“Did you think this thing would just run forever?”
No, but we wanted it to.
Isn’t that the nature of a fandom? Especially a fandom that exists after a franchise’s heyday. When we go deep (and if you somehow aren’t a huge Sliders fan and reading this, then damn do we go deep), we can reach a state where we can still pretend the show will go on forever, that the journey will never end. That’s why we have fanfiction— though of course, of all the shows ever made, Sliders is a contender for “easiest to fanfic” ever. Cleavant Derricks knows this too— I’m jumping ahead of myself (but not by much), but he was a vocal proponent of the idea that the slide would never end.
But we know this is ending. Sliders is dying, and this blog is its funeral. I’m not sorry about that, I am excited for that. But what’s surprising me is how sad it makes me. Anyone who has read this for the entire ride can tell that getting through Season Four was an awful slog that tested me, and nearly broke me. But I persevered, and it was with open arms that I welcomed the brutal change that beheld Season Five.
The best part about this was that Season Five is not The Great Disappointment that most hold it to be. Sure, it’s weak at times. But when it’s on, it’s on. “Applied Physics” and “The Return of Maggie Beckett” can hold a candle, if not more, to “World Killer,” the only other latter-day masterpiece. Tembi Locke is a no-show (except for in “Applied Physics,” where she shines as Didi, which makes me wonder about how much of Diana’s character is a choice— not that the writers give her much to work with in the first place), but Robert Floyd is marvelous. He’s not a scene-stealer— he’s too gracious for that. Instead he proves himself, week after week, that he can play the charlatan with a heart of smudged gold. The only reason the “Merged Quinns” plot worked was because Floyd sold the shit out of it. And the only reason it’s not a disaster that the show has completely dropped the “Merged Quinns” plot is because Floyd sells the shit out of every other scene he’s given. But amidst all this, there’s still a nagging problem. Maggie gets episodes left and right. Diana I guess got “A Thousand Deaths,” and Mallory gets episodes all the time. But through all of this, there’s still one person who, somehow, has been ignored.
If I had a nickel for every time I asked “Who Is Rembrandt?” I’d be rich. How is he doing? Is he okay? What is he feeling? We don’t really know. And we still don’t. “Heavy Metal” has almost nothing to do with Rembrandt Brown. It’s technically another Maggie-centric episode. But there’s one exchange in particular that defines almost everything about Rembrandt as he is now— how he acts, how he sees the world, how he relates to the characters. Where earlier episodes would have shoehorned an emotional scene like this out of nowhere, this scene has almost no effect on the plot whatsoever. This, of course, makes it the best scene in the episode.
The sliders have joined up with pirates (the reasons for this I will explain later) and need to escape in order to slide. Maggie has clearly become mildly (later really rather) smitten with the lead pirate, Paxton. The pirates take the sliders on a raid with them, giving our team enough of a distraction to escape. But Maggie sees the pirates being bested by the Coast Guard, and despite the teams pleas, goes back to help them.
She bungles their escape. Which is fine— this happens all the time. But the scene where they discuss this bungle is where the gold is. The others denounce Maggie, they’re upset— and rightly so, since it’s unclear when they’ll get another attempt to escape. Maggie turns to Rembrandt for backup.
And he refuses to give it.
He doesn’t admonish Maggie, he doesn’t yell. He tells the others to calm down and says “Maggie made a judgement call, we live with it, and we move on.” Maggie asks if he thinks she blew it, and he says “it doesn’t matter.”
This is all fine, run of the mill Sliders, usually. But it’s the way it’s delivered. Rembrandt knows how the team works. He’s been silent this whole season because he’s let these rookies figure it out, but there’s still some things they aren’t used to. It’s the realist end of the “you wanna slide, it’s the only way to survive” mentality. “We’ll find another way out.” Even Maggie can’t really hear those words, and she’s been sliding longer than Mallory and Diana combined.
It’s the weary, blank expression Remmy has when he quietly calls Maggie out— which he doesn’t, actually— it’s Maggie who says “you think I blew the call too,” to which Rembrandt says nothing. He doesn’t need to. The entire scene is a fount of deep character moments that whiz by if you aren’t expecting them. And at this point, why should you? After the last three weeks of episodes, I would be surprised if you did expect emotional plot beats.
But then, if we paid attention to who was writing the thing, then maybe we’d think differently. Once again, Chris Black writes another banger of an episode. It is by far his weakest contribution thus far, but that seems like it was completely out of his hands. It’s not the story or the emotional beats that suffer, it’s that age-old enemy of “tone mishmash” and “this show has no money” that continues to plague Sliders. Quote resident Satan, Keith Damron:
Another issue that Chris wanted to tackle was the evolution of piracy and how it exists today. Which, unknown to the masses at large, is still alive and well. Modern day pirates continue to sail the seas in search of loot and prey and it was Chris’ intent to do a serious piece on these contemporary scallywags.
The best laid plans of mice and TV writers.
Actually it was great fun. There was, however, a definite difference of opinion between the director’s vision and that of the writer where the pirates were concerned. Chris had written something with a more serious tone, preferring to avoid the 18th/19th century piratic motifs in favor of a look at more modern sea faring scoundrels. His vision was less Pirates of the Caribbean, more really bad guys with a really big boat. In execution the episode was actually the reverse, replete with bandana clad, scurvy-looking, cutlass toting ruffians. Although it worked in the long run, the final look of the show was more caricature than character.
Read that last line again: “more caricature than character.” You could lay the entire shit-ethos of Sliders right there. Reading Damron’s “Year 5 Journal” is the most irritating exercise in “what-ifs” a Sliders fan can take. I am always shocked at how much better the “cast-aside” ideas seem than the episodes we see on screen.
But that really doesn’t matter. Read between the lines of that Damron quote. Chris Black had an idea, and sat back and watched as that idea got fucked. That’s the horror of screenwriters everywhere. Chris Black at least has the fortune to also be a producer, so he could at least attempt a little damage control. But those paragraphs are swathed in frustration. “Chris had written something with a more serious tone,” and we go shoot some bullshit swashbuckling in the backlot. Can you imagine what Michael Reaves thought of “Requiem?” (Actually you don’t have to— he’s talked about it, and he hates it.)
So we have what is almost another late-era classic for Sliders, ruined again by crap production decisions. But really, we can expect those at this point. It is a given that the show will have to use the backlot, and it is a given that almost no attempt will be made to hide that fact. I would say it is charming how Damron tries to make the clearly-visible tour tram lines seem “charming,” but it’s just dumb. So let’s ignore the choice of costume for the pirates. Let’s ignore the choice of Cabot Cove for the “exciting shooting scene.” This episode is about something, and that something is really quite interesting.
On this world, Aluminum doesn’t exist. The fact that the handwave that Diana gives this change isn’t preposterous is a feat in and of itself. But the ramifications of this are also inspiring— that change in history leads to an entire world of difference. There’s no aviation here. Trade still exists by sea. The sliders encounter only a tiny part of this system of economy, but it’s easy to imagine an entire world around what takes place in “Heavy Metal.” That is so far removed from the excuses for Alternate History we’ve become accustomed to on this show.
Remember that this show is about Parallel Dimensions. What have we seen that actually has anything to do with that this season? Like, really about it? Huh, “Applied Physics,” basically. That’s the last time that the driving force behind the action was “parallel dimensions.” So it’s extremely refreshing to encounter an episode that actually has anything to do with the premise of the show. It proves that yes, maybe there is something to this show. Chris Black is the only person working on this show who realizes this. That this episode would be wrenched away from him and turned into boring action crap is all the more frustrating.
It fits that an episode that actually deals with parallel universes would also deal so heavily with sliding itself. I don’t mean “what sliding means” or “what it does to a person,” but “how it works.” Probably the best moment Diana has ever had on this show is the moment where she tells Rembrandt and Maggie that the Timer is running out of batteries and says “did you think this thing would just run forever?” Well, yes, we did— we haven’t been asked to think otherwise before. That line winks to the fans as well as to the team. It makes for a bit of plotting that drives the (background) action of the episode that has the potential to lead into more stories. Now the Timer is running out of juice— that’s going to matter, and it’s going to matter soon.
I’ve spent 1500 words ignoring what this episode is really about. It’s about Maggie, and it’s about checking up with her in a Post-Steven, Post-The General, and now Post-Quinn life. This episode pulls on the one sort-of interesting thread from “A Thousand Deaths,” namely the moment where Remmy and Mallory tease a clearly jealous Maggie with the “guy games” they’re going to play. A part of Maggie misses the dangerous life she lived pre-sliding. Which is strange, in a way— how could Sliding be less thrilling than being a fighter pilot and also being mean and hating your crippled husband and having sex with demented brain sucking inexplicably british generals?
Okay, fine. But what’s really going on here is that Maggie, now having stability in her emotional life, wants it in her actual life. This is a difficult thing to show on a program that actively hates continuity. And so fine, “Heavy Metal” chooses to show this ‘yearning for stability’ with sex. But what’s weirder? The fact that Maggie would have sex with a pirate she’s just met? Or the fact that it’s more believable than any of the “I Love Quinn” moments we’ve been forced to endure on this show? Paxton represents a part of Maggie’s life she’s left behind. He also represents a less intense form of freedom. Yes, sure, sliding is freedom, but the fact that your entire world changes in the blink of an eye on a weekly basis is also a prison. There’s no anchor. Piracy, a stand in for freewheeling bohemia, offers the freedom sliding does, while still being grounded in one world. Maggie, understandably, is tired of the lack of an anchor.
And remember, Maggie’s home world doesn’t even exist anymore. Rembrandt at least, has the whole “liberate Earth Prime” thing going for him (I guess), but Maggie doesn’t even have that. She has no Home. The closest thing she’s had to a Home since then was the bubble universe from “Roads Taken,” which also doesn’t exist, despite a lifetime’s worth of memories that tell the contrary. So no, I do not find it hard to believe that she would be enticed by someone who represents a way she could have the best of both worlds. I don’t even think Maggie really imagines that she’d “stay” with Paxton “forever.” But there’s a freedom to this world she can’t ignore.
But all things must end.
Maggie realizes that what she holds more dear are a set of morals that Paxton just isn’t ready to embrace. So the team walks away, not into the sunset, but up a dark and windy will. It’s a deft choice— watching the sliders recede from this adventure. They are not in control of the journey anymore. The timer doesn’t work— it is dying. So, too, is this show. The end is in sight, and there is nothing they can do about it. This is an episode where we don’t see anyone sliding. But we don’t need to. We don’t need to, and soon, we won’t get to anymore. Season Five has been one long dusk in the day of Sliders, and now the day is done.
Next time: sliding puns sliding puns living crystals crazy scarabs WHAT (To Catch A Slider)
|Previous: Absolute Realism (A Thousand Deaths).||Next: I Prefer Beige (To Catch A Slider).|