Common Ground

"There comes a point when even a warrior tires of pointless bloodshed." — Kromanus.

Review by Matt Hutaff


Science fiction has an annoying tendency to neuter its adversaries with “humanity.” The Daleks of Doctor Who and the Borg of the Star Trek universe were watered down numerous times; even Alia, the “Evil Leaper” from Quantum Leap, found redemption from her amorality in just her second outing.

Why create these great antagonists if the inevitable goal is to make an audience sympathize with them? The Daleks and Borg were remorseless killers with no compunction about sterilizing the universe of threats. They could not be reasoned with or defeated, and it was a small victory for the Doctor or the crew of the Enterprise just to escape their clutches.

The Kromaggs were built along those lines; a multiversal aberration that hates humans instinctively and uses their superior grasp of technology to eliminate them from whatever worlds they encounter. They have telepathic abilities, are not averse to psychological torture, and, when you’ve served your purpose, your eyes become a delicacy while your body plays host to the sexual gratification of the rank and file. They’ll abduct you, beat you, and take your life without a moment’s hesitation, because they know you’re inferior and not worth the air in your lungs. They’ve thought of everything, and routinely set plans in motion that may take years to bear fruit. They don’t care; they’re patient, and have the numbers to enforce that patience.

That’s the Kromagg Dynasty we saw in Invasion and Genesis. Even The Other Slide of Darkness, which “Genesis” largely invalidates, shows the Kromaggs eager to manipulate and murder alternate Quinns for the secrets of sliding. Say what you will about Wade’s forced rape in breeder camps, it showcases the contempt Kromaggs have for homo sapiens, and the recent revelation that humans exiled them to this life only crystallizes that hatred.

And then “Common Ground” had to go and screw it up.

This episode castrates any menace built in prior skirmishes by showing both Kromagg politicking and a Dynasty commander who’d much rather while away the time talking to prisoners and destroying his subordinates than building advanced weapons or doing his job. The Kromaggs should have no internal strife with regard to humans, and they definitely should not lose focus on their task. Yet three episodes in and we no longer see the Kromaggs as a credible threat, because Kromanus (Stephen Macht) the tortured soul cares about the beings he subjugates.

At first glance, this episode seems competent and well-written, with some good scenes for both Rembrandt and Maggie. The situation — the rescue of an injured Kromagg commander creates an uneasy sense of gratitude toward the Sliders — thrusts them into a re-examination of how they feel about the Kromagg Dynasty. Maggie, who’s only just been indoctrinated to the danger they face, looks at her new relationship with Kromanus objectively, while Rembrandt is anguished about being the benefactor of a Kromagg’s protection. He’s been tortured by them for months and his best friend has been taken from him in the most brutal way. It creates an internal conflict that makes for good character drama.

And if this was a situation where both parties to the fight had a moral justification viewers could agree with, I would double my rating. A warrior burnt out on war, humiliated beyond belief in his own society, clinging to any compassion thrown at him regardless of its loyalty? I’ll watch that. But we’re not supposed to care for the Kromaggs, remember? I don’t want to feel empathy for him because he was critical in losing a war I wanted him to lose.

That realization sinks this episode, although other factors contribute to its downfall. The central subplots involve a weapons testing facility where humans are the guinea pigs and a moronic sub-commander (Tom Westbrook) looking to climb the ladder by pulling Kromanus off the top rung. These elements give Rembrandt and Quinn something to investigate while Maggie sups with Kromanus and regales him with the history of her world’s modern warfare; it also gives Remmy a chance to make friends with some of the locals.

He discovers Penny (Mina Badie) while skulking about; she’s a test subject for the ultimate weapon, a beam that disintegrates human beings on a molecular level. Just open a wormhole, aim, and sterilize a planet. Not bad. Testing is just about complete, and Rembrandt and Quinn do what they can to destroy the weapon. This, of course, aggravates the Kromagg garrison (maybe giving prisoners the ability to walk around a restricted compound isn’t such a great idea).

We’re left to question the loyalty Kromanus feels for the Sliders over his loyalty to the Dynasty and the lackeys he controls on this world. Are you surprised he picks the Sliders, sacrificing not only himself but all Kromaggs courtesy of a rewired weapon of mass destruction? You shouldn’t; by episode’s end Kromanus is choking on an overdose of humanity. It’s almost as ridiculous as the production crew picking the Chandler Hotel as command central for the Kromagg invasion forces (I know the importance of recycling sets, but come on).

“Common Ground” is notable for several arc-related scenes proving Quinn’s skepticism with his mother’s story in Genesis was spot-on. He’s being tracked courtesy of an implant he received during the events of Invasion, and it’s fairly obvious events were set in motion so they could monitor his journeys. If the conversation between Kromanus and his off-world superior don’t convince you of that, the Sliders’ escape at the end will make you a believer.

Too bad there’s no reason to leave Earth 147. Sure, there’s a brother to find and Quinn’s “true” homeworld to locate, but if the Sliders stumble on a world with the blueprints to build a weapon that can vaporize an invading Kromagg force, why not stick around and build one? Or bring those blueprints home and work on them someplace secure? The goal of the season is to liberate Earth Prime — all other tasks are secondary.

Paul Jackson, third season producer and co-writer of the remarkable Double Cross, once admitted to me the arc for Logan St. Claire would end with her sacrificing her life to save Quinn’s. It’s a nice thought that somewhere lodged in her brain was a shred of decency, but I’m glad in a way I never saw her switch sides. She’s perfect as she is, and she left me wanting more.

I only hope future encounters with the Kromaggs will reverse the damage done by “Common Ground.” I want a real enemy, not some watered down joke that gets less threatening with every match-up.

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