There are six episodes left in this season. Which means that there are six episodes left of this show. Sliders is ending, and we can see that end in sight.
No matter what this means to us as an audience (if we even know this fact ourselves), the fact remains that it should mean something to the writers. At this point, they know for sure that this is the end. Sure, there might be a last minute fallout of some other show, and maybe there’ll be a last-minute renewal. Future knowledge tells us that this will not happen— and if they were being realistic, they knew that wasn’t going to happen.
The Sci-Fi Channel renewed Sliders because it performed well. But the network didn’t really care about it. They’d put all it’s money into First Wave and Farscape, and and they were hoping that these were the shows that would come to define the network. Plus, Jerry O’Connell quit. Sci-Fi didn’t think the show would perform at all. They slashed the budget, gave them enough episodes for a syndication deal, and let the show just exist.
They weren’t expecting Sliders to continue to be a solid hit for the network. But by the time the numbers came in, it was too late. The money was tied up. There was no excess anything— time, money, nothing. Sliders was over. Everyone knew it.
So why then waste time with naff shit like this?
“A Thousand Deaths” isn’t even the worst episode of this season. But it is at least trying to be some sort of “homage” to “classic Sliders,” whatever the hell that means. So Keith Damron— who, no matter what you tell me about David Peckinpah, is by far the worst figure of creation on this show— he gets to give us things like “Burger Wars” in this episode’s teaser.
“Burger Wars” is not really the problem, though. The problem is that “Burger Wars” is by far a better idea than “The Arcade.” I know I’ve been clamoring (sort of) for a return to “Overthrowing the Government,” but if this is what we get when that comes back to the fore, then fuuuuuck meeeee. Here we have easy Sliders trope after easy Sliders trope. Except but it’s all the tropes that make me infuriated beyond belief.
So we have the Sliders amble in to some seemingly awesome situation, only to have it inevitably revealed to be EVIL IN DISGUISE. Rembrandt has his patented “I don’t trust anybody at all” feeling, and within ten minutes they are AGAINST EVIL. Then they defeat evil, through and through, due to a ridiculous series of coincidences and ridiculousness. They also learn something about humanity.
That’s “A Thousand Deaths.” “Burger Wars” have the Sliders becoming embroiled in a conspiracy between two warring fast food empires over the formula to a secret sauce. It’s gone before the teaser ends, but it’s already more interesting than the EVILS of VIDEO GAMING. Because that’s what this ends up being— a treatise about the evils of video games. Which, sure, in 1998, I guess that’s something floating around the zeitgeist. People are worried that Doom is going to teach our children to cut their parents in half with a chainsaw.
So we’re treated to Mallory packing his bags and going on the most needless guilt trip of all time. He stands, slack jawed, unable to cope with the idea that, in all those wheelchair’d days, that he played first person shooters and never thought that it was images of people he was shooting.
He’s right about half of that— they are images of people. But they’re only images. You can’t use the “lessons” of Einman’s Arcade (and in case you haven’t put it together, The Arcade is kidnapping people and making them into Avatars to be killed in Holographic Simulations, too add a little more realism or whatever) and apply it to his own experience as a gamer. They aren’t related.
Unless he is feeling guilty about all the men and women he has drugged, kidnapped, and mindraped, then there is no reason for him to feel bad at all. Unless he just really wants that time back. Because the evil going on in “A Thousand Deaths” isn’t that the ‘bad guys’ in video games might be real people— it’s that a worldwide corporation is committing sci-fi rape. And it is a form of rape— it’s kind of hard not to notice that Maggie and Diana are naked when they are drugged and dragged offscreen.
So yes, that is Evil. That is worth fighting against. That’s the government you overthrow. But that’s barely even commented on. Instead we are treated to an hourlong guilt trip. We, as an audience, are berated for playing video games. The “logic” behind Einman’s Evil is that the players were getting “too good” for the game designers, and so they “had to” use real people to keep the games fresh and interesting.
It is made perfectly clear, over and over again, that we, the audience, are complicit in this. Einman remarks about “the animal inside us.” We’re all warriors, we’ll always want blood. Everyone gets to pat themselves on the back and walk into the sunset. And we get to stare at the screen, insulted. Sliders is trying to tell us that there’s a darkness inherent to humanity… well, all of humanity except for Rembrandt, Maggie, Mallory, and Diana. Their moral superiority strikes again, as always. So if we play video games, we’re no better than murderers. Fine. Whatever. If that’s the moral superiority you’re going to expel, apparently forgetting who your fucking audience is, then fine.
The real audience is just like Remmy’s VR Partner— a man who we apparently should condemn for treating the Arcade like a game. Which neglects the fact that it, y’know, is a game. I can’t bring myself to “hate” his partner— he’s so fun, and he’s acted too silly for me to hate him. He’s a goofball. He’s that weird sort of 90s hipster that I miss from pop culture. What this episode is telling us is that we should be the kind of person who plays Grand Theft Auto and spends their playtime picking up all the prostitutes and driving them home.
What’s far more interesting is Diana’s completely casual revelations of the afterlife at the end. She actually, truly believes she’s seen that there is life after death. The others take this at face value— even Rembrandt, a man who, y’know, genuinely believes in God. Diana is spouting extreme bits of knowledge that would shake the foundation of most existing faiths. But the episode— but Keith Damron— doesn’t realize that. Instead he uses it for some awkward callback to Diana’s claustrophobia (wow, we’ve actually learned something about her character! She was a fucking stupid kid and got herself locked in a closet for two days!). “Now I’m not afraid of the dark,” she says. Okay fine. Good for you. You just saw Heaven.
And that’s really the heart of what is wrong with Keith Damron as a script editor, and by proxy, Sliders as a whole. It’s not that he doesn’t have any good ideas. It’s that he can’t recognize the difference between great ideas and complete shit. So we spend our running time on a really very bad idea, and sandwich it with brief moments of awesome. Hell, “A Thousand Deaths” is a really good title. But the dreck, the insulting bilge it represents, it wastes that title. Keith Damron, again and again, wastes our time.
But now there are five episodes left of Sliders. There isn’t any more time to waste.
Next week: arrrrrrrrrrr (Heavy Metal).
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