The Chasm

"I know I should be upset, concerned, but for some reason, I'm not at all." — Quinn.

Review by Mike Truman


Last season, Sliders delivered Paradise Lost, a particularly foul turd of an episode about a weird little town with a horrible secret. I thought its complete failure would have dissuaded future episodes from sailing anywhere near its red tide of a wake, but someone thought differently. “Maybe the only thing wrong with the idea was its execution?” they thought. “If we just tried again, I know this creepy town thing can work!” So here it is, folks, the sequel nobody demanded — Paradise Lost II: The Chasm. And this time, it’s personal.

How bad is it? Why don’t we ask the people who created it? “It’s not one of the high points of the season,” admits producer Marc Scott Zicree before suggesting a picnic instead of a viewing. The actors agree, too. “It was horrible, I couldn’t wait for it to be over,” said Kari Wuhrer in an interview.

Why, why didn’t I listen?

Our story begins in quiet Middletown, a one road town in the middle of nowhere where everybody sits around eating popcorn and cotton candy. No one has a care in the world. But like any idyllic television town, it houses a Terrible Secret™. The source of their happiness is a mystical Chasm, which transfers all the pain and suffering to a Chosen One who must bear this terrible burden for the good of the others. When the chosen one can bear it no longer, they plunge into the Chasm while another is selected in his stead. Hmmm…so the Chasm demands a sacrifice. Sound like any giant mutated earthworm we know?

Like their compatriots in “Paradise,” the Middletowners don’t do much to hide their Terrible Secret from the outside world. Their church? The Temple of the Chasm. The Chasm itself? Completely unguarded; not even a rope line. Anyone can walk up to it, dispose of hazardous waste into it, etc. In fact, that’s how our crew encounters it; when they hear the anguished cries of a young girl (Antoinette Picatto), they run to the rescue only to see an old man take a header into it. They don’t yet know Amy is the new Chosen One. Nor do they know that Amy will be as terrible in this role as the actress playing her.

In town, Bud the Hick and Parker the pervert are replaced by Pastor Nichols (Michael Sabatino) and Mrs. Meadows (Angela Paton), but we are given the continuity of an incompetent and disinterested sheriff (Kurt Knudson). From them, we learn the Chosen One is supposed to hold the role for years. Amy lasts about two hours. Unable to adapt to her new situation, Amy cannonballs into the Chasm and the person closest to her gets the call — Rembrandt.

Now things get trippy. The producers don’t have enough faith in Cleavant Derricks to let him act depressed, they have to show how depressed he is by creating hallucinations where Quinn behaves like a jerk. Well, more of a jerk. Throughout the episode, Quinn has been steadily giving into the positive aspects of the Chasm. We later learn that those with the most troubles feel its effects most. His depth of woe must be something this town has never seen because Chosen One after Chosen One has dropped since he arrived. Rembrandt proves even more unworthy than a ten year old girl, lasting all of eight minutes or so before taking the Nestea plunge.

This must have been quite a trial deciding which of the remaining three could attempt to pull off the nonsensical performance awaiting them. Wuhrer must have lost a bet and Maggie is chosen next. Can the battle-hardened Marine suck it up and fight through the Chasm’s effects? In a word, no. Meanwhile, Derricks gets to head back to his trailer and meditate on how great John Rhys-Davies must have felt to be given an early exit from such a travesty.

Before everyone can kill themselves, Quinn and Colin come up with the brilliant idea of a pre-emptive plunge into the Chasm. Remarkably, this does not kill them or affect them in any manner whatsoever. They land in a storage facility where Mrs. Meadows is waiting to escort Maggie to her final fate. Here she will be kept in — wait for it — suspended animation!

Mrs. Meadows also does us the courtesy of giving the Brothers Mallory the town’s backstory. Middletown was an amusement park! The Chasm was a ride! So that’s why there’s popcorn and cotton candy everywhere. Of course, once the place ceased to be a functioning amusement park, I suppose they could have stopped doing that. Then again, this town isn’t big in the brains department. That might be why Mrs. Meadows still carries brochures. Let it go, Mrs. M. The dream is over.

Colin and Quinn overpower the old lady, but there’s no way to get to Rembrandt. The Chasm’s designer put the controls inside the chamber and only the Chosen can enter. Maggie is sent in with a gun to blow it up; blow it up utterly. In the end, everyone’s all right, there are tearful reunions, and the town of Middletown finally learns the hard lesson that it’s not acceptable to pass off negative emotions through science fiction. Kill us now.

Fans of the original Paradise Lost will be pleased to know that the production values on “The Chasm” are just as shoddy. Haphazard editing resulted in panels being shot, repairing themselves, and then falling apart again. The Chasm’s victims, supposedly in a state of suspended animation, gently sway back and forth as they try not to blink. Even the poor vortex is a victim of the lack of caring when they make it the wrong size to fit the perspective. I’m not sure Wade could legitimately squeeze through its tiny dimensions, let alone the poor Professor, had he the misfortune of being involved in this mess.

I can’t begin to pick apart the idiocy that explains the science of the Chasm, but I will ask a few pointed questions:

  • As Mrs. Meadows explains it, the Chasm is akin to a force, a “transmigration of bioenergy.” Does this force affect all living things? What kind of havoc is this wreaking on the plants and wildlife?
  • We know the Chasm is unguarded and unprotected. Are animals allowed to roam in and out of the cave? What happens if squirrels and raccoons start sacrificing themselves?
  • What if someone sacrifices themselves without anyone nearby? If Rembrandt hadn’t been around when Amy did her double gainer, would the episode have simply ended?
  • What would happen if you simply left town? Surely the negative energy from Middletown itself couldn’t possibly trail you? I mean, strong in the force is the Chasm… but not that strong.

I’m just pissing in the wind. There are no answers to these questions. If there were, someone would have stopped this mess long before it reached production.

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