They were so close.
There we were, at the bottom of the pit.
And lo, we were handed a shovel.
Last week’s episode, “The Exodus, Part One,” was just another episode of Sliders. It is, perhaps obviously, this week’s episode that changes everything. What I’m trying to convey is the fact that it’s hard to separate myself from this entry. It’s hard for all of us, as Sliders fans, to separate ourselves from these two episodes. They remain with us. But god damn it, I’m going to try to withhold feelings— those feelings that are so deeply rooted. If you’re a true fan of Sliders, this is the episode that you never forget seeing, and it’s never a pleasant memory. But some of you haven’t ever seen these two episodes before. Good. I’m glad to be here for you.
Let’s get to it.
But it’s hard, isn’t it? Sliders has never done a two-part episode before. It’s never been allowed this much time to spin out a story. Many shows, especially in the 90s when serialization wasn’t yet the norm for television, had difficulty spreading a story well over two episodes. But the remarkable thing here is that “The Exodus, pt. II” is somehow less boring than most of the stand-alone episodes in Season Three. It isn’t really until the last ten minutes that it loses it’s momentum. It’s a pleasant surprise.
All of which is not to say in the least that this episode is perfect. It’s still a pretty huge mess.
All of this is centered on Colonel Rickman. This character is a flaming pinball of chaos, destroying everything he comes in contact. And I don’t mean just within the confines of the story. This meteor burns outside the box, singeing the edges of all we know and love. His presences demands our attention, leaving us to stare at his horrifying unblinking face. He asks us to ignore such idiotic turns of events as his big reveal as to why he can’t keep his face on straight.
So we have last week’s reveal given cause. Rickman, in the Gulf War, was infected by some radical disease that melts your brain tissue, causing you to require injections of suitable brain tissue to stay alive.
About which: sure, fine, whatever.
About which I cry: the fact that he would keep the evidence that operates as an infodump he would never give himself in a location that is entirely easy to locate and rummage through is infuriating.
About which I barf: the fact that we’re asked to believe that this virus is plausible in any way, shape, or form. Not really the virus itself, I suppose. But the ‘cure’ is ridiculous. It would almost be more satisfying if he just killed people because he felt like it. Or, I don’t know, if he was in love with Maggie. Like, seriously.
I would buy this character if the reason he was killing people is because they found out he had a huge crush on Maggie.
But that’s not the case. Instead we have this atomic bomb-drop of a character who demands all attention. He writes a list of ‘things that crazy military commanders do’ and forces us to watch him check off the list, one by one.
He separates Mother & Son!
He murders innocent civilians!
He makes Maggie cry!
This points the way to one of the more tolerably batshit crazy elements of the episode. The director, Jefery Levy, is apparently a huge fan of the first 10 minutes of The Hunger (R.I.P. Tony Scott), and decided to go full on Gothic. I mean, LOOK AT THIS:
Angry mobs of civilians shut off the base’s power, but it really seems like an excuse just to light the entire place with blue lights and occasional strobing.
Look, I have to admit something to you. This is maybe the hardest post I’ve had to do. There’s a lot of reasons for this. The first is similar to why I chose to do a differing-from-the-norm post for “Paradise Lost”— there’s already been so much said about this episode. What more can I add? Yes, we know it’s bad. Yes, the pulsars and Rickman and the lack of blood on everyone and Malcolm in general and just about everything is preposterous. This episode is really hard to discuss because it changes everything about the show, but it just isn’t very good.
But I did notice something this time through I don’t think I picked up on this time through. I’ll get there. First, the first of two moments we’ve been waiting for.
So in the first act, we follow up with Quinn’s visit to Home with the most contentious of scenes in Sliders history. The rest of the team runs up to Quinn, more excited than we’ve seen them since the beginning of “Eggheads.” They can go home. They ask the obvious: when are we leaving?
So here, the choice is presented before them, and Quinn decides it’s ‘not the time for it.’ Not the time for the journey to end. He denies the fairyland himself. But how dare he? Rembrandt hits it on the head when he declares Quinn to be ‘playing God,’ and punches him right in the face. Many people deride this scene and declare Rembrandt’s actions out of character.
To be frank, I find that to be bullshit. I understand it. We’re protective of these people, and we don’t want/like to see them suffer. So we put up shields, deflect their suffering with our knowledge outside their world. but the fact of the matter is that Rembrandt has every reason in the world to punch Quinn right in the face. Wade has every reason to call him a bastard. He is a bastard. Arturo breaks up the fight, more or less, but Quinn just checked out. In a fit of petulance, he declares that he doesn’t care about the others. So here we are: Quinn has a way out of his guilt. It just depends on Arturo being there to dispense his sagely advice.
But the multiverse has a new goal: to punish Quinn for his shirking.
We’ve been building towards this. A break in the group on two fronts, heralded by something terrible happening—the most terrible of happenings. But we’ve still a third of the season left. The story isn’t over. It is truly a feat of sadism to continue the journey.
They were so close. If Quinn wants to hang himself for guilt, he should do so now. What the hell was the “deal” he made? He honestly believes he has a duty to help these people? Rickman forced him to help them by gunpoint, basically. He knows this system is corrupt. So what is it he wants? Maggie? Is it just that someone entirely out of his league is showing him attention?
Quinn has become a warring mixture between someone trying to be the ‘big man’ and a kid who never really got to grow up normal. He was too busy being smart, too busy grieving his father, too busy smacking a kid in the knee with a baseball bat. All this behavior is a window to the team’s understanding of sliding. Arturo saw it as the infinite possibilities of Science. Rembrandt sees it as the permutations of God’s hand.
Quinn, more and more since “As Time Goes By,” sees sliding through a selfish looking glass. But time and time again the multiverse has proved itself immutable to his whims. Not only that, it has actively punished him again and again for trying to force himself upon it. But again—they came so close. Despite the fact that we know this “Earth Prime” to be false, we can at least allow them their fairyland. After all, home coordinates are meaningless to them— home is where they choose it to be.
But you could argue that the four of them is all the Home they have. And, in the most frustratingly ridiculous scene ever to be committed to tape, Home is stripped away from them. Time slows down to make sure we can relish every hated moment.
We aren’t given even five more words. We get a charge, a mission, a passing of the torch: “Get them home.” Then we get a final term of endearment, an epitaph: “sliders.”
Then we are left with nothing.
I’m leaving out nothing of the actual death. But since this is a death mediated by abject hate and childish cronies playing God with contracts, we aren’t content to have our beloved Professor just lay down in a bloodless, wordless heap. First we have Rickman half-brain-suck him (because that’s apparently something you can do now why not), and have him go half brain dead, murmuring “help me” like he’s the Elephant Man.
Obviously it is humiliating for John Rhys-Davies to have to stumble around and stammer out his dialogue while the rest of the cast pretends that it’s SUPER HARD to understand that he’s saying “needle.” He’s an actor blessed with the most Brian Blessed of Voices, it’s a real joy to hear him speak. Here he is denied that speech. It’s ridiculous.
But it’s also the most humiliating end for The Professor, as well. And that’s the thing. The episode makes such a joke out of this Death that I forget that what my job on this blog for this episode is to eulogize Maximilian P. Arturo, Professor of Cosmology and Ontology.
But I don’t want to do that! After watching “The Exodus, pt. II,” there’s nothing heartwarming to remember Arturo by. Season Three, post-“The Guardian,” has been an exercise in diminishing the character. We’ve been giving him less to say, less to do. Sure, we gave him a disease, but we’ve only heard about it again twice (sort of). He’s had good bits here and there, most notably in “Season’s Greedings” and “Murder Most Foul.” But he’s receded into the background, assuming his role as gentle wizard-caretaker with a silent dignity.
And sure, we can remember “Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome” and say “hey, there’s a chance we’ll see him again.” But at this point, we know better. This is it.
Sliding is often chaos. It is important for the team, and for us as viewers, to have an anchor through the chaos. Arturo was always the voice of reason here. So to remove that dynamic is devastating to the workings of the show—in-universe and out.
Look, we’ll miss him. The show will never be the same again.
But you can see, in a moment that probably is informed by real life way more than usual, that it’s never going to be the same for these characters either. I mean, obviously that’s true. I’ve said a billion times that this show is little more than a tale of friendship. Now that friendship is broken, bruised, tattered, and destroyed. But there’s a moment where you can tell that for one of these people, the journey is truly over.
Oh sure, she musters up a little bit more of her usual energy, but it fades away by the end. It’s brief and due to adrenaline. But it’s over. Maggie joins the team, and she knows—without a doubt, without condition—that she’ll always be 2nd fiddle. Not only because Maggie’s a military commander, who ostensibly will always try to ‘lead the mission’ to ‘kill Rickman.’ But because she’s seen the way Quinn acts around women. And because she knows that Rembrandt won’t take sides. Arturo is dead. That sagely wisdom is gone from the group. Wade feels this keenly— she’s changed over the journey, but she hasn’t quite grown up yet— she’s been holding that off to keep the adventure fresh, to remain a happy wanderer, to keep from losing herself completely.
More and more over this season, she’s been cracking more, becoming more grim than usual. She’s started to see the ugliness of the multiverse, to treat the journey with pessimism. But here, now, her fears are made flesh, and that flesh is a misting, bloodless corpse, deaf to her sobs.
Look at her face. She’s beyond caring. She just wanly eulogized her friend, now she has to tolerate this—well, this blistering idiot— every day of her life. Sure, she can hold on to the hope that they’ll find Rickman and they’ll get his Timer and they’ll go home and Maggie will fuck off. But look at her face. They were so close. Now, when they get “home,” whatever that is, it won’t even be worth it. If they had a mission, they’ve lost it. They’ve failed.
But there’s still rags to hold together. They’re a trio with baggage now, but that trio at least has something to do. They’re no longer wanderers, in a sense. As they heap themselves at Arturo’s corpse, Quinn bemoans that Arturo shouldn’t have ‘jumped’ in front of the bullet. Wade, hope in her eyes trying not to give way to horror, says that Arturo did it so Quinn could lead them home.
Which is exactly the last thing that Quinn ever wanted to hear.
What are we left with? Wade’s checked out. Rembrandt inhabits the same null-space he always has. Quinn is now so wracked with guilt that it looks fit to consume him— but he can’t let it, because now he’s more than just the de facto leader. He has two (fine, three) lives directly on his shoulders. He can’t let them down. The pressure is too much.
There, I did it. I can say without condition that this was the most frustrating post I’ve ever had to write. It’s probably the most important episode of the series thus far, but it’s not really good enough to warrant extra attention, and I don’t want to spend thousands of words pointing out each and every lame thing that happens, because there are so many.
But I will say this: “The Exodus, pt. II” is pretty remarkable for TV in 1997. Especially on Science Fiction shows on Primetime. Not because it’s good television, but because it serializes itself in a way that wasn’t really allowed that often then. Could you imagine The X-Files, at the height of its popularity, killing off Mulder? That’s basically what this is. Even larger bit roles there like Walter Skinner don’t die ever, and it’s rare to think that they actually could.
And to think that all of this is because John Rhys-Davies was fired. For being too vocal about wanting the show to be better. It makes you wonder where we can go from here.
Professor Maximilian Arturo. Once a wanderer, an adventurer, a Man of Science. A man devoted to the Cosmos.
did you know we’re all made of stardust?
His death lacked dignity, but his passage to the next life was one of wonder.
you, me, your Father, all of us
Separated at the atomic level, to rejoin the galaxy, to rejoin his ancestors in the sky.
our atoms were formed in the stars
If you dedicate your life to the workings of the universe, there must always be a bit of frustration, a feeling that you can’t ever know everything you’d like.
but not the stars you can see now, the older ones
So to join with that which you hold so dear— there could be no greater reward.
The ones that went Nova.
His friends will mourn him, as he will mourn them, eventually. But his journey has only truly begun.
We will make new stars.
He is truly the Greatest Adventurer of All Time.
Next week: I think I’m going to take a break, these two episodes were entirely exhausting. But the week after that: NOM NOM NOM (Sole Survivors).