“Sliders doesn’t have the benefit of history.
It exists as a time capsule, made in a time of peace and stability. The 90s were great! But if you look at our culture, you’d think we lived in a post-apocalypse. The X-Files is probably the apogee of cultural darkness— paranoia, the feeling that evil is seeping in between the cracks of reality. But it wasn’t true, not then. We put that evil on a pedestal and revered it because it seemed impossible. We couldn’t trust what we had— hence the paranoia— but we still had it great.
But then the bubble burst, the camel’s back cracked, the tub was emptied. Our perfect little soufflé of a country fell flat. The Great Disappointment. Death. Destruction. Recession. Comparing 1998 to 2008 to 2013 is an act of depression. Not only in the sense of economical downturn‚ but one of emotional depression. This country, in its cowboy hubris, took itself down the tubes. You could argue that we’ve pulled ourselves out of the worst of it, but have we?
I’d argue no.
And the simple fact of that makes “California Reich” at times both infuriating and terrifying. The evils that “Reich” posits aren’t really science fiction— in 2013, they’re fact with fiction glaze. That’s not to say that the lead singer for The Germs and some immaculately coiffed thugs march around rounding up black people and throwing them in concentration camps. But we live in a country where a majority of the population doesn’t believe in evolution. A country where a very vocal portion of the population refused to believe that our President was actually a citizen— something that most certainly wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t black. A country where, in so many of our cities, “poor” neighborhoods are just a nicer way to say “non-white.” We don’t live in a fair country.
But it isn’t as if things weren’t like that in 1998. It’s not like immigration wasn’t still a concern. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t racial tension. It wasn’t as if poverty didn’t exist. Today, though, all of our mild concerns of 1998 are magnified to tremendous levels— the tension is all around, not just seeping into the racks, but simply all we know. It’s worse now, because things haven’t gotten better.
So now, in 2013, it’s impossible to watch this episode and not recoil. Because a lot of things that happen in the episode are truly terrifying. But they’re cut with inanity and sci-fi bollocks and bad ideas and over-proselytizing— basically, it’s just an episode of Sliders. “