“So did we slide into a prison without getting captured, thus eliminating the usual gunplay and middlemen?” — Maggie.
Review by Ibrahim Ng
There’s a certain level of schadenfreude hidden in the DNA of “Map of the Mind.” That joy (and joke) comes from the failures of a production team desperate to teach the audience a lesson about creativity and imagination with one of the most lifeless, formulaic, and artless outings of Sliders you’re likely to witness. And in a season where we’ve already seen customer service from Hell and a pan-dimensional library downsized into cheap action sequences with no social commentary, that’s saying a lot.
“Mind” throws the Sliders headfirst into the Oakwood Institute, a mental asylum imprisoning people for having creative impulses, people resisting the dominant mindthink of conformity. (In case it isn’t obvious enough, the sets are peppered with signs saying simply “Think Alike.”) Mallory and Diana get trapped behind enemy lines while Rembrandt and Maggie, outside, explore the world looking for a way to free their friends.
Once again, Sliders creates a fascinating parallel world and then chooses a setting, structure, and arc that completely fail to make use of the concept. Maggie and Rembrandt’s exploration never extends beyond brief interactions with two people; one is an art thief exposition device (Tamara Bass) who lasts less than one scene and the other is Doctor Sean Carter (Jonathan Brent, right), who works in the asylum and serves only as a means to get Maggie and Rembrandt in a position to rescue their friends. The script has absolutely no interest in Dr. Carter beyond his role in yet another tired capture-escape-capture-escape sequence.
And that’s a shame, because I am filled with questions regarding this man. How does he morally justify lobotomizing anyone who thinks differently? What sort of personality develops in a man living in a world without music or sights or sounds beyond his daily routine? How does he advance through his career if imagination is to be avoided; how does he determine his wishes and goals? How did medicine advance to where it was in a world where imagination is considered a mental illness?
I have no idea, and I don’t think the writers gave it any consideration whatsoever. Whatever caused this dimensional shift has far-reaching societal changes decades in the making, yet there’s still “art” (and I use that term liberally when discussing velvet paintings of clowns) laying around for scavengers to find. Rembrandt casually talks about his singing career with Dr. Carter moments after learning from him artists are locked up on this world. (Maybe he got that idea from Quinn during “Prophets and Loss.”) Come to think of it, why does the story place Diana, the left-brained scientist of the bunch, in the asylum while the professional artist is running strategies and cooking up escape plans? Who decided that was the logical course of action?
At least Mallory’s characterization doesn’t suffer too much while he’s inside Oakwood. He actually gets a fun moment when he’s chased through the corridors; he immediately impersonates an orderly in order to avoid being locked up. It’s clever and shows us the Quinn Mallory we were promised early on, one that makes up for his scientific deficiencies with other strategic gifts. Too bad he spends the rest of the episode wandering aimlessly, not getting a single opportunity to show off his street-smarts. He hangs out, looks at patient drawings, and searches for Diana while she’s subjected to a neurological procedure that leaves her brain damaged.
It really doesn’t reflect well on Diana that the remapping procedure doesn’t actually make her any less useless than she already is. In this episode, Diana plays no role beyond being the victim. If Sliders wants me to be upset when Diana’s mind is broken, I need her to first do something intelligent. Then, after she’s undergone the procedure, we can compare the personality shift. This is basic. This is obvious. And this is not done.
Instead, the script declares we should care about what’s happened to Diana because she’s developed telekinetic powers. Telekinetic powers? Wasn’t this episode about the fight to remain creative, about the power of imagination? Evidently the Sliders writing staff believes the power of the mind isn’t worth much if it can’t be visualized by gusts of wind and grabbing a pen from someone’s hand.
Thankfully, the the man who developed the remapping procedure (Paul Sand) is a self-admitted patient in Oakwood, and when Rembrandt and Maggie conveniently break in, he reverses the procedure in moments. Was this lazy, obvious outcome ever in doubt?
And since the episode fails to provoke much in the way of questions, much less raise the obvious ones, I am left pondering trivia. Why does Diana scream “Mallory” when being dragged away? (Wouldn’t she scream “Quinn?” Isn’t that how she knew him before following Rembrandt and Maggie into the vortex?) Why does Maggie comment that this new world is gray and colorless? (The streets they wander don’t look any different from what we’ve seen in earlier episodes.)
The ending to this episode gives the painful impression that the script was seriously running short. The procedure to reverse Diana’s brain damage fails the first time, then succeeds the second time, in an extremely prolonged and tedious chain of events. And then Rembrandt proceeds to describe this prolonged and tedious series of events to Diana, in-dialogue, after she wakes up.
It’s too bad, because the bones holding this story up could have provided some interesting and insightful character moments, especially with Diana. By the end of “Map of the Mind,” she’s gone from left-brained intellect to someone who’s been tapped into a universal consciousness that permeates all dimensions. She’s ascended to another plane of existence for 24 hours; even Jane White, a fellow patient (Michael McCraine), can sense that Diana’s gone where no one’s gone before and is envious of this evolution.
If you’d left behind the trappings of your body and were in communication with a gestalt voice on another plane of existence, how would you feel upon your return? How would Diana parse these events through the lens of science? Could she ever really go back to her old life after this transformative experience?
After seeing the energy-free coda after sliding to safety, do you think any of these questions will be addressed in subsequent episodes?
I have to wonder if “Map of the Mind” is some kind of metatextual joke, where an episode about the importance of creativity fails to build anything of value or entertainment to fill a 10-minute deficiency in the running length. Maybe, instead of giving me lectures on imagination, the Sliders writing team should contemplate where they left theirs.
|Previously: Review: Requiem||Next: Review: A Thousand Deaths|