"Stay with me man, things might get a little weird." — Quinn's shocked reaction to the revelations he's just been given.
Review by Matt Hutaff
Let’s not mince words — “Genesis” lives up to its namesake.
A new home at the Sci-Fi Channel. New producers and writers. A new mythology. Come episode six (or so we’re told) we’ll have another new cast member. Everything about this episode seems designed to showcase a new beginning for Sliders and its transition from network to cable television.
And with good reason: it’s been over a year since viewers watched a confused Quinn Mallory and Maggie Beckett track a giant hovercraft across a futuristic San Francisco skyline. Wade and Rembrandt were nowhere to be found, and Quinn’s answer to their absence — that they, in fact, slid into the future — was the perfect punctuation mark for an abysmal season filled with bad storytelling and worse acting.
Fans of the show were left to ponder both the character’s fates and their taste in science fiction, because FOX certainly wasn’t going to give them the resolution they needed. With the growth of original series on cable, however, we no longer have to wonder. Will viewers like what they see? Producer Marc Scott Zicree (he’s one of those new guys) promised the mandate for the show’s fourth season is “be smarter,” and after viewing the premiers, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, and it’s only fair I review an episode entitled “Genesis” from the beginning.
Three months and ten worlds have passed, and Quinn has fine-tuned the timer to track the wormhole Rembrandt and Wade fell through at the conclusion of This Slide of Paradise. Any thoughts of reunion are dashed, though, when he and Maggie find themselves amidst a wealth of devastation — and the Kromagg occupiers who created it.
Yes, the Kromaggs, a nemesis unseen since Tracy Tormé’s Invasion turned the series on its head. They’ve made their way to Earth Prime, sacking the major cities and forcing humans into slave labor. As Quinn adjusts to this and other shocking developments revelations concerning his family tree, Maggie helps him focus on the most immediate concern — rescuing their friends.
It’s a lot to absorb in one hour, but the plot manages to tick along without feeling too rushed (in some cases it’s too slow, in fact, with witty banter breaking up the action). For the most part, though, there’s plenty of disturbing and dark moments that sell the new thrust of the show. “I hesitated to make [the episode] so dark, but to introduce a race of higher primates that are absolutely ruthless you need a rather dark palette,” admits writer David Peckinpah, one of the few holdovers from the FOX era. I won’t disagree.
The search for Rembrandt and Wade is fruitless until Quinn and Maggie encounter Marta (Sandra Hess) and Otis (Danso Gordon), two resistance fighters who use the Chandler Hotel — apparently the Sliders’ favorite hangout — as their base of operations. Marta and Otis knew Rembrandt and Wade before their capture by Kromagg forces. They don’t know if either are alive, but Marta and Otis’ friendship with Wade and Remmy prompts them to help with any rescue efforts Quinn devises.
Otis is offed soon enough, but that’s okay, because Marta has been designed by the writers to highlight one of the other new things this season — the new Maggie. If the hair style didn’t throw you, there’s also a streak of empathy running through Maggie a mile wide now. Zicree has stated in interviews he’s proud of how they’ve turned Maggie from a raging whore into someone likeable (my words, not his), and they contrast the change by making Marta a clone of Season 3 Maggie. She uses profanity, loves to jump into fights, and slice the necks of anyone who pisses her off, so when Maggie gives Quinn a hug, you really feel the difference.
Marta’s bloodlust is seen in what many will consider to be the episode’s pivotal sequence: the raid on the Kromagg compound holding Rembrandt hostage. Quinn, Maggie, and Marta sneak through by imitating human collaborators only to find Rembrandt in a state of shock. Sitting in his cell, he doesn’t make eye contact with his friends and only accepts the situation when Quinn gives him information only the Sliders could know. Gone is the happy-go-lucky comic relief Tormé envisioned when he created the Cryin’ Man. “Kromaggs can really mess with your brain,” Quinn relates to Maggie. “Who knows what you’ll find?”
No jailbreak goes smoothly, and Quinn is captured during the escape. The Kromaggs are brutal with Quinn, torturing him and taunting him with Wade’s fate (she’s in a breeding compound on a parallel earth). To cap things off, he’s thrown in a cell with his mother (Linda Henning) so they can be bussed off-world together. Quinn believably finds the coincidence too much of one. As his nerves fray, he starts to grab and shake his mom, screaming at her to tell him why he’s being manipulated. The scene is well done, and I give credit to Jerry O’Connell for striking a balance of elation and frustration as he gives in to skepticism.
The skepticism is bolstered when Quinn’s mom drops the Plot Bomb™: she’s not really his mother, and his birth parents are from a parallel world. Quinn can barely contain his revulsion at the lie, but she’s certainly convincing, going so far as to dig a micro-dot explaining the situation to him out of her own arm. Then she’s dragged away, leaving Quinn to stare at the video monitor in the corner and wonder what all this means.
Rembrandt and Maggie of course rescue Quinn, sacrificing Marta in the process (you didn’t think she’d make it, did you?). Quinn watches the micro-dot and learns that he not only has a brother ditched on another parallel world, but that his birth parents have technology capable of beating the Kromaggs. All it takes is the ability to track them down — something that’ll require more sliding. The three gear up for more universe hopping and slide, promising Earth Prime they’ll be back. And they’ll be ready.
There’s a lot to commend in this episode beyond what I mentioned above. I like the concept of making Rembrandt a hardened prisoner of war, because Cleavant Derricks can pull off what’s needed to deliver that kind of character. Each scene where Rembrandt details some bit of pain over the occupation is well done, and we can still see a glimmer of joy inside his eyes when he talks to Maggie or reminisces with Marta. I hated the character as a Kingfish stereotype, so I look forward to what they’ll do now that the writers have given him an edge.
I’m also a fan of what they’ve done in terms of Quinn’s backstory, especially since there are several indicators Quinn might be right to reserve doubt over what he’s learned. Maggie has no problems breathing on this world? The Kromaggs manage to reunite Quinn with the one person on the planet he thought he’d never see again, and she just happens to give him the key to liberating his home world? It smacks of a setup, and those elements were placed with enough restraint throughout this episode to keep people wondering what’s really happening. That’s some smart writing.
That said, there are negatives to address, first and foremost being Sabrina Lloyd’s absence from the cast. Regardless of the reason for her departure, was there any reason to condemn her character to a life of brutal rape and forced breeding? It’s one line five seconds long that could have been excised without any loss to the Kromagg’s menace. Have her toil off-world in a labor camp like Quinn’s mother if you’re going to write a beloved original Slider out of the show.
I also thought ham-handed Trevor Blue (Bodhi Pine Elfman) was a waste of screen time. Considering the context (Quinn and Maggie have just arrived to find his world destroyed, Otis has just been killed by Kromagg patrol, etc.), it just wasn’t the right time for comic relief. The scene also deals a blows the menace of the Kromagg war machine; they have antigrav attack ships, plenty of ground troops and a history of dominating whole planets in days, but some random dude can “hack ‘Magg” and give the resistance complete blueprints and fake worker documentation with little effort? C’mon.
The biggest minus for this episode, though, is the budget. I understand that moving Sliders to cable means fewer CGI effects, but this was the big premiere and it still felt cheap. Quinn and Maggie slide into Earth Prime only to land on the Universal backlot. Sparse trash is supposed to explain serious devastation? Please. Why not just clean up that rubble shot from the teaser for Sole Survivors and use that as an establishing scene?
The Kromaggs drive Humvees, the Manta ships look like plastic toys, and the sound effects were not synched properly with what we saw on screen. Danny Lux’s score didn’t help, either. If they can’t pump the money into post-production for the first episode, what can we expect to see from here on out?
Despite these misfires, “Genesis” is worth watching. After braving through the latter half of season three, it’s impressive to see such an about face to credible science fiction.
|Previously: Review: This Slide of Paradise||Next: Review: Prophets and Loss|