"It's not real! It's not real!" — Arturo, praying that the viewing audience reaches the same conclusion.
Review by Matt Hutaff
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
Likewise, if four people begin and end an episode of television without entering or exiting a world, are they called Sliders?
Most important, why was a script about invading dreams commissioned for a show about traveling between parallel universes??
That’s a lot of questions raised in three sentences. Unfortunately, philosophy can only tackle the first one. I as a viewer am left to conclude the others on my own, and the answers are not satisfactory.
While things begin well enough – Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, and Arturo have just arrived after an extended (and exhausting) stay on Mardi Gras World – the episode quickly derails when a rollerblader accidentally bumps into two bicyclists. As the Sliders survey the scene, one of the bikers (Zack Ward) whips out his pentagram-encrusted palm, slaps the rollerblader’s face, and tells him to drop dead. And he does.
What the hell? See, it turns out that this world has Dream Masters, a society of geeks cut loose from modern academia who somehow found a way to parlay their knowledge of pharmacology and telepathy to victimize people’s dreams from the comfort of their retro-chic West L.A. compound. Nice, right? If that’s up your alley, you’ll find the rest of the episode amusing. If not, however, plot holes, psychic contrivances James Randi would die laughing at, and that cave we just saw in Electric Twister Acid Test will make you wonder how it can get this bad.
Nota bene: Before Sliders, there was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Melinda Snodgrass, who worked on “The Dream Masters” also penned memorable TNG episodes like “The Measure of a Man” and “The Ensigns of Command.” How did she and Scott Smith Miller, whose credits include Eggheads, combine their efforts and come up with this crap?
“Dream Masters” fails on almost every level: it doesn’t fit the mold of Sliders, probably because it’s a poor man’s ripoff of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. Shoveling Wade into the role of the helpless victim who must fend off the Dream Masters’ attacks is fruitless at best. The sound, direction and lighting are awful. And the dreams? Don’t get me started.
Things actually get worse when Wade slips into a coma and Quinn seeks out some assistance from the beach officer who filed their report when the rollerblader died. We learn she was sexually assaulted by a Dream Master, then follow the bread crumb trail to Doctor Olivia Lujan (Katherine Lanasa), a caretaker of the Dream Masters’ victims who manages to maintain a secret underground lair beneath a four-story brick apartment building. I guess she feeds, bathes, and collects bedpans for them all, too, because these are some of the best cared-for invalids I’ve ever seen. Forget Cedars-Sinai, proper medical care begins and ends in the sewers!
The climactic showdown happens when Quinn beats up a Dream Master, scrapes his hand for psychotropic drugs (you read right) and allows himself, Arturo, and Rembrandt to enter Wade’s dreams so they can all psychically fight the combined mental might of the retro-geeks. How this is accomplished is anyone’s guess, since it falls completely out of the realm of science, but it does provide for some unintentionally amusing scenes involving Arturo getting shot, Quinn drowning in quicksand and Rembrandt getting bit by a horribly rendered CGI snake. Let’s not forget the other coma victims… is everyone interconnected in the dream world? If so, does Maura Tierney know how much I love her?
Obviously, the Sliders win and Wade is freed of her torment. So what do they do? Slide in the nick of time? Heck no! They all lay down on some gurneys and fall asleep. Was the FX budget so tight after all those blistering special effects in the Dream Zone that they couldn’t get a water bottle in front of a lamp to simulate a vortex off screen?
This episode is such a huge disappointment, particularly coming off what we saw last week. The biggest mistake was hiring Michael Des Barres as Dream Master honcho Victor Cardoza. Des Barres also played the ultimate MacGyver villain Murdoc… so Sliders production counters that vision by putting enough makeup on him to make Mary Kay shudder with anticipation. Cardoza’s backstory is that he’s a disgraced professor, not a transsexual!
Also, if all these guys do is terrorize the West Side, why are they any sort of menace? How do they have any level of social prominence? West L.A. isn’t the cradle of civilization. It’s a pseudo-hip hangout with sky-high real estate values. While they may have some word-of-mouth urban legend status, some guy walking into a hotel bar with a pentagram drawn on his hand is going to get a roomful of laughter, not fear.
Dream Masters aside, the most frustrating aspect of this episode for me was the way Arturo and Quinn debate just how people have their dreams invaded. It’s cool when Arturo digs out an Almanac and manages to find the precise passage describing alt-history (Obsession, The Young and the Relentless) or when they enter the wreckage of a Kromagg ship (Invasion). It simply doesn’t fly having two students of physics playing chess while casually discussing psychotropic drugs ingrained in people’s skin, especially when neither Quinn nor Arturo have any background in biochemical engineering. If it can’t be adequately explained, why bother?
While I could deride the poor production values for eternity, I felt I should list the few good things about this show. There’s some dialogue here that shows a lot of promise; not surprisingly, it’s the dialogue that has nothing to do with the main story. Arturo grabbing Wade’s cheesy harlequin novel to read brought a smile to my face, as did Quinn’s concern over Wade’s health at the end. Their kiss felt surprisingly sincere.
I guess this is a double-edged sword, but for me the highlight of the episode was Arturo’s condemnation of Rembrandt for falling asleep while on watch. Rembrandt’s guilt and Arturo’s snap judgements are perfectly in character, and Arturo’s reluctance to apologize for behaving like a dunderhead is right in line. Arturo is a softie at heart, but he’s still an irascible bastard. You gotta love that.
Aside from those minor gems, this episode is entirely forgettable.
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