The Unstuck Man

"Let's do it for Colin, Wade, the Professor... and I think I owe you a '70 DeVille." — Mallory, as Quinn, to Rembrandt.

Review by Matt Hutaff


C
Average

Let’s begin with a question: who is the titular unstuck man? Is it Colin Mallory, the farmboy inventor we picked up last season? Is it Oberon Geiger (Peter Jurasik), the “textbook megalomaniac” running amok in the premiere? Or is it you, the dear viewer?

While Colin and Geiger may be “unstuck” – a term this episode defines as someone unanchored from the multiverse – I contend the Sliders fan base is equally detached and fractured. We are, after all, watching the fifth season of a show that has seen massive cast turnover, endless production nightmares, and scores of unresolved plotlines. Is it even the same series we fell in love with at this point? Many fans say no, and I completely understand that opinion. Sometimes I feel the same way.

But I keep coming back in spite of Sliders’ bizarre runaway train trajectory. I enjoyed the first few seasons for what they were – alternate histories, black humor, and John Rhys-Davies chewing the scenery. I learned to relish the sun-drenched, poorly choreographed pastiche of season three. And season four had some of the most consistent and compelling science fiction storytelling in the series’ run before being bogged down by Nazi allegories and Humaggs.

One show, three distinct realities. When Geiger describes himself – adrift between worlds, never able to cling to anything for long – I wonder: is he a villain or the writing staff’s commentary on the show’s evolution?

Given this context, can Sliders limp into the next phase? Does “The Unstuck Man” hold up? Will it keep you hooked for the further adventures of Rembrandt Brown, Maggie Beckett, and the new guys?

I’ll say this: there are flashes of brilliance, a kick-ass concept, and some great guest stars. It’s also got plenty of continuity errors, lame music, odd directing choices, and bad acting.

In other words, it’s classic Sliders.

“The Unstuck Man” feels like an episode no one wanted to write (ironic given every staff member is credited in some fashion). Would you want the unenviable position of writing Quinn and Colin Mallory out off-screen with a Sci-Fi Channel budget, though? Fortunately, the story has good bones and makes the best of a bad situation with some creative science fiction.

Oberon Geiger, the abovementioned villain, is a physics genius whose experiments left him unstuck in space-time. Sure, he’s the head researcher of a powerful and well-funded think tank known as The Combine, but those accomplishments are negated by a life confined to a magnetic containment field. It’s 80 square feet of pure claustrophobia, and you hear the exhaustion in Geiger’s voice when he talks about the simple freedom of taking a walk outside. Getting Jurasik for the role was a coup; he sells the mad scientist role with understated conviction.

The solution, to quote Keith Damron in his Year Five Journal, is “bringing the mountain to Mohammed.” Instead of trying to “stick” his body to one stable dimension, Geiger plans instead to merge all realities into one hybrid existence. (I don’t know how this conceit is any easier, but at least the problem is based around sliding and parallel universes and not Kromaggs mindlessly killing/raping humanity.)

Helping Geiger are Doctor Diana Davis (Tembi Locke), protégé and assistant director of the facility, and a lab assistant cured of muscular dystrophy through careful application of Combine technology. A lab assistant named Quinn Mallory.

This Quinn, played by Robert Floyd, is a fraternal double of the Quinn we know. Our Sliders intersect with him when a routine slide (routine in that it involves a daring escape through a backlot shoot-out) injects lab assistant Quinn into their incoming wormhole. The resultant energy discharge unsticks Colin and merges Quinn with this interloper, giving Rembrandt and Maggie scant hours to set things right before it’s off to the next world.

(Since Jerry and Charlie are confirmed as not returning for the season, I’ll let you guess how successful they are.)

Now, I like this idea. I think it would have been a fun two-parter starring with the original cast. Merging Quinn with a double creates a unique identity crisis, and the technology behind the Combine serves as the backdrop to an interesting world. A dystopic “Double Cross,” if you will. As it is, I’m encouraged by Floyd’s take on classic Quinn, and hope the multiple personality angle continues as the season progresses.

I also like Geiger. He’s charismatic, manipulative, and nuanced. He healed his Quinn of an incurable disease as a loyalty-building exercise. He educated Diana so well she has no idea she’s working to destroy her own world. Hell, he talks Rembrandt and Maggie into a stasis field hours after he’s essentially murdered their friends. Geiger is so practiced, so sure of himself, you want to see him succeed.

Aside from these things and some good dialog at the end, I can’t recommend much else about this episode. Sure, the stage is set for the coming season, but the execution is so clumsy and awkward the end result is almost unwatchable.

What went wrong, then? For starters, this episode looks cheap. Is it a season premiere or a mid-season budget-saver? Music cues are recycled from the fourth season. Action is relegated to previously established locations and the Combine lab, which looks and feels like a redress of the hospital from “Asylum.” Couldn’t a PA find an exciting establishing shot for the lab? And did Guy Magar invest in Vasoline before going behind the lens? The number of soft-focus extreme close-up shots is staggering. And the zooms!

The lack of visuals dovetails nicely into the lack of action. For an episode where so much needs to happen, nothing happens. The Sliders visit the Chandler bar. They sit in the Combine’s food court. They talk to Diana. Diana talks to Geiger. They talk to Geiger. Geiger talks to Quinn. It’s a relentless attack of dialog, and the only solution for the writers is intercutting scenes. But this leads to continuity errors between Geiger and Quinn and makes Diana alternate between smug and ignorant. By the time you make it to the action-packed denouement where Diana and Quinn slowly turn a laser 90 degrees, you’re wondering how 44 minutes feels so damn long.

There’s also a lot of dumb. How did Geiger know about the Sliders? Moreover, how’d he know there’d be a Quinn Mallory in the mix? How’d he suss out vanilla Quinn was a genius? How’d Hal the Bartender know about the Combine? Why are all the looters and terrified citizens of Combine World carrying suitcases? Why is the female news anchor a befuddled mute, and why are the barflies drinking every time she can’t spit a word out? Why, if the Combine hasn’t been turned up to the macro level, is the world experiencing devastating weather disturbances?

Why did it go from night to day? And why, for the love of God, did Rembrandt and Maggie hang a lampshade on it by bringing it up?!

If you’ve noticed a distinct lack of Maggie and Rembrandt in this review, it’s because they drift in and out of this plot as everything happens around them. In a sense, they’re as unstuck from this adventure as Geiger and Colin are. Maybe they’ll get merged down into a version of Sliders that’s consistently enjoyable? It can’t happen soon enough.

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7 responses to “Review: The Unstuck Man”

  1. pete5125 says:

    Wow, season #5, the show that decides it doesn’t need it’s leading man…this season is hated by most except the die hard core Sliders fans for a very good reason, their primary mission to all casual viewers has been to get the original group home using a broke timer(a modern Quantum Leap) now it is Rembrandt 2 people from another earth, and Maggie a lady that can’t breath on Rembrandt’s earth trying to get back to Earth Prime…(yes I know Earth Prime has Kromaggs all over it, but that doesn’t stop the group from trying to go back weapon or not)

    The thing you have is a Show that has viewers that came on board for 3 very different shows(season 1/2 alt history zone, Season#3 movie rip-off/dumb action adventures, season #4 (Sci-Fi/Comic book land) and season #5 is going to try  to please all of them with 1/2 a cast….how do you do that, I wouldn’t of done what they did…but, it was better than the team landing in plastic surgery land(a rumor has it Quinn and Collin land in a world and have to get plastic surgery to explain the new actors).

    Point is their where worst ideas out their, and I am sure that, the writers would of preferred for Universal to make some sort of deal, but best Sci-Fi could do was Quinn in 6 Collin in all 18, Jerry becomes Executive producer, budget much smaller than you see on screen to pay for Jerry….(sad thing was if Sci-Fi wouldn’t of waited till a month before the contracts where up to air season#4 they could of scene it would be a hit and got the ball rolling a little faster).
    X-Files had the same problem in the same season and solved it by having Mulder kidnapped and turning Scully 
    into the believer…The same thing that I would of preferred, Colin Maggie and Rembrandt for 18 Quinn joining them for 6 to tie it all up, Wade story was going to be one episode, if they where smart a Professor story, Rembrandt could go after Malcolm or the slide Cage guy, Logan returns for an episode or 2, then stick Conrad Bennish Jr in a few and you have a good season.

    I guess the biggest fault with season#5 (in my mind) is making my show not become the cult hit that Star Trek was and the thing is Season#4 as rough as it was had actually turned the show around and if Season#5 could of bean a big wow final  year then we could be watching one of the top Sci-Fi franchises on TV, instead it is a weird cult show that never figured out what it wanted to be with the TV remote that would open worm holes.(ask random people sometime especially people in their 30’s that’s about what anyone remembers, few loved it, which is odd since at one point our web community rivaled X-Files, and is what kept it on the air season after season)

    They could of had the Professor return, Conrad Bennish Jr come back, Logan, etc…heck Hal the bartender only makes it back for an episode, and Gomez is nowhere to be scene in season#5

    but enouth with what could of been…

    So we get this episode that destroys the show as we know it, hated Wade leaving but, that didn’t destroy the show, Max being gone did hurt it, but the show was always Quinn’s adventure so doing the show without Quinn shouldn’t work, but sadly it does,  this episode was cool for the fact that it forced them to do something new, they still played by the rules of forcing their morals on another world but this time it was for a valid reason he was going to destroy their earth, not Communism is bad, Socialism is wrong, but we just saved this earth, that has only been done 3 times on sliders(Last Days, Exodus and Unstuck Man).

    Also if you like Sci-Fi then you couldn’t ask for a better concept and also one that had never been brought up on the show, Why not combine all the worlds, everyone is just a split version of yourself with slight choices that where made different but essentially Quinn is Quinn on all earths.

    I guess I give this episode a pass it wasn’t the best Sliders episode nor was it even close to the worst it is a good staple of the type of episodes you will see in season#5 great ideas not enough $$  to do them right, so whatever cheap solution they can come up with to solve lingering plot threads, then about 5-6 episodes in they decide screw-it lets just make season#1 episodes using the new cast, where they aren’t running into Kromaggs or even attempting to find a way home…

    Lucky for me I’m not in charge of reviewing, this episode is just to tough to review because on it’s own merits it is a 4 out of 5 star Sliders episode, but knowing the behind the scenes drama that brought us this episode and totally screwed the show over from becoming the show the fans wanted(again if you don’t mind a new cast after this episode their are only 2 or 3 real stinkers(Action left overs from season#3) 2 kromagg episodes(both are pretty good/season#4 like epiodes) in the bunch the rest of the season is Sliders Season 1/2, except keep in mind while they do try to tie up continuity every answer will be bad, Kromagg Weapon, Wade, going Home, Geiger, Quinn, Collin(well you just watched that one he got zapped by a bomb and got turned into a million pieces.

    You did skip the one cool thing about the episode this is the 1st time I think we have actually scene what they look like inside the Vortex, outside of the pilot…

    • Joe Hawkins says:

      Season 5
      I actually enjoyed the season. I thought it was the best since Season 2. After the Shark Jumping of Season 3 and the changing of the continuity of Season 4. Of the 18 episodes, there were perhaps two stinkeroos (the Great Work and Easy Slider) perhaps three so so episodes (A thousand Deaths, Map of the Mind, The Jiva Jive) the remaining 13 were very good. I would rank The Return of Maggie Beckett as the best episode and it should be up there with PTSS and Invasion from Season 2. It was kinda ackward getting through the first two episodes, The Unstuck Man and Applied Physics. Applied Physics is very good but the season kicks into high gear with New gods for Old and never looked back. The goal of the Sliders in Season 1-3 were to find home, Season 4 they were searching for Quinn’s home world and a way to drive the Kromaggs off Earth Prime but by season four they had their work cut out for them. Separate Quinn from Mallory, Run down Colin, find a weapon to kick the Kromaggs off Remmy’s world. Quite a tall order. I never understood why they left Diana and Mallory’s world in the first place. they had the technology and equipment there to undo what Geiger had done but they go off a sliding.
      Anyway, I enjoyed the fifth and final season and hated to see it all come to a close in Feb 2000 but the show was played out and it was time to go. Shame they failed to accomplish all their goals but still an enjoyable season.

      • hypnotoad72 says:

        Great post, thanks!

        But ‘The Return of Maggie Beckett” has one flaw for me:

        That’s not her father.

        She can bleat that there are things that never change – which is good because the format of parallel universes would see a majority having minor differences… but I couldn’t buy into her believing that he was *her* father. He decided she was his daughter despite seeing his real daughter die, hence his fessing up on national tv… I do want to like the episode as there was much to like, but that one technicality still has me removing a point or two from its score.

        But, yeah, at the time, it probably was floundering and played out. How would a 6th season fare? It’s amazing they did season 5 as strongly as they had, but it couldn’t be kept up… pity it only got 18 eps instead of 22…

    • Rob C says:

      I’m doing my best to resist pointing out the countless spelling errors in your post. Oops. Guess I couldn’t resist……All kidding aside, I’m a big fan of Sliders. The first 2 seasons were great, season 3 was hit or miss (unfortunately, it was more miss than hit), season 4 was fairly enjoyable…but season 5 is a disaster.

  2. hypnotoad72 says:

    “Let’s do it for Colin, Wade, the Professor… and I think I owe you a ’70 DeVille.” — Mallory, as Quinn, to Rembrandt.

    That had me shedding a tear.

    I’ve not seen season 5 ever, not until the DVD set came out — and, so far, I am LOVING season 5 — it’s definitely on par with season 2 (which is loads better than seasons 3 and 4).

    Indeed, of what I’ve seen so far, season 5 is the closest to how parallel worlds would most often be – slight differences in technology and world events, without getting fantastical or stretching credibility beyond a certain point. Even seasons 1 and 2 were outlandish (but often manage to carry it off… “Net Worth”, a season 4 story I want to like, is just so hammy and corny in its half-baked moralizing of a society bent on its version of the internet that, as pete5125 said, is indeed “comic book” – but not in a good way. “The Dalek Masterplan”, a story from “Doctor Who”‘s third season (1965), is comic book in feel but it’s pretty much one of WHO’s finest outings… only to compare; not all that have a comic book feel are bad just because they try to use that comic book feel…

    “The Unstuck Man” manages to deal with a convoluted cast change plot with some care. Colin I never cared for, so he gets the treatment that the villain does – splintered everywhere. Fine by me… And the season opener simply proves that there ARE dangers with sliding, something that was only teased in previous seasons.

    I did note Maggie claiming Quinn created the timer pretty much destroys continuity – which to me is okay because it’s an excessively-outlandish season 3 episode seeing the real timer destroyed and that new one introduced. Since I prefer to think season 3 was a big agonizing dream, overlooking that bit was absolutely fine by me. 🙂

    If this episode is only worth 2 stars, I can’t wait to see the followup…

    Oh, if anything, as competent as Danny Lux is, Mark Mothersbaugh and Dennis McCarthy did manage to do better (IMHO) at looking at scenes and crafting some really good music as well… it’s a shame the three of them didn’t all compose for the latter years, since they’re all good and all have some great moments…

  3. james42519 says:

    i didn’t watch this show for “alternate histories, black humor, and John Rhys-Davies chewing the scenery.” i watched it to see the worlds and what happened to them. lot of stuff you hated i liked in this show. i hated how maggie was at the beginning and like how they changed her.

    this is actually helps understand what was going on behind the scenes and why stuff was done. http://www.dimensionofcontinuity.com/bts.htm

  4. NDJ says:

    The outlandish earth premise was fun and the whole point. It is the little things that have the most impact.
    The professor coming up with penicillin in two days by digging in the trash- imagination stretching to say the least. But penicillin was an accident and its discovery could easily have been overlooked.
    All but a handful of men are dead (who would create such as stupid weapon?)- super silly. However, isn’t it every man’s wish to be run after by women and be paired up with nothing but young healthy women who can’t possibly expect a relationship from you?
    Also, Maggie may not know that this isn’t Quinn’s original timer- the original four ditched Quinn’s before they met her. Also, I remember hearing once or twice people asking Quinn if he created the Egyptian timer and he said yes- for expedience sake. The point was Rembrandt and Maggie didn’t create it.

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