“What difference does it make? She’s not real!” – Starsky, or is it Hutch?
Review by Mike Truman
The Atari Video Computer System, later known as the Atari 2600, hit the market in 1977. It would take video games out of the arcade and into our homes, revolutionizing the industry. Almost all of its games were for two players. Partially this was because of the very limited memory afforded by the system (so no resources were available for an artificially intelligent (AI) opponent), but the core reason was that everybody knew that the best opponent was another human being. In the America of “A Thousand Deaths,” this truth is taken a wee bit too far.
When our crew encounters the Arcade, a massive Dave and Buster’s specializing in Star Trek holodeck styled games, they’re initially excited to participate in fake gunfights and wars. This enthusiasm is diminished when they discover a Terrible SecretTM – most other gamers are douchebags. They’re further outraged when they find out the Arcade is abducting people, hooking them up to their mainframe, and forcing them to stand in for the AI. Why? In the name of realism, of course!
Long story short, Rembrandt and Mallory are the players while Diana and Maggie end up the playees. When the girls fail to show up after a spa session, the boys go back into the games to look for them – because they think the in-game holograms might know something. After encountering the girls as avatars, the boys hijack a maintenance man (Frank John Hughes) and con him into revealing the truth of the Arcade, a truth of which he himself was unaware. They cut the power to the games, free the hostages, and even arrest the shameless CEO (Todd Waring) who happened to be on the premises despite his global empire. All’s well that ends well, and we learn a valuable lesson about… sigh.
Okay, so we’ve got another stupid one on our hands. The main gist of it appears to be “playing video games might be bad for you,” but the approach makes no sense. It’s going to be hard to find too many viewers who went into this episode approving of kidnapping and mental rape as forms of entertainment but now see the error of their ways. How are the illegal actions taken by the evil corporation an indictment of gamers? Yes, they demanded better opponents, but no one could reasonably anticipate this. Even the poor maintenance people, the equivalent of programmers, don’t know what’s going on. No wonder they have such difficulties doing their job.
Mallory seems shaken to the core when he thinks about all of the ‘people’ he killed playing shoot ‘em up games when confined to a wheelchair, but there’s nothing to feel sorry about. They’re not real. There was no human intelligence being harmed other than his own.
Further, we’re supposed to hold Rembrandt’s buddy cop (Kevin West) in contempt because he’s trigger happy. Chastise him for spoiling the game, but don’t pretend it makes him a bad person desensitized to violence. He is fully aware he’s playing a game. He’s there to have fun, and some people have fun creating as much chaos as they can inside of a video game. There’s nothing wrong with that. Better to do it here than in reality. Diana makes a snide remark to a gamer playing soldier that it’s not as much fun when the bullets are real. Yeah, that’s why he’s playing a simulation.
The entire episode is just hard to swallow. The Arcade is abducting its own guests and allegedly there are dozens of these holo-holding cells, each seating hundreds of people. There are Arcades like this all over the world. The missing persons reports must be staggering, and most of them ending with “Last seen at Arcade.” No reason for suspicion here.
The end is ludicrous. Rembrandt makes a citizens’ arrest on corrupt CEO Einman and he just stands there while Remmy puts the fake cuffs on him. Einman ordered the intruders to be shot in the previous act. He’s torturing his own guests. This man is EVIL, all capital letters EVIL. He’s not going out like a punk. He has to already own the police to have gotten away with this as long as he’s had. Our intrepid crew of bozos is not overturning this social order.
And while we’re on the subject of clowns, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take some note of the teaser’s battle royal between Burger King and McDonald’s, or whatever non-trademark infringing names they went by. Somehow – and really, only our Sliders could manage to get involved in this – they become embroiled in a gang battle over the formula to the special sauce. Our crew casually avoids bullets as they rescue Diana from Ronald’s horde. After narrowly escaping with their lives, their idea of R&R is… to play fake gun battle. As Mallory later points out, their lives are more exciting than any VR game. Yes. Yes, it is. All the more curious you’d tease the episode with something more exciting than the A plot.
A little progress is made on the characterization side. Rembrandt was once up for a TV show before his career came apart. Maggie has trouble making friends with other women because they find her threatening. (Perhaps it was because Maggie was a terrible human being before she started sliding? It’s amazing the Maggie of Slither had any friends at all.) Mallory likes video games and Robert E. Lee. And Diana? Diana’s afraid of death. But now that’s she’s simulated death a few times, she no longer has anything to fear. Because there’s something beyond death… assuming you’re tied to a computer and didn’t really die.
One can only hope writer Keith Damron is wrong about the internal lives of computer programs. Otherwise, think of the untold suffering his poor script writing program endured while he typed this out. “What? You can’t have an act break on Maggie’s pretend death when you just showed Diana’s pretend death! And you can’t seriously think this maintenance man is going to open the door to the torture chamber because Rembrandt played on his fears of a world with no Lisa Leopard?! And Maggie’s Braveheart speech? Kill me…kill me now.”
|Previously: Review: Map of the Mind
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