A Thousand Deaths

“What difference does it make? She’s not real!” – Starsky, or is it Hutch?

Review by Mike Truman


A Thousand DeathsThe 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!

A Thousand DeathsLong 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.

A Thousand DeathsMallory 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.

A Thousand DeathsThe 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 Thousand DeathsA 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. A Thousand Deaths“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.”






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3 responses to “Review: A Thousand Deaths”

  1. pete5125 says:

    And the reason for this episode is that the staff found out that they could get these Civil War reinactors that would do their job for peanuts and the writers just had to come up with a good way to work them into the script, you get gun fights cannons stunts for almost free..

    This is what we got, I mean the episode was dumb, just like last years episode, “The Chasm,” we are to believe a conspiracy to kidnap people would go unnoticed, how are they finding only the gamers that have zero friends and family members that care in no way that their buddy/relative went to The Chandler to play some cool VR games that have to be expensive, so this isn’t just a trip down to the arcade, it’s a event like Disneyland that the family saved up for, talked about, made a big deal about.
    Then said person never returns home…
    When it could of been just as easy an episode to have them go to a world that is moving slower in time, with the Civil War taking place, how do the Sliders fit in, Racism would be in full force, Rembrandt and Diane would have to deal with this, Maggie could not get away with being Maggie, and how long would idiotic Mallory be able to survive doing his hammy act of fitting into different environments. It could be a season #1 type of episode, with problems so big how do you solve them or do you stay the heck out of dodge…to it is time to slide.

    But, season #5 was always about having easy problems that anyone could solve along with Bad-Guys that would make some of the worst decisions on earth.

  2. tops116 says:

    I otherwise agree, but…

    “Further, we’re supposed to hold Rembrandt’s buddy cop (Kevin West) in contempt because he’s trigger happy”

    Really? I held him in contempt because he was a doofus messing around in a game that he was effectively sharing with someone who wanted to play instead of create simple mayhem. Hey, creating chaos in a game can be fun, but not when playing with someone that’s trying to play the game straight. Yes, better there than in reality, but that’s still being a pain in the ass (especially if Remmy was paying to play).

    “Diana makes a snide remark to a gamer playing soldier that it’s not as much fun when the bullets are real”

    Y’know, that could’ve been a sly reference to “Strangers and Comrades.” Didn’t Damron also write that one?

    “You can’t have an act break on Maggie’s pretend death when you just showed Diana’s pretend death”

    Actually, you can’t have an act break where anyone in the main cast will seemingly die because it’s lazy writing. Hey, blood or not, we knew Arturo was dead because we saw the bullet hit him in the chest. “Will so-and-so survive? Well, they’re signed up for the rest of the season, and you saw them in a promo for next week’s episode, but please pretend along with us anyway.”

  3. Patrick says:

    The episode is pretty terrible, but I roared with laughter when Rembrandt told the maintenance guy, “I’m Detective John Shaft and this is my partner, Private Dick.”

    Well, it’s not all that funny, but that’s as good as Sliders gets in Season Five.