Let’s first say that the smash-cut from Rembrandt’s face as he recoils in horror at the thought of Miguel-San to a shot of Miguel-San’s door is an absolute slam-dunk of comedic timing. It might be my favorite joke since the toilet-seat in “Love Gods.” Miguel-San as a whole is exactly what Sliders always thought it had been doing the entire time— mixing weird humor with alternate history. This world isn’t perfectly fleshed out, but it doesn’t have to be— it was ravaged by the Kromaggs (in a ‘resource raid,’ something we haven’t heard of before, and something that somehow both deflates their threat and makes them more terrifying at the same time), and now it’s recovering very, very slowly. But something like Miguel-San shows without telling— and of course, Hackett tells Maggie all about the cross-cultural establishments, but that’s just dressing. Miguel-San is already the perfect joke. It’s the kind of joke that allows the show to get away with “war-torn worlds,” which is already sort of becoming a go-to.
But who cares about Miguel-San, right? This is Rembrandt’s hour.
Still, though, there’s more to get out of this before we truly deal with the absolute triumph of characterization (oh, did you really think I was going to slam that?) this episode holds. There’s an awful lot of characterization going about, and a lot of clever bits of cross-cutting and reveals and feints that make this a smarter bit of television than we usually expect from Sliders. It also photoshops Margaret Thatcher with a Kromagg.
I guess we can start there. Sure, it’s easy to make fun of Colin’s impossible trip through the library. But cutting that with Maggie learning about Hackett and the War and Rembrandt bearing his soul to Grace and us, the audience, learning about “Thatchers” (Kromagg sympathizers) at the same time as the sliders, leading us very beautifully to Rembrandt’s heart shattering into a thousand pieces on the floor of the multiverse.
This is the show growing up.
It’s finally making a television show for adults. Not that it was for children before— and not that there’s anything wrong with that— but it was certainly childish. And I’m not expecting this to stick around for longer than the 40 minutes of “Asylum.” But it’s refreshing to get a glimpse of the parallel world where Sliders doesn’t assume we’re stupid.
Look, this guy’s awesome. The first time we see him, we’re primed to think that he was cast because he looks like Michael Hutchence and soon he’ll romance Maggie and this episode will be about sex. But it’s not, and this episode plays with that. It plays him as a bad guy who’s spying on the sliders, taking creepy pictures of Maggie. It plays with him as an evil spy, full of guns and passports. It plays with that and it plays with most of the things that are usually wrong with this show. It plays with what we expect of Dr. Grace Venable, as we’d usually expect her to be a bit player before Rembrandt makes a move. Later on, Rembrandt calls out the stupidest worlds we saw in Season 3 and still manages to make them sound more dignified.
If there’s one truly damaging thing in this episode it’s Quinn. He’s gone— ill through the entire hour. Which is fine— it sparks the plot, which is about more than just Quinn maybe dying (we know he won’t, of course). The problem is that Quinn isn’t really absent in the hour— he’s not even missed. His absence in every way improves the episode. As soon as he opens his smarmy asshole eyes, something deflates from the episode. Colin (and the script, for what it’s worth) thankfully gets Quinn out of the scene quickly, before he can continue his stupid “I was napping for SO LONG” joke. This is who we’re supposed to believe is the lead of this show. And we’re actively disappointed in his survival.
An episode about worrying about a slider in peril is something that’s happened before on this show (and often). But there’s something more moving about Maggie & Colin’s soft freak outs, first about Quinn, and then about Rembrandt. It’s really only Maggie who worries more about Rembrandt— she knows him better than Colin, after all, so it makes sense. Colin wasn’t around during “Common Ground.” He doesn’t know what the Kromaggs really mean to Rembrandt. He doesn’t have any conception of their evil. Which is kind of interesting, actually. In “Slidecage” the worst evil he encountered wasn’t even from a Kromagg— it was from a human. He doesn’t know what it means to learn that “Dr. Grace Venable” was not only a Kromagg Sympathizer, she was also a Kromagg’s Lover.
It’s interesting how the episode glosses over the fact that she also took the Kommandant as her lover. It’s probably the thing that smarts the most to Rembrandt. I mean, to him, the Kromaggs are the embodiment of pure evil. Pure hatred. Everything Bad. You honestly can’t even describe the fires burning inside of Rembrandt. Jules & Kolitar gave him a little taste of the Human side of the ‘Maggs, but it’s obviously not going to be enough— the team telling him about his ‘betrayal’ ruined any of that goodwill. I can’t even begin to imagine how he would feel about a human willingly bedding a Kromagg. It’s implied they made love. Rembrandt realizes he just entered the most nightmarish of vagina dentata— he’s been where a Kromagg has been. I’m shivering at the thought. He’s exploding.
But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
So this episode is about war, and what it does to a planet, and how everyday people have to cope with the fallout. But that idea is presented through the lens of Rembrandt and Grace. And to be honest, it’s a marvel. A revelation. It’s simply impossible that we’re watching this. Because this is romance. On Sliders. Presented in a non-insulting manner. With two adults. Valarie Pettiford is without a doubt the best actress to be on the show since Deanna Milligan in “Gillian of the Spirits.” Maybe even the best ever.
Part of that is due to the insane chemistry between her and Cleavant Derricks. It’s just so easy and natural. Which is absolutely essential if you’re going to sell me a relationship forming in like, 10 minutes. Especially if that relationship starts with Rembrandt kind of making a joke about his erection? I mean, Cleavant sells the shit out of that erection joke (gross). But the other reason it works is that Pettiford reacts as if it is a little silly and desperate— which it is.
But what’s different is that usually on this show, that kind of scene would be played so much different. Rembrandt would say the dick joke and the woman would instantly fall on her knees in awe of his wit. Well, maybe not Rembrandt. If Quinn was involved in the scene, that’s exactly how it would have played out. But this isn’t Quinn. It’s our man Remmy.
These people have been through war. Not in the same way, as we learn. But Rembrandt opens up to Grace in a way we haven’t seen in a little while. Not even really to his friends. Part of that is because as much as his friends understand the idea of how dangerous the Kromaggs are, they’ll never understand what it was really like for him. The only person who could was Wade. And she’s gone.
So Rembrandt needs this. He’s not really talking about what his time in the camp was like, not specifically. But as far as he’s concerned, he doesn’t have to with Grace, because she understands him anyways. All the other times we’ve seen Rembrandt romance somebody, he’s never on equal footing. He’s always working his way up to someone— usually, they’re a ghost from his past that he’s trying to make amends with.
But here, he’s Grace’s equal. They’re both adults. They’re both mature. They both respect each other. They’re comfortable with each other— just take the “why, you sick of me already?” joke, which is both a great jibe on Remmy’s “smooth moves” and also a really touching line. And so Rembrandt can finally truly open up to someone about his real life in a way that’s not bizarre. He tells her about sliding in what is probably the first time in the history of this show that isn’t totally inappropriate. And he opens up to her about his Faith, which is a part of Rembrandt we haven’t seen in a long while.
It’s truly a beautiful speech—
“No matter what world we land on— the heavens and the stars are always the same.”
“And nature— it’s always working the same way.”
“Two and Two always turn out to be Four.”
“I’ve thought about it a lot … I think it means that the same God is in all these worlds.”
Look, I know I made fun of the discrepancies in his speech. But it’s a completely honest and moving moment. It’s the kind of moment that this show hasn’t had in ages. It almost doesn’t even deserve this kind of moment. But it’s here, and we have to contend with it. And it doesn’t matter if technically Rembrandt is ‘wrong.’ He believes it. That’s enough for me. It tells us more about Rembrandt than any kind of “no wait, didn’t I mention I was in the NAVY” ever did. That was flailing. This is centering.
Rembrandt’s journey on this show has been the most drastic of all the characters. He started at a personal nadir, really. He was vapid and empty— desperately clinging to a career that didn’t exist. Snapping at Quinn about his car. Shrill. Angry. Dressed in bizarre clothes. I mean, he was a joke. And sure, he was written to be that way. He was a stereotype. “Funny Black Dude” was where he began and ended.
And part of his journey into “believable human being” is due to a willingness of the writing staff to allow for more than a one-note character (too bad the same wasn’t allowed for Sabrina Lloyd). But part of it, too, is because Cleavant Derricks is a truly amazing actor who can take the worst material ever and elevate it to the sublime.
Season Four may not be perfect, but the decision to make Rembrandt a Wounded Survivor was the absolute best one it could have taken. No one else could have handled it. Kari could have tried— she’d have failed, but she’d have tried. Jerry’s past caring enough to work with that. Charlie doesn’t count. But Cleavant cares. And so Rembrandt grows. Rembrandt grows, and he does so naturally. It’s why Rembrandt awkwardly hitting on Grace isn’t creepy— because it’s a shade of the Remmy we first met.
All of this is to say that Rembrandt is a broken man. And if his shaky belief in God is what gets him through the day, then who am I to judge him in that?
It’s interesting that his belief isn’t something he’s really discussed with his friends. It makes sense, in a way. Quinn’s a scientist: he’d listen, but he wouldn’t really respect or understand him. Colin he doesn’t know. Which leaves Maggie.
It all comes down to a choice. Does she do the ‘morally right’ thing, and tell Hackett where Grace is? Or does she allow Rembrandt the moment of emotional respite. She chooses the former, but the amount of difficulty involved in the decision shows us more about how these two people care for each other than any moment of dialogue they’ve shared together. But in the end, she knows that truth and honesty are more important to Rembrandt than a false respite, and she consigns Grace to her fate.
And the fire when he busts into their hotel room with a bag full of assault rifles and demanding they go on a shootout to ‘save’ Grace is another breathtaking Rembrandt moment. Because for the first time, Rembrandt’s offered the olive branch of sliding, and he truly meant it. He could finally have someone on the team he could have a normal conversation with, someone he could have some sexual tension with (instead of letting Maggie make doe-eyes at Quinn all the time), and that person is ripped away from him by masked thugs.
But the wound isn’t through being rent, and not just because it was Maggie who made the call that puts Grace in jail. It’s the fact that the final feint of the episode is the fact that Grace isn’t innocent. She committed every crime, she did everything they said she did. She begs—begs— a woman with so much dignity and maturity, begging— for Rembrandt to take her with them. And so we get the most brutal piece of writing ever to come out of this show. “Tell me that they tortured you. Tell me that they killed your family. Tell me that you had no choice but to help them.” And Grace, weeping, broken, tells him she can’t.
Rembrandt, though, has made a peace with this. Kromaggs, as much as he’d love to believe it, aren’t really the purest form of Evil. Human beings are just as capable of it. More, even. Kromaggs just allow the opportunity. Rembrandt, now, knows this. Before he could rage and scream and beat at the heavens because of the evil of the Kromaggs— how wrong, how awful, how could they, it’s not fair! Life, of course, isn’t. But one of the ways it isn’t is that eventually, the lies you tell yourself won’t hold up anymore. The universe will spin the roulette wheel, and it’ll come up truth.
Grace was the key to Rembrandt’s heart. It opened, the rage came out. There instead was grief. Which, despite its reputation, isn’t bad. Rembrandt deserves his grief. The rage was in the way of momentum towards healing. Grace’s betrayal points him in the right direction.
And so Rembrandt kisses her forehead, and silently moves away. He’s hurt, betrayed, raw. But as he blankly stares out the window, Maggie approaches him. The journey since his time in the Camp has been hard for him. Seeing these people around him are a reminder of all he’s lost. But now, with a cleaner slate, he can see what he’s gained. And he sees Maggie— someone who, against all odds, has become a true friend. Maggie, who began as the enemy, now his most trusted friend.
And so they embrace, their bond stronger than ever. Doing the right thing sometimes is the most difficult choice to have to make. They both share that bond now. They share each other.
Together, but alone.
Alone with the same God in all these Worlds, watching. Doing nothing.
Next Week: What Was Not Now Is (California Reich).