Into the Mystic

"I suggest a response that harkens back to our childhoods...Run! Run like hell!" — Arturo

Review by Mike Truman


A-
Great

As the opener for the highly anticipated second season, “Into the Mystic” debuted with a world of expectations on it. Did Quinn survive his gunshot wound? How would the group react with new slider Ryan Simms? Would the second season be able to deliver the same quirky humor that enabled it to become a cult hit? Looking back, I can say it passed with flying colors. But at the time it first aired, I thought anything but.

In brief, the story quickly wraps up the Luck of the Draw cliffhanger with a dream sequence of Quinn’s funeral. The four next emerge on a world that is very much into the occult. After they fail to pay for Quinn’s medical bills, the doctor demands Quinn’s brain as compensation. While on the run, they discover news of a sliding Sorcerer, so they seek him out. After some difficulties, they gain an audience with a “supernatural” Sorcerer who demands they prove their loyalty to him by re-acquiring some stolen documents, conveniently held by the doctor trying to get Quinn’s brain. They accomplish their mission and learn that the man behind the curtain is actually a double of Quinn, who obliges them by attempting to send them home. He succeeds, but the four do not realize it and mistakenly slide again.

In the eyes of many fans, “Into the Mystic” just didn’t deliver. A recent poll of “Sliders” aficionados on the predominant on-line bulletin boards had “Into the Mystic” finishing a shockingly poor 23rd, trailing such less luminary episodes as Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, Lipschitz Live and bottle episode In Dino Veritas. So before we get into the good things that I believe make this episode worthy of close to a 4-star rating, we really should start by examining why this story is still followed by a critical dark cloud.

FOX doomed any chance of this episode succeeding by refusing to allow co-creator Tracy Tormé to pay off the first season cliffhanger in style. Aside from a short appearance in the dream sequence, Ryan was abruptly dismissed and bewilderingly never mentioned again. Henry, the now infamous sliding dog, was ignored entirely and the remaining four continued as if nothing had really happened. The entire sordid situation and Tormé’s frustration have been well documented and I won’t get into the specifics here (although I encourage you to see the Episode Guide featured at this site for Tormé’s explanation). The end result is this — fans that followed the show throughout season one and had a vested interest in the characters were left unsatisfied. New or relatively new viewers to the show were just confused by an opening that had no bearing on the rest of the episode (and count me among them). It was a lose-lose situation.

Equally galling to some was a perceived lack of creativity as “Into the Mystic” quite clearly pays homage to the Wizard of Oz. Personally, I’m dismissive of this argument. For starters, it’s the first Sliders homage. Unlike the standard alt-history/dystopia storylines season one had employed, Tormé and company dared to do something different and created the most surreal world the show had yet seen. There is plenty of innovation in this episode, which I will detail later. Yes, the plotline is similar to that of “Oz”, but at least the foursome are not besieged by fighting trees or attacked by flying monkeys.

But the nail in the coffin was the final scene. As a fitting conclusion to an Oz homage, the Sliders are actually sent home — only they don’t recognize it as such. At the time, I thought it unthinkably cruel on the part of the producers and many agreed. One of the joys of the show is that its regular viewers really learn to care about the characters. While we know they can’t find home if we want the series to continue, we still pull for them to find home in each episode. To be faced with the realization that Quinn and company don’t even know what their home looks like anymore left a very bitter taste in my mouth. Retrospectively, I now think it was a stroke of brilliance. Of course we have to anticipate things changing. Finding home by random sliding is not going to work; did we honestly think it would?

All that aside, this is an upper percentile episode. The homage was done tastefully and with detail. While there are no friendly Munchkins, Quinn is pursued by a midget bounty hunter. The Yellow Brick Road has been replaced by the Golden Gargoyle Gate Bridge, which employs a trick last seen in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. True, I’m not buying the explanation of light diffusion, but at the very least the trick is being chalked up to science — and it does look cool. The Wicked Witch of the West is now a Witch Doctor, however he is defeated by more conventional means (more on that later). Quinn plays the scarecrow; they’re after his brain; Rembrandt the Woodsman for his big heart; Arturo is the picture of courage throughout the episode. Wade is Dorothy looking to get home. It makes you wonder why they didn’t bring Henry along to play Toto!

The episode is also groundbreaking as this is the first time we see a practical application for sliding. The only other sliding Quinn we’d encountered to date, Smarter Quinn from the pilot, was a joy rider like our own. This alt-Quinn has used sliding for a bigger purpose — interdimensional trade. The physics involved in creating stable trade routes in ever diverging dimensions conceivably make such a concept impossible, but I don’t believe that’s necessarily true. It’s a high concept, unfortunately one never really explored by the series, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Another important scene takes place in Act 2 when the four meet the fortuneteller. It stands out because we learn quite a bit about Arturo — some of which we suspected, some that catches us completely off guard. That Arturo feels overlooked and overshadowed by Quinn is understandable; there were shades of that back in the pilot. But Arturo’s son is a revelation. Since the fortuneteller was wrong about nothing else, I have no reason to think she’s wrong on this count either.

The only piece of the puzzle that doesn’t connect so well is Mr. Gale. He appears in all three worlds (as the Gardener no less on Earth Prime- what happened to Jake?) and in Quinn’s dream. And while technically he is a bad guy, he’s really not much of one. He convinced alt-Quinn to hide his face to increase his mystique, but to what end? Why would he sell Quinn out to join up with Xang? If there’s a plot weakness, we’re looking at it. Frankly, I could have done without the entire Gale angle. It would have been easy enough to explain alt-Quinn’s demands as that of a man afflicted by crippling shyness. Think of the irony; everyone fears him and yet he’s afraid to go outside. Thus his declaration to venture out again becomes more poignant.

Style-wise, “Into the Mystic” is a bridging episode between seasons one and two. We do have a pair of recurring characters, sadly for the last time, in Ross J. Kelley and Pavel the Cab Driver. The story also makes good use of the alternative world for humorous purposes. While Wade and Arturo argue over the validity of Ouija boards, Pavel hopes that they will not talk politics in his cab, adding “is a clear violation of coven and state.? The dark humor is still here and this episode is riddled with great lines and props.

But this is not a season one episode. There is a sudden increase in violence and/or violent tendencies on the part of our heroes. Arturo displays a sudden physical deftness putting Mr. Gale in an arm-breaking position to allow Quinn to charge in to challenge the Sorcerer. Rembrandt proves to be mighty handy with a shotgun, even taking a snake’s head off. Then he defeats Dr. Xang in hand-to-hand combat? It’s hard to imagine the old Rembrandt doing that. Rembrandt is no longer the whining, sniveling coward declaring he’s “too young to die, too famous!” Had this episode occurred in the first season, it would have been Rembrandt playing the role of the cowardly lion-and with bravado!

With the gift of hindsight, I now recognize this as a stellar episode and for me, scratches at a four star rating. Maybe it’s nostalgia — it’s the first episode of Sliders I watched from start to finish — but today I enjoy this episode every time I see it. It’s thoroughly engaging, funny yet bittersweet, and it sets the pace for the dark ride ahead.

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