Utopia— “No Place.”
That’s as good a place as any to start. There’s really no way into this episode. Like most of what happened in it, it doesn’t exist. Nothing actually happened. Nobody remembers the events that took place. At least in “Virtual Slide,” everyone remembered what happened. Here they wake up, a little hungry, and just think they took a nap. So the episode doesn’t exist. Which, honestly, is fine— it’s not very good.
But there’s a lot of strange moments that you can almost hang on to. Theories to hang a hat on. But it’s so far from inviting. Sometimes, sure, great things keep you at arms length. Ulysses. Burroughs. Gravity’s Rainbow. Yet that’s the rub— comparing “Data World” to those is actively insulting. This is, yet again, another shit heap of an episode. It fails.
I can’t even say that it fails on what it’s trying to do/say, because I honestly couldn’t tell you what it’s trying to do. I guess it’s another fear of the internet episode. But “Net Worth” already did that, and (embarrassingly) did it better. It’s The Matrix, I guess. But before The Matrix, so I guess it’s just a rip off of whatever The Matrix ripped off. It’s just not original. None of the ‘plotting’ is original. Rarely has Sliders ever really done something completely original to science fiction. And, y’know, that’s not really a complaint. That’s fine. It’s completely fair for one thing to try an existing idea and put their spin on it. Actually, that’s what basically every piece of fiction ever is. So I’m not going to harp on “Data World” for being unoriginal.
The fact of the matter is that it just isn’t quite as bad as some of the show’s recent outings. It just isn’t very good, either. And I can’t even really slot it in to any of the themes that I’ve been tackling on this blog— there’s no extreme nihilism or soul-crushing. There’s no Kromaggs. There’s just… nothing. In a way, you could argue that the whole “you can never leave, and it doesn’t exist” thing is an odd parallel of where we are in this show now. It works in parallel with how boring the episode is, too. This show is boring, you can’t escape it, it doesn’t exist.
It’s an unfortunate accident to have the audience’s reaction to the episode be the same as the character’s— “I don’t remember what just happened to me.”
Look, we started with Utopia. Pretty much the only interesting thing that happens in this episode is Chandler’s talk about Utopia, and his goals for Utopia, and how the definition of Utopia is a “no place.” Obviously, Chandler is a villan. He is written as a cartoon, he’s a moustache twirler, he’s obvious. But it’s still interesting that the source of his villainy comes from nothing more than a misreading of a word. A misreading taken to a ridiculous extreme— the “no place” as a literal thing.
This, if you bother to think about it, is a slightly prescient bit of anti-internet thinking. There’s a fear humming in the grumpier circles the more we load our lives into the cloud. What happens to our belongings? Our lives? It’s so easy to upload everything— the data that makes up our personalities. But it’s also just as easy to delete them. Our entire beings, lost to the ether.
Sure, that’s scary. For me, the most unsettling part of “Data World” is that Archibald Chandler doesn’t exist in reality anymore. That he would choose, willingly, to erase his physical self from the Real World out of belief in his non-world is endlessly fascinating. But what’s done with it? It doesn’t even really raise the stakes of the episode. He sends weird barbarians to fight the sliders, plays a game of chess with Quinn, and then dies. He doesn’t rage against his deletion, he sips a cup of tea and says “well played.”
Oh, wait, that’s not what happens— he’s actually murdered by the Sliders. I mean, that’s what it is, isn’t it? They know he doesn’t exist outside of Data World, they appear to fully have the choice to keep him existing. There’s barely a moment of thought, and they push the button. I’m not asking for much, I’m only asking for a moment’s hesitation. What happened to the conflicted look on Quinn’s face as he accidentally unplugged the Kromagg’s windpipe in “Mother & Child?”
No, they casually murder a dude because he wouldn’t let Maggie wear blue eye shadow.
“Data World” isn’t satisfied with being merely boring. There’s still a lot that rankles, that gets under the skin, that bothers. Part of it is Maggie, certainly. Her constant whining about blue eye shadow makes no sense, given her character. Neither does her sudden affinity for clothes. And then of course, there’s the ridiculous part where she giggles maniacally next to a punk rock midget while Quinn and Colin swordfight.
Camp, of course, is no stranger to Sliders. But so often it comes out of nowhere, out of place. An instant shift from “The Ark In Space” to “The Horns of Nimon.” Or, if that’s too obscure, a shift from “Good” to “Bad.” It’s just frustrating. Of course it is! This whole season is frustrating. It’s frustrating having this episode come right after “Slide by Wire,” which itself was a surprise coming right after “Net Worth.” The pendulum swings with such extremities on this show it’s almost not even worth bothering anymore.
I’ve been saying that for weeks. I’m getting sick of it. So I’ll wrap whatever this is (and yes, it is very difficult to try to write something coherent about such boring drivel) up and talk about what’s good. Is there anything good here?
Sure! For starters, there are brief attempts at body horror. Rembrandt, upon realizing that no public singing is allowed, starts to sing, and Chandler pixellates his voice. It’s played well, and serves up just about the only bit of tension in the episode. It’s not the worry that Rembrandt won’t get his voice back. It’s the realization that anything is possible here, that anything could happen to them, that their bodies are not their own anymore. Of course, this isn’t really dealt with. Instead of Chandler just deleting all of them, he decides to break his own rules and sends bizarre barbarians to cause complete chaos through the hotel.
But even then, there’s a little bit of horror in that. The bartender who is transformed into the barbarian shows abject terror to Chandler. It raises an interesting question— are these programs? Or people? Why would either show such fear at being briefly changed into a barbarian? Of course, this isn’t really dealt with.
And of course, there’s Archibald Chandler himself.
To use this character as our gateway into the ‘evils’ of Data World is an interesting one. It could, of course, have been anyone. It didn’t have to be the Archibald Chandler, the guy who started the Chandler Hotel. That’s a character who we never thought of before. We don’t watch “The Alternateville Horror” and say “y’know, I love this episode, but man, who’s the guy who started this hotel?” It’s assumed that there was a dude named Chandler, and he opened a hotel (though I guess “The Alternateville Horror” would have you believe that Holly started it. So I don’t know).
But it’s interesting to meet this person here, now, at all. Why bother? And, for that matter, why bother to make him a cartoony villan? You know what would be much more interesting? If they met Chandler tons of times, if he’d been a recurring double like Pay-Vell or Calhoun, or fucking Bennish. Then you drop “Data World,” and you can add some pathos, some moral uncertainty into the equation. Here, Chandler’s a villan— as much as I dislike the Sliders’ lack of hesitation at murder, it’s not like Chandler was showing any chance of redemption.
The Chandler, like it or not, is another character on this show. We’ve spent so much fucking time in it now that it’s impossible not to read it as one. The idea that The Chandler is a vessel of evil is an interesting, and an unsettling, notion. But it isn’t played with enough here. Archibald Chandler isn’t used as well as he could have been. And it’s not even a matter of the episode trying and missing the mark. It’s just yet another example of the episode not even bothering and accidentally making me think.
It’s not enough to fill me with despair, but it’s not exactly heartening, either.
Next Week: The good, the ‘magg, and the wealthy (Way Out West).
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