The Great Work

“No one leaves the island.” — virtually everyone with a speaking role.

Review by Mike Truman



It usually takes our crew until mid-season to completely give up, but we’re out to an early start this season with “The Great Work,” a nonsensical and lethargic bottle episode where our team must defend all of the knowledge in all of the world from a handful of bozos in feathers and leather who have managed to conquer the entire planet. How is this possible?

“From the looks of things, the entire world is populated by imbeciles,” you say.

No, no, how is it possible that we’re only at episode four and we’re already in late season surrender mode? This is the kind of effort I’ve come to expect right around episode 17 or so, but we’ve got a short season this year. If we’re going to melt down, we need to get right to it.

We begin with our foursome, fresh from a jaunty safari (as evidenced by their matching khakis), landing on a cold island in the Northern Sea. Our team doesn’t question it, so I won’t either. Maggie’s taken some damage and they seek help at the gates of a monastery that dominates the property. After convincing the monks that they’re not spies from Eddie Bauer, they’re finally let in and Maggie receives medical attention. But something’s not quite right about this place. Despite no real impetus to dig deeper, the Sliders dig deeper.

After a few acts of tedious exposition and meandering about the set, they uncover the monastery’s dark secret; it’s actually a library. The monks have been accumulating as much as they can so that future generations can fight the conquering Volsang hordes. They do not use this knowledge themselves, presumably because they’re cowards/idiots. Diana, ever helpful, teaches them how to store all the data on a giant crystal instead of billions of floppy discs.

The work is interrupted when the Volsang arrive on some stock footage of a destroyer. Ever so slowly, they made landfall and take out the inept defenses. The Sliders hand off the crystal to two kids (Seth and Sara) in a rowboat before blowing up the library and making their escape. And so all the knowledge in all of the world lives to be read another day… assuming someone figures out how to build a machine that can read a giant crystal. As for those crazy kids, I give them about two days before they’re captured or drown. Our crew? Why it’s yet another trip to Giant World, seen in both Revelations and The Exodus, two catastrophes on a par with the Great Work. (Note to self: if ever I find myself pitching a concept to Sliders, do not include a Giant World. It always ends badly.)

Oh, and there’s a subplot where Maggie’s doctor falls in love with her and then betrays the monastery for some stupid reason. The end.

Short on plot and purpose, the episode can’t even fill its allotted screen time. I once accused El Sid of padding in an attempt to stretch the episode over the full hour, but it had nothing on “The Great Work’s” first act. It is a symphony of stalling, an Olympic effort of running in place. There is only one bit of information that is ultimately conveyed in the act, and that is the penalty for spying is death. Yet there’s a lot of time to chew up until we get to that act ending moment. How to fill it? Instead of having our Sliders fumble to explain their appearance on an isolated island once, why not do it twice? That’ll kill a few minutes. Next, let’s have Rembrandt recap the plot of “Prophets and Loss”. Ok, there’s another minute. Rembrandt can then ask for the timer. Yep, it’s a timer all right. I assume it’s still ticking as it’s apparently not necessary to show the audience why Rembrandt needed to see it. Good! Now let’s recap the last five minutes in case the audience nodded off!

Another good way to burn the clock is to explicitly point out all of the production errors you intend to make. You can never be too sure if the viewer is truly paying attention, so it’s best to really hammer your incompetence home. If you’re going to blow the timeline, make sure you check the timer often so there’s no missing your inability to edit an episode. Repeat “no one leaves the island” over and over again, then have everyone leave the island. As an added bonus, have the mean old head monk begrudgingly let them stay one night and then inexplicably do an about face and forbid them from leaving.  Much in the same vein, have one of your extras repeatedly remind Rembrandt that he owes him a favor. That way, when you forget to pay it off in the end, everyone remembers that you can’t proverbially write your way out of a paper bag.

Another clue you may have a dud on your hands is when you’re unable to find any moments of tension to base an act break on. The teaser ends with them standing at the monastery gate. The first act ends with an empty threat that could have been unleashed at any point. Act two ends not with the reveal of the library, but with us wondering what the reveal will be. But my favorite break is definitely that of the third act. Maggie, Rembrandt and Mallory run outside just as the Volsang bombardment begins… only to run right back inside as soon as we come back from commercial.

Can anything salvage this? If you’re looking to the guest actors, that’s a big no. Seth (Austin Nichols) makes Jerry O’Connell’s performance in The Chasm look vibrant. Abraham (Granville von Dusen) is a one note tyrant, and Rob Youngblood brings all the charm to Keeper James as he did during his previous turn on Sliders as Paradise Lost’s Sheriff Burke. The set crew, though not making unforced errors, just doesn’t have the budget to make the Volsang attack remotely plausible. The siege consists of two dozen men at most, and most of them are in such poor shape that they’re breathing heavily coming down the stairs.

Say what you will about the first three episodes, but they had purpose. They were establishing new characters and attacking dormant arcs. But this story lands with a thud. It doesn’t advance the season; it tells us nothing new about Diana or Mallory. Even the adventure is incredibly mundane and ultimately pointless. Thanks to Keith Damron, we know the show had slightly higher ambitions of being an interdimensional library.  That being the case, it may have made sense to just merge this plot with last week’s Strangers and Comrades. You have the same situation — a desperate last stand against an invading force where you’re defending important knowledge (like a Voraton device) — and Rembrandt may not have been quite so callous upon exiting had he been leaving these poor monks to death at the hands of Kromaggs instead of men dressed from beyond Thunderdome. It doesn’t hurt the former episode, and  it eliminates this episode entirely from the schedule. Now that’s what I call a win-win.

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