"You don't hurt someone else to help yourself." — Colin.
Review by Mike Truman
Take a look at Colin’s quote. At first, it doesn’t look like anything profound; most of us would agree with the sentiment. But what if the someone else isn’t quite a person? Would it be okay to hurt them, especially if the gain for you was a dramatic improvement to your quality of life? That’s the question posed as Quinn is mistaken for a clone in an America where clones not only exist, but are used for spare parts.
Ah, organ harvesting, a topic not entirely new to fans of the series. The last time it was brought up, it was used as window dressing in The Breeder. Fortunately, that misstep was not enough to pass the concept off as used. With the 1997 cloning success of Dolly the lamb, there was an opportunity to return to the subject and address it in a more appropriate manner. “My Brother’s Keeper” is a solid, by the numbers outing that treats the topic soberly and respectfully, but lacks the dark comedic elements that make good episodes great.
Like most episodes, this one begins with an amazing coincidence. A chance encounter in the street alerts Quinn to not only the existence of his duplicate, but the knowledge that his double is a physicist. Quinn usually finds ways of not pursuing information to perfect sliding, but when it’s served up to him on a platter, even he can’t say no. Upon arriving at the lab, he walks in just in time to see his double make a critical experimental error that blinds him. The day only gets worse when Quinn is pegged as a rogue clone of this injured doppelganger.
Arturo once said there was always one constant to the Americas they visit, to which Rembrandt added, “yeah, the health care system always sucks.” Remmy is forced to eat crow as the bungling HMOs we’re used to have been replaced by MHOs: Maximum Health Organizations. As Colin states, the hospitals are like palaces. There appears to be no limit to the care they can provide you, providing you’ve got the cash and clones. Alternate Quinn has both thanks to his successful and doting father, Michael Mallory (John Walcutt reprising the role), who also happens to be the leading surgeon on clone transplants.
We graduate from coincidence to irony when his friends’ rescue attempt doom him instead. Maggie and Colin break the real clone out of captivity, leaving only Quinn available for the transplant. Irony gives way to coincidence again when it turns out Alt-Quinn is a leader in an underground railroad for clones, and Quinn is spirited out of the hospital with the help of his double’s girlfriend (Paula Trickey) and special guest star Malcolm Jamal Warner (playing renegade clone leader RJ).
In between rescues and escapes, a few poignant storylines develop. Quinn and his father face off over what’s best for them versus what is humane; Maggie explores what happens to those who can’t afford an MHO plan; and in the best storyline, Colin teaches the Quinn clone (Mallory) what it means to be family. Mallory is so moved by Colin’s willingness to sacrifice himself for Quinn that he takes it upon himself to do the same for his “brother.”
Jerry O’Connell’s no stranger to playing two versions of himself, but this is the first time he’s been called upon to handle three roles in one episode. Alternate Quinn is easy, as he is essentially Quinn with the same sense of nobility and idealism. The tricky part was that of the clone; Mallory is underdeveloped from a lack of education. He’s spare parts, why waste time teaching him? O’Connell uses this mindset when portraying him as a child making his first trip to Disneyland; everything is awesome to him, much in the same way Colin approached the world after his first few slides. Mallory is to Colin as Colin is to Quinn. It’s easy for Colin to empathize with the clone.
Despite these strengths, the show still manages to come off as Fever Lite. The alternate world is explained but not revealed; I strained my eyes looking for little prop jokes or set dressings to flesh things out, but all I found were regular product ads. Opportunities for satire are squandered. Mallory’s fascination with TV is confined to stock footage. Instead of a light subversive touch, the moral of the story is wielded like a hammer. Cloning is bad. Those who support it are bad.
Maggie’s side adventure with the maimed poor is overkill. We already feel sorry enough for the clones. At the very least, the poor had a choice to sell off parts for money, they weren’t killed for their vitals like RJ’s clonemate Lonnie. Time spent compounding injustices would have better employed going for dark laughs or letting the other side make its case. I almost hate to admit it, but there were moments when I slipped into this world’s mindset: once Quinn escaped, a stray thought crossed my mind that Alt-Quinn would still be okay because the clone is still around. I reject the thought, but clearly it wasn’t rejected in this society. How can they live with it? If the show wanted to get really dark, they could have started making parallels to the most contentious argument of our time — embryos and abortion. Sadly, these issues don’t come up.
I must also concede the concept isn’t entirely original. I’m sure many of you Sci-Fi viewers are familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000, and one of the terrible movies to get the treatment is a 1979 disaster called “Parts: The Clonus Horror.” In it, the rich have clones of themselves around just in case something happens to them, then they take the parts they need. In a nutshell, it’s the same premise, so I suppose this could go down as just another movie of the week rip off. But let’s give Sliders the benefit of the doubt: a) it’s an engaging idea that makes sense for the show to explore and b) other than MST3K fans, who’s ever heard of “Parts: The Clonus Horror?”
In the final tally, “My Brother’s Keeper” takes the lay up on the fairway instead of firing for the green. I don’t chastise them for playing it safe, but when you can see the edge of a standout episode taking form, it’s hard to be satisfied. That said, it’s one of the rare instances this season where you’re forced to think about what you’re watching, and that alone is worth its rating.
|Previously: Review: Way Out West||Next: Review: The Chasm|