Slide by Wire

"It's not about being good, baby, it's about being fearless." — Maggie.

Review by Mike Truman

Really Good

I have a small confession. I kind of… miss the old Maggie.

That’s right. I miss the Maggie that refused to show emotion. I miss the girl who over enunciated everything, talked down to everyone, and couldn’t keep her clothes on. I miss the woman, who weeks after the death of her husband, was ready to make it with a transparent villain in the jungle. Where’s the girl who had an affair with her commanding officer and didn’t think it prudent to tell anyone? The lady who’d shoot first and hoped she hit something later? I miss the Maggie who’d eat worms.

Tonight, I got my Maggie back. Through the magic of sliding, we get a glimpse of Maggie as she is against the Maggie she was. Today’s Maggie never stood a chance.

The stage is set in an exceptional teaser by this season’s standards and may rank as one of the best openings of the series. The characteristics that defined the old Maggie are prominently on display as she prowls about a nondescript military base, takes out a guard, and calls him a bitch after dispensing with him. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her use her bra as a pocket or take off her shirt superfluously, but she delivers on both counts. And just when you think she’s finally reverted to her true stripes, a second Maggie appears, making a beeline for the open vortex. It’s all been a con; we’ve been watching the wrong Maggie, and the correct one has been left behind with guns drawn on her.

How could this have happened? As we later learn, this world’s Maggie was an experimental fighter pilot flying planes so advanced they could not be controlled by mere human reflexes. Only a computerized human brain could keep these planes under control. In her desire to be the best, she signed up for this program and turned herself into what she’d later deem a freak show.

Upon discovering that a sliding double of hers had infiltrated the base, she knocked her out, dressed her up in her clothes, and then plotted her escape. Yup, she had absolutely no issue with sentencing what is essentially herself to a sentence she deemed worse than death. Classic Maggie.

Our new girl arrives bright eyed and wonderstruck in an alternate earth with amusing quirks to it. Though never fully fleshed out, it is evident this society has arisen from the ruin of a more advanced one. They have identified the remains of a nuclear power plant as harmful, but they’ve mistaken the operation manual as some sort of holy bible. They’ve built a religion around the El Diablo Nuclear Facility, and one of its tenets is that all technology is forbidden.

Now part of the gang, alternate Maggie wastes no time unwittingly doing what her other self had done: she hits on Quinn. The others are slow to pick up on the deception as she does a reasonably good job of remembering names. While her behavior is erratic, it’s not quite enough to set off the alarms. Intentional or not, this implicitly recognizes the show did a very bad job of building her character the previous season. Both Quinn and Rembrandt are used to these mood swings and don’t yet suspect what soon becomes obvious.

Unfortunately, her plan is thwarted when the computer chip she stole in the teaser proves defective. Her brain begins malfunctioning without its regular maintenance. When cornered by Rembrandt, she turns on him and has him arrested by the local authorities for carrying unlawful technology, i.e., the timer. As the ‘good book’ says, “Any variation from prescribed DOE and/or corporate operating procedures is punishable upon appeal or review, by immediate suspension and/or termination.” Vintage Mags!

Meanwhile, our Maggie is revisiting the life she left behind, including her deceased husband Steven (now played by John DeMita). In this history, he was never injured because his Maggie had already left him for the pilot program. Her ego had destroyed their marriage, and as a consequence of her inability to accept the consequences of her actions, she blamed him for her current predicament.

To her credit, she does not behave as Quinn, Rembrandt, and Arturo have done in similar circumstances. She does not attempt to claim this Steven as her own. Instead, she uses the limited time she has to try to heal both of their wounded psyches. It’s a very mature approach and stands in stunning contrast to the juvenile behavior her double is engaging in.

We quickly learn why alternate Maggie was in such a hurry to get out of there. The next stage of ‘pilot enhancement’ is essentially to become a head in a jar. Maggie reveals she’s a slider and can prove it by her lack of brain implants, but the base’s commander, Colonel Burke (Meg Foster) interprets this as a sign of treachery and orders she be enhanced immediately. This is a flaw in the narrative as a) Maggie’s lack of prior enhancements makes her unsuitable for the project, and b) handing control of a top secret plane to a suspected traitor is a poor decision, even if you plan on decapitating them.

Meanwhile, her double is doing something that comes natural — playing dumb while Rembrandt faces death by irradiation. At first, Quinn attempts to reason with them by making allegories to their inferior technology, but he does a pretty poor job of it. Frustrated, he decides to shock and awe them by wresting the timer from them and opening the vortex. Rembrandt is less than amused. “That was your rescue plan? You churneth the buttery goodness?” Quinn replies, “I don’t have writers, you know!” Maggie pleads with them to just let her die, but they aren’t having any of it. They drag her back home flailing and screaming.

However, once returned to her home world, she does do the right thing in helping them free her alternate from the situation she created. Using her neural implants, she’s able to alert Steven to the truth. He then stages a fake operation that temporarily kills our Maggie in order to save both Maggies. As our crew slides out with the correct membership, it’s anything but certain that alternate Maggie has learned anything from this ordeal, but it’s been made very clear to us the changes that have occurred in our Maggie since she started sliding.

In a second half where we’ve seen more misses than hits, this story was a welcome oasis in a desert of mediocrity. Not only does writer Chris Black do an excellent job playing the two incarnations of Maggie off each other, he adds an extra element by pitting the highly technological world of alternate Maggie against a world it may become if they fail to manage their technology well. Kari Wuhrer has one of her best outings ever in the dual roles of Maggie, recapturing the old character without making it caricature. It’s a fitting closure to the old role, and makes it easier to accept the rapid changes in Maggie between seasons.

As for me, I suppose I will have to get by with the more well-rounded and likeable Maggie that has taken over.

Sniff. I’ll always have The Breeder.

Previously: Next: