what is this about?
Oh, sure. It’s easy to answer that question:
the sliders are trapped in an interdimensional prison occupied by warring factions of Kromaggs and Humans, with the sliders trapped in the middle.
But what is it really about? Is it about the ongoing “Kromagg Arc”? Is it more like this:
Quinn and Colin find out they can travel home only to find that their super-human parents invented a Slidecage that keeps Interdimensional Travelers out of it— preventing the Kromaggs from getting back to the Home World, but also preventing any Humans as well.
You’d be basically right in saying that. There were times when I thought it was simply this:
But there’s friction in that, too. As much as Rembrandt is visibly moved by Kolitar’s fatherly embrace of Jules, we still have to deal with the tone-deaf dynamic between Quinn & Colin.There’s moving things at work with Rembrandt’s subplot, but still, I can’t shake the question from rattling around my dead-eyed stare:
What is this about?
The fact is, I don’t know. I can’t tell. For some reason, there’s something missing from this episode that makes the pieces not quite stick together. Which is a shame, because (as you know) I’m all about watching scripts by Marc Scott Zicree.
“O Brother, Where Art Thou” might not have been perfect, but it had work to do, and it did that work just fine. It held together with the glue of Colin, who gave the episode the benefit of “we don’t know who this guy is.”
I guess one of the problems is that we still kind of don’t know who that guy is. And, y’know, kudos to this episode for giving him a couple of scenes that at least gesture to something as vague as what kind of person he is. Because really, so far we know he’s a ‘bumpkin,’ and he’s got a desire to learn, and he is easily convinced that people really say the word ‘bro’ every other word.
So here we’re granted a couple of scenes where Colin lays down some of his experiences, and his feelings about humanity. All that good stuff. By which I mean, all that good stuff that we definitely should know already and know without an episode having to ham-fist scenes solely devoted to Colin telling a story that has nothing to do with what’s going on around him.
I guess that’s not exactly true. One of the definite plusses of the episode is the scene where Quinn sits dejectedly, whining about Maggie’s “death.” The scene looks like it’s set to fall completely flat— after all, the last time someone died on his watch, it was devastating. Here he just looks tired. It looks, for all intents and purposes, that Jerry O’Connell forgot that one of the things about acting is that your character,unlike yourself, hasn’t seen the rest of the script. Jerry here (and you’ll notice I’m not even calling him Quinn) just looks bored, like he’s tapping his foot, waiting for Maggie (who is in character still) to get back.
But Colin interrupts his brother’s whinefest. He recounts his childhood, which, it turns out, wasn’t easy. His foster parents died of Influenza. So much death. So much sickness. It’s a bit of a shock, because Charlie O’Connell actually sells this scene. Because his inability to get a rise out of himself reads as Colin’s total acceptance of his life— and his life has been difficult. We know it was tough— “O, Brother” establishes (and does almost nothing with) the fact that Colin’s an outcast on his world. He’s ostracized because of his intellect. But now we also are reminded that living on an “Amish” world has more trouble to it than just being a nerd (which, honestly, should be exactly the reason Quinn & Colin have any ability to bond). There’s truly hardship in his world.
Colin isn’t a weakling. That’s what we’re learning in this scene. Which is actually a super-important thing to learn about him. Because up until this point, all we’ve seen is weakness. Or not even weakness— we haven’t really seen a character. So this scene is gold. But this scene’s gold is almost a weakness, because it reminds us that we should have gotten a scene like this the first time we met Colin.
And that’s kind of the thing that lets this episode down. Because a good scene is taken down by the dreck around it. To be fair to this episode, the dreck is more spaced out. But there’s enough of it that it undermines any goodwill.
Take, for instance, this total monster. I understand that we’re not supposed to like her. But it’s hard to care about such a one-note character. Sure, her monstrosity gives us a chance to see that Colin has a strong moral compass. But if she’s just a monster, it’s not really that surprising for Colin/anyone to watch her casually throw Maggie into an airlock for giving her lip and be upset by it.
And it’s not only that— I’m willing to accept that life in the Slidecage would lead to people being very hard. And there’s a story to be told in showing how someone could balance having to be so hard and actually leading a shrinking group of people. And that’s where the whole “Maggie Airlock” thing runs into trouble. Because if you’re losing people every day, and three people are thrown into your lap, I’m sorry, but doesn’t it really not matter if they’re a little snippy? Wouldn’t anyone who gets thrown into the Slidecage be a little ornery at first? Would you really just murder them instantly? No, you wouldn’t. You’d smack them around. You’d work them hard, and you’d break them.
Which, frankly, is what a ‘tough’ character needs. There needs to be a soft side. Or if not a soft side, then at least you need a moment where you’re not sure who really to believe. Because really— even Colonel Rickman had a moment where you weren’t exactly sure if he was the cartoonish villan he seemed to be. Of course we know that he was, but that’s besides the point. This character in Slidecage, whose name I’m not even going to bother to look up, is so hideously wrong-headed that she makes the Kromaggs look soft.
So just in case you think I hate this episode (which I don’t), let me talk about what works. And basically, that’s just Kolitar. The time the episode spends with the Kromaggs is far, far more interesting than any ‘human drama.’ Most of it hangs on Kolitar’s terrifying declaration that “a Kromagg brain is a knife,” right before he brainmolests Rembrandt. The silent triumph of “Slidecage” is that is successfully makes the Kromaggs scary again— something that hasn’t been true since “Invasion,” which is a troubling fact when you remember that this entire season is based on the idea that the Kromaggs are terrifying.
And sure, you can argue that it just undermines the terror to see Kolitar so clearly in love with his son. But I would argue that it makes the Kromaggs even scarier. One of the built-in tenets of the Kromagg Terror is that they aren’t aliens, they’re humans. Humans gone bad. So there’s something to be said about Kolitar’s familial emotion. Especially when you compact it with the vast majority of the human characters showing no discernable emotion other than pure rage.
The Slidecage changes you. But it’s changed the Kromaggs for the better. The humans— the people we’re supposed to root for— they’ve devolved. Which would be fine, but I’m not sure that’s really what we’re supposed to take away from this episode.
Still, there’s the quiet moment where Rembrandt watched Jules and Kolitar embrace, and he is clearly moved, but also equally ashamed and confused by that swell of emotion. Which sets us up for actual progress in the ‘arc’ of Rembrandt getting over his captivity. Which, frankly, should be the entire arc of the season. Instead, we’re ‘treated’ with another tag in Leisure World, where Rembrandt is sad that he tried to kill Quinn.
Which is a pointless, irritating scene. After all, Rembrandt was brainwashed when he tried to kill Quinn. When the spell wore off, he clearly had no memory of it. So what the tag implies is that the other sliders told him about his ‘betrayal,’ in a way that still allowed him to feel guilty about it. Which is A) cruel. And B) it denies us the opportunity for a killer scene down the road— imagine if Rembrandt’s revelation about Kromagg Love inspired an about face of feeling in him, only to have it undermined by the revelation that he had been brainwashed into murdering his friend?
Plus, the Leisure World tag is bizarre because it seems like it’s written by someone who didn’t watch the episode. Sure, the line about Rembrandt’s heart being too strong for Kromagg Influence is cute, but it had nothing to do with Rembrandt’s heart. Jules broke the spell. Jules and Jules alone. Rembrandt was powerless. Which is wayyyyy more interesting than a shitty “power of love” message that the episode tries to force down our throats. This episode isn’t really about love. It’s kind of about hate.
That’s what this entire show has become.
Speaking of Leisure World and Hate, there’s something else I need to grind some gears about. I’m willing to grant the show a pass for the teaser, where Maggie is in a bathing suit. They’re in a “Leisure World.” I can understand why she’d be in a bathing suit. It’s almost nice— it shows that these people are friends, because Maggie’s almost naked and they don’t really notice it. But I am less enamored of the outfit they decide to throw her in for the rest of the episode. It’s a sports bra. Just a sports bra.
Look, you guys remember “Just Say Yes.” And you certainly remember my EXTREME ire at the stupidity and casual sexism that surrounds Kari Wuhrer. The problem is that it’s built into the character, and it has been from the get-go. Season 4 has my undying gratitude for diminishing that problem. But it’s not enough, and every step forward leads to twenty steps back. So this week we have to look at Kari in a sports bra for 45 minutes. Which is just so infuriatingly unnecessary. Why would she wear that? Let’s lay it out: she wouldn’t. In no way would she wear that. She’s only wearing it so we can eyefuck her. Which is the reason she was cast in the first place. It’s the reason she replaced Sabrina Lloyd. This show is a sexist boy’s club, and it ‘knows’ what its audience wants.
And it’s to my undying surprise that Kari Wuhrer has proved herself to be capable of rising above the material/role she’s given. But my praise of her can only go so far. If Kari wants to try to rise above the role she’s given, then the show will try to throw her back in her place. “No honey. Don’t act. Just try to touch your elbows behind your back.”
Which makes the end of the episode’s “To Absent Friends” toast even more irritating. Yes, I’ll toast to Absent Friends with you. But not Jules and Thomas. Who gives a fuck about them? I’m toasting to Arturo, who wouldn’t put up with Maggie’s tramping around. I’m toasting to Wade, who wouldn’t have been forced to wear such insulting clothing. As much as the show is trying to turn Maggie into Wade— Maggie being the first person to freak out about being stuck in the Slidecage forever is very Wade-esque— it’ll never work. Because Wade had an innocence about her that would never include running around in a sports bra.
The producers of this show were clearly upset that they could never pull off Wade running around naked. Which is why she got fired. And the more that I’m forced to look at Kari Wuhrer half-naked, the more I’m going to be reminded of that. And the more I’m going to be disgusted with the ridiculous sexual politics that have plagued this show from almost the beginning.
Look I know it’s television in the 90s. But you never saw Gillian Anderson run around in a bikini for an hour. You saw her in a fucking pantsuit. And she looked awesome.
Yet as I can never seem to remember, such sexual equality is far too much to ask of this show.
So, to make this a semi-compliment sandwich, let’s talk about the other interesting part of the episode. Which is the fact that it’s about being trapped in a prison that was designed by Quinn & Colin’s “parents” to keep invaders out. I’m not going to say it makes complete sense. After all, if they could just slide out the Kromaggs, you’d think they had the ability to discern who was who. I don’t know.
Still, though, watching the episode, one kind of gets the feeling that “Kromagg Prime” doesn’t quite exist. It seems like some pillowed utopia we’ll never see. And to be honest, the more we hear about Kromagg Prime, the less I want to see it. Because how could you depict such a futuristic world on this show’s budget? The more we find out about the technology the Mallorys have, the more it seems too good to be true. Microdots? A mastery of Sliding? The ability to shunt people from their dimension? The ability to build a giant fucking prison that’s a billion miles long on a desolate wasteland poison planet?
The fact of the matter is that the more we hear about this world and the people who live in it, the less I believe it’s true. I refuse to believe in this fairyland.
But— and this is important— I don’t think that’s to the show’s detriment. I’m going to pull a “fresh eyes” here and pretend I don’t know the plan for the season. Because the whole “Kromagg Prime is fake” thing is completely backed up by what we’ve seen on television. Quinn’s mom? Pulling a dot out of her arm? The odds of that? The odds of Colin? The fact that Colin acts like he’s not quite human? Man, maybe he isn’t. Maybe the reason Quinn’s dad doesn’t look anything like Tom Butler is because the Kromaggs never met Tom Butler. I DON’T KNOW I’M JUST GUESSING BUT WOULDN’T THAT BE AWESOME? Wouldn’t it be a really huge step on the path to maturity for this stupid show?
Is it possible that Sliders is working on a Long Con here?
Just the simple fact that it’s even possible is exciting. For once, the future is uncertain, and I’m becoming excited again to see what comes next.
And, of course, in all the sound & fury above, I’ve neglected to say what ultimately is the one thing that keeps this episode together: it’s called Slidecage, and has an actual Slidecage in it, and involves a hell of a lot of people saying the word Slidecage over and over.
Man, that’s just cool.
Next Week: Rembrandt’s Big Adventure (Asylum).