"We're going to save the world, fat boy!" — Conrad Bennish Jr.
Review by Mike Truman
The Doomsday Asteroid is coming in two days. The next window of opportunity is in three. It’s the end of the line for the Sliders and the end of the world for everyone else. With no time remaining, Rembrandt tries to come to terms with his situation; Wade and Quinn come to terms with each other, and Arturo with… Bennish?
Yes, Conrad Bennish, Jr., Quinn’s stoner friend and classmate from home. Bennish has already made a few minor appearances this season in both the pilot and Summer of Love. Played to full excess by Jason Gaffney, Bennish breaks out of his minor recurring role and moves to the forefront in this terrific episode.
Bennish makes his entrance at a meeting of the Union of Concerned Scientists where Arturo has gone to gain information on the asteroid. He makes the audacious suggestion that nuclear weapons be used to bring down the interplanetary debris. There’s only one problem with this idea. Nuclear weapons do not exist on this world. Here, Albert Einstein refused to take on the moral responsibility associated with unleashing the nuclear genie. Backed by prominent physicists such as Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi, Einstein declared there was not enough fissionable material in the world to create the bomb. Since Bennish is the leading, and only, expert on nuclear physics, Arturo must team with his gregarious student to recreate the bomb (which is conveniently in Bennish’s possession.)
Watching the two attempt to co-exist is the highlight of “Last Days.” They are everything the other is not. Arturo is the proper gentleman. Though he states at the beginning of the episode “the first casualty of sliding is dignity,” Arturo always tries to carry himself with grace and poise. He enjoys the finer things in life and is not ashamed of his intellectualism. Then there’s Bennish. Bennish’s dress is casual to be charitable, his hair is down to his shoulders, and he never removes his sunglasses. His mannerisms are crude at best, licking a Twizzler after he offers it to Wade, telling her to “cherish it.” While Bennish is largely unfazed by Arturo, the Professor is being driven quickly insane.
I was tempted to write that the one thing they had in common is genius, but I’m not sure that’s true. When you get down to it, Bennish doesn’t really do anything. While Arturo is frantically trying to complete calculations, Bennish is sitting back listening to music and drinking cream soda, working out how they’ll share the credit. This isn’t to say Bennish isn’t smart. He’s obviously got some brains if he saw through Einstein’s ruse. But is he a genius akin to Quinn Mallory? I don’t think so.
Now where is Quinn during all this? While Arturo and Bennish are trying to save the world, Quinn is desperately trying to get the four sliders off this world before the asteroid hits. Fortunately, his double’s basement is vacant and loaded with equipment. Apparently the Quinn of this earth was attempting to build a time machine (“Basically, this guy was really into dinosaurs,” he says). The time machine looks remarkably like the sliding machine and Wade suggests that this Quinn must have slid off to escape. This seems unlikely. Otherwise, who would have covered up all the furniture and equipment? It is more likely that Alt-Quinn and family fled for higher ground before our group arrived. Nonetheless, he made enough progress that Quinn has a fighting chance of adapting it.
Due to the confusion of end times, neither Arturo nor Quinn is aware of the other’s efforts. When Quinn fries his double’s system, he believes all hope is lost. With the final hours ticking away, he and Wade confront their feeling for one another. Yes, it took the end of the world, but Quinn finally notices that there’s something going on between them. And unlike some shows that tease the main characters getting together over the course of the season or series, Wade and Quinn do kiss… before Arturo rudely interrupts… and eats their dinner.
And if this story needed any more subplots, we still have Rembrandt. Believing this is it, the Cryin’ Man goes out looking for one last party. Rembrandt’s adventure is the show’s excuse to explore this dying world as the others are too preoccupied trying to save it. What he finds is typical — looting, anarchy, and general mayhem. Morality is thrown out the window in the wealthy part of town where everyone is just trying to have as much fun as they can. Though he enjoys it a little while, even performing a song, the cold realization that it’s all empty is brought home when a party game turns violent. In the end, he decides to spend his last hours helping others at a church. It’s a significant step for Rembrandt, who thus far has been far more preoccupied with himself.
To be honest, Rembrandt’s subplot didn’t do much for me. It’s not that it’s poorly written or unnecessary, it’s just the other parts are so involving. Any time spent away from the main action feels like a waste. I’m also not sure if the church scenes are properly portrayed. I’d think churches would be doing a brisk business during end times, filled to the brim with the pure of faith and those hedging their bets alike.
The music in this episode is a mixed bag. The incidental music, particularly those bars that follow any bomb-related revelations, is outstanding. Bennish’s taste in music is also a kick. The final tape he puts in when he realizes the power he now wields is ultra-appropriate. But the party music at Nob Hill? Lame, lame, lame. And what is that crap Quinn and Wade dance to? Kenny G Lite?
The only other problem I have is with the editing room. I’m guessing some scenes were moved around to give the episode better balance and topic. Though they succeeded, they failed to edit the timeline. In one scene Wade will say there are twelve hours to doomsday and the following scene will double it. The end result is Arturo living through two full days and the others seemingly confined to twenty-four hours.
But it’s a small price to pay for an episode this good. Leave it to this show to successfully make light of the end of the world. Bennish’s antics would have been enough, but the prop department went the extra mile. Moonatic Electronics is a fine example. Why anyone would care about making money at this stage is incomprehensible, but Mace Moon is having a ‘Final Days Sale’ with ‘Rock’ Bottom Prices. Get it? Okay, I’m a sucker for bad puns. But it gets better. No sooner after the crisis is averted, Mace has a new sign advertising his “Life Goes On Sale.” Little details, like the church bulletin encouraging people to ‘have a nice last few days’ or the ball dropping in Times Square, are always what put “Sliders” over the top. There’s always something to make you smile.
I’m still laughing over the final scene at Moonatic Electronics before the asteroid is destroyed. In what should be the solemn moments before potential Armageddon, Bennish is gleefully jumping around, supremely confident everything will work out. “E equals MC squared, man! It’s in the bag!” With the world coming to an end, he’s still dreaming about his Nobel Prize. Arturo declares, “Mr. Bennish, if we survive, I promise you this. I will dedicate my life to isolating the gene that makes you so obnoxious and I will destroy it.” To which Bennish replies, “Hee hee! I love this guy!”
And I love this episode.
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