Asylum

"No matter what world we land on — the heavens and the stars are always the same. Big Dipper, Orion, north star. And nature; it's always working the same way. It's got gravity, light, motion. Two and two always turn out to be four. I've thought about it a lot."
"And what do you think it means?"
"I think it means that the same God is in all these worlds." — Rembrandt and Grace on the nature of sliding.

Review by Matt Hutaff


A
Essential

This episode does for Rembrandt Brown what World Killer did for Quinn Mallory.

I appreciate what Cleavant Derricks brings to Sliders. He plays a person with so much scatterbrained characterization it borders on schizophrenia, yet he does do with charisma and a smile. He’s guided Rembrandt from one-note comic relief to everyman to Navy SEAL; as a man who’s muddled through life with no clear sense of direction since he left the Spinning Topps, it’s almost apropos writers treated the Cryin’ Man with equal carelessness.

In my review of Genesis, I explained my interest in Rembrandt’s further transformation into a dramatic role. He’s a psychologically traumatized prisoner of war, something I knew Derricks could pull off — he’s delivered in The Prince of Slides, The Other Slide of Darkness, and elsewhere. In “Asylum,” we center on Rembrandt, his loyalty to his friends and home, and how he comes to grips with his relationship with the Kromagg Dynasty through a love affair with a collaborator. It’s gut-wrenching viewing and I give writer Bill Dial full credit in pulling off Sliders‘ best episode of the season.

Rembrandt is thrust into the spotlight when an explosion injures him and Quinn. While Remmy’s got a mild concussion, Quinn’s prognosis is far more serious, and the world they’ve landed on doesn’t have the facilities or the technology to treat him. Without a miracle, Quinn may never recover from his vegetative state, forcing each Slider to re-examine their mission. Can they leave Quinn behind? Would they sacrifice their lives and remain marooned with a friend who might never wake up?

Of course they wouldn’t and of course they would, even though the world handed them by the transdimensional roulette wheel is still recovering from a Kromagg supply raid. Instead of being subjugated, this earth had the good fortune to only have its natural resources plundered. Society is overtaxed as a result; gasoline is a premium commodity and the United States has collapsed to some degree, leaving California a sovereign nation. There’s some amusing alt-history and some decent costuming to give this world a multicultural flavor — everyone is united against their hatred of the ‘Maggs.

The doctor helping both Quinn and Rembrandt is Grace Venable (Valerie Pettiford), who’s pulled in as many directions as her world’s resources. After Colin makes an impassioned plea to save his brother’s life, she moves them into intensive care. Rembrandt takes an interest in his personal Florence Nightingale, and she him. There’s some flirting amidst the check-up, and by the time Rembrandt’s ready to leave the hospital he’s scored a date. He’s also smiling and laughing in a way he hasn’t for a while. Maybe love does heal all wounds.

Monitoring the situation is a handsome British ex-pat named Ralph Hackett (Thorsten Kaye). Observed photographing the Sliders as they make their way into the hospital, he later befriends Maggie and Colin in the Chandler bar, offering to refer them to treatment clinics in Palo Alto. Maggie’s reticence is well-founded; the kindness of strangers isn’t something the Sliders are terribly comfortable with. But desperation forces her hand, and she accepts a dinner date with Hackett while Colin hits the library.

The episode then tracks the Sliders during their respective meal. Colin gets take-out and does some research, Maggie and Hackett dine at a Mexican/Pacific Rim fusion restaurant, and Grace cooks Remmy dinner. It’s a nice narrative trick that plays well as the viewer bounces back and forth between locations, giving us the background of the war that devastated this world while tying it in to Doctor Venable. Colin learns British Prime minister Margaret Thatcher sold the world out, working with the Dynasty to secure oil fields at the same time Maggie and Hackett console one another over their losses to the Kromaggs.

Rembrandt, meanwhile, has a lovely evening, joking, singing, and opening up to this woman he feels so comfortable with. He confesses he’s a Slider, something which shocks and excites Grace, before equating the nature of sliding to his belief in God. It’s a series of moving scenes made all the better by the amazing location shots. Eventually the two fall into one another’s arms and make love — at the same time Colin and Maggie discover Venable is a Kromagg sympathizer and confidante.

Pieces start to fall into place after this, leading to a battle over loyalty between Maggie and Rembrandt. She turns Venable in to Hackett, who is working to track down Kromagg sympathizers, leading to Grace’s kidnapping while she and Rembrandt enjoy a pleasant breakfast. Rembrandt is outraged, not just at Maggie’s betrayal, but at his own torn feelings over someone he loves doing something so horrible. In the end, though, he sets aside his emotions to ask Grace to use her knowledge of Kromagg healing (foreshadowed in Slidecage) to cure Quinn’s hematoma. And she does it, reluctantly, for this man she barely knows. The two collapse into each other’s arms again, only this time she’s hauled away to justice.

Some might argue Quinn’s absence hurts this episode — he’s only in it for a few bookend moments — but I claim it a strength. The Maggie/Rembrandt friendship has been glimpsed but never to this degree; “Asylum” forges the relationship in a way you’d never expect. He’s ready to dismiss her from his life over her actions regarding Grace, but she’s equally stoic in defending her actions. And she’s right; if Remmy had known up-front the doctor supported everything that stripped Rembrandt of his identity, he’d have done the same thing. That doesn’t mean they can’t feel miserable about the outcome.

The location shooting alone elevates this episode, but the alt-history, humor (goofing on crappy third season plots on-screen is always welcome), and acting, combined with a moving score from Danny Lux and solid direction from Michael Miller, put this on a level few outings of Sliders will match. I don’t think I’m alone in claiming this as my favorite episode to date.

“Asylum” began life as “Rembrandt’s Romance,” a title too simple for what lay in store. What we received is much more apt. In a series about never-ending danger and adventure, the Sliders are probably all looking for a safe harbor in the storm.

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One response to “Review: Asylum”

  1. Splub Splubbington says:

    Great episode!

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