The Doctor and Adric exploring something exciting (with Adric/Quinn complaining unnecessarily about something The Doctor/Professor shouldn’t be doing/looking stupid), and Wade & Rembrandt as a sort of even less dignified Nyssa and Tegan, complaining about how the dudes get to have all the fun.

Actually, just go ahead and stay in your cage, Mary.

The other element of the episode is just as much of a mixed bag. The Kromaggs have an emissary of sorts, a human by the name of Mary. First, major points for her not just being a dumb white blonde girl. And I guess points for having a twist ending that is sort of hard to see coming. But the twist (in which Mary isn’t actually helping the sliders escape, but is actually helping the Kromaggs track them to our Earth), is only hard to see coming because by the end of the episode you’re surprised they actually tried so hard.

Ohhh, I'm going to cry like a (wo)man!

The thing about the twist is that it undermines anything that she’s said about herself or the Kromaggs. We can’t now know for sure if Quinn’s really the first sliding human they’ve encountered (he’s not, sort of). We can’t trust her “tragic” backstory (but who cares). We can’t even trust the totally fucking awesome idea that the Kromaggs live in giant-ass tree-villages. Though this trading card (yes) would have you believe it:

Just be glad I didn't use the one of a Manta Ship blowing up the World Trade Center (Forever Too Soon).

(Also about the idea of a tree-world: doesn’t it sort of imply that the Kromaggs respect nature a helluva lot more than we do? I’m not sayin’, I’m just saying that it’s not hard to disagree with Alt-Poppa Brown.)

"Crazy Eyes" Brown, up in here.

I don’t know. It’s hard to be hard on this episode. But as an episode of Television (which, at the end of the day, is all it is), it’s sort of boring and tedious. It’s totally devoid of tension (like we really think that they’re going to kill Quinn? I seriously believe that’s what the episode wants us to think— and I’m smart enough to know the rule of cliffhangers, guys). The only truly horrendous moment is when the other prisoner on Earth 113 turns out to be an eyeless Conrad Bennish, Jr. But A) what are the odds of that?? and B) at this point in the serious, we haven’t seen Bennish in over a year (which was actually FOX-mandated- Tracy Tormé had to sneak in even this bit part). It’s weird how many of the bad ideas in this episode make it look like the worst of the John Nathan-Turner era of Doctor Who (about which, sorry I keep mentioning it, but I just watched “The Visitation,” and it sort of totally blew in a lot of similar ways as this episode).

Definitely not a Plant Holder.

Still, there’s something to be aid for this episode entrenching itself to thoroughly in hard-ass science-fiction. It opens up the show to new avenues of storytelling. The show doesn’t have to rely on silly “alternate government in need of overthrowing” tropes. It can be more. It should be more. The fact that these characters now know that they aren’t alone and that it’s a bad thing is fantastic. The show just got so much bigger, and it’s so exciting. They can’t follow up on this soon enough.

Just try not to look at that Goatse Mouth.

And despite the show’s track record for abandoned plots, they will (for better or worse [worse]). But everything change between now and then, and the power of the Kromaggs with change with it. For now, though, their power—and the shadow they cast of the multiverse— is absolute.

Next week: Quinn fucks up (As Time Goes By)! The end of Season Two ! AHHH!