“The Guardian” — A Defense

Rewrites. All good stories need rewrites, or so my 10th grade English teacher told me. I didn’t believe her, so I submitted my rough draft as a final draft and she promptly rewarded me with a default grade of “D.” Though my story probably would have been better had I revised and edited, it was still “A” quality as delivered. Such is the case with Tracy Tormé’s The Guardian, where the production draft is one of the best scripts in the series’ run.

I do not take the position that the Production Draft (P-draft) is superior to the Final Draft (F-draft). It’s not an apples to apples comparison as each has its own advantages. The aired version has the benefits of revision and collaboration. It ought to be better. Even so, it is limited in ways the P-draft is not. For example, the P-draft checks in at a whopping 58 pages, way too long to be filmed in its entirety. This gives that draft more depth. So rather than engage in a pointless debate over which is better, I’ll argue that the production draft would still have gone down as a series’ highlight that ranked among the top of fan lists had it been filmed instead.

The critical difference between the two scripts is the attention paid to Professor Arturo and the startling admission that he is going to soon die. This is a major turning point for the series. The Professor’s illness is “incurable, inoperable, and untreatable” and he is given anywhere from a month to a year to live. Entire episodes could be built around this development; the F-draft devotes half a teaser. It chooses to subordinate the B-plot to the A-plot (Quinn’s trauma) and jumps headlong into that story. The P-draft strikes a happy medium and splits the story almost evenly between the two plots, giving the B-plot its due as well as providing a foil to Quinn’s dilemma.

To witness, we do not start in an examining room, but at a New Year’s Party (falling on October 1st) where Arturo announces to his shocked friends that he is getting married and remaining behind. The scene continues into the first act where a sad but sweet farewell takes place (if the filmed version of it were only half as effective as how it is written, it would still bring a tear to your eye). Quinn discovers it to be a ruse, as he did in the aired version, and the illness is revealed. Once again, Quinn convinces Arturo to slide with them on the condition that he tells no one, except now there is an added element. Wade and Rembrandt believe Arturo’s would-be wife broke off the engagement. This (to them) explains his erratic behavior on the next world and both feel compelled to stay by his side to help him through the break-up.

Here is where the high comedy of the episode is completely lost in the aired version. Arturo is merely giddy in the final draft, he’s outright manic here. He’s intent on trying everything including Squishees, go-carts, and yes, bungee jumping. There’s an hysterical scene at the opera where Rembrandt, horrified at the thought of an encore, cries out, “No!! Professor, sit down–that’s enough culture for one night!” This B-plot adventure is terrific fun and is a realistic reaction from Arturo. He’s looking at as little as thirty days to live, so he’s going to get it all in. That is, until he’s faced with premature death. Unlike what we saw, Arturo chickens out when it comes to the bungee jump — it’s only thanks to Ambrosia that he makes the leap, screaming in terror the entire way. It effectively ends the B-plot inside the episode and returns Arturo to where he was at the start, thus allowing future episodes to be written with relatively no change to his character. That’s not done in the final version, and the Professor’s lust for life evaporates at the end of the episode without further explanation.

Why was this removed? You’d have to ask Tormé. The reasonable assumption is that this story took up too much time to set up and cut into the Quinn storyline. You can see the change between the two drafts by the way their respective teasers end. In the P-draft, the teaser concludes with Arturo’s stunning marriage announcement. On television, it ends with Quinn watching his father’s funeral-the P-draft’s punctuation mark to Act One. Thus, the main plot is immediately introduced at the expense of the subplot. As far as writing for television goes, I can’t disagree with the final decision. Sliders formulaically launches into its story in the teaser. However, it wasn’t always like this. The first season took its time getting to major plot points, burning off teasers and large parts of Act One with side stories. Not only did they not suffer for it, in many ways they were enhanced because the viewer felt like they were part of the whole adventure, not carefully sliced vignettes. The question becomes, is the Quinn story worth the tradeoff?

For parts of it, certainly yes. The dual trauma of losing a father and the intense cruelty of the kids at school shaped Quinn Mallory. And these kids are hateful. It is a testament to 23 year-old Quinn that he didn’t do the punching on that playground. On some level, I don’t feel bad at all about what Quinn did to Brady Oaks twelve years ago. The little bastard had it coming. But this is Quinn Mallory, he of the hero complex, who can’t help but put others in front of himself. This is the same Quinn of the previous season who was torn to shreds inside when he thought he had killed a man, even if it was in self-defense. Though the on-air version spends a little more time developing the younger Quinn’s desperate rage, the key points of this story are in both drafts. The change, not surprisingly, is in the treatment of Miss Heather Hanley.

Hanley’s a footnote in the P-draft. She doesn’t even appear on screen until the start of the third act when she saves little Quinn from the bullies. Here, she’s a revelation to Quinn, a sudden memory triggered. It’s almost like a dream to him and that is reflected in the way it was filmed — monochromatic, jumpy, and partly in slow motion. This launches the story down a side avenue where Quinn gets to display another dominant characteristic of his: the rich fantasy life he builds up around a few select women. It never interferes with the main story and is effectively wrapped up inside the act when she kisses him.

Not so on air. Here she becomes a major character present throughout the entire episode and Miss Hanley turns into yet another Chick of the Week for Quinn Mallory. All depth is stripped away as she’s just the latest conquest who falls head over heels for our hero, a guy who didn’t seem able to buy a date just two short years ago. This is typical third season — go for the eye candy over the substance. It doesn’t critically wound “The Guardian” because the story is just so damn good, but it does seem strangely out of place and borders on disturbing. Here I have to concede the P-draft includes its own cringeworthy segment where a departing Quinn tells Heather “Give it ten years and maybe you guys can connect. After all, I’ve always liked older women.” To Tormé’s credit, the ending was cut to a succinct but haunting, “My name isn’t Jim… it’s Quinn.”

While that was a good cut, the excess of cuts throws the final version’s balance off. The scene juggling required to keep the story moving is plainly evident on screen. Act Three just fades away without any punctuation, a consequence of cutting down Arturo’s story. Again, the production draft was fourteen pages too long and even more had to be scrambled to add new scenes such as the one dedicated to Arturo’s first American football game (a consequence of losing the cannibal world reference at the New Year’s Party). There is an energy that is lost by removing the Professor’s search for Squishees and extended bar fight and bungee jump scenes. The Quinn story is moving, but it’s rather stationary. On the flip side, the production draft can be accused of being too busy, rocketing back and forth between Plot A and Plot B, which have entirely different moods. Danny Lux might have had a coronary.

Which is to say, the production draft is not without its flaws. Arturo, without provocation and completely out of character, declares that random sliding is hopeless and that they should now adopt a strategy of being a force for good in the worlds they encounter. The purpose of this was to provide the impetus for Quinn’s involvement. Unfortunately, Quinn needs no impetus and it undermined the later scenes where Arturo is trying to hold him back. To its credit, it was a fairly humorous scene including this exchange: “Oh yeah, there you go again — Hubert Van DeCamp, Vlad Skrevadooski — don’t smart guys ever have simple names?” “Apparently not, Mr. Brown,” replies Arturo dryly.

Some of the stuff as written just can’t be filmed. It also features some redundancies in both script and character. One belabored scene between Quinn and Wade disappeared without a trace in the final draft and its absence is entirely justified. On the character side, we find Rembrandt once again whining about his car. Personally, I find this endearing. It’s more of a running joke now than any real anger on the part of Rembrandt. Tormé never seems to tire of reminding the audience of who Rembrandt was when the series started, and here it may have been reactionary to the new Navy Rembrandt that had been rolled out (or written prior to him knowing that direction was even in the making). All told, these things are little in the big picture and would have probably been cut anyway had the focus of the episode not been shifted.

So you’re left with The Guardian “A” or The Guardian “A-“. The polished version is a gem and is rightly considered the last ‘great’ episode of the series. In my book, it will always rank high due to its emotional resonance. We will never get this close to Quinn Mallory again. Yet as great as it is, the rough draft is a diamond unto itself. Arturo lets loose some of the funniest lines of the series and his adventure is classic. I don’t feel it detracted at all from the main story and had it been aired instead, there would be sound waves dotting the web of Arturo yelling, “Hanging upside down with a pre-pubescent draped around my waist? I can assure you, whoever the lunatic was, he wasn’t me!”

Some things just can’t be improved upon, no matter how much revision you try.

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