"Lord, lord. You can take a man's body and beat it. You can take a soul and try it. But to do this to a hamburger...it's just downright unkind." — Rembrandt.
Review by Mike Truman
I’m not usually a big fan of shows featuring diseases or mutations. When I was a kid, I had nightmares for weeks after seeing my beloved Transformers infected with the “hate” virus. I barely made it through the opening credits of The Stand. So when I see something like “Fever” advertised, I’m naturally hesitant. But this isn’t your run of the mill horror story; it’s a smart episode with big ambitions. I don’t think it accomplished everything the producers were looking for, but it’s an entertaining hour nonetheless.
Superficially, “Fever” is the story of how the Sliders react when they land on a world infected by a terrible plague known as the “Q.” Wade is infected immediately, and slowly but surely Arturo and Rembrandt also become sick. To compound matters, Patient Zero of the plague is none other than Quinn’s double, who bears a striking resemblance to Axl Rose in his ‘Wanted’ posters. With Quinn apprehended by the California Health Commission (CHC), it is up to Arturo to manufacture a cure before the sliding window of opportunity comes up.
The disease itself is quite curious. There are the common symptoms attributed to a fever such as a high temperature, coughing, headaches and nausea. But it also yellows the skin and can cause hallucinations. In its terminal stage, the victim’s eyes turn red. It turns out that the “Q” is nothing more than a form of streptococcus bacteria that could easily be cured with antibiotics. However on this earth, penicillin was never discovered because mold is considered something that causes disease.
While Quinn’s double is the first carrier of the disease, he is not responsible for its creation. He was deliberately infected as part of a government form of class warfare. The concept is a novel one. Usually we see terrible plagues created as part of a military plan or a money making scheme on the part of a pharmaceutical company, but on this world the government must be using at as a form of population control. The wealthy live happily and safely while the rest of the population is cordoned into red eye districts and quarantine camps where they are pretty much left to die. I must admit that the idea isn’t as fully developed on screen as I would have liked it to be, but there just wasn’t enough time in the episode to flesh out what turns out to be a fairly complex alt-world.
This conspiracy apparently goes all the way to the Surgeon General, but our villain is the CHC. The CHC is akin to a local Mafia enforcer. Though they don’t break legs or use cement shoes, they are not averse to threatening civilians with exposure to the Q if they do not comply. Everything must be “hygienically approved” by them or else. Food has been reduced to basic nutrients and nothing more, leading to Rembrandt’s despair over the state of this world’s hamburgers. It also plays in to an amusing scene where Arturo is looking for mold by emptying a trashcan of discarded food on the table. Rembrandt is appalled, saying “I know you’re hungry, but where’s your dignity?” “I have no time for dignity,” replies Arturo.
And despite its dark overtones, lines like that made this episode quite funny. How else do you make light of a plague? “Amazing Bargains” is a start. Charlie McGlade and Mike Levy actually appear as themselves to hawk their home protection kit including five pairs of surgical gloves, thirty-six bars of medodine soap and a machine that sterilizes utensils. (I guess this world also never invented dishwashers.) The episode really plays off of the population’s fear of the “Q.” One of my favorites was “The New Church of the Divine Immunity.” Equally amusing is the motel clerk spraying Rembrandt and Wade with Lysol. The kicker is that regardless of all the precautions, none of these things do anything to protect anyone.
If Q World isn’t funny enough for you, Cannibal World certainly is! As Wade recovers after the slide, the other three speculate over which the natives will eat first. “I suppose the young are more tender,” says Arturo, to which Quinn replies “Age before beauty.” Rembrandt punctuates the conversation by turning to Arturo and saying, “Don’t look at me. I’m just a Chicken McNugget, you the Quarter Pounder!” Cannibal World is one of two extra worlds, the other being Oil Boom World. Oil Boom World opens the episode and come complete with its own hat throwing, “Yeeee-ha” yellin’ Texan. I really do enjoy these extra vignettes of worlds that you can’t form a complete episode out of, but are fun to visit briefly. The stopover also gives the group a much needed cash infusion.
In addition to the bonus worlds, the writers also go above and beyond developing some of the extra characters. Take the motel clerk. If the clerk said “Here are your keys, enjoy your stay,” he’d probably get the job done. But an entire personality is developed for the clerk complete with name. He’s Gomez, a grown man who runs a motel with his mother. He serves complimentary Ovaltine in the morning. He kind of reminds me of Seymour Skinner from The Simpsons, except this guy is even more of a momma’s boy if such a thing is possible. The two pharmaceutical employees are also quirky from the pharmacist who always says “Yes” to the obsessive stock boy who considers Quinn a hero. However, he’s not averse to turning him in for the reward. We also get second appearances from both Wing and Pavel the cab driver. Bringing back familiar faces in different settings is definitely one of the better selling points of the show. In this instance, Pavel is still pretty much Pavel. Rembrandt remarks that he must really like driving cabs.
I feel there are only two things I didn’t like about this episode. First, the timeline is unbalanced. We know from Arturo that they are here for a little over two days, but the first 20-22 hours seem to go by in about an hour or two. From there on, Arturo has precious little time to develop the cure as well as be able to conclude with any certainty that it’s working. That Arturo would even know how to create penicillin is a little stunning. He seems shocked as well that it worked and confides to Quinn that it “rather confirms one’s opinion that biology is what you do if you don’t have the maths for real science.”
The other drawback was the lack of setting. Most of the episode is spent yet again in some converted warehouse. These are supposed to be other worlds; let’s go out and see the sights! The CHC situation was particularly embarrassing. It was quite evident that the walkway in front of the CHC was nowhere near the length needed to do the action they wanted to do. This led to quite a few repeated shots and extra angles in what must have been the slowest pursuit since the car chase in “Mitchell.” The director tried, but it just didn’t work out, especially when a wide-angle shot later in the episode reveals the true length of the walkway.
It’s nice to be getting away from the strict alt-American history format employed by the first few episodes. “Fever” opened up additional possibilities with its concern for the next dimension’s welfare. Arturo would not willingly take a plague to the next world, but what if the four were to inadvertently do so? After all, the possibilities are infinite.
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