New Gods for Old

“Somebody had to look out for us; you certainly weren’t.” – Maggie, later paraphrased by Mallory

Review by Mike Truman


Ever have an idea for something that you just can’t quite pull together? I imagine it happens all the time in Los Angeles — a writer will be staring at his monitor when he’s struck by an absolutely brilliant scene, piece of dialogue, or cunning plot twist. Then it all falls apart when he attempts to pad 80 around the idea. (At least, that’s how I assume most Andrew Niccol films come about.) “New Gods for Old” falls into that category; it’s blessed with a killer idea, but after at least four attempts to turn it into an episode across two seasons, it just can’t find the sweet spot.

The action gets rolling straight away when Mallory is struck by a phaser-like weapon while escaping an unruly mob Rembrandt managed to tick off. The hit fuses his spine and paralyzes him from the waist down. Mallory, having already escaped a wheelchair once before, is unwilling to resume that life. He will do anything to walk again, no matter what the cost. Fortunately for him, there’s a group of overly friendly cult members who have just the thing – nanotech, aka The Glow.

Ah, but there’s a catch. The little mechanical buggers have a Borg-like tendency to network with their brethren in other bodies, forming one collective mind. Unlike the Borg, the network has no grand plan other than to meditate and recreate San Francisco circa 1968. Mallory takes the cure and for the first time in his life, he’s at peace. Obviously, this will not stand. When he refuses to leave voluntarily, the others trick him into making the slide.

Things take a nasty turn on the next world when a betrayed Mallory decides to convert the heathen through stealth. The nanotech inside him remains active, and he attempts to recreate the network he lost. After failing to trick his fellow Sliders, Mallory takes his revitalizing tonic to the streets and before the day is out, he has a considerable following. Only a series of signals known as the Dead Man’s Light can deactivate the nanotech and return Mallory to his former, miserable self.

Major philosophical questions are raised in this hour. The cult of the Glow stands in for organized religion, but here the cure truly works. The lame can walk, the blind may see, and had the technology been put to the test, it is conceivable it could bring the recently dead back to life. Moreover, it puts the believer at peace and one with his fellow man. It is everything a religion can sell short of the afterlife, and even that may be achieved as it’s possible one can always live on through the collective.

And yet, it is treated as villainous. Krislov (Gabriel Macht), a crippled doctor, refuses the Glow because it would subsume his individuality. That is the terrible cost of peace – conformity. The rest of the Sliders resist as it would compromise their mission (and possibly two of them have bad memories of a certain Chasm). No matter how much they’d like to give up, they cannot abandon unstuck Colin, inner Quinn, and what’s-her-name, the one they abandoned in the Kromagg rape camp. For all the good the Glow can do, it’s not focused on productivity. Its members can’t even work up the will to rebuild a war-torn city in a battle they somehow managed to passively win.

Which begs the question: is Mallory right? The world where the anti-Glow forces won appeared to be a totalitarian nightmare from the limited glimpse we were given of it. The world of the Glow is calm. We know from experience that religion is the cause of much (if not most) war, so why has the Glow achieved a certain level of peace while other religions fail? Is it because the Glow has achieved what we can not? Or is it just as vicious and volatile when threatened? Mallory gives a hint of this when he resorts to treachery to re-establish the collective. Ultimately, it’s a question that can’t be answered and “New Gods for Old” surrenders. Mallory decides the Glow is a choice – you can take it or leave it. But as we saw on the previous two worlds, that’s a crock. This is a time bomb of violence waiting to go off.

If the world’s about to implode, how is our new team of Sliders holding together? After taking the previous week off from characterization, this episode came back with it in spades. Sadly, I do not like what I’m seeing here. The loss of Arturo, and now Quinn and Colin, has resulted in a dangerous drop in brainpower. Call to mind a previous example of an infected member of the team – when Wade became ill with the Q or Quinn was consumed with the Lipron virus, containment was priority one. The Sliders were willing to die to protect other worlds from an incurable disease. Contrast that with Maggie and Rembrandt here; upon learning that Mallory was a walking Glow factory, they did not track him down and stop him. It didn’t even seem to cross their minds. Diana behaved even more reprehensibly; when catching Mallory attempting to infect someone else, she did nothing. She just stood there and watched it. If she’s the new brains of the operation, they are not long for this multiverse.

And how about some consistency? After going the length of tricking Mallory into sliding, Maggie and Rembrandt then throw their hands up with him in the very next scene. If he doesn’t want to slide anymore, fine. Diana, understandably, is confused by the about face. As are we. It’s easy to grow impatient with Mallory – he is kind of annoying – but he’s also the vessel of Quinn. Lose Mallory, and Quinn is lost too. How can Rembrandt and Maggie forget that?

Perhaps the writers have anticipated this problem and took a step to remedy that in the final scene. As they leave this new world to the nanotech holy war they’ve unleashed, Mallory declares Quinn is gone. The Glow has repaired not only his body, but the conflict of minds within him. Rembrandt doesn’t believe him, so the door is left open to revisit the issue, but it appears the quest to stabilize Mallory and free Quinn is over. On to… whatever it is we’re doing.

It would be inaccurate to say that this is a throwback episode, but watching it did bring back memories of the second season. Perhaps it was the intertwined trio of worlds that hinged on one series of events, much like Time Again and World. Or maybe it was the peaceful brunch in a European outdoor café that called to mind the calm before the storm of Invasion’s New Versailles. But more than anything else, this episode asked me to think about what I was watching, a phenomenon that’s been all too absent in so much of the last two seasons. Like My Brother’s Keeper before it, that alone makes it worth two and a half stars. And blowing the timeline by about a day in so cavalier a fashion makes it classic second season. Keep up the slightly better than average work!


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