Things change, over time.
When this project began, it was one of humor. It was simple, it was good for a chuckle, it was a good send up to this old bag of bones and dust we call Sliders. But like I said, things change. It got serious, it got weird. I’m not sure when it happened. A little bit into Season Two? Definitely by the end of Season Three. But the fact was that themes were growing. I saw them where I hadn’t quite before.
And yes, some of that was accidental, it was reading too much into something. But what else was I supposed to do? The show started mirroring my own life, in a way. People unwillingly stuck together learning to leave each other, then falling out of that love. The spark’s gone, but you stick together.
I will be the first to admit that Sliders doesn’t deserve the sort of intense, thoughtful, thematic readings that I give it. But what’s interesting is that you actually can at all— it’s possible to watch Sliders and discern a growing theme through the show. Sliders is just a little too early to be in the current trend of serialized television. But you can tell (and you can certainly tell in most of its contemporaries), that people are wanting to break out of the shell of the reset button. Sliders can’t, as much as it tries, however accidentally, however much the firing of cast members and location changes necessitate an upheaval of the status quo. But there’s also enough simmering beneath the boring surface that there’s too much left to ignore.
A lot of this comes from the supposed “Zicree Arc,” an idea that’s about as nebulous as imagining that The X-Files’ “Mytharc” episodes were actually going anywhere. I’ll deal with the ramifications of the Zicree Arc next time (fuck, already? Thank God), but let me just say it’s a little silly that Quinn’s story should adopt the “you aren’t who you thought” idea. And, if we’re being honest, it doesn’t, really. The show, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the arc after, what, “Slidecage?” The only reason we’ve seen the Kromaggs at all since then is because of that awful sexist hateful throwaway joke about rape David Peckinpah threw into “Genesis.” But the mysteries of Quinn (and fine, Colin’s) homeworld always took a backburner to… what? “Net Worth?” The show’s priorities are up its ass.
But then, the Kromaggs aren’t the point. They aren’t the theme, the message, the story of Sliders. They never have been. They’ve been a reaction, a feint, a distraction. But their origins, their genesis (gotcha!) contains what the real theme of Sliders is: isolation, loneliness. The insanity at the edge of reason. The show is about how we need each other, and how low we can go without.
And so “Roads Taken,” for all its myriad faults (and y’know what? I think I finally found an episode worse than “Time Again & World”), is really just the culmination of that particular brand of story that Sliders tells: the human need for connection. And because Sliders is a pussy and can’t have Rembrandt declaring his secret love for Colin, it sides with the two obvious characters to throw into a ‘romance plot.’
Granted, it’s not like this is a complete surprise. From Maggie’s first appearance, the “budding romance” idea was seeded. But it seemed to be resolved at the end of Season Three. Obviously, “Virtual Slide” rekindled the idea, but (thankfully) Quinn more or less shot it down. One of the quieter tiny little arcs of Season Four has been Maggie coming to terms with the death of her husband, the oft-forgotten Steven. Any time the show touches on Steven, it’s been great. Not only because it gives Kari Wuhrer something to do, but because it finally treats the character with respect.
At this point, then, Maggie’s worked through Steven, she’s worked through the loss of her planet. But even so, last week showed us what was left — loneliness. Which dovetails nicely with Quinn’s underlying arc as a character. He’s isolated himself from the other sliders by putting an iron curtain of guilt between him and the world. Last week showed his ideal life: give up sliding, run from anything. Which, again, isn’t that shocking— it’s basically what he wanted to do in “Slither” with Kyra. So “Roads Taken,” and its concept of a pocket dimension that exists only to give Quinn & Maggie another option, another life, another path, fits perfectly with where Sliders has been going this year— anytime you need to make an emotional character story, you swaddle it in bizarrely psychedelic sci-fi trappings.
The problem is that a “bubble universe” is unnecessary. You don’t need that— this is Sliders, you’ve already got doubles. Have Quinn and Maggie meet doubles of themselves who are living a happy life together. Sure, that’s improbable, but is it any more improbable than Wade leading the American Revolution? Or fuck, any more improbable than a ‘weird slide’ leading Quinn and Maggie into creating an entire universe out of their minds? A universe that has functional human beings that can affect the worlds around it? No, it’s not. So just use doubles. Bam. Done. That way, you remove the messy little accident that hangs over the whole episode—
Because if Thomas Mallory is a sentient being, then that’s what happens, right? They kill an entire universe to… what, not die? I don’t know, man. Tough. Let ’em die. I guess I’d feel sorry for Rembrandt, but he acts like a complete lunatic the entire episode, what with all the ‘running directly into gunfire,’ so I guess he’s not long for this world anyways. But even though they mention that Thomas’ world will die, they don’t spend much time worrying about it. Old-Quinn and Old-Maggie say “we had a good, full life.” But, excuse me? Just because Quinn finally got laid doesn’t mean you can murder everyone else on the planet.
And there we go— because that’s the big problem with the “bubble universe.” It isn’t that it’s nonsensical, though it surely is. It’s that it doesn’t actually exist for the both of them. This universe is devoted entirely to Quinn’s fantasies. It’s a completely Male Fantasy, dominated by the most appallingly heteronormative and patriarchal marriage humanly possible. It’s said, lovingly, that Quinn makes Maggie leave their fucking honeymoon so he can go be a big shot scientist. She becomes a pilot, but we never see that— we see her becoming the “woman” to Quinn’s “man.” The entire relationship is defined around what Quinn wants. “A boy,” she says. Of course she wants a boy. Quinn wouldn’t allow a woman into the family.
And so we get scenes like the “where are we going with this relationship” scene, which is almost touching and human, were it not for the fact that it clearly takes place directly after Quinn receiving oral sex from Maggie, and Maggie actually wiping her mouth as she comes back up for air. It’s stunning, and kind of has no place on Sliders. It’s more stunning than “The Breeder,” really. “The Breeder” had no characterization whatsoever. This is pairing male fantasy with characterization— it’s saying that a woman wiping semen off her lips is equal to having a kind of forceful discussion of marriage. Maggie’s domination of that conversation only backs up the bizarre ideas about gender that the episode would have us believe. It’s both showing us the Evil Machinations of the Woman, and also putting her in her place as the Sex Object she should be.
It even follows all the way to the end, where Old Quinn checks out Young Maggie with a lecher’s eye, right next to his Old Wife, moments before they “die.” It’s as if the only characterization allowed for Quinn on the show these days is the one from “Season’s Greedings,” where he basically ignores Wade’s familial pain in order to aggressively seduce her sister. He’s a dog. And then they commit genocide.
So, for all the wistful cuteness the episode wants us to feel, it’s completely poisonous. But then, why is that a surprise? This entire season has fallen completely down a rabbit hole of poisonous sexism. This is the show that will throw its characters into rape camps because it’s ‘funny.’ So why am I surprised? More to the point, why am I still watching?
I guess I’m still watching for the last shot of the episode, where the camera lingers on Quinn’s face. He and Maggie remember everything. And this last shot lets us watch as this washes over him. And it’s a brilliantly complicated look that he gives. It’s not exactly happy. All those memories were nice, sure, but did he really want them? It wasn’t his life. It’s a look that almost says “maybe that’s not what I want, maybe I should keep going.” But, more intriguingly, that might also not be what he’s thinking. It’s ambiguous in a way that the show never is anymore.
But, of course, that excuses nothing. And it certainly doesn’t excuse this episode in general, which is shockingly boring. It’s so poorly paced, poorly acted, full of bad ideas executed even worse. Nothing makes sense and no one cares. And that’s the thing— no one cares, and it’s blindingly clear. Every single person working on the show does not give one shit about it. Which is awful to watch. If I wasn’t so fucking bored I’d feel bad for these people. But I’m really fucking bored, so I don’t actually give a shit.
And this is the penultimate episode of Season Four of Sliders. A season that “changed everything,” that shook the mythos of the show. That established a new status quo. Next week is the end. There’s a hell of a lot to pay off. If the back half of this season wasn’t such an alarming drop in quality from the first, I might almost be excited to tune in.
Next Week: let live what must live, die what must die (Revelations).
|Previous: This Too Will Pass (The Chasm).||Next: Kind Of Like Passing The Torch (Revelations).|