State of the Art

"I'm gonna need a pacemaker after this slide." — Quinn, after getting zapped by a laser.

Review by Matt Hutaff


Are you kidding me? I’m going to need a defibrillator just to wake me up from this snoozefest.

“State of the Art” is probably the most inconsequential episode to date. When I think back and try to rattle off the names of the third season episodes, this is the one I always forget. It’s literally a black hole of time, and writing a review of it is painful because it’s just adding to the sinkhole of life wasted on this episode.

Which isn’t to say that “State” is a terrible episode. It’s certainly light years ahead of Desert Storm and The Fire Within in terms of storytelling, but it’s just so goddamn boring. Never have I seen a television program devote so much energy to androids/artificial life forms and have it represent so little. This world’s history is nonsensical, but then, so has every world shown this season except Justice World from Dead Man Sliding.

Who would have thought that a parallel earth where several thousand sentient androids killed all of humanity would be so uninvolving? What does that say about the show that they can’t hype the special effects up and make some kind of commentary about the status of sentience the speaks to the viewers?

The Sliders production staff includes Melinda Snodgrass, whom I mentioned in my review of The Dream Masters was the writer of one of the only early Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes worth watching — “The Measure of a Man.” And surprise surprise! It deals with the very issues that should be running amok in this episode. Instead of Arturo and Wade having a trite debate about what makes a person, they should be cramming scene after scene of it down my throat. This episode shouldn’t be about a handful of renegades running around the back lot, it should be about a fully integrated robotic society and how it’s evolved in the face of the loss of its creator — humanity.

Instead we’re treated to Wade kissing a robot, painful dialogue about why this particular world’s sky is lilac instead of blue, laser shots aplenty and androids running around in shiny vinyl clothing.

Oh, let’s not forget the Humvee.

The plot we’re treated to goes as follows: Sliders slide in. Quinn and Rembrandt are captured by evil robots (you know they’re evil because they wear black). Wade and Arturo befriend a renegade robot named D.E.R.I.C. (Eddie Mills) to rescue Quinn and Rembrandt.

I hear when people come in to pitch episodes they’re supposed to devote no more than 30 seconds to an idea. Schuyler Kent got his out in 15. I can only assume copious use of the word “robot” got the writing staff’s collective juices going.

Why are there evil robots? Because there happens to be one human left, James Aldohn (Robert Englund), and he’s the creator of Aldohn Robotic Technologies. He created the renegade robots a while back and gave them emotions so they’d appear to be more human. But the emotions were too powerful, people complained and the robots fought back to prevent being dismantled. How the several thousand managed to kill every person on the planet is beyond me, but I’m not looking for a rationale at this point, I’m just looking at the clock.

Aldohn is quite taken with Quinn and Rembrandt because, after finding out he’s not the last living human around, he wants to experiment with them to turn them into robots. Yep, seems he’s got a procedure that will transfer a human mind into an android body, making them (and him) immortal. Naturally Quinn and Rembrandt aren’t thrilled with the prospect of becoming a robot, but it doesn’t matter — they’re lab rats, not guests.

Wade and Arturo don’t fare much better, as they’re stuck with D.E.R.I.C., aka Mr. Positive. I don’t know how this guy can be so upbeat and still be so stupid. Since the robot patrols only take place in the back lot… er, immediate vicinity around A.R.T., why do the rebel androids hang out there? Move to a different region or something! Maybe ignorance really is bliss.

Quinn and Rembrandt decide to escape, giving Rembrandt a chance to complain about not holding his weight on the team just so four minutes later he can hold his weight. What a ridiculous conversation.

Meanwhile, Wade and the Professor break in to the plant with the help of E.R.I.C.A. (Kathleen McClellan), an unstable robot who is repaired thanks to Arturo’s knowledge of electronics. She has a key built into her that allows access to the complex and eyes Wade jealously after hearing of her kiss with D.E.R.I.C.

Coincidentally, those break out meet up with those breaking in at the same time, only to all be captured. They all escape again and in the end learn that Aldohn’s process of downloading a mind into a robotic host worked, since he’s really a robot, too. It’s a climax that’s about as predictable as the sun rising in the east and about as exciting.

Not to rush the plot, but it’s that simple. It’s paint-by-numbers screenwriting and it’s very dull. From start to finish, everything is wrapped up in a nice tidy bow. It’s certainly something to watch if it’s on or if you haven’t seen this particular episode of Sliders before. I’m on the verge of recommending it because it’s not insulting to your intelligence, but it’s not thought-provoking entertainment either. It’s just there.

Stacked against some of the other bombs from this season, though, this episode looks like a mound of pure science fiction gold. And hey, if I’m ever racked with a case of insomnia, I know what tape to pop in.

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