It ends with a freeze-frame.
On a certain level, how can you argue with that? I realize that it takes until the end for that final puzzle piece to fall (if you haven’t caught on already), but it’s still there. Sealed in that ridiculous freeze frame, there is a world of explanation. It’s supposed to be this way. Remember “The Alternateville Horror?” There we had a rarity in Sliders— an actual gelling of tone. That episode was full-on “Horror-Comedy.” It took the tropes of Horror, and sent them up. It worked, it was a complete success.
This episode is also a success. But it’s hard to read it as one. It requires a little more attention than “Alternateville” did. It’s hard, mainly because we aren’t expecting it. At this point, the series is actually its own worst enemy. We don’t expect it to try something more subversive, more out of the norm. And “Way Out West,” despite initial appearances, is actually doing something different. It’s a parody of a genre, not a lifeless hack of one like we’re used to. It’s poking fun at the classic western, but it’s having a ball doing it, and I’d argue it’s doing it out of love. It’s built into the framework of the episode— the titles aren’t the familiar font, they’re that easy-circus-western.
There’s obviously a little bit of an elephant in the room with this episode. That elephant is, of course, “The Good, The Bad, & The Wealthy,” Season Two’s foray into the “Western.” But that episode wasn’t really a Western at all. In fact, all of the “Western” elements of it was another case of the age-old “Tone-Jarring” problem. Or not even really that— it was just kind of dumb. It didn’t really need to be in the episode. It was only there to ‘cater’ to ‘dumb’ audiences, who wouldn’t understand why “The Code Of The West” would still be practiced in modern-day San Francisco.
There, the episode’s story was good enough that it didn’t need all that Western-Themed mumbo jumbo window dressing. “Way Out West” is all about the window-dressing. And that’s not a criticism! I mean, how could it be after 20 weeks of stumbling through the backlot. This episode has location shooting! Where the hell did all this money come from? I don’t know, I don’t care, it’s tight. I’m glad I’m not in the Chandler (I mean, relatively speaking).
But, like I said, it’s Western dialed to 11. Even the plot, for what it is, is just part-and-parcel of the Western theme. The age-old “money sides with crime to steal the land” plot, and Colin’s “the strength of a man isn’t the strength of his gun” plot are completely clichéd and overdone. But I think that’s entirely the point. Colin’s journey with the family he meets is clichéd, but it’s also genuinely touching. Charlie O’Connell’s range is obviously limited— so limited that you’ve probably noticed I haven’t even really bothered writing about it. But one thing that range does do well is a quiet rage. A rage against the unfortunate events his life has endured.
Think about it— Colin is truly a tragic character. His life was filled with death. His parents died of flu, he was alone, no one appreciated him in his world. He was truly, completely alone. And Charlie can play that well— maybe by accident, but does it matter? I can buy it when he talks to this family about loss. Colin’s felt loss. He rages against his life— but his life has also taught him to be quiet, to bury it. You can see that in his scene with Quinn in “Slidecage.” It’s an interesting thing to lay on this character. It’s complex.
But of course, it’s frustrating, because this is literally the second time this has come up. Colin is literally never given anything to do on this show. Which I can understand— he can’t act. But he can’t learn if he doesn’t get any opportunity to. Charlie O’Connell is only on this show for one reason— Jerry wanted to hang out with him. But they might as well use him if he’s around. Not even Wade was this ignored. But there is potential in Colin, in Charlie. There’s just no one bothering to notice.
But still— it is interesting to realize that the emotional undercurrent of this episode comes from Colin, of all people. And it’s also interesting to note that it’s not a scene that’s tied into the “arc” of the season (whatever’s left of it). It’s another part of the secret idea of the episode— that this Western World takes over any other overriding narrative at play. Your identity exists only to serve the Western Vibes that permeate. And the episode is brilliant because of it.
Look at the scene where Quinn and Rembrandt wait for the noose. First, it contains the smartest meta-joke Sliders has ever had on the show ever— the reveal that the sad “you are about to hang, pilgrim” harmonica noise is actually diegetic. Rembrandt’s “could you please” is a shock, and it’s truly hilarious. Like, actually hilarious— something that’s been sorely missing from the show. But it’s just a part of why the entire sequence is smart. Quinn & Rembrandt (and the whole cast, really) are completely aware that they’re in a Western. Their plan to outsmart by using old Western tropes is a hilarious idea, and one that sort of is lacking on Sliders— it would ease the pain of, say, “This Slide of Paradise” if Quinn had said “oh, man, just like Doctor Moreau.” I mean, that’s an extreme example, but if you’re going to push against my acceptance of what a “parallel world” actually is, then at least throw me a bone that our characters aren’t total idiots.
And that’s what this scene is doing. Even if their plan falls completely flat, it isn’t because of them. In fact, it’s because of the other totally smart thing that this episode somehow makes work.
Kolitar, last seen on the almost-but-not-quite-a-classic “Slidecage,” turns out to be the nefarious outlaw “Mr. K,” a reveal that isn’t exactly a surprise, but is in many ways more interesting for the fact that it exists in the first place. Of all the shows to have an audience wondering if a former foe will return, Sliders is probably the least likely to do so. But what’s interesting is that Kolitar isn’t even who we remember him to be. He’s become something else.
Kolitar gets consumed by the Western Narrative. And why shouldn’t he? The Kromagg Dynasty, on a certain level, can be read as a parable for Corporate Empire. And just as “The Good The Bad & The Wealthy” showed a world ruled by “Old West” notions of Wealth and Honor, so too does the Dynasty (it’s just that wealth isn’t money, it’s Earths). The Kromaggs make sense as an Enemy in a Western. They’re only human, after all.
But still, there lies a grumbling in the fans about the holes this opens in the Dynasty’s Continuity. The idea that Kromagg Prime would have Westerns is just too preposterous to take seriously. But that’s just a rent in willing suspension that harkens back to “Slidecage” itself— after all, why would Kromagg Prime have had “Beauty and the Beast?”
The thing is that “Way Out West”s universe seems to be a contagious falsehood. A West-World Virus. “It’s catching,” characters keep saying, as their language is stolen from them. Maggie, once-tough soldier, fades easily into the role of barmaid. Identity is lost in West World. But it’s replaced by a sense of manic glee.
That’s what “Way Out West” really is— an alternate dimension where Sliders actually succeeds at switching genres week to week. It’s an alternate dimension where we can delight in watching our show be replaced by another. It’s an alternate dimension where Season Three worked. Maybe that’s why this episode rankles fans— because it’s too easy to love, but it would be too completely at home in the season it’s easy to hate.
Look— this episode succeeds. But the more unfortunately remarkable fact is that it actually tried to do something in the first place. That’s been absent for months now. It seems like everyone’s given up. It’s like a second wind (third wind, fourth wind, eighth wind) has struck the show. Again, it’s almost exciting to see what comes next.
Next Week: what comes next— (My Brother’s Keeper).
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