"Christmas is a time for miracles — miracles and faith." — Arturo.
Review by Matt Hutaff
You weren’t kidding, Professor. It took a leap of faith to draw me back to Sliders after its coma-inducing robot episode, but this episode miraculously redeems last week’s nonsense in spades. For instead of wasting a precious hour of my life with ridiculous action sequences and paper-thin plotting, the Sliders finally manage to land on a world with some character development on it.
And what a world it is. Taking a cue from the obnoxious American tendency to “shop ’til it hurts,” writer Eleah Horwitz has crafted a hyper-consumerist society that offers up scathing commentary on the nature of debt. We may think we’re free, but shackle anyone with enough useless possessions and credit card statements and that position may change.
After all, what better way to indict a shopper than by placing them in a mall so huge and ostentatious it’s made to float on the clouds, where as wage-slaves they live, work and send their children to school? Try to escape bad credit? Be careful the electronic leash doesn’t incapacitate you! Visual touches like this (and the Byzantine maze of shop locations) help suck you into a world where the consumer is wrong — and broke. This is a smart episode, and it shows.
I wasn’t surprised to discover that Horwitz was also responsible for The Prince of Slides; a lot of thematic similarities exist between the two. With Rembrandt, it was reconciling issues he had with the double of a woman he was deeply in love with. Wade takes center stage this time around, as her faith in getting home is put to the test when doubles of her father and sister appear… just in time for Christmas.
The wintertime holidays are ones most families associate with home. It’s a time of gathering with loved ones, but for the Sliders it’s just another huge reminder that they couldn’t be further from home if they tried. This episode, more so than any other, benefits greatly from its timeliness, even if many of its themes are perennial.
After quickly sliding out of a world where Wade winked at the wrong cannibal, the Sliders discover that it’s Christmastime. The four stop at a beautiful outdoor chapel to give thanks to God for leaving the last world far behind, and that’s where the trouble starts.
In the chapel, the Professor befriends a woman named Carol (Jacqueline Obradors) when she asks him to watch her infant child while she lights a candle. There’s a wonderful scene where the three male Sliders are caught up in the innocence and possibility of a baby that’s punctuated perfectly when Arturo discovers that Carol has fled the church to return to a life of indentured servitude in a megalithic shopping center. The race is on to reunite mother and child.
The four quickly find themselves in need of a job to pay the high cost of living — only the woman in charge of hiring is Kelly Welles (Chase Masterson), Wade’s sister back home. Wade’s comfort is challenged even further when her father Don (Allen Williams) arrives on scene as well, but the breaking point comes when Wade decides to confront her family’s doppelgangers only to learn they don’t recognize her. With that, her initial depression spirals downward, even when she’s playing a festive elf to Arturo’s bombastic St. Nick.
Arturo, never one to tolerate idiocy, becomes enraged when he tracks down Carol and finds she’s another shopping junkie unable to free herself. Surprisingly, however, it emerges that the gruff, often emotionally distant Professor has abandonment issues stemming from the death of his mother in World War II, and he wants to make sure Carol’s child grows up knowing family. (This is particularly interesting when you consider Arturo effectively abandoned his own son.) Arturo’s mindset is further illuminated in scenes where as Santa he teaches real moral values to a group of children reared in a lifestyle of instant gratification? Who knew the Professor could be such a softy?
If only the plot centered around Wade and Arturo trying to reconnect with their love of family. However, we’re also treated to a lame sideplot involving Kelly’s Grinch-like boss, Ted Bernsen (Neil Roberts). His evil plot? Increase profits through subliminal advertisements. Rembrandt, continuing his role as the series’ cipher, instantly gets sucked into the scam, racks up huge debts and becomes incensed to the point of violence that Quinn encourages him to not spend money on the Sliders. It’s sadly hilarious to watch this guy; just last week Rembrandt was pining about not carrying his weight on the team, this week he’s storming off for potentially jeopardizing them with his spending sprees. A little consistency, please!
This silliness aside, the heart of the episode is Wade. The desperation of her situation is visible on her face. She’s anxious around her sister and can’t stand to be near her father. When a chance encounter with Don Welles leads to an invitation to dine with him, she’s apprehensive; when she relents, it likely because she hears the echo of Quinn in her mind reminding her that she can at least have a slice of home for Christmas. The others aren’t so lucky.
Allen Williams brings a quiet, understated voice to his character in the abovementioned dinner scene. Recounting the death of his wife and youngest daughter (Wade didn’t survive childbirth on this world) is a touching experience, one that helps Wade realize that they’ve all suffered a loss in their lives… and that maybe she doesn’t have it so bad. The star-crossed reunion may even have provided both a sense of closure they never had the chance to have before; it’s a poignant exchange.
Obviously the Sliders are able to quash Bernsen’s plot and free everyone from enslavement — Carol’s indentured servitude is lifted, Kelly comes to know Wade as the sister she never had (and realizes the mall and Bernsen are “evil”), Rembrandt gets a swift kick in the bottom and Christmas is saved. Quinn’s predictable decking of Bernsen left me laughing out loud when Arturo quips “’tis better to give than to receive.” Classic stuff.
That’s not to say this episode is flawless. Wade’s bottomed out emotionally, so what does Quinn do? He dates her sister! The cad. Granted, the scene between Kelly and Quinn is charming (the Christmas story has the same wistful joy his story in Electric Twister Acid Test had), and this is a rare episode where Quinn is relegated to the background, but this is a situation where Wade needs to come first — even if the story didn’t allow for it.
I also had issues with the whole “scam.” While this is a Christmas episode with a bona fide Happy Ending™, the reality of the situation is that many of the people enslaved to the Malls were there of their own free will. There’s nothing about Carol’s plight that makes me think she didn’t know what she was getting into, and absolving all of those people of their credit fiascoes is aggravating. Couple that with the convenient boogeyman of subliminal ads and this episode sends out the very wrong message that people can be irresponsible with their lives without dealing with the consequences.
But these are minor piffles in an otherwise strong episode. Most episodes angle for the quick slide out after solving all of that particular world’s problems, this one gives us a nice coda of the main actors and the guest stars enjoying a warm, loving Christmas together. It’s a satisfying end to an episode that starts of strong and hits all the right notes, even if the conspiracy plot feels half-baked. Most importantly, it gives Wade and the gang a feel of home they haven’t had in months.
A heartfelt Sliders episode — the gift that keeps on giving!
|Previously: Review: State of the Art||Next: Review: Murder Most Foul|