The Greatest Adventurer Of All Time (The Exodus, pt. II).

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.

SEE ME!

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.

FEEL ME!

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.

TOUCH ME!

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.

…heal me?

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!

Yep, the epitome of thrilling drama, right here.

He murders innocent civilians!

NAPTIME!

He makes Maggie cry!

Okay, so he’s not all bad.

He’s religious!

HEY PETER I CAN SEE MY HOUSE FROM HERE

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:

I mean, I really want to stress how ridiculous(ly awesome) the XTREME ZOOM into Rickman shooting up in a church is. SO XTREME.

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.

Sliders’ “blue period.”

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.

BOOYAH, MALLORY!

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.

MY LOVE IS VENGEANCE THAT’S NEVER FREE

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.

Tommy, can you hear me?

Can you feel me near you?

Tommy, can you see me?

Can I help to cheer you?

Whoa-oh-oh, Tommy…

…Tommy…

…Tommy…

…Tommy…

…Tommy.

Tommy, can you hear me?

Can you feel me near you?

Tommy, can you see me?

Can I help to cheer you?

Whoa-oh-oh…

…Tommy…

…Tommy?

Tommy?

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.

We don’t even get to see him die.

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.

Never go Full-Tard.

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.

Despite how preposterous this scene is, this shot is BEAUTIFUL.

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.

The Shroud of Arturo.

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.

Without condition.

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.

Now all I see is death.

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.

Dude just because Arturo’s gone doesn’t mean you have to get chunky in his place.

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.

Yikes, Quinn. Yikes.

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).

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Logical To The Point Of Myopia (The Exodus, pt. I).

It begins with the Cosmos.

Of course it does. What other beginning would be so apt? We all began in Space—

did you know we’re all made of stardust?

some astral collisions ad infinitum joining and rejoining from cosmic dust—

you, me, your Father, all of us

—to astral fragment to stellar globes—

our atoms were formed in the stars

to us as an Earth, as a Species, as a people—

but not the stars you can see now, the older ones

as people. Human beings with sentience, with thought, with emotion.—

The ones that went Nova.

We all want our endings to be as grandiose as our beginnings. It’s the most appealing part of our own Creation Myth. Of course, “The Big Bang” is based on facts, on Science, on data, hypothesis, conclusion.

But at the end of the day it’s just another story, a way to base our lives in something wonderful, something beautiful, something truly awesome.

We look to the stars, those remnants of ancient suns, and see ourselves, we see our families, our ancestry, our beginnings.

It is a comfort.

Interstellar Indigestion.

Or, it is our ending.

Sliders is a show that keeps up a façade of optimism. Time and time again it shows immense pessimism in the name of the Human Condition. Nearly every double they’ve met has betrayed them. Humanity as a whole lets them down. Societies and governments need to be overthrown, often unsuccessfully.

Now, here, even Science betrays them. A physically impossible globular cluster is coming to destroy the Earth. Our past lives return to destroy us. The beginning joins with the end. It falls apart as you watch.

We will make new stars.

But here we are, watching a war play out on so many levels. Remember “Dead Man Sliding?” There the show put itself on trial, convicting the show it once was for the crimes of the show it had become. Here it becomes more brutal. It’s no longer a trial, but a rebellion. A civil war. The show has become Janus with his hands at his throat.

This is more than just an episode. We’re greeted with a “part one” in the title. That’s all well and good, but the fact remains: this is the first two-parter since the Pilot, which sort of doesn’t count. This is a big deal. We’ve been working towards this, haven’t we? All the evidence is in place. The stakes have only once been this high. The battle lines are drawn. This is the showdown within Sliders— and, as we’ll see, the showdown with the sliders themselves.

This is what we’ve been waiting for— what we’ve been building towards.

This is it.

It’s the little things that matter— just look at the way the “V” blends with the dot of the “I.” That is Art Department GOLD, y’all.

We have a world in danger— a danger outside the government. A danger, though inaccurately depicted, is at least based in a familiar reality to our own. Then there’s the politics. A magazine showing us, not telling us, pretty much all we need to know about this alternate history without resorting to a huge and ungainly infodump. It’s better than an almanac, but it’s still reminiscent.

This woman’s face apparently can be dialed to ’11,’ if the scale is in MILDLY CONCERNED.

So we are rewarded for paying attention for the first time since Season One. This woman seems to be, if not a Scientist, then at least familiar with Science and in charge of Science Station and calls a Real Scientist on the phone. So the military is in charge of a lot more here, ostensibly. Russia’s at our throats. The Cold War got Hot.

Bam. Sliders is back.

“Hey, I borrowed your fountain pen, I just wanted to give it back…”

But then the other Cold War we’ve been watching comes to the front. This Military Scientist is attack from behind by a mystery man with a needle, draining a fluid from her spine. He then injects himself in the neck with the needle, and takes on her face.

OH NEVER MIND SHE DIALIN’ IT TO “12”

So there’s that. You cannot more accurately portray the differences between the Beginnings of Sliders and Now. But let’s take this at face value: what are we really seeing? As far as we know, we see two injections, a slightly rippled face, and a twin. All we have right now is a mystery. Sure, a slightly silly mystery, maybe. But we have no explanation for this. So let’s leave it for later.

I think I have and have worn often, Wade’s outfit.

Then, after the teaser, the gang slides onto a couch. The ‘couch gag’ here almost seems out of place in what passes for humor in this season. Which actually brings up a good point I haven’t thought of: how humorless the show’s become. I mean, sure, it’s hilarious— Dragonslide was a total laugh riot. But I’m not sold on how much the writers actually meant for the show to be funny. The last time there was an earnestly comical episode was “Dead Man Sliding.” And, despite what I previously wrote about Season One’s comedy episodes, was a real tour-de-force.

But the thing here is that the Couch Landing works within the episode. It’s just a part of the action, rather than jarring up against the tone. The crazy hobo dude is a little more problematic, but he’s in and out of the episode in like, two seconds. Sucks for his apartment, though:

HEY THIS IS SO MUCH FUN TO WATCH

So a bleeding Doctor Jarabek sputters out some Science Nonsense about Trajectories and dies. More mystery! More questions! But here’s the thing: this is really exciting! We’re getting a genre-mashup that I don’t think we’ve seen on Sliders before! It looks like we’re about to get a spy movie episode! We’re getting a James Bond movie! We’re getting a show with Russians in it that relies on a slightly less offensive set of stereotypical “Evil Russian” plots— or at least one that’s slightly more based in a sense of reality. The Pilot’s xenophobia was one of the more troubling parts of the episode— why would a World ruled by the Russians instantly be a dystopia?

Here we just have an extended Cold War. That’s fine! Bring that kind of story on.

NURRRR.I.P.

But there’s some trouble in this scene. Our characters watch a man die. The Professor shows remorse at this: he knew a double of Jarabek. Rembrandt has his Pain Face more or less glued on at this point. They’re the two old dogs, made weary by the death that’s come to surround them. But it’s the two kids that are trouble. Wade, someone who previously would be instantly moved to tears/vomit by seeing a dead man, takes this death in with an alarming lack of emotion. It’s a far cry from earlier in the series, and the awful thing is that it doesn’t even read as a false character moment. I’m not surprised by her reaction.

am surprised by Quinn’s callous quip: when Arturo says that he attended Jarabek’s lectures, Quinn says “not anymore you won’t.” What?! The Professor into the dead visage of a man he knew! And you’re making jokes? About death? Remember “The Good, The Bad, and The Wealthy?” What kind of man has Quinn become?

It’s not really an “Action Hero” move. Not much of Quinn’s behavior these days ever strikes me as “action hero.” It just strikes me as a man totally unsure of himself who knows that his actions have a frightening lack of consequence. Sure, he broke an entire Universe once, but that was because he was trying to help someone. The lesson should have been that he should stay uninvolved. But the lesson he seemed to take was that he just shouldn’t give a shit about anyone.

Keep that last in mind as we work through this episode. We’re about to meet someone you’d never in a thousand years would be important to the show.

Hey, look! It’s the only tasteful piece of clothing you will EVER see Maggie in EVER!

Even if I didn’t have all this pre-cognitive knowledge, I would think that something’s weird about the episode’s reverence to this Captain Maggie Beckett. As far as we know, she’s just this week’s guest star, the eye-candy that Season 3 has loved to throw at us for no discernable purpose. Here we have a vaguely unlikable over-enunciator, and we devote the majority of screen time to her.

You know that scene in “Out of Sight?” This isn’t anything like that scene.

So who is Captain Maggie Beckett? Surprisingly, we’re given huge swaths of knowledge about who she is. She’s a General’s Daughter, a Former-Fighter Pilot. There’s always been weight on her shoulders, pressure from all sides. Her husband, Scientist Doctor Jensen, was crippled in a skiing accident, “forcing” Maggie to ground herself. I put “forced” in quotes because while choosing to spend more time with her husband is exactly the right decision, it wasn’t exactly up to her, and it’s pretty clear it wasn’t her first choice. There aren’t just cracks in his marriage: it’s barely a marriage. Maggie kind of clearly doesn’t like her husband at all. It’s the General’s Daughter in her seeing weakness, and trying to fight it. But she can’t help but kind of detest her crippled husband, and his connection to her spreads the weakness all over her.

The dude may be in a Wheelchair, but the dude is really rocking that shirt/tie xtreme color combo.

So she’s a problematic character. While all of the above helps us understand her, none of the above actually helps us like her. But think of this: could you write such a detailed description of Wade? Rembrandt? The Professor? Quinn maybe. But we’re spending way more time than we ever have before to give a guest star a personality. It’s kind of a ballsy choice for the show to make. But Maggie Beckett is a pretty wildly unlikable character, so we’ve got to take what we can get with her, especially if the episode is so intent on shoving her in our face.

The Sliders, being pretty inept at breaking and entering and also not really bothering to tie her up or do anything that would prevent it, are snared into the world of Maggie Beckett, Intelligence Officer, and the foibles of her Superior Officer, Colonel Angus Rickman, for some reason that will never be explained and will forever irritate Sliders fans, is a Brit in charge of a Yank Military Base. Also, it’s Roger Daltrey:

I wish this was really what the episode was about.

Remember, though, the Cosmos.

GALACTIC ZIT-POPPIN’

So this episode is basically “Last Days” part II. The world is going to be destroyed in two days, the Sliders leave in three. But Tony Blake & Paul Jackson, some of the last Season Two writers left, are scripting this off of a treatment from John Rhys-Davies himself, so they know better. And they do a good job of making this episode nothing at all like “Last Days.” We’ve got all this Cold War Paranoia to deal with here.

That’s our way into the episode. We’re seeing the Earth prepare for its death from the most paranoid of groups. So paranoid that they make sure no one else finds out about the impending destruction of the World. It’s a perfect excuse for keeping the action limited.

Really, though, at this point anytime they don’t use the backlot I kind of wet myself a little.

But blessedly, we don’t spend our running time in the Backlot. The show takes over a beautiful building for the entire length of the episode. It’s so much more tolerable to watch Roger Daltrey mumble his lines while not blinking when there’s so much good looking architecture behind him. It makes the unseemly actions that go on around him all the more easy to stomach.

QUICK! Let’s have a contest to see who will be the first person to MAKE eye contact!

So the Sliders are given an ultimatum. They must help Jensen perfect his own Sliding device so they can try to save some of the people of this world. But it’s only some. Rickman pretends that he’s alerted the President of the impending disaster, but he truly hasn’t. He’s only going to take certain members of his military base with him. Someone has to choose who gets to slide and who has to stay and die.

Another thing I will never understand: why they decide to swathe Wade in so much WHITEFACE.

Let’s not forget that this two-parter is designed to completely destroy the sliders emotionally. So of course it is Wade who is charged with making the list of people who get to live. It’s already such a small list. Not even 300 people! Sure, it’s people she’s never met, but this is Wade we’re talking about here. She feels each and every name like it was her Mother, her Sister, her Father, Quinn, Rembrandt, Arturo. She might have watched a man die earlier in the day, but that was sudden, shocking, out of place. This list has her name on it. These deaths are on her. To Wade, every time she knocks off a name— even if some part of her still believes it’s for a ‘greater good,’ she’s becoming a murderer.

It’s unfair. Completely unfair. But she has no choice. And this is the one moment where Colonel Rickman doesn’t come off as a cartoon. He reminds her that they have to build a new world. Start from scratch. She’s right when she tells him that they do need to have children there. But he’s right when he insists on taking personnel with Type O-Negative blood. She can’t help but continue the list. She’ll watch Quinn slide with Maggie, and be fully aware of the fact that it represents a divide that can’t really be bridged again. A rubicon in the friendship.

And lo, they knew ’twas the end.

Arturo relegates himself to the sidelines, at last being the scientist he always wanted to be. Finally working on a project that will save lives, and perhaps more importantly, be worth remembering.

Rembrandt spends his time wandering aimlessly around the base. Eventually he makes his way to the sewers (at least it’s not the cave set), and finds a lonely kid named Malcolm.

CHECK OUT MY DOPE PORTRAIT OF MY COMATOSE MOM, REMMY

Look, I’m going to be honest: this would be a totally great and moving plotline where it not for that kid being totally awful in every way. This is the perfect plot for Rembrandt. He’s returning to his roots of being the ‘everyman.’ He finds himself in chaos, and is drawn to the most mundane thing around him. So he finds another outcast, another soul on the edge. But Malcolm doesn’t come off as a lost soul, he comes off as a petulantly dead-eyed ninny. But then I guess he gets that from his Father:

Okay, so I really wanted to go on a tangent about how for 95% of the episode, it accidentally looks like Rickman is only stabbing African-Americans and is on a goal to ethnically cleanse the military base. But I’m already pushing 4000 words on this, and I mean, he’s not REALLY trying to do that, it just happens to be Malcolm’s parents, and the show isn’t smart enough to think of a plot like that anyways and DEEP BREATH/never mind.

These four people can’t help but get involved in this mess. “Sliding is improvising,” Quinn says. These people take what is delivered to them, and get involved if they have to. But the longer they slide, the less they actively try to get involved in things. If someone runs up and yells “hey, let’s overthrow the government,” they’ll oblige. If someone says “hey, you’re sort of a hostage, but also you’re going to help out some innocent people,” then there they are. But it’s not fair. This time it’s a little too much.

Quinn’s always been the ‘leader,’ in a way. But it was never spoken, and he’d never admit it to anyone. Even now, in “action hero” mode, he’s still reluctant to take charge. But in the back of his mind he knows that Arturo is still dying. Someday soon he’s going to have to just go ahead and be the man in charge. That knowledge makes him petulant. But it also gives him the resolve to stick with sliding, to roll with the punches.

Maggie looks like she’s wearing two different wigs, and Quinn’s hair looks like a Penis.

Even if said punches involve sliding within a slide with an irritating Ex-Fighter Pilot who clearly wants to fuck you even though she’s married to a crippled scientist. A huge chunk (actually maybe it only seems huge because it’s dull) of the episode is devoted to Quinn & Maggie ‘scouting’ new worlds for the Exodus. It’s an interesting idea. It’s kind of just shrugged off. But this is the first time since El Sid we’ve taken someone through the Vortex and actually dealt with the consequences. It’s also the first time since Invasion that we’ve slid through a vortex not our own.

But we aren’t really treated to ‘consequences,’ because Maggie is like “NO BIGGIE QUINN LET’S SLIDE ALSO I’M IN CHARGE.” Quinn tries to tell her that “hey Maggie we’re in the cave set nothing ever good happens in the cave set,” but she’s like “I’m not listening Quinn I’m going to feed this huge fucking rabbit with my BODY.”

Guys, just be thankful we didn’t get an ENTIRE EPISODE about this shit.

Yeah sure fine whatever. Thankfully we have Maggie meet a double of Maggie, who, ha ha ha, is actually exactly the same as Maggie-Prime. So we get the ridiculous scene where Maggie tells Quinn basically how to get her naked in order to get the timer back.

Our tax dollars at work for Maggie’s highlights.

It’s the Cold War of the show coming back to stir things up, cause trouble. You can just see Tony Blake & Paul Jackson sending drafts in and getting back all these horrible notes that destroy everything they’re trying to do. So we have Maggie Beckett with a truly interesting backstory with a damaged marriage, and then we have her shamelessly hit on Quinn. We have an interesting idea for a parallel world, and then we have a cartoonish Englishman running the US. We have a woman actively trying to make a cuckold out of her disabled husband.

OOH YEAH SMOOTH MOVE, MALLORY!

It brings us to one of two betrayals that end the episode. We started with the promise of mystery. The night-needler stands in the light, and reveals himself:

Also not helping Daltrey be overly-creepy: the fact that he NEVER EVER ONCE BLINKS EVER IN THE EPISODE.

We had the potential for truth, for accuracy, for something within the realm of possibility. And we are betrayed to our cores, as the other side wins the battle of ridiculousness. Rickman’s injections form him into a shapeshifter— another B-Movie Reject. Taste, at last, is defeated.

Umm, yeah.

And then we have Quinn, who is totally okay with Maggie’s offensive behavior.

Quinn’s arc in all of this mess is one of guilt, and the attempt to shirk responsibility for this guilt. His choice of shirking at this point to just throw his hands in the air and say “it’s a parallel world, who cares?” So fine, he’ll accept Maggie’s advances. This is fun. No one used to do that to him back home.

Back home.

Home.

That four-lettered word. Quinn casually tells Maggie that they’ve been sliding for 3 years. Which is an immense amount of time. It’s easy to forget that it’s been that long. Home, at this point, is nothing more than an ideal. It’s become so beyond a memory it’s a false utopia. A dreamworld. A fairyland.

Or, y’know, the more accurate reason that no one bothered to watch “Into The Mystic.”

We, as an audience, know this vision to be false. We know that wherever Quinn is, it isn’t home. It’s some false vision, perfect for Quinn— it gives him exactly what he wants to see. It gives him a squeaky gate. A gate we know has been oiled. It gives him the sounds, the sights, the smells of “Home.” And it gives him guilt made flesh.

YEAH FUCK THOSE FLOWERS, MRS. MALLORY!

Here we learn the darkest seed of the guilt festering in Quinn. We learn that he chose to Slide— remember, on a whim— on his Mother’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom, for a present I’m going to disappear for the rest of your life, leaving you alone and empty, having already lost your husband, and now your son. Staying here would be sweet. It’s the goal, still, isn’t it? But why, now, after all these years, would the roulette wheel spin him Home, when he’s not ready? Forget the fact that it’s only Quinn, and his companions, his happy wanderers, aren’t even there. He’s busy.

“QUINN YOUR NEIGHBORS CHICKEN SOUP IS TERRIBLE”

But this illusion grants him further pain. Maggie can’t breathe our atmosphere. He can’t even stay— not that he could to begin with. He’s got some ridiculous notion of ‘what’s right,’ and ‘what’s right’ is ‘saving this military base from itself.’ So Quinn bottoms out. He’s home and has to leave. What could possibly be worse than that?

FATALITY

Punching an innocent man in the face— a man who was only trying to help Maggie live, and leaving your mother—again— her face contorted by an unbearable amount of grief.

Next Week on Sliders: Linda Henning crying for 45 minutes.

This is how we end the first part of this episode. Quinn has debased himself to be as unlikable as Maggie. Devastating his mother once wasn’t bad enough, he had to do it twice. The lessons of “As Time Goes By” corrupted him, made him angry. He will buck against the Multiverse to get what he wants. Which, it turns out, is for someone to pay attention to him. So he clings to Maggie, a new and powerful woman who respects his Vortex. Forget his friends, still trapped on a world they don’t want to be on.

But actions have a way of catching up with you. And here is judgement. The world is still going to end, with all of them on it. The cosmos is reaching its arm to grab you by the throat and destroy you. Quinn doesn’t own the universe. He feels guilty and put-upon? Pah.

The Universe will give him something to feel guilty about.

Next Week: we hear you, we just aren’t listening (The Exodus, pt. II).

ADDENDUM:

This post marks the one-year anniversary of Think of a Roulette Wheel! That is an absolutely crazy thing to think of. A whole lot has happened behind the scenes in that year, some good, some bad, some really good, some awful. But I would like to thank all of YOU dear readers/commenters. Special shout outs to ireactions, durkinator, pete5125, for being the longest and most avid commenters— but there’re some new voices that are already making this blog even more of a special thing, so WELCOME! You guys are the reason I can keep up with this crazy thing.

Super also (of course) special thank you to Earth Prime, the premier Sliders fan site, for A) being a great resource, and B) featuring this ol’ blog on the front page! Thanks guys!

Last but not least, all my friends who put up with me talking about Sliders 24/7, 365. It’s been hard on them sometimes (ha ha ha), and I appreciate them continuing to be my friends despite my obessions.

Let’s think on the good times by (re)watching this:

We’re Going in a Different Direction (The Last of Eden).

It must be really stressful to write something like this.

Think of it— you’re trying to adapt two differing works of science fiction— classic, nigh-untouchable (sort of) science fiction— for a television show with a shoestring budget. That’s a lot of weight on your shoulders, in theory.

The general one-liner about Sliders Season Three is that the show became a nonstop schlock fest of movie monster rip-offs. This is an over-generalization, because at this point in the season, we’re not quite so obvious with our ‘inspirations’ here yet. “Electric Twister Acid Test” was obviously ripped of from Twister. But it hasn’t been that blatant thus far, really. Sure, there’s bits and pieces here and there. “The Fire Within” took some (many) things from Backdraft, but last I checked, “Backdraft” didn’t have a side plot involving super-flames.

No, so far, Sliders has embraced Movie Pastiche with loving arms, but there’s always just a tiny bit of something extra to it thus far. But somehow over the space of a week, there was a catastrophe. A complete and total annihilation of taste that came so far out of nowhere. Because while yes, there’s a really crap CG Scarab in “Slide Like an Egyptian” the scarab was only a small part of an episode that had a lot of totally interesting things going on in it.

Then BAM— “Paradise Lost.” What happened? While the problems with that episode are paramount, one of the clearest is that it’s pastiche without purpose. It’s a recycling of bored movie tropes with 90s aesthetics (barely) stitched together with no thought to warp woof or weft. We have “Radioactive Godzilla Worm” mixed with “Fountain of Youth” mixed with “Town with a Secret.” “Paradise Lost” was an attempt, then, to create a super-episode. A mega-zord of Sliders that would take this supposed ‘movie mish-mash’ to the next level, dude.

So the ‘gineers built a huge Hilton, and then started to make some other buildings, but gave up on them, because Whatever?

So here we have another attempt to mix and match some concepts. This time, we’re taking part of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” and mixing it, ostensibly, with elements of Larry Niven’s “Ringworld.” We’re talking really vaguely based. I know there wasn’t a wikipedia in 1997, but I guess there were still cliff notes? All I’m saying is that the script is taking the most basic of concepts from the source material and running in a bizarre direction with it.

The argument that leaving the social satire from “The Time Machine” out of “The Last of Eden” is a fair argument to make, but it’s kind of assuming that the intent of “The Last of Eden” is to include any amount of social satire. Now, this seems like a huge amount of apologizing to make, but let’s be real— why would the show at this point in its run all of the sudden decide to get all preachy and politicized? Even in Season One the politics were screwy— “The Prince of Wails” was more of an excuse to make fun of England, and “The Weaker Sex” was an excuse to make fun of gender. Neither had much meaningful things to say about their respective subjects, and if it did come off as meaningful, it was always seemingly accidental. The show was too focused on its supposedly ‘dark humor’ to focus on politics and causes.

So “The Last of Eden” has a bad reputation, but it’s based on the wrong criteria. This is an action adventure/science fiction show. So it’s about time it tried to handle the ‘greats.’ So let’s tackle the two sources. First, we got Larry Niven and his “Ringworld” up in the house. SYZYGY ENGAGE:

Sure. Fine. Whatever.

Quinn and Arturo love to say “syzygy” over and over again. I hate typing the word out.

So let’s pause for a second and talk about how ridiculously improbably/impossible all this is. I’m already willing to ignore Quinn & Arturo’s “syzygy” gaffe (a syzygy requires alignment, not a bunch of Earths in a triangle), but I can’t ignore the fact that every one of those Earths would be fuuucked. Arturo’s like “only giant tides would happen because of this, and everyone’s like “Derp.”

DERP

But hold on a minute. YEAH RIGHT HIGH TIDES. Dude I’m pretty sure all the energy and magnetism would rip all of these fucking planets apart like, so quick. What is up with this faux-syzygy? Let’s fast forward to the inevitable infodump by way of stunned local, Brock.

Man, this Idiot is Blistering!

So not only are there like, a ton of different Earths up in the Sky, but also some DUDES MADE THEM. What! ‘Gineers my BUTT. Ain’t no dudes made a fucking planet themselves, let alone THREE. I know I’m getting silly, but its preposterous. Much more interesting (and believable) is the happenings of the surface, where a group of ‘primitive’ white dudes (I mean, I’m right, aren’t I? Are the ‘gineers that colorblind?) run around watching the earth open up beneath them, and live in run-down Hilton Hotels and eat Magic Fruits. That some dudes built ‘a while ago.’ How long?

I’m just going to assume that the date is a reference to how stoked the ‘gineers were the day after Ziggy Stardust came out.

In the 1970s. Okay, sure, fine, whatever. Now, I know that since they’re called “Engineers” we’re obviously ripping off of Ringworld. But let’s say you’ve never read or heard of Ringworld. In this episode, there’s no actual evidence that there were real Engineers. The plot of the episode isn’t that we meet a ‘gineer halfway through and he lays out what is up with this joint. We don’t. We only have the word of a dude with a really sketchy goatee:

One of the things that happened a lot in the 90s that I do not miss at all: SUPER EXTREME CLOSE UPS WTF WAS WITH THAT?!

So I’m inclined to read all this bogus Engineer talk as “creation myth,” and that the fact of the matter was that some scientists, botanists, and architects in the 70s were a  little further along than they were on our world, made a bunch of buildings, and fucked off. The same is said of the Old Ones, who went to see what else was in the World. But they probably just wanted to GTFO Goatee-Town. I wouldn’t want to hang with these dudes. THEY EAT CIRCUS FOLK.

A THOUSAND DERPS

Let’s step backwards for a second and recap what happens in the teaser. The team, post-syzygy-derp, finds the locals and is like “hey guys can we mack on your BBQ,” and Mr. Goatee is like “F ALL YALL” and then there’s an earthquake and the ground straight up opens up despite how preposterous that is, and Wade (who, I have to point out is wearing the most 90s shirt ever— a star with a P in the middle, which I am sure is supposed to mean “Porn Star.” Yikes) stands around staring at the sky trying to get a wasp out of her face or something then falls in the chasm. Quinn is concerned:

“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYY OOHHHHHHHHHHH” —Quinn Mallory, 1997.

But Wade’s like “PEACE OUT MOFO” and dies:

“INNNN? LOLLLLLLLLLLL” —Wade Welles, 1997.

So that’s shocking. Wade just fell to her death. OR ACTUALLY SHE LANDED ON AN UNDERGROUND I-BEAM THAT I GUESS WAS MADE OF DONUTS. I mean, one of the upper-crusters falls right next to her, lands about three feet further than Wade, and is instantly dead. Also an INFANT BABY falls somewhere and is totally fine. So either that I-Beam is made of Donuts, or Wade has such strong thigh muscles that she waited until the last moment and then super-kegel’d herself to safety.

But— super-kegel digression aside— the fact is that there’s a huge industrialized world underneath the surface. Obviously, we don’t see the whole zone down there, but it’s kind of implied that it stretches out forever, and that the ‘gineers built the entire earth over the industrialized underworld. 

Sliders has yet to master that oh-so-difficult “making a CG window not look stupid” thing…

Which, as a single concept, is totally awesome. But, as we learn, the underworld is inhabited by subhumans. We are told that these dudes are the humans of the overworld that stayed behind when everyone left (in 1970). So in 30 years, they degenerated into strange feral cat people who dance like there’s no tomorrow. And that’s where it’s almost ridiculous to even bother saying this episode is a rip-off of “The Time Machine.” Yes, there are two sets of humans, one evolved, one less so (I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which). One is above ground, one’s below. Sure, fine, whatever.

But in all honesty, that’s as far as the comparisons go. “The Time Machine” takes the time to explain the differences between the two ‘races,’ and sets up the social dynamic between the two, and sugar coats it with social commentary about Class and all that kind of stuff that makes it super smart and a bona-fide classic book.

There’s none of that, here. That’s not what this show is here for, not anymore. If anything, this episode is more trying to make a statement about Cannibalism and Ecology than it is about Class War. I don’t know. I guess my problem with this episode is that it’s almost good, and I don’t think that it’s held back by the source material. It’s something else gumming up the works.

DANCE MAGIC DANCE

It’s actually the fact that every element of the episode is actively colliding against itself. Now, one of the “cool things” about this episode is that the people playing the feral cat people are Cirque de Soleil members. Well, okay. I guess that’s why they swing wildly from I-Beam to I-Beam instead of just, y’know, walking. The effect of their acrobatics just enforces again the problem that’s plagued this entire season: the mismatched tone issue. Once again, we have the ‘serious’ problem of Quinn & Wade trapped below the surface of the Earth trying to rescue a newly-orphaned child from the clutches of Feral Cat Beast-Dancers smashed against the kooky funk of the Circus lighting.

THANK GOD the ‘gineers left the Cat People those Star-Stencil-Gels to light their underground hell-world!

Like, why is there a light that shoots stars on the ground? I don’t get it. Not that anyone thought of it that way— they were probably just trying to spotlight their “guest stars.” I don’t know. Conceptually, the underground portion of the episode is conceptually on fire. But in actual practice, it’s nonsense. It’s also clunky as hell, with half the episode devoted to Quinn and Wade being captured, escaping, losing the baby, saving the baby, getting recaptured, escaping, getting recaptured. There’s nothing said about what it means for these lower-humans to be savages. There’s no point to be made. They just look cool. And while the “rule of cool” is something I certainly believe in, the “rule of cool” does require that something is actually, y’know, cool.

Remember how good “Fever” was? At this point, neither do I.

That’s the real problem with the episode. It’s not that it’s not good, or has nothing happening. It’s that there’s a lot happening and none of it is expounded upon. The sliders don’t even react to the fact that the nerds above ground hunt the undergrounders for food. Not like, to take the food they’re carrying. To eat them. And then Wade finds the undergrounders feeding on a fallen overgrounder (these are terms I made up, which sound “cool,” so I’m sticking with them). So there’s a weird circle of cannibalism that actually touches on a weird relationship between the two societies. Never touched upon in dialogue. And what about the bizarre terramorphic body horror the Professor goes through? That’s hideous, that’s terrifying. His arm is growing spines! And why? I don’t know, because he’s sick. But the dude was ripping his flesh off with his own hands. It’s some horrifying stuff that gets completely ignored by the episode. Rembrandt’s like “no biggie, dude, but I can punch you if you want.”

Rembrandt uses his Key to Book his Own Gig on Arturo’s Face.

The problem is in the promise. It’s fine to say that the episode rips off H.G. Wells and be disappointed, I guess. The trouble with the episode is that we aren’t given enough to assume that “The Time Machine” is what “The Last of Eden” is going for. I know that sounds like a totally ridiculous way of looking at this episode and trying to defend it. But I can’t really make myself fault an episode for not doing something it isn’t even trying to do. Yes, there are similarities, but the similarities are not the point of the episode.

Downtown Brown in: The Sensual World.

That being said, what keeps the episode from rising out of the ashes of its bewildered nature is that we just can’t make ourselves care about the people of the world. We can understand why the sliders would get involved, but we can’t make ourselves care about the fools we see. Goatee Man? Who cares? Brock? What a ninny.

We never learn what else is on these worlds, let alone what’s on the other syzygy-worlds. We are given a thousand tasty kernels of possibility and we don’t ever get to learn any more about them. We learn nothing about the true workings of this Earth, just some theories that Quinn makes that we’re left to assume are totally and completely correct even though he knows absolutely nothing about anything going on. Seriously, there was a simple way to fix this: let us meet a ‘gineer. Let him spend an entire act infodumping. That would be less boring than watching Quinn & Wade run around doing nothing. To be completely honest, I am stunned we never saw the cave set. That’s one of two things this episode has going for it.

“I don’t see any other option— now you owe ME a Bungee-Jumping Session.”

The other thing, of course, is Arturo and Rembrandt’s heart to heart. I’ll be honest with you: upon watching this episode, when Arturo admitted that he was sick, I was stunned. Not because he was bringing it up, but beacuse had actually forgotten he was sick in the first place. Remember “The Guardian?”

So yes, Arturo is sick. Very sick with his incurably vague illness. He tries to joke about it to Rembrandt— “well, the good news is, I won’t die tomorrow.” But Rembrandt won’t have it. He feels betrayed— and rightly so! Arturo shouldn’t have kept this from any of them. Rembrandt lays it out— they are friends, and they have to stick together. And sticking together means no secrets.

Arturo at first is upset that he’s not allowed privacy. A part of me wants to side with him. He’s an old man, he’s dying. His life is defined by the three people around him. The know each other probably better than any other set of humans ever have. So in his twilight, it would be hard for him not to feel like his life has already reached its peak. Further souring would be the tainting of the relationship that’s been on the slow burn for the entire season (brilliantly brought back to the fore). Not only is the only World he has these people, but they barely even like each other anymore.

Incredible.

The best part of the scene is that it ends so suddenly. It’s awful for us, as an audience, to have the boring A-Plot interject into our much-deserved heart to heart. But it’s also frankly a much more realistic way of showing us this conversation. Rembrandt leaves, Arturo doesn’t have the chance to explain himself adequately. He throws the husk of his magic fruit to the table, but it falls limply to the floor. Like his actions, like his life, like all that this adventure has become: useless, meaningless.

BEST FRIENDS IN THE MULTIVERSE

But of course, by the time they slide, they seem to be on better terms. Rembrandt was hurt, but he understands the Professor. They laugh, stronger in friendship. We, too love them deeply. This wasn’t their breaking point, but it’s not the end— the worst must still be to come.

Perfection.

So we have another episode that bit off more than it could chew. Too much going on, not enough going on. The same problems that persist through the season are in full force here. But still, it’s loads better than “Paradise Lost.” There is soul at work here.

But there’s also the problem of the strange scene at the beginning of the episode. Wade and Rembrandt recall this Episode in Flashback, both confiding that events had terrified them both. But we never return to the present day. We never see Wade and Rembrandt discuss how the events of this episode had changed them. We never see Wade react to the news of The Professor’s illness. I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t disturb her. Why she wouldn’t immediately wake him up to discuss it.

Unless…

Next Week: It’s falling apart as you watch (The Exodus, pt. I).

The Stranger is Frightened (Paradise Lost).

The story goes like this:

John Rhys-Davies is drunk. He is over-enjoying himself at a FOX sponsored party. He makes rude and embarrassing jokes at a FOX employee. People laugh, the employee is furious. John Rhys-Davies likely doesn’t remember.

Ben Bertin:

Years later, the employee has climbed the ladder, and is now in charge of a huge swath of FOX’s programming. He looks over the list of programs he’s got power over, and who stars on these shows. He smiles, and makes a phone call. The new Executive Producer of a little show called Sliders took the call, and was amenable to the executive’s ideas.

Jenna Caravello:

 He looked through the stack of rejected story ideas, marked with the stamp of “who cares?” He found an idea for a two-parter, written by John-Rhys Davies himself. He remembers overhearing a conversation where John extolled the virtues of his script— the ‘return to form,’ the ‘course correction’ that his story would provide.

The Producer chuckles. “Perfect.”

Krystal DiFronzo:

Mouths agape, the cast reads through the script. They’d thought they’d seen some stretches of disbelief before, but this was something else entirely. John Rhys-Davies, as usual, was quite vocal with his disdain for the material.

Beth Hetland:

John Rhys-Davies’ agent receives a phone call. “John,” he says. “Someone on the show is going to be fired soon. I’m not sure who it is.”

John makes plans. He knows who’s getting the axe.

Lyra Hill & Tyson Torstenson:

“Jerry, I’ve heard a rumor they’re going to replace one of the cast, and I’ve reason to believe it may be you,” John says. “You’re not famous enough for the show, not a big enough draw.”

Alex Lake:

“Cleavant, I’ve heard a rumor they’re going to replace one of the cast, and I’ve reason to believe it may be you,” John says. “The writers just don’t know what to do with your character, and they’re just about ready to give up.”

Ian McDuffie:

“Sabrina, I’ve heard a rumor they’re going to replace one of the cast, and I’ve reason to believe it may be you,” John says. “Pig-headed as it may be, the producers just don’t think you have enough sex appeal to draw enough viewers.”

Sam Sharpe:

All through the shoot the cast had felt tense. John’s rumors, told in private in their trailers, had cast a malaise over the set. Sabrina locked herself in her trailer until they swore she wouldn’t get canned.

Jacob Strick & Zoe Moss:

They sat together, laughing, happy to be done with such an obvious turkey of an episode. A producer came up to the team, chuckling to himself. He butted his way through the group. Hey, John. You know that two-parter you’re working on?”

“Well, we’re going to kill your character in it.”

________________________________________________________________________

Obviously, a SUPER HUGE THANK YOU to all my amazing cartoonist friends who took the time out of their lives to watch this incredibly awful piece of shit episode. For most of them, it was the first episode they’d ever seen— don’t worry, I told them to go watch “Eggheads.” Thank you thank you thank you. I am so lucky to have friends like these talented goofbags. Love on ya!

But seriously, go check out their work. It’s all very, very good.

Anyways, if you were really hoping I was going to to a ‘traditional’ post about this episode, I did a small write-up here, on my Tumblr. I mention it there, but the reason I decided to do the post this way (other than the fact that it’s awesome) is because I think enough has been said, critically, about this episode. What could I say other than “yeah, they’re right, this blows.” It’s actually literally impossible to give a redemptive reading of this episode— so why not have some fun with it?

Next Week: You remind me of the babe. What babe? The babe with the power. What power? The power of the voodoo. Who do? You do. Do what? Remind me of the whatever (The Last of Eden).

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)?

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).