What is there to say?
This is definitely an episode of television that has a message. There are issues with the health care system. The poor are left to suffer. The rich have clones grown, and when they need new parts, the clones are there to supply.
Remember in my review of “California Reich,” when I was incensed by that episode’s similarities to the problems of today? There I raged at the irresponsibility of that episode, unfairly perhaps— after all, how could it know how much worse things were going to get? That episode took something that was boiling in popular culture, and made a forced attempt at a ‘message’ episode. Technically, the same thing is happening here. “Cloning!” Dotty the Sheep was all the rage. Just like “Net Worth,” and for that matter, all of Season Three, Sliders proves itself to have no belief in modern science.
It’s strange, isn’t it? That a show ostensibly built around an incredible scientific invention should be so afraid of the future. Shouldn’t this show embrace the possibilities of the human mind? But it doesn’t. It never has. Time and time again, it casts inventors as forces of evil. “Fever.” “Last Days.” “Into The Mystic.” “Invasion.” “Double Cross.” “Electric Twister Acid Test.” “The Dream Masters.” “State of the Art.” “Season’s Greedings.” “Murder Most Foul.” “The Exodus.” “Soul Survivors.” “The Breeder.” “This Slide of Paradise.” “Virtual Slide.” “Just Say Yes.” “California Reich.” “Net Worth.” “Slide By Wire.” “Data World.” All of these episodes cast science as an inherent evil to the world, something that can only corrupt. Sliders poses that humanity without science is a utopia.
But, as “Data World” told us, a utopia is a ‘no-place.’ Sliders’ thesis proves itself false. Before it opens its mouth, it is silenced.
None of this is to say “I condone the use of clones for spare body parts.” Of course I don’t. And no one would. That’s why no one tried it— cloning has taken the turn towards “replacement growth.” They’re trying to grow individual parts. They don’t need the whole body, why would they? That’s preposterous. It’s as preposterous as thinking that even the most hardened of racists would use ‘the blacks’ to create a force of Cyber-Janitors.
That’s the problem with Sliders. It takes the bottom layer of an idea— not even a complete idea, really. Just a headline. And it runs with it. It doesn’t ever actually think of what it’s doing. It doesn’t thinking of the consequences of its own momentum. It just, well, “goes with it.” And so we’re left with hours like “My Brother’s Keeper,” which telegraphs itself so fucking loudly as a ‘message’ episode, but ends up being perhaps the most boring hour of the show I’ve ever watched.
But why? I guess it’s the lack of care, of attention to anything, let alone detail. Charlie O’Connell is terrible. Kari Wuhrer is terrible. Jerry O’Connell has too much to do, and doesn’t really sell any of his three roles (which is triply disappointing— the final scene with three Quinns should be amazing, a tour-de-force. But it barely registers). For some reason, Cleavant Derricks is mostly absent from the entire episode. He only shows up to quip about the ambulance he steals.
Which, while I’m there, is as good a nit to pick as any. One of the most bewildering parts of the episode is the dynamic between the characters. From moment one, they immediately make reference to the fact that so often they have to run from something. When Quinn is taken by the clonepolice (oh hang me now), Maggie instantly, but in a bizarrely detached way, begins laying out the ‘usual battle plan.’ No one questions her. It’s just what life is. It’s even more of a military operation than it was when they were hunting Rickman.
Which isn’t infuriating. It’s not like I can actually shout that it isn’t realistic characterization. It is. This is their life. And it’s sad. These people live a sad life. Every week they enter a world, destabilize it, and are forced to run for their lives from it. It’s not fun to watch (it hasn’t been for years). It can’t be fun to live. The strange thing about this episode is that, for the first time, we’re forced to think not about what kind of show we want to watch, but what kind of show this is for the characters. And it’s upsetting. It’s not meant to be so. Like I said, Maggie isn’t bitter when she lays out the battle plan. It’s just business as usual.
But it shouldn’t be. The show should be about the celebration of science. But instead its about four broken people running from everything. Homeless and alone, divorced from any sense of reality. It’s tragic. This show is tragic. These people are tragic. I want their story to end so I can forget about them, forget their terrible lives, forget all the pain they feel, if they can even feel anymore.
But then, why do these revelations (ha) come from this episode? This boring, inane, plodding hour? I don’t know. They had to someday. They had to cross a line between normal humans and broken pieces of human junk. They had to. Just like they had to make a ‘cloning’ episode. Just like they had to take on ‘health care.’
Which I guess I should follow up on. The brief (and I mean brief) section of the episode where a one-handed ‘poor person’ monologues to a horrified Maggie about the ‘horrors’ of the health care system, I mean. Because you know what? Fuck you. This is offensive. I guess it would have been less offensive in 1998. But at a certain point, does it matter? Sliders can only be watched in its current light— either as a rerun on The Hub or on Netflix, and maybe on a DVD. It’s almost impossible to think of the show in the light it originally aired in. And why should it? They barely thought of it when they were actually making it. Sliders wasn’t a show (at least not by Season Four) that was intended to be thought of past its airdate.
And so we have some frankly insulting F-Plot about how anyone who can’t afford health care is forced to sell their body parts to stay alive. Which, I’m sorry, if you live in America and don’t own three cars, then you know exactly what that’s like. This morning my side hurt and I was terrified I had appendicitis because if I did, that kind of surgery would basically end my life. I’d be in debt forever. And I live one of the most relatively privileged lives ever. I’m writing a blog about Sliders, for fuck’s sake. But I still live in fear of illness and violence because I don’t have a clone waiting to repair my ills.
So for Sliders to make this idea a complete afterthought is insulting to a real plight— a plight that existed in 1998. But one that exists horribly now, that ruins lives everyday. That will continue to ruin lives. And what does Maggie do? Nothing— she leaves, scene over. Where’s the impassioned speech? Where’s the last act where they overthrow the government?
It’s nowhere. This is Sliders in 1998, not Sliders in 1995. The days of overthrowing the government are gone. Oh, sure, they ‘stop’ the ‘evils’ of ‘cloning,’ and teach Michael Mallory a lesson about ‘ethics.’ But that’s fucking stupid. Cloning isn’t the problem— it’s a problem, but it’s not the biggest problem. The problem is the people stuck in The Chandler, suffering for no reason. But, no. We don’t deal with them. We deal with Quinn’s asshole dad.
About which— what? Who is this supposed to be? I’m actually asking— is this supposed to be a dude recasting Tom Butler? Because fuck that, Tom Butler rules. Are we supposed to believe that Quinn’s actual parents aren’t actually Tom Butler and Linda Henning? Because that makes no sense— we’ve met doubles of them plenty of times, and they all recognized Quinn as their son. So is this just lazy casting? A mistake? It’s stupid. I don’t like this guy at all.
But that’s the problem of the episode, isn’t it? This is actually the first time we’ve met this dude in the flesh, double or no. And he’s a monster. But this is Quinn meeting his ‘real’ dad in the flesh for the first time. But he’s an asshole. No one cared to remember. Or he’s supposed to be Tom Butler recast. I don’t know. No one does. No one cares. Why would they, this guy is an asshole.
But it’s not like that’s different than any other time we’ve dealt with him. The first time we see him he’s giving away his children to strangers. He commits slow-burning-genocide. He invents a dingy prison for interdimensional travelers that traps far more innocents than not. He’s a monster.
Because he’s a scientist.
And that’s really what we’re left with by the end of this. Once again, Sliders tells us not to bother. Why do we watch a show that tells us to give up? This show is destructive to our very being. Fuck the characters, it’s gotten to the point where watching it is depressing for the audience, and no one seems to realize it.
There are three episodes left of this season. One that started with so much promise. How much worse can it get?
Next Week: flow my tears, the producers say (The Chasm).
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