Let’s have a toast to all the extraneous people who have journeyed through the Vortex with the Sliders.
There’s Ryan and Henry, of course. Sid and Michelle, then Michelle again, by herself. There’s Diana and David from “Love Gods.” And there’s the countless people that Quinn has ever so casually begged to come with them. “Yeah, sure, join us. It’ll be a blast,” he’d say, lying through his teeth. There will be countless more, and certainly countless unseen already.
Then let’s pour out our drinks, bitter with the knowledge that we’ll never see or hear about any of these people ever again.
I bring this up because, against all odds, we’re entering entirely new territory.
“Sole Survivors” has a secret that it would like to tell you. That secret is the fact that it’s actually one of the best and most radical episodes in the show’s run. It tells a story that we’ve truly never seen before on the show— one that we should have seen countless times already.
This episode shows us sliding from an outsider’s perspective. This episode is the view from the other side, the look at our characters from outside their own tight bubble. We take their relationship for granted (except when it is destroyed, utterly), and so too do we take the way they handle their lives. Because their lives are unique, and that’s a fact that’s totally ignored. They don’t just wake up, go to work, eat lunch, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed. They live on the run. In a way, they’re on the lam from reality. So now we have someone new to the team that we’ve met before, who is an active participant in the Sliding life.
But’s the episode holds even more than that. There’s multiple angles to the episode, all hidden under the guise of an “Action-Packed Romp” with the easiest, most audience-baiting logline we’ve had since Dinosaurs ruled San Fran: the Sliders travel to a world ravaged by Zombies.
We’ll start there, because it’s the loudest and most glaring part of the episode. First off, these aren’t “zombies,” not really. They aren’t dark voodoo-summoned plague bearers wearing our loved one’s rotting flesh over an empty, hungry husk. This is the episode’s first secret success, because the episode goes entirely out of its way to explain the cause of the “Zombie Apocalypse.” And it’s not just the same ol’ “some doctor fucked up and released a virus into the air. Oh, sure a doctor still fucked up and released a virus in the air. But it’s the way he fucked up and the reason the virus was released into the air that matters.
See here on this world, caffeine and other natural additives are illegal. So this company Geni-Trax was like ‘hey y’all want to lose some weight, munch on this tight-ass Lipron shit we servin’.” So erryone like “oh tight I wanna munch on dat shit” and then they all like “dayum I got some killer muncheez, yo.”
So deep are their killer muncheez that they start craving fat. They get all weird and their eyes get all RAVE STYLE ’97 and their skin gets gross because they’ve been eating nothing but Cheetos and LARD. Then, since the Lipron has chewed up all the fat in their bodies, they start to eat the fat that’s available to them. By which I mean HUMAN FLESH.
So, zombies. Yeah, sure. Fine. Whatever.
The main plot is the obvious one— Quinn gets bitten, starts Zombiing, it’s a race against time to cure him before they lose him forever. That’s fine, we could have seen that one coming. But it’s the placement of this adventure that gives it heft. Because losing Quinn isn’t just a ‘sure fine whatever’ situation anymore. Not after Arturo. Losing one friend, one guide, one anchor is bad enough. To lose another, and not just any other— but the man you’ve decide to lead you ‘home’— that would be too much.
And yet it’s already become too much for Wade. Last time I spent a lot of time talking about her vacant stares of ‘it’s over.’ But because the rest of the season is an exercise in sadism, she isn’t allowed that vacancy. Because what could possibly be more cruelly fitting than throwing someone who’s trying not to see the world through death-tinted glasses onto a world where everyone is a member of the walking dead?
I’ve made no bones about my love of Wade. Sure, she’s always having a contest with Rembrandt to be the least-defined character. But she still manages to steal the show with her sheer pluck and joy in everything. The show’s tried to break her down bit by bit, but for so long she’s still kept that elfin smile. She refuses to stop being a Happy Wanderer. Last week was the end. Now it’s hell. True Hell. Because not only is one of her best and only friends dead, she’s being mocked for her grief.
I can’t even begin to relate the shock/awe/anger that’s aroused when watching basically the first mid-slide interaction between Wade and Maggie. She’s talking about how much of a sniveling weakling Wade is right in front of her. It’s not like her and Quinn whisper, or walk a few steps away. No— they both talk about her ‘weakness’ when she’s obviously within earshot. Maggie’s grieving, too, lest we forget her dead cripple husband (she certainly tries to). But instead of choosing to bond with Wade over a mutual loss, she goes on a preposterous offensive, admonishing Wade for mourning some ‘old guy she wasn’t even related to.’
Would anyone—really, anyone—ever, ever say this to someone? Especially to someone who has, in fact, just watched her friend die at her feet? The realistic answer is every so sadly “yes, there are really people like that in the world.” But let’s back up, take ourselves out of the Show. We’re introducing a new character. Someone who’s important enough to get their name in the credits. It’s clear we’re supposed to like Maggie— at least the 18-34 demographic is, if you’re measuring it in the amount of hideous Wurher cleavage we’re “treated” to. And I know you’re trying to reconfigure the show to have more sex appeal now that there isn’t an old fat man getting in the way. But you can’t expect anyone, tits or no, to give a shit about someone who takes every opportunity to insult a character we truly care about and love just because she’s grieving.
Wade bemoans to Rembrandt that she’s worried that she’s losing him and Quinn to Maggie. While at first glace that seems like a case of the ‘maybe too soons’ (and do you enjoy how I’m going to slyly skewer the long-held fan notions about these episodes?), it’s not so much out of nowhere. If we’re to assume that Quinn and Maggie are still sharing a tenth of the awkward sexual ‘tension’ that they had in “The Exodus, pt. II,” then I’m sure it’s really painful to watch. As for Rembrandt, he should take every opportunity to put Maggie in her place. Sure, he gets off a line about how there’s more to sliding than a ‘military mindset,’ but more less, Rembrandt just stands around and lets Wade freak the fuck out.
And I really mean it when I say she freaks the fuck out. Like, it’s uncomfortable. The camera just hangs on Wade as she snaps, convulsing in her revulsion to what her life has become. It’s awful! It’s so far from what we’ve seen from her on the show. And unlike Season Two, where all of her ‘emotions’ and ‘feelings’ towards the group came off as out-of-place and shrewy, here it’s earned and understandable.
But then all this emotion and harrowing grief is coming in the middle of an episode that we supposedly tuned into to see Zombies and fake breasts in a tanktop. But most of the episode’s runtime is devoted to anything but Maggie. Even the Zombies never really turn up that often (which is a good thing, given the budget for that sort of thing/the fact that the Zombies look ridiculous). This episode’s reputation overshadows the show within.
There’s a huge theme underlying this episode, so much so that it’s barely even ‘underlying’— strength and weakness. The ways we define the relationship between the two, and how they figure into our lives. What is strength? What makes someone strong? By what criteria do you judge strength? Is it even important to hold yourself to that criteria? How are the people we meet in the episode defined by their strength? is the defining aspect of the world they visit the fact that these people lacked the intellectual strength to realize their own doom was imminent? What does it mean that the titular sole survivors, Debra the Immune, and Doctor Mole-Face, prove themselves to be very weak of mind and countenance? Is treating the multiverse as a black and white dichotomy between ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ the best way to view the world?
It isn’t, for the sliders. But the obsession with ‘strength’ is our gateway into getting to know our new slider.
Like I said, or if I didn’t, let me again say that this episode does a terrific job of cratering any sort of ability we have as an audience to like Maggie at all. Even if you hated Wade, she’s still doing a terrible job of oh, so many things. Like, enunciating her sentences correctly. Of reminding us that they actually have, like, a mission now. They’re supposed to find this dude Rickman, right? IS ROGER DALTREY A ZOMBIE? I don’t know. I don’t care. I guess Maggie doesn’t care either? But whatever.
Still— we’re seeing something truly new here. Which is why, in spite of Maggie being the Worst Person Ever, this episode is one of the best and most radical. Because this is her first time on an extended slide with the group. The actions we take for granted, she wants to know why they happen. She’s the outsider, around to finally ask “what’s with the almanac thing?”
But here’s the crucial difference, and one of the reasons why Maggie doesn’t work well with the sliders. For her, Sliding’s always been a job, a profession, a mission. Her first slide was a military scouting mission under extreme duress. Her sliding is still a mission, under no less extreme duress, though that duress is all off-screen. Everything in Maggie’s life now is a threat to her. She has to be strong, or at least to try to convince herself and everyone in the known universe that she is.
But she isn’t strong, is she? She tells Quinn that she hated her husband for being such a weakling in the face of his paralysis. She was disgusted by his ‘weakness.’ But surely his despair was because he knew exactly what Maggie was thinking— that he could no longer be a “strong” person to her. He would never again be her equal, if he ever could before. But her failing to understand that— to understand her husband, in his moment of crisis— is a total act of weakness. As a human being.
And that’s the difference between the way the sliders and Maggie treat the “strength/weakness” dichotomy. Strength and Weakness to the team isn’t defined by “toughness” and other jock-friendly terms. Their lives are based on the bond between them. Their friendship is their strength— not their prowess with weaponry.
All of this brings up a crucial necessity to the sliding life that we haven’t had to think about before. The need for the sliders to be so close to each other, to be each others’ strength, that is the quintessential need of Interdimensional Travel. They’re lost to the multiverse, they have no home outside of each other. You can’t rely on only yourself and expect to survive. If Maggie has any chance of ingratiating herself into this group, this is the lesson she’s going to have to learn.
That, and to put some clothes on, please.
But her ‘strength’ has its uses. Quinn, to the freak-out of Wade and the “Darn It” attitude of Rembrandt, takes Maggie with him when he goes to try to cure himself of Zombiism. Maggie thinks he takes her because of a mix of her “military mindset” and maybe the chance that she’ll get to like, kiss him goodbye or something. But Quinn spells it out when his tongue isn’t as swollen, and tells her (and us) that he took her with him because he knows that Wade or Rembrandt wouldn’t have the heart to shoot him in the fucking face if he goes full Zombie.
Which is some rough stuff! But it’s also super astute of Quinn to (correctly) judge that. It’s the first mark of a ‘leader’ that we’ve ever seen in him. Maggie’s even a little taken aback by it. The revelation adds another layer of depth to an episode that has no right to be deeper than a Puddle in Arizona on a Mid-Summer’s Day.
So what’s ostensibly the big “Zombie” episode reveals itself to be a strangely emotional journey through a bottomed-out heart. It’s pretty satisfying in that regard. Which isn’t to say that the Zombie Menace isn’t slouching. It’s surprisingly effective (and sure, occasionally jump-worthy), especially coming from a show where the last foray into “horror” was something of a disaster.
Sure, it’s imperfect. The cave set shows up for absolutely no reason (is there ever a reason at this point?). The actual ‘humans’ in this alt-world are so ridiculously stupid I am surprised they weren’t just straight up eaten in two seconds. Sliders is apparently now contractually obligated to pad out every single episode with at least one extra ‘capture/rescue’ sequence.
Also, I think we can safely say that the bookend world we are all dying to hear about is the one that tied Quinn to a cross. While wearing a leather jacket, no less! I can’t believe we’re denied that image!
Oh well, I guess we’ll have to be satisfied by mentally photoshopping Quinn’s face onto this:
Next week: A bad case of the Haints, and the true beginning of bad Sliding puns (The Other Slide of Darkness).