Remember the early days of this season? Back in the day when things were easy?
I had this ‘problem’ I kept talking about. It had to do with tone. So many episodes early on were afflicted with a hideous mashup of tones. And it wasn’t just one part of an episode affected by this. A Camp character would butt against a dramatic role. A serious plot point against mystical nonsense. Which isn’t to say that a mishmash of ideas isn’t what a television show needs. On the contrary— this mishmash is the basis of television, especially science fiction TV.
But it’s rarely worked on Sliders, especially not in Season Three. It’s always belied a deeper trouble with the show. Tracy Tormé was fighting against Peckinpah and FOX for the direction of the show, of what kind of show it we’d get. So we’d have a story about the Union saddled with Living Flame. The Death of the Timer mixed with a mutated scarab. We’d get “Double Cross” replaced with “Rules of the Game.” We’d get “Paradise Lost.”
But Tormé is gone now, followed swiftly by John Rhys-Davies, arguably the two people who were invested in the show for more than just the paychecks. If that means anything, it means that there’s no one left to fight in the name of taste. So there isn’t as much of a poor mix tones now, because the show is now just plain tacky.
We all know that firing John Rhys-Davies was idiotic. But one of the truly idiotic consequences of this is that a significant number of episodes had to be dramatically rewritten. Now, rewrites are always happening on a show, no doubt about it. But those are a lot of cleanup jobs, or making sure the episode fits in with the show, its themes, its plot-arc, etc.
But generally you don’t have to take a pre-existing script and tear it apart because you fired an actor in the middle of a season just because you could. Every episode we’ve seen since “The Exodus, pt. II” has been tampered with to fit Maggie in. That was ‘fine’ in “Sole Survivors”— as repugnant as Maggie is to Wade, the idea that she was there to shoot Quinn in the face is kind of amazing and radical for the show. That worked less last week, where we had to contend with “Rickman,” and Maggie trussed up in the cave set.
And in both of those episodes, we’ve had the ridiculous shades of one of the main reasons for casting Kari Wuhrer: “Sex Appeal.”
I put “Sex Appeal” in quotes for so many reasons. Not because Kari Wurher isn’t ‘attractive’— that’s not the issue, and also the completely wrong way to judge anyone, ever. It’s the portrayal of that ‘sex appeal,’ the use of it. There’s no character reason for it— it’s merely to titillate. It’s there to draw more of the 18-34 demographic that is oh so prized, and that John Rhys-Davies certainly wasn’t attracting (it’s probably even more upsetting to note that this episode actually did win that demographic).
But it also belies a disgusting truth about Season 3. Wade’s getting more marginalized, now that it’s clear the experiment of giving her a ‘sexy’ haircut and putting her in a leather mini-skirt didn’t work. It points to the fact that Sliders only wants women for their sex. The multiverse as seen through The Male Gaze. Which is disgusting. This show should be better than that. People should be better than that. Maggie’s ‘sex appeal’ drives me to fury, and not just because it’s wholly offensive. Every lingering shot of her chest (and there are oh, so many) only seems to completely alienate the part of the audience that used to tune in for thoughtful speculative fiction.
And there’s a sickly desperation to all this ‘sex.’ The camera’s lingering eye is like a beggar. The show is trying ever so hard to convince us that we should masturbate to this. It’s sick. It’s gross. And the fact that Kari’s game for this makes it even more bewilderingly sad. Sliders at this point is still a semi-popular show. Millions of people will watch this. “You want to be a TV star, Kari? OK, put this on.” The fact that this is happening at the same time as Sabrina Lloyd gets pushed to the corner and made fun of just makes it even more upsetting. We can tell what the production team’s priorities are, and they don’t include a talented actress who just happens to not look like a melted Barbie Doll.
You all have been reading this for a long time. You all know that I’m willing to accept a lot of the shit that’s made in the name of Sliders. A part of being a Sliders fan is accepting that your show changes and is a diamond with many sides. But you know what? This episode is the moment when I will say this, and mean it:
This isn’t my show. I don’t want to watch this.
I’ve mentioned before the go-to criticism of Season 3 is that the show becomes parodic schlock “homages” to popular movies. At the time, I debunked that theory. Episodes may be indebted, but only really “Electric Twister Acid Test” could be described as “Sliders does a popular movie.” Even last week, which was bizarrely indebted to “Heart of Darkness,” wasn’t really a ‘rip-off,’ cage scenes non-withstanding. The ‘references’ are getting more brazen, but they’re still just ‘references.’ Until now, of course. What better movie to finally take the plunge into hands-down rip-off territory than “Species.”
Oh, sure, they’ll change a few plot points— instead of an alien, it’s a pancake symbiont, and instead of a shape-shifting alien, it’s a super powerful dick monster that lives in your stomach. But all the important parts are there!
We got a super strong hottie breakin’ hearts and breakin’ arms.
A search for said hottie.
And, of course, breasts:
Some other breasts:
And did I mention breasts?
I half-watched “Species” in ‘preparation’ for watching “The Breeder.” I can safely say that the episode gets the gist of the movie, though I really wish Rembrandt had channeled Forest Whitaker’s character more and went full-on Counselor Troi: “Q-Ball, I sense… anger.” I don’t know, it’s hard to discuss. The movie is… fine. It’s completely a product of its time. And this episode is very plainly bad. It’s inarguable. It’s not good TV. It’s nonsensical. It’s not exciting, unless you really get off on watching people walk around the backlot for 45 minutes.
Except wandering around the backlot for 45 minutes wasn’t exciting when they did in in “State of the Art,” so why should it be exciting now? All of the bad things about this episode would be easily dismissible, were it not for the fact that the bits of the episode that remain from the Pre-Maggie drafts of the script seem like they might have made a pretty good episode.
The basic idea is that on this world, a world far advanced in cryogenics (an early name for the episode was “Cold War”), there’s an overbearing organ donor program. Anyone from the ages 18-25 has a Sick Pog grafted on their arm that beeps when you’re chosen to be a donor. Complications to this nifty idea: it’s mandatory. They’ll call you at any time, and despite any protests you may have, the Nylon Burly Gay Dude Patrol will still kidnap you from your seat.
The last complication is that only the super rich and influential get these organs. They don’t help the poor or otherwise downtrodden. Now, sure, that’s a heavy concept. And sure, it’s full of holes— namely, there would literally have to be a Monarchy or an Empire or Dictatorship to allow this to happen. No 18-25 year old would keep someone in office who tried to pass a law that involved grafting Pogs on their body. I don’t know, maybe the voting age is over 25 here.
But here, look what I’m doing— I’m asking questions. But I’m asking questions because I’m interested, not because I’m enraged. As mildly flimsy as it is, this episode’s dimension is a true harking back to like, a mid-range 2nd season outing. If we had a generic Sliders plot of ‘let’s overthrow the government,’ I think we could all have a wonderful time.
But there isn’t an ‘overthrow the government’ plot. There’s a rip-off of “Species.” Instead of a thoughtful story, we’ve got tits. And this is where that whole ‘tone’ issue comes in again. Because this episode is SO FRUSTRATING. At one point the Doctor helping the Sliders find Maggie makes a phonecall and activates Wade’s Pog. And I’m thinking, “Man, I wish that was what we were worrying about in this episode.”
Because I don’t really care about Maggie spitting a weird Cock-Beast out of her Mouth. I don’t really care about Rembrandt suddenly deciding that Quinn is a racist and giving him a stern lecture about equality while wearing a Proton Pack. I do care about cryogenics, and the sight gag of Frozen Maggie being carried away by Paramedics without a Stretcher is Golden, but I don’t care if temperature is only going to be used to ‘cure’ Maggie and won’t even make sense then. I guess the fact is that I just don’t really care about Maggie.
Which brings us to the only two actual points of interest to the episode. The first is basically proof that I’m right about Quinn Mallory. He isn’t taking his new mantle as ‘leader’ well at all. He can only see the Multiverse through his guilt-tinted glasses, and perceives all around him as directly his fault. He is blindly selfish in his insistence that this is all on him. There’s a heated argument with the group in this episode, but it’s really kind of an argument with himself. It comes out of nowhere, simply because he starts it himself. All that happens is Wade making a simple, grim, and truthful comment:
When I first started sliding, all I saw was adventure. Now all I seem to see is Death.
Yeah, Wade. You’re right. Arturo just died. You’re chasing a man who leaves near-corpses in his wake. Right after that you slid into a world with the living dead. She’s staring at a corpse, which isn’t something that happened very much in the first two years of this adventure. Now it’s gotten to the point where she can look a dead man in the face and not even shed a tear. Could the Free Spirit in “Summer of Love” do the same? Absolutely not. Sliding has made her used to Death. And so she says so.
But Quinn being selfish/a total dick, calls her out for insulting him. “Oh, so this is my fault?” He becomes furious with her for blaming the Death of Arturo and countless numbers on him. Which, as she states, wasn’t what she said. All Quinn is doing is letting everyone know that he feels responsible for all of the Death. Rembrandt, bless him, rightly tells him to shut the fuck up and leave Wade alone, and also that “Um, no, this has nothing to do with you.” Wade tries to convince him that Sliding has done good (which, at times, it has), but Quinn can barely even look at Wade. It spells the end of any sort of friendship between them, since Wade is just a brutal reminder of the people he thinks he’s hurt. Sure, Rembrandt’s around too, but he’s stronger— he doesn’t let it show on his face (“I gotta laugh to keep from crying.”) Wade’s emotions make Quinn tie the noose around his own neck even tighter. “…if I hadn’t invented Sliding” is the key phrase. Quinn chastises himself for his youth, for his inner fire, for his thirst for experience. Inside, he is dying as much as Arturo once was.
The latter point of interest in the episode comes soon after. Quinn remains gung-ho about rescuing Maggie and ripping the dick monster out of her. But Wade and Rembrandt, somewhat shockingly (though totally understandably) are hesitant. The same idea came up in “Fever”— should we risk bringing this plague with us? This time, though, Maggie is the plague. She’s also excess baggage the group is carrying. If they left her there, well… would they really miss her?
It’s a tough thing to bring up. Maggie never ceases to drive wedges between the sliders, whether it’s a sexual one between Quinn and Wade, or an adversarial one between Wade and everyone else. She’s trouble. She is actively ruining their lives. Leaving her behind would be cruel, but it would be a lesser evil to condemn one person if it meant saving countless more. Quinn objects, because that’s abandonment— Maggie doesn’t deserve that, does she?
But the thing about Maggie in this episode (when you ignore all the ‘sex appeal’) is that she actively murders so many people. And for the most part, the Sliders are just like “bummer.” But it’s bizarre. Are they going to tell Maggie about her massacre? Can she remember any of it? Does she still have those goofy-ass reptile eyes? What the hell is the deal with that? Why can she fall off a building and live? How did that pancake put a baby dick monster in her stomach? Is her esophagus totally fucked now?
See that? I’m not asking because I’m interested anymore. Now I’m asking because I’m enraged. The show cannot continues on this trajectory and expect any one other than the basest of humans to remain involved.
Unless that’s exactly who they’re aiming for.
In which case, see you later.
Next Week: I’m going home for a week/vacation thyme! So…
Next next week: TEAM VAN HELSINGER (Stoker).