Watch the teaser to “The King is Back.”
What do you think that episode is going to be about? Forget that it’s actually a romp about Rembrandt’s biggest dream coming true. You would think that the episode is going to be about Quinn in prison. There’s no indication that it would be about Rembrandt at all. Same thing with “Summer of Love.” That episode, it turns out, is not about Spiderwasps.
This is one of the huge differences between earlier seasons and now. Showing worlds that aren’t really a part of the main adventure. Stories that existed next to the main adventure. It was a good tactic— showing how deep this show’s concept was, while making it seem like the adventure really was more involved. It involved us. Sure, from a television standpoint, it was a little cheap— get us excited about one plot, and resolve it in seconds and move on. But it was good. Those teasers were nothing but a force of good for the show.
I say this because while this week’s teaser is in theory a return to this form of plotting, it is also a case of ‘taking it too far.’ Because the one episode we all kind of had in the back of our minds is the one episode we also never expected to see— what if they were trapped in the vortex?
Think about it. Of all the things that are over explained on this show, the actual mode of transportation is certainly not one of them. Remember that the Helix Spiral is something that we gleaned from deleted scenes— the exposition that explains how the timer works was cut from the show. These people (whoever they happen to be) simply trust that jumping into a spinning wheel of energy that leads to a twisty winding psychedelic vortex is completely safe.
I am completely satisfied with the show’s sudden decision to make the Timer an object of concern. I know I quoted it three times last week, but Diana’s “did you think this thing would just run forever” is maybe the best line of the series since anything Quinn said in World Killer. Think about it (I know I am asking so much of you today)— this is the most fantastical object the show has, and we ask it no questions. That’s like showing a Cave Man a television, and the Cave Man glancing at your Keds, shrugging, and walking away.
So here we have the answer to the question of “will this thing run forever.” The answer is “no.”
The other answer is “and when it craps out, it will leave you stranded in the Vortex.”
So believe me when I tell you that this episode’s teaser, or at least the cliffhanger, is mind-blowing. The team is still in the Vortex. So many questions— are they floating? Are they standing on a wormhole? These are the questions I’ve wanted to be answered for years. Not since “The Unstuck Man” has the vortex been so untrustworthy. Colin exploded in there. I would be terrified.
But, of course, this is Sliders. We can’t have nice things.
We come back from the opening credits. And they’ve somehow escaped the vortex. Is it even worth bothering to ask “how?” Maybe not. We certainly should have known better. So let’s raise our glass to the trippiest episode of Sliders, the one where they spent 40 minutes wandering through a psychedelic dreamscape, learning finally what the journey was all about. And pour out that glass, as this episode never existed. For this, as always, we have fanfiction.
Really, though, the teaser is a surprisingly adequate bookend for this adventure— it contains a ridiculously stupid detour into sexism. “OH MY GOD WOMEN LOVE SHOES SO MUCH.” There are two reasons this is stupid— one is because that is stupid, and anytime anyone gets into the ‘aren’t women crazy for shopping so much’ arena, my eyes glaze over and I change the channel. We’ve been over this— that is sexist bullshit. The other reason this is stupid is that Rembrandt is saying this! How many times has Rembrandt whined “my shoes” or “my car” or “my suit” on this show. SO MANY TIMES. What the hell was he doing directly prior to “Double Cross?” Shoe shopping. So come on Rembrandt.
This ties in perfectly with the end, where it is ‘revealed’ that the “super hot babe” Mallory probably had sex with was “actually a man all along.” This ‘revelation’ is, of course, played for laughs. Because yes, transphobia (and let’s be honest, though, they are clearly invoking trans issues here) is inherently hilarious. If you are a fucking pig. I’ve tolerated a lot of crap on this show before— Sliders is not excused for being “a product of its time,” but it certainly goes far in explaining why it so consistently falls flat on its face in regards to women. But here we go deeper, and finally go whole hog and add “Women” and “LGBTQ” to “things that Sliders holds disdain for.” The joke is not funny. I like Mallory’s character. But I won’t if this is the kind of character he is.
In between these two wet farts, though, is a sequel to “Way Out West.” I don’t mean story-wise, of course. I mean that this is an episode where an existing genre of media overpowers Sliders. This is the correct way to do a “genre mashup.” Season Three was full of attempts at genre mashup, but bungled it every time. The correct way for Sliders, it turns out, is to have a fair amount of cheek and winking involved. Because, as in “Way Out West,” the intruding genre takes over every bit of the show. As soon as the characters say “we need to do a heist,” then the episode becomes a heist movie. And a parody of a heist movie, no less.
The fact of the matter is, it works. As a parody of overly complicated self-serious crime movies, it shines. It’s fun! It has a bravado that the show rarely sells these days. The twist of the Marilyn Monroe stand-in being the “other burglar” (as well as the fact that there is another burglar) isn’t one that’s readily visible, which is extra surprising for a show like Sliders to pull off. All of these things are part and parcel of the heist-gone-okay genre. Complications arise and are dealt with. Set pieces abound. This is what the backlot is for.
Season Five, on its good days, has been interesting for showing up the issues that Season Three and Four had (you can even make a case that “A Current Affair” is “Time Again and World” done right). “Applied Physics” is an extended redemptive reading of “Roads Taken.” “Strangers and Comrades” can be read as a critique of Season Four’s cynicism. And here, as with “Easy Slider,” we have an episode that takes the “movie rip-off” era of Sliders and corrects it. After all, even in trash like “Slither” there’s still moments of a decent episode. You just have to look really deep for them. “To Catch A Slider” is someone doing that looking, and making an episode that works to correct the injustices we had to endure in the back half of Season Three.
No, it’s not perfect. The episode the teaser promises is more interesting that the episode that follows it. But here we have a case, once again, of Sliders realizing that it’s about to end, and making one last attempt at answering the question of “was it worth it?”
The answer isn’t quite “yes.” But it isn’t quite “no,” either. Which is a perfectly frustrating epitaph for the series.
“It’s a pillar of fire!”
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