The Exodus, part I

"Come on, you must've been in situations like this before."
"Oh, yeah — I've broken out of guarded rooms, snuck across a military base and gotten my timer back from armed intelligence officers... I'd say at least a dozen times. Piece of cake!" — Maggie and Quinn on sliding etiquette.

Review by Matt Hutaff

Really Good

If you’re looking for a scene exemplifying the pitfalls and promise of Sliders‘ third season, look no further than the teaser for “The Exodus, part I.”

In it, the viewer is treated to the death of a collapsing galaxy as well as hints of a political climate where the Cold War is still burning between the United States and Soviet Russia. Scientific dialogue abounds; an approaching pulsar poses a grave threat to Earth (a la Last Days). And just when the concern couldn’t be better telegraphed, right when the audience is positive the production team is revisiting a first season approach to alternate history — that’s when someone gets their brain fluids sucked out by a shapeshifting villain!

How do you explain a plot saddled with such foolishness? Simple — Sliders is locked in civil war over its ideologies. On one side is a commitment to exploring intriguing parallel worlds. On the other? Action. Explosions. Low-grade pastiche. Which sensibility will win? It looks like we’ll find out at the conclusion of this two-parter.

“Exodus” has a lot to recommend. It’s the first episode in a long while to revisit science and a parallel culture that’s not completely over-the-top. It’s not unreasonable to suggest a world where glasnost failed and two superpowers are at each others’ throats. At the same time, the use of a pulsar as doomsday device is clever and well-intentioned. Pulsars are real phenomena, and unlike rogue asteroids they can’t be brushed aside by makeshift nuclear missiles. If one’s heading for Earth, that’s the end. Period.

The race is on, then, as the Sliders pair up with the military to finalize their own sliding device and transport as many people as possible to another world. The titular exodus is nothing less than abandoning an entire world before it dies. If that’s not enough of a burden, the Sliders have no choice — the timer has given them a three day window on a world that only has two left.

Each Slider reacts to their predicament in unique ways. Rembrandt befriends a young boy named Malcolm (Wes Charles, Jr.), who’s facing the end of the world by himself. Wade takes it upon herself to choose, in the most egalitarian method possible, who’s earned the right to slide when the time comes. And while Arturo determines the nature of the problem facing them and its solution, Quinn scouts various parallel worlds with intelligence officer Maggie Beckett (Kari Wuhrer).

Sounds like a great idea, right? So why bog it down with brain fluid?

Beats me. But even in spite of the requisite action-adventure scenes (including one where the Sliders subdue a trifecta of armed servicemen), the assaults, and the bad science, the promise of this episode sticks out.

Bad science, you ask? Well, as much as I like to crow about the pulsar and its destructive capabilities, the simple truth is that they are not used properly by the production staff. As I discuss in the episode capsule, a pulsar isn’t a piece of a star or a galaxy. It is a star — one so incredibly dense it packs five to ten times the mass of our sun into a fraction of the space. Likewise, they rotate far faster than the episode suggests — a typical pulsar can rotate 20-30 times a second (astronomers have even used them to keep time). A pulsar entering the solar system wouldn’t coast past Saturn as the episode shows, it’d rip it from orbit. And if it ever got that close to Earth, every living thing would be dead instantaneously. Nice try, guys.

There are some other ridiculous gaffes, like Giant World (impossible as shown), but really the least convincing part of the episode is our guest cast. From the lowliest crazed bum (Steve Larson) to highly-placed military commander Angus Rickman — played by Who frontman Roger Daltrey, no less! — the guest cast is terrible. You just don’t buy emotions coming from these people. During what should be a series of emotional scenes between Rembrandt and Malcolm, Wes Charles fails to adequately express any tangible feelings. Wuhrer’s performance is all across the board — is she a hardened intelligence officer, a scientific softy or a dissident voice in a fascist army? Pick one. And don’t get me started on her speech to Quinn where describes Captain Beckett as “logical to the point of myopia.” It isn’t believable for a second.

Daltrey is laughable as Rickman, who, as it turns out, is the one responsible for attacking members of his own staff for their brain fluids. Even Linda Henning, who reprises her role as Quinn’s mom for the first time since The Guardian, seems compressed into a smaller role. You get Quinn home for 30 minutes and that’s the most emotion she can summon up? I don’t blame her for that, however; the scene as written was simply too short.

Barring these issues, however, the first installment of “The Exodus” stands up under scrutiny. There’s a genuine sense of energy and adventure in it that’s been sorely lacking for several episodes. When Quinn smiles while talking about visiting Cal Tech, you smile with him. When he and Maggie briefly visit Earth Prime, Quinn’s enthusiasm for Mrs. Randall’s chicken soup, coupled with Stephen Graziano’s well-scored music, breathes some life into the cliffhanger.

The main Sliders get a chance to shine in some part or another. Maybe it’s simply the idea of multiple slides in one episode that keeps the momentum going. Maybe it’s the sense of desperation that works to the story’s advantage. Whatever it is that helps me ignore gaffes like a Briton being in charge of an American Air Force base or unbelievably shoddy physics, I like it. It may not be a four-star outting like Double Cross or Eggheads, but it’s solid nonetheless.

That is, as long as the second part doesn’t crash and burn. Then all we’ll have is the pitfall of brain sucking silliness with none of the promise.

Previously: Next: