Sole Survivors

"I feel like I'm trapped in a bad Roger Corman movie." — Wade, speaking for the suffering fanbase.

Review by Mike Truman


My friends, I come before you to debate the merits of Sliders episode SL-319, “Sole Survivors.” For those of you not into titles, this is the zombie episode. I don’t like zombies, but I do like this episode.

Before you tie me to the cross Quinn slid in on, let me do some ‘splaining. By no means does this one rank with the great stories. It’s middle of the road at best, but considering when it aired, there’s a remarkable effort put forward. The writer, Steve Kriozere, tried to do the show justice and succeeded in many small ways.

In overview, zombies populate today’s alt-world almost entirely. Okay, so technically they’re not full-fledged zombies as they’re still alive, but for all intents and purposes… yeah, you get the idea. The cause of the epidemic is a weight loss program that works all too well. The rapid attack on fat forces the user to acquire more just to stay functional. This is no ordinary Big Mac Attack. First they eat their tongues. Before long, people are eating each other. The medicine/disease spreads through saliva, so those bitten also become zombies. As for the sensitivity to light and total loss of cognizant thought, that’s just creative license.

Quinn has the misfortune of being bitten by one of these folks upon arrival to this nightmare, though at the time he thinks little of it. It’s only after encountering a survivor, Debra, that he learns of his terrible fate. He and the others have the rest of the episode to cure him or lose him forever.

Unlike the surrounding episodes which are built around their respective homages, “Survivors” is a character episode first. “The Night of the Living Dead” scenario feeds off the story, rather than being the story itself, and the story is how the Sliders cope in the immediate wake of the death of their loved ones. For the Sliders, the adventure has turned into a nightmare, and this slide makes it all the worse. Losing someone you love only to be thrown into a world of death can cause you to give in to despair. Compound that with the potential loss of Quinn, and this could be the end of the line. Wade says as much when Quinn urges them to get away from him. “He’s trying to protect you,” Maggie says, to which Wade replies that without him, there’s nothing left to protect.

The situation is no better for Maggie, who is reeling from the loss of her entire planet. She maintains a tough fa├žade, perhaps too tough. She callously dismisses Wade’s concern over Arturo, arguing she shouldn’t get so emotional over someone to whom she’s not related. It’s easy to say Maggie’s just a bitch and leave it at that, but Maggie’s pain goes deeper. She’s just lost her husband. In her mind, Wade’s complaint is slight.

While there’s certainly a fair share of running from zombies, this story excels in its quiet moments. There’s a lot of good dialogue between Remmy and Wade as they try to hold themselves together. Wade’s fear of losing Rembrandt and Quinn to Maggie is a little premature perhaps. They’ve just joined up with Maggie, and Maggie has far from ingratiated herself. Even Quinn, who is clearly attracted to Maggie, is put off by her rigidity and is continuously putting her back in her place. Quinn’s choice of Maggie to stay with him is not one of preference. He needs someone willing to kill him if he fails to find a cure. He can’t trust his friends to do the job.

Even cold-hearted Maggie has a moment of release after the danger to Quinn has passed. The sight of an empty wheelchair reminds her of Steven. She doesn’t break down, but it’s sinking in. Maybe this will melt her shield of animosity.

“But, Mike,” you say. “This is an episode about zombies. ZOMBIES. Even with all of the above, come on, ZOMBIES.”

The zombies? At least there’s an attempt at explanation. You don’t have to buy it, but it sure as heck makes a lot more sense than a mutated worm excreting an elixir of life! Plus, I do like the idea of an epidemic caused by a diet program. And it is sorta scary. (Of course, I’m a puss when it comes to horror films.)

It’s also one of the few episodes of late that makes any effort at referencing previous installments. There’s even a Bennish mention! There’s some decent humor. I still laugh out loud when Rembrandt tells the incredibly pale Wade she has nothing to worry about from the zombies because she looks like one of them! He was kidding, of course.

And in an episode where you think people would be eating brains, Quinn actually uses his, something sorely lacking as of late. Though he works on curing himself, he doesn’t actually do it, and this is crucial. Quinn doesn’t have the background to cure a plague, but he is intelligent enough to gather the components. The doctor cures him and it raises the level of credibility in an incredible environment.

Even the directorial work (by Mr. Peckinpah himself) is pretty good. Decent eye for maintaining suspense, good use of a crappy set, long lingering shots of Maggie’s chest… well, it is Peckinpah. Yeah, they overdo it with the zombie getting knocked back twenty feet in slow motion when Maggie guns him down and I’m not sure why it looks like a nuclear bomb hit the place in the establishing shot. So yes, I must concede there are flaws.

Many, many flaws.

Quinn’s practical joke with the electric fence is flat out stupid and completely out of character. Debra, our survivor, shows virtually no survivor skills. She can’t fix a generator, she can’t tell the living from the dead, and she hangs around near sewer entrances where zombies can grab her. Our good doctor is none too bright either. Instead of being overjoyed at finding healthy people, he hides… with zombies! Talk about straddling the line between two worlds.

Our final scenes are a bit curious as well. The adventure into the sewer just didn’t seem necessary unless there’s some sort of quota for how often they use the cave set. Was it so Wade could show her violent streak? Is this the sort of message we want to glean from this tale? Finally, Debra and the doctor decide to stay behind and try to save the world. I give them three minutes before they’re eaten.

And, oh yeah, weren’t they chasing this Rickman fellow?

Of course, when you get down to brass tacks, a lot of my cheers for this episode boil down to competency. What I come to expect from a second season episode I can’t take for granted here in the post-“Exodus” era. But I do like this story. If any plot could utilize flesh-eating zombies, this one is it. It is an episode that makes the most of its place in continuity. Dare I say it, it even shows foresight on the part of the executive producer. It’s only too bad none of the lessons learned in this story are likely to carry on to any further adventures.

Previously: Next: