"Good heavens, a union of Los Angeles and San Francisco. It goes against the laws of nature." — Arturo.
Review by Matt Hutaff
Poor Quinn Mallory. He slides into a world actively developing technology that could send him and his friends home, and the beautiful scientist that greets them not only wants to help, she wants to make out. There’s only one problem: she’s his female double, and she’s only interested in stealing the timer.
(If you’re saying that’s two problems, remember: she is hot.)
The third season of Sliders starts off with a bang – at least it would have if it ran “Double Cross,” its season premiere, as its opening episode. Thanks to network meddling that will soon give way to a season of bad acting, stale dialogue and the loss of beloved cast member John-Rhys Davies, Rules of the Game aired first. No matter; “Double Cross” is an incredible hour of television that proves Sliders can balance believable antagonists, interesting plot twists, cool character moments, and action adventure when the need arises. If FOX is mandating more running, jumping, and explosions, I can certainly get behind it when this is the end result.
Before I begin, I need to say one thing: I feel Tracy Tormé’s pain. Few can claim a series they’ve shepherded to screen has imploded quite like this. We’ve witnessed paradoxical airings of the show’s first season, the pre-emptive cancellation and FOX’s almost direct refusal to pay off the cliffhanger of Luck of the Draw, and now, as “punishment” for failing to fall into an action-adventure genre, Sliders is moved to Los Angeles, destroying any regional charm it had by basing its adventures in San Francisco. As a Bay Area native, it felt like a kick in the shins to have the crew sliding into Southern California.
One of the niceties about the show’s original location shooting in Vancouver, British Columbia is that the locations looked like San Francisco. You see, San Francisco is miserable 364 days out of the year. Overcast, cold, misty, windy… four elements of climate that simply do not exist in Los Angeles. So while it was nice that for this episode they slid into San Francisco, exterior shots betray the location. It’s filmed in Los Angeles and it shows, especially with the cast’s new attire. Quinn’s in sweater vests, Wade wears mini-skirts, and Arturo wears a button-up with the top two buttons laughably forgotten? Who does wardrobe?
If there’s anyone out there that can explain away these inconsistencies, however, it’s Tormé. And what better way to do that than create a parallel world strapped for resources because San Francisco and Los Angeles have expanded so far that they grew into each other? Add to that a group of scientists on the verge of developing sliding in San Francisco as a way to lessen the resource burden, a strain so large that food is down to a Soylent Green-type dish called Geomash and horses are on the endangered species list. I’ll give writers Tony Blake and Paul Jackson credit for adding a few special details to a world that doesn’t really need any.
The Sliders have a typically poor entrance. And it looks like Rembrandt is back in first season form with a truly god-awful purple suit that is so reminiscent of his attire in the pilot that I kept checking to see if he was wearing 25 AIDS ribbons. They immediately discover this San Francisco is having some issues with its electricity, that gas is over $400 a gallon and most people ride bicycles or roller blade. Rembrandt immediately meets a stunning Cryin’ Man fan named Monique (Mari Morrow). While she cajoles him off to a private lunch with her, the remaining three make it as far as walking down the street before they’re accosted by a gang of motorcycle thugs.
Odd thing, though: their attackers welcome the Sliders to this particular parallel earth. Turns out that the leader of the bikers is named Logan St. Claire (Zoe McClellan), and she tracked them here. How? With sliding technology she’s developing at a well-funded Bay Area tech firm called Prototronics. She’s excited to meet people sharing the same adventure, but no more so than Quinn and Arturo, who quickly reason Logan’s equipment would be the best chance they’ve had in a while to find Earth Prime. A partnership is quickly struck, with Quinn agreeing to work with Logan on her sliding device in exchange for using Prototonics’ resources to get home.
One of the things that began to irritate me about the show is that, for the most part, the Sliders had given up on using other technologies to search for home. Quinn says in Eggheads that he can auto set the timer with his double’s equipment and yet fails to try that in Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome. Why mention it if it can’t be picked up on later? Here’s a very real opportunity for the Sliders to fix their timer and get home, and for once, they jump on it.
Another piece of the timer’s inner workings is revealed in this episode. Apparently, the timer has something called a geographic spectrum stabilizer that keeps the Sliders’ range to a fixed four-mile radius. While it’s never been discussed before, and apparently was installed after the timer broke in the pilot, it’s a crucial component. Logan’s timer has a 400-mile radius, which fits with the nature of San Angeles, but it’s a component that Quinn tries to effect repairs on.
The character of Logan is well developed and interesting. One of the funny things about Sliders, at least under Tormé’s helm, is that it had a knack for creating intriguing recurring villains. However, Sliders also has a bad track record of not paying off these villains well, if at all. Logan fits this mold. Intelligent, aggressive and sexy, she’s revealed to be a female double of Quinn – St. Claire is her adopted father’s name – and yet looks beyond this to further her own needs by seducing what is essentially herself in the laboratory. It’s strangely compelling to watch the romance develop between these two, because Quinn is a little shy and unassuming, while Logan pursues what is almost an incestuous relationship to work the bottom line.
At the same time, Arturo and Wade are trying to uncover the death of Arturo’s double. It seems that on this world, he is the inventor of sliding, and someone silenced him by shoving him into an unstable vortex. What for? Their piecemeal investigation finds that it was Logan, acting in her best interests.
The pacing of this episode is excellent. While some shows tend to rush critical plot elements along to create a whirlwind atmosphere, “Double Cross” succeeds in the short strokes. Logan is revealed to be Quinn’s double, Arturo and Wade uncover the truth and Logan and Quinn develop a relationship at normal speeds. I wish more Sliders episodes would unfold this naturally.
Before I get sidetracked, let me detail Rembrandt’s odyssey in this episode. Another treat of this episode is the truly inspired B-story that follows Rembrandt down to L.A. where his “number one fan” treats him to lunch, a dip in the pool and… a taste of obsession. I’ve always felt that a strong hour of television works best when a smaller story is placed within the story structure. B-story arcs are few and far between on Sliders, and when they’re executed it’s not usually done very well. Fortunately, this story is a perfect Rembrandt vehicle. Being forced to sing a song you’re famous for but don’t have a clue as to what the lyrics are must be a painful experience. Rembrandt has always been there for comic relief and I was glad to see Cleavant Derricks perform it with such zeal. Eventually Rembrandt has to run from the typical muscle-bound boyfriend and work his way onto the top of a 200-mile-per-hour Amtrak with only his belt holding him on. It’s a funny, welcome relief to the heavy handed-drudgery that often bogs down weak stories.
Back in San Francisco, Arturo and Quinn meet up with Wade to retrieve the timer and get the hell out of Dodge. Unfortunately, Wade’s been kidnapped by Logan’s bosses to use as a bargaining chip to keep Quinn there and fix their sliding technology. Arturo and Quinn try to use the evidence of the lab’s foul play – they plan to use sliding to raze parallel worlds of their natural resources – to get Wade back, but the Professor is pushed into a vortex. Things look grim for Quinn.
Thankfully, Arturo returns unharmed, grabs the ever-available gun and rescues Quinn and Wade. A “moments later” escape reunites them with Rembrandt at the Dominion Hotel (which, in the move to Los Angeles has become a four star establishment). Storybook ending, right? Wrong.
Seems Logan can track wormholes, and she follows the Gang to the next dimension. Seems she’s also given the Sliders a crappy geo-stabilizer, so now they can slide anywhere between L.A. and San Francisco (maybe, finally, a San Jose slide), and an ultimatum – fix her timer or Wade dies. Quinn punches some stuff in and lets her go, knowing that he’s just sentenced her to travel the interdimension alone like they are. It’s a conclusion that you knew was coming, but the tension was palpable and believable. Logan truly is putting her life in Quinn’s hands, and while she’s shown her true colors, there’s a part of the viewer that wished she’d be just a little less evil and come on board with the rest of the team.
“Double Cross,” had it been the beginning of a recurring arc, would be flat-out, hands down, the best episode in the series’ run. Unfortunately, FOX didn’t think Zoe McClellan was attractive enough and barred her character from ever making an appearance on the show for the rest of the season. As it stands, “Double Cross” is a well-thought out, gripping piece of sci-fi that shows the potential — and also the pain of knowing that it’ll never really be this good again.
|Previously: Review: The Young and the Relentless||Next: Review: Rules of the Game|