The Unstuck Man

"Let's do it for Colin, Wade, the Professor... and I think I owe you a '70 DeVille." — Mallory, as Quinn, to Rembrandt.

Review by Matt Hutaff


Let’s begin with a question: who is the titular unstuck man? Is it Colin Mallory, the farmboy inventor we picked up last season? Is it Oberon Geiger (Peter Jurasik), the “textbook megalomaniac” running amok in the premiere? Or is it you, the dear viewer?

While Colin and Geiger may be “unstuck” – a term this episode defines as someone unanchored from the multiverse – I contend the Sliders fan base is equally detached and fractured. We are, after all, watching the fifth season of a show that has seen massive cast turnover, endless production nightmares, and scores of unresolved plotlines. Is it even the same series we fell in love with at this point? Many fans say no, and I completely understand that opinion. Sometimes I feel the same way.

But I keep coming back in spite of Sliders’ bizarre runaway train trajectory. I enjoyed the first few seasons for what they were – alternate histories, black humor, and John Rhys-Davies chewing the scenery. I learned to relish the sun-drenched, poorly choreographed pastiche of season three. And season four had some of the most consistent and compelling science fiction storytelling in the series’ run before being bogged down by Nazi allegories and Humaggs.

One show, three distinct realities. When Geiger describes himself – adrift between worlds, never able to cling to anything for long – I wonder: is he a villain or the writing staff’s commentary on the show’s evolution?

Given this context, can Sliders limp into the next phase? Does “The Unstuck Man” hold up? Will it keep you hooked for the further adventures of Rembrandt Brown, Maggie Beckett, and the new guys?

I’ll say this: there are flashes of brilliance, a kick-ass concept, and some great guest stars. It’s also got plenty of continuity errors, lame music, odd directing choices, and bad acting.

In other words, it’s classic Sliders.

“The Unstuck Man” feels like an episode no one wanted to write (ironic given every staff member is credited in some fashion). Would you want the unenviable position of writing Quinn and Colin Mallory out off-screen with a Sci-Fi Channel budget, though? Fortunately, the story has good bones and makes the best of a bad situation with some creative science fiction.

Oberon Geiger, the abovementioned villain, is a physics genius whose experiments left him unstuck in space-time. Sure, he’s the head researcher of a powerful and well-funded think tank known as The Combine, but those accomplishments are negated by a life confined to a magnetic containment field. It’s 80 square feet of pure claustrophobia, and you hear the exhaustion in Geiger’s voice when he talks about the simple freedom of taking a walk outside. Getting Jurasik for the role was a coup; he sells the mad scientist role with understated conviction.

The solution, to quote Keith Damron in his Year Five Journal, is “bringing the mountain to Mohammed.” Instead of trying to “stick” his body to one stable dimension, Geiger plans instead to merge all realities into one hybrid existence. (I don’t know how this conceit is any easier, but at least the problem is based around sliding and parallel universes and not Kromaggs mindlessly killing/raping humanity.)

Helping Geiger are Doctor Diana Davis (Tembi Locke), protégé and assistant director of the facility, and a lab assistant cured of muscular dystrophy through careful application of Combine technology. A lab assistant named Quinn Mallory.

This Quinn, played by Robert Floyd, is a fraternal double of the Quinn we know. Our Sliders intersect with him when a routine slide (routine in that it involves a daring escape through a backlot shoot-out) injects lab assistant Quinn into their incoming wormhole. The resultant energy discharge unsticks Colin and merges Quinn with this interloper, giving Rembrandt and Maggie scant hours to set things right before it’s off to the next world.

(Since Jerry and Charlie are confirmed as not returning for the season, I’ll let you guess how successful they are.)

Now, I like this idea. I think it would have been a fun two-parter starring with the original cast. Merging Quinn with a double creates a unique identity crisis, and the technology behind the Combine serves as the backdrop to an interesting world. A dystopic “Double Cross,” if you will. As it is, I’m encouraged by Floyd’s take on classic Quinn, and hope the multiple personality angle continues as the season progresses.

I also like Geiger. He’s charismatic, manipulative, and nuanced. He healed his Quinn of an incurable disease as a loyalty-building exercise. He educated Diana so well she has no idea she’s working to destroy her own world. Hell, he talks Rembrandt and Maggie into a stasis field hours after he’s essentially murdered their friends. Geiger is so practiced, so sure of himself, you want to see him succeed.

Aside from these things and some good dialog at the end, I can’t recommend much else about this episode. Sure, the stage is set for the coming season, but the execution is so clumsy and awkward the end result is almost unwatchable.

What went wrong, then? For starters, this episode looks cheap. Is it a season premiere or a mid-season budget-saver? Music cues are recycled from the fourth season. Action is relegated to previously established locations and the Combine lab, which looks and feels like a redress of the hospital from “Asylum.” Couldn’t a PA find an exciting establishing shot for the lab? And did Guy Magar invest in Vasoline before going behind the lens? The number of soft-focus extreme close-up shots is staggering. And the zooms!

The lack of visuals dovetails nicely into the lack of action. For an episode where so much needs to happen, nothing happens. The Sliders visit the Chandler bar. They sit in the Combine’s food court. They talk to Diana. Diana talks to Geiger. They talk to Geiger. Geiger talks to Quinn. It’s a relentless attack of dialog, and the only solution for the writers is intercutting scenes. But this leads to continuity errors between Geiger and Quinn and makes Diana alternate between smug and ignorant. By the time you make it to the action-packed denouement where Diana and Quinn slowly turn a laser 90 degrees, you’re wondering how 44 minutes feels so damn long.

There’s also a lot of dumb. How did Geiger know about the Sliders? Moreover, how’d he know there’d be a Quinn Mallory in the mix? How’d he suss out vanilla Quinn was a genius? How’d Hal the Bartender know about the Combine? Why are all the looters and terrified citizens of Combine World carrying suitcases? Why is the female news anchor a befuddled mute, and why are the barflies drinking every time she can’t spit a word out? Why, if the Combine hasn’t been turned up to the macro level, is the world experiencing devastating weather disturbances?

Why did it go from night to day? And why, for the love of God, did Rembrandt and Maggie hang a lampshade on it by bringing it up?!

If you’ve noticed a distinct lack of Maggie and Rembrandt in this review, it’s because they drift in and out of this plot as everything happens around them. In a sense, they’re as unstuck from this adventure as Geiger and Colin are. Maybe they’ll get merged down into a version of Sliders that’s consistently enjoyable? It can’t happen soon enough.

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