Blood and Splendor

"I don't care if there are a hundred of them, Q-ball, it's that or 'Montezuma's Revenge!'" — Rembrandt.

Review by Mike Truman


B-
Good

This had the makings of something huge. We were going to get our hands on what was being called a ‘lost’ script, something “too wild and too expensive” to be shown on TV. It would feature a world where the Aztecs ruled America and the white minority had been reduced to slavery. Furthermore, it’s got co-creator Tracy Tormé’s name on it, writer of top episodes likeInvasion, Into the Mystic, and The Guardian as well as the wildly popular pilot movie. Unfettered by television restraints, what was he capable of putting together? Answer: a lot of blood, a little splendor, and a whole bunch of crazy.

I can’t emphasize the crazy part enough. It’s not the Aztec storyline that puts it over the top; that’s borderline rational. It’s everything that surrounds the main story that takes us into Wonderland. To wit: we open our story underground with our heroes being chased by troglodytes. We’re not talking Geico cavemen here, we’re talking the Dungeons and Dragons version of unseeing green creatures with spears. I always get a little queasy when the show crosses into the realm of fantasy. I get queasier when giant worms begin attacking parallel versions of the Sliders inside the void.

The void, at least under Tormé’s stewardship, has always been portrayed as a snaky tunnel on television. While context clues give us the impression that you can still see and move inside of the void, it’s a closed tunnel that takes you from point A to point B. This adventure opens up that world a bit more by introducing creatures that live inside the tunnels who like to feast on Sliders. Before being attacked themselves, they are witness to a parallel Arturo (late of the Village People) fighting off one of these worms.

Now wait a minute. Are we being led to believe that there’s essentially just one tunnel and it’s accessible to any Slider at any time? Is it common for our team to slide by other versions of themselves? Because if it is, no one’s ever brought it up. It strikes me as a shocking revelation, and I haven’t even gotten started on the slide snakes yet. Where did these come from? Arturo postulates that they’re the equivalent of the slide tunnel’s white blood cells and that the sliders are the infection they’ve come to fight. That’s real bad news. If the tunnel’s not safe, then they might be trapped on this primitive world that they’ve just landed in. What Arturo doesn’t yet know is that he’s had the tremendous misfortune of landing in the presence of the Aztec emperor Montezuma IV, and that he believes they are a gift to him from the war god Huitzilopochtli.

Arturo, thinking the Aztecs to be savages, openly discusses the situation with the timer in front of them, leading to an amusing scene where the emperor whips out his cell and orders reinforcements. Outmanned and outgunned, the three white Sliders are led away to the palace. Only Rembrandt escapes, having been dumped into a tree by the vortex. Because it wouldn’t be an episode of Sliders without a rebel faction, rebels ambush the emperor’s caravan and manage to capture Wade and Arturo. Together, their storylines give us a sense of the world’s history and how it currently operates.

For example, the Aztecs stopped the initial advance of the Europeans. When the ships returned, the natives were ready and ended any dreams of colonial powers. The Europeans’ black slaves were set free and became accepted members of Aztec society. Whites, however, are good only as slaves and sacrifices, which Rembrandt has the displeasure of witnessing. Montezuma IV, the current emperor, is a tyrant who uses the traditions of his people to his advantage to consolidate power. Such behavior has outraged enough citizens as to form a rebel faction dedicated to his overthrow. Coincidentally, they’re about ready to strike when our Sliders arrive. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. No four people ever had the sense of timing that our heroes do.

Meanwhile, back at the palace, Montezuma’s scientists are trying to work out how Quinn is able to open that portal to the gods. Give them credit — they figure it out and do what Quinn cannot. They open the portal before the timer counts down to zero. For their troubles, they’re devoured by slide snakes. To Quinn’s horror, the timer’s countdown window advances eight hours, shortening an already short slide. To his further horror, he now has a date with the sacrificial altar. How will his friends save him? By launching the rebellion.

Montezuma’s meager temple forces are overcome by the semi-automatic wielding rebels and the four sliders are able to make their escape back into the sliding tunnel, where they are met by an army of worms. Conventional bullets aren’t enough to do the job, so Quinn comes up with an unorthodox approach he first used successfully in Invasion. When in doubt, start firing the timer at things. The worms turn on their metaphorical heels, but the walls of the tunnel start collapsing as a consequence. It’s a tight squeeze, but everyone escapes, and the sliding snakes are never heard from again. The End.

As conventional tales go, it’s OK. Aztec dominance is a neat alternative history to explore and to their credit, a lot of the dialogue is dubbed, implying that most of the speakers would speak Aztec. Many characters we meet do know English, but that is not a far fetched situation. If English was the dominant language of Europe, then it would make sense that many Aztecs would learn to speak it and many English can speak Aztec. The reverse racism takes on such a sinister overtone that it’s hard to have any fun with it. It’s mostly glossed over as our three white Sliders have no contact with society at large.

So why doesn’t this episode distinguish itself beyond the ranks of a Prince of Wails or its companion rebellion episodes? Part of that is it’s yet another rebellion episode. They don’t instigate it, but they require it to get by. The other part is its grim seriousness; there’s precious little humor to be found aside from a throwaway comment on how the Aztecs also name their pro sports teams after racial slurs.

Then there are the sliding snakes. These creatures come out of nowhere, and strain credulity, but they are nonetheless a formidable threat. An entire episode could be built around dealing with them. Yet they’re treated like a weird sideshow. They’re not worth the hit to continuity if applied in this manner. We can’t really believe that waving the timer at them cured this scourge once and for all, and it’s hard for the show to go about its business with this threat hanging over every slide. For that reason alone, I’m glad “Blood and Splendor” never made it to the small screen.

Now a movie — that could be interesting, particularly if someone channels Samuel L. Jackson. “Get these [censored] snakes out of my [censored] sliding tunnel!” Oh, to dream.

Notes on the Artwork

It’s very well done, but everyone is portrayed as a specimen of physical perfection. Quinn’s in decent shape, but this is just way over the top. Someone throw him a shirt.

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