"I know what I'm doing." - Dr. Oberon Geiger, a mad scientist who has gotten himself unstuck in the multiverse, doomed another man to the same fate, combined two different people into the same body, and now trapped himself in a fragment of a parallel Earth. Always the voice of reason.
Review by Ibrahim Ng
“Eye of the Storm” is an exemplary episode of the fifth season of Sliders. I’m not saying it’s good, however; I’m saying within its running length are note-perfect examples of precisely how far off the rails the series has gone in terms of plotting and characterization since the season began.
After wasting screen time with one last trip to the backlot, the Sliders emerge from the vortex near a Chandler Hotel surrounded by a wall of orange energy slowly dissolving the three block area around it. People are trapped within the barrier with minimal supplies and those that survive are slowly vanishing, only to reappear days later disfigured and barely alive. And the culprit behind all this? Doctor Geiger (Peter Jurasik), who’s ripped a fragment of parallel Earth into hyperspace in an attempt to anchor himself once again. He failed – and now he’s dying.
There’s a perfectly worthwhile character arc here: the mad scientist, desperate to survive, is now on his last legs and seeking redemption before the end. He regrets his misdeeds, feels terrible about the horrible situation(s) he’s created for Quinn, Colin, and all the innocent victims trapped in this world, and wants to help the Sliders. A straightforward story – so why can’t they pull it off?
The main problem lies in how Geiger and the Sliders themselves tackle the episode’s premise. Rather than make “Storm” a race against the clock to rescue the people trapped in this hellhole, writer Chris Black instead focuses on Diana’s abandonment issues and her half-hearted attempts to complete the job she began in The Unstuck Man – separate Mallory from Quinn. That’s all well and good, but if that’s the only story you want to tell, why populate it with a group of crazed locals desperately looking for a viable exit strategy? Why not at least up the urgency by making it impossible for the Sliders to leave unless they solve the Geiger problem?
Instead, Diana spends most of her screen time fuming about Geiger’s prior betrayals before agreeing to help him separate the Quinns. And while I realize that’s the primary arc of this season, it is a shockingly callous and tone-deaf piece of characterization to abandon the other victims of Geiger’s largesse. Diana is, after all, a woman who only months before fed and dragged a wounded Kromagg across a battlefield to make sure he’d live. She isn’t someone who’d look away from suffering around her.
And then there’s Dr. Geiger. Even if you accept his self-serving, hateful qualities, nothing he does after the Sliders arrive makes sense. He claims he regrets his misdeeds, but he hasn’t made any effort to rectify the situation. Instead, he sits in his ivory tower at the Chandler waiting for the plot gods to bring the Sliders to him by accident. These are the actions of a contrite man? It’s later revealed it was all a ruse to allow Geiger to merge with Mallory, but his lies still lack motivation.
Despite Geiger professing his good intentions, he lets Rembrandt and Maggie wander the three blocks, where they inevitably discover Geiger brought all the innocent people to this fragmented existence to attempt to merge with them and stick himself to one dimension. Why did Geiger allow this? Why wouldn’t he keep Rembrandt and Maggie occupied elsewhere?
And then, Geiger, despite having revealed himself to be a bad, bad man who tried and failed to steal Mallory’s body, then starts to try to do some good. He tries to split the Quinns for real (although he fails), makes arrangements to send all the refugees back to their home Earths (at which he succeeds) and gives Diana the home coordinates for her Earth and Rembrandt’s. Why? It was clear he didn’t regret his crimes, but then he starts regretting them after failing to steal Mallory’s body? What?
His motivations change from moment to moment, scene to scene, and the explanations provided are unsatisfying. Peter Jurasik is an actor of rare charisma and talent, but he seems utterly lost: Geiger is alternatively a master villain, a fallen enemy turned ally, a regretful reprobate – he’s just whatever is required to push the technobabble-driven plot along. And Jurasik ends up playing Geiger in a fairly neutral way, although one struggles to imagine what else he could have done.
Geiger is a plot device, and he’s responsible for pretty much every decision that moves “Eye of the Storm” towards its conclusion. And so, the regular cast have almost nothing of value to do. Oh, they wander the Chandler set. They angst about Dr. Geiger. The people trapped in this rapidly degenerating world are about to die, but Diana seems more interested in complaining about Geiger than helping anyone, and at the end, she activates a machine to save everyone in this fragmented world — but Geiger was the one to do all the work on that machine! Mallory, Maggie, Diana, and Rembrandt are passive onlookers to the story who accomplish nothing.
And this episode, despite focusing on the running plots of the fifth season, also accomplishes nothing. “Eye of the Storm” is, in theory, a watershed episode. Everyone leapt into the vortex in “The Unstuck Man” in the hope of finding some way to locate Colin and split the Quinns. But aside from Applied Physics, no episodes have, in any way, focused on the characters accomplishing any of these goals aside from passing mentions. It’s all down to “Eye of the Storm,” which devotes a great deal of screen time to these largely ignored plots. And this episode offers no tangible results whatsoever.
Finding Colin? Geiger says it’s hopeless. Splitting the Quinns? Well, Geiger manages to make a ghostly image of Jerry O’Connell’s face appear over Mallory’s (which you’ll only see if you’re carefully studying the scene), but then declares that Quinn could only be restored by killing Mallory, and Rembrandt refuses on Quinn’s behalf.
Applied Physics was the second episode of the season. This is the seventeenth. Saying the Sliders’ objectives were never possible retroactively declares the last 14 episodes to have been a total waste of time. It’s a nasty, unpleasant, repulsive message to send to the audience, and what’s irksome is that it could have easily been avoided. Rembrandt deciding that restoring Quinn isn’t worth Mallory’s life should be a moment of massive importance between Mallory and Rembrandt, showing the bond and friendship that has developed over the course of this season. It could have validated those adventures and served as a counterpoint to the overall sense of failure in play here.
But it’s completely skipped over; Mallory doesn’t even acknowledge Rembrandt’s choice and Rembrandt doesn’t even struggle with the decision. All the obvious points of emotion are completely missing, and considering the downbeat direction of the story, emotion was desperately needed to make this story worthwhile.
Finally, “Eye of the Storm,” like many other fifth season entries, hits upon a very interesting idea with the concept of a fractured reality for a parallel Earth. Looking at Keith Damron’s online journal, it seems the original idea was for this fragmented Earth to be filled with people from different parallel Earths. That suggests an absolutely fascinating setting for the Sliders to encounter, where each person would represent the Earth they came from and have different beliefs and values that would find them conflicting with every single person from an alternate history. Without common history, how would all these people survive and interact and converse? Would they all think everyone else was delusional? Would some go mad themselves?
It’s a great idea, and it is completely lost because “Eye of the Storm” as filmed barely spares the people trapped in this hell a moment of thought. The issues of food, water, and waste are largely ignored and the people in this world are mostly represented by faceless nobodies without personalities or voices. Diana doesn’t care about them. Maggie punches one of them in the face a few times. That’s it.
It’s interesting to think that this is one of the most expensive episodes of the fifth season; it’s obvious many episodes this year, including The Great Work, Easy Slider and Heavy Metal were made on the cheap to save money for the fifth season finale. For whatever reason, all that money’s ended up here.
For this one episode money wasn’t an issue, and the result is an show still confined to the Universal backlot and the standing sets, with all the budget having gone to glowing walls-of-energy and other special effects that don’t add to the story. “Storm” features clumsy characterization that makes the regular characters look stupid and selfish. It has a villain who is poorly motivated, ineffectual, and inexplicably helps our heroes for no clear reason. At the climax, the story presents a quick solution to the crisis at hand that requires no ingenuity or sacrifice on our heroes’ parts. It has an intriguing concept for a parallel Earth that is lost due to poor scripting. And overall, it’s an episode completely lacking in any strong characterization, emotion, wit or meaningful dialogue.
And in that sense, it’s a perfect representation of the fifth season of Sliders.
|Previously: Review: Dust||Next: Review: The Seer|