Is there a difference between what we see take place in “Dust” and what happens when we watch Sliders in 2014?
Sliders is dead. It’s been dead for fourteen years now— which in television, and especially in the cultural-attention-deficit era we live in, is much the same as four hundred years. We are archaeologists at this point, unearthing an era that produced a show like Sliders. That’s what a project like this is really about, in the end. Yes, it’s about what happens on Sliders, but the story that happens around the show is about one of the culture at large.
You could take the scripts from Season Five and give them to a production team today, and they’d look, feel, sound, be completely different. That’s time. That’s culture, changing. By far the most interesting part of this project has been to watch the 90s age and wither. This is putting “the 90s” in quotes, of course. Sliders, being a show made by squares, was always going to end up being extra-dated. So slaved was it to the idea of “relevance” that it never made a visual place for itself. Sure, it was always supposed to be a show that said “hey, this could be you,” but it never considered itself outside of its own time. It never thought that the “you” would change.
But it did change. And here we are, a new “you,” watching a fossil.
“Dust” takes place in a world where Sliders is ancient, where its memory is almost dead, and where we are left to brush off the soot and contemplate what it all meant. We have clues, we have locations— it is odd that there isn’t a scene where the team finds a television. But then, this episode isn’t really trying to break down the fourth wall. The fourth wall hasn’t existed for years in “Dust.” It is itself Dust. This is excavation.
We have the makings of something like “Dead Man Sliding,” which was an episode that looked at the show it was becoming and put it on trial. Here we have no trial— the trial has long since passed, and it doesn’t look like it ended up well. The show is buried beneath the sands of time. The sands have hardened into rock. Something is obscuring this show from us.
It is perhaps fitting that the sands of time are of a particular grain. The choice to film “Dust” at Vasquez Rocks is, in a way, an act of defiance. Countless science fiction tentpoles, most particularly more than a few episodes of Star Trek, filmed here. “See— this show deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Roddenberry!” But it’s a petulant act, too. A pathetic one, even. Because yes, now you can mention Sliders in the same breath as Star Trek, but you must do so in a merely clerical way, a way of reciting facts.
There is, however, evidence to observe the show between these grains of sand. The fact remains, though, that dust is not sand. Dust, for the most part, is accumulated flecks of human flesh, gathering for years. Dandruff, flakes, hairs. Dead cells sloughed off. And so “Dust” is not just “the show” buried under stone, it is the unwanted, the unnecessary, the bits that were going to fall off anyway.
So of course the actual “plot” of “Dust” is one of the xenophobic and at times downright racist hours of Sliders ever produced. It’s one thing that the sliders are skeptical of Professor Bigelow (see how much dust has accumulated? Countless times Rembrandt says “The Professor” and doesn’t blink an eye) and his dig.
Well, perhaps it more than just “one thing,” and we should spend time with it. This is, perhaps, the last time that we’ll actually deal with this particular phenomenon on Sliders. The show has, for so long, been strangely anti-science. We have an episode completely devoted to making fun of archaeology. Which, no, I’m sorry, that science is ridiculously important. That science is working to explain where we came from, how we’ve changed, how we haven’t. To reject that science is to reject yourself. It is to reject history. Which, when phrased that way, doesn’t really seem too far removed from the usual MO of Sliders.
We also have the team take on the hobby horse of being anti-archaeology, suddenly deciding that the King Tut’s Tomb exhibit is a hideous monument to brutal murder. The problem is that the argument against them, one that is completely sound and one that they should listen to, is said. Because it’s true— what is the difference between this business man and a mummy? You never felt anything about cutting up a desiccated corpse before, I’m sure. Why now?
Because that’s what this show is now— these are the characters this show features. Except of course, for Mallory, the only example left of anything remotely resembling “a good person,” and even then he’s painted to be a little shady, a little untrustworthy. He ends up more or less siding with the concerns of the team because he has no choice. Mallory is a leaf on the wind. The sliders are a gale force. He’s swept up in their misplaced ire.
But even then, the fact that the sliders think science is so funny pales in relation to the intense racism that surrounds the Packers. The Packers are ‘superstitious.’ They believe in ‘the Voice’ They believe that ‘evil spirits will be released’ when ‘the sacred tomb is opened.’ And so, yes, Bigelow calls them savages, hopping atop his high horse of science. But the fact is that the team eyes them with suspicion the very moment they lay eyes upon them, before they even hear any of the religious talk. The scene reads as the sliders running into a group of hispanic people, and becoming intensely uncomfortable for no other reason than that. It’s uncomfortable.
They only stop this discomfort when they find a way to use the Packers. They manipulate their faith in order to escape, in order to “overthrow the government.” They discuss this plan in plain language. There is no attempt to hide the fact that they are talking about using another culture’s faith for their own personal gain. It’s kind of disgusting.
But that’s what is hidden. Under the Vasquez Rocks, a hallowed layer of science fiction legend, sleeps one vision of Sliders— The Chandler Hotel. In this way, it is apt that the team would find an Egyptian Timer instead of a Dope-Ass Cellphone, or any other sort of sliding device. It is this very iteration of Sliders that is buried here. It is Season Five they find beneath the rocks. They dig deeper, and find Season Four— anti-science xenophobia (the last time we encountered cryogenics, of course, was “The Chasm.”)
They dig deeper (through a shade of The Fucking Cave itself, no less), and encounter death traps— rip offs of Indiana Jones— they have found Season Three. In this way, the depiction of the Packers makes a certain amount of ugly sense— many moments of Temple of Doom are awful and racist. Sliders, of course, never bothered to fix the problems inherent to the source material they pulled from. So of course the ‘superstitious savages’ exist. They have to. This is a rip off.
But we dig deeper. That’s what this entire project has been, hasn’t it? A digging. Wading through this mire to see what we used to love. The Packers call Rembrandt “the Voice,” and this, too, is an apt decision. The only line you can draw from the Pilot to now is Rembrandt. He’s all that is left of the show we used to love. But even then, he’s changed— the core of Rembrandt is also covered in the dust of the show we watch now. So we crawl through the tunnels, crawling deeper and deeper into the past.
And so they stand at the entrance to the “shrine,” and, at long last, they exhibit some of the wonder that used to define this show—
“Do you want to see what all this was about?”
Consider the phrasing. It’s “all of this.” We are crawling through an excavation of Sliders. There is still, after all this, all the scarabs, the zombies, the mutated worms, the newfound brothers, the breeders, the babies, the mad scientists, there is still a line to be drawn to a San Francisco basement. A line drawn from that basement to something pulled right into its world. A line completing what we used to know as Sliders.
A line to Rembrandt Brown, the Crying Man.
And so Rembrandt finally ends. His character arc complete. We complete our dig through the bones of the show and realize that while sure, Rembrandt wants to liberate Earth Prime. But what he really wanted for so long was just his Cadillac.
All the anger of the last three years fades from his face. The Rembrandt of not ten minutes past, using people for his own gain, denouncing the science that makes this show possible, that Rembrandt leaves. And we are left with the best parts of Rembrandt— not the AIDS Ribbon Joke of the first time we see him. But the Amazing Grace Rembrandt, the part that showed a definite grace.
Maggie ushers the team out, to let two old friends spend some time together. She does this for us as well as for Rembrandt. The Cadillac is the last remaining piece of Season One. The one thing that Rembrandt really truly still deserved. It’s not that its a car. It’s the symbol of the car— the fact that the car was stolen from him is just shorthand for the fact that Rembrandt is the only one to unwillingly begin this journey. The fact that he’s the only one remaining is just a bit of cynical irony.
But here he is reunited with just one tiny piece of Home, the only Home he is likely to ever get back.
And we spend that time with him, remembering at last why it is we watched this show in the first place.
And, having finally tied off that line to the beginning, we can move forward. The dig is complete. We’ve found the End.
Now we can let it die.
Next Week: the penultimate “adventure” (Eye of the Storm).
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