This Slide of Paradise

"Yeowwwwwwwwwwww-ooooooooooooooooooooo!"- Rickman, expressing his displeasure of dying.

Review by Mike Truman


Sometimes after watching television, I find myself asking why the show was made at all. Is there a reason other than money, especially when the show in question isn’t drawing well and will almost surely be cancelled? Perhaps it’s a human need for completion, a sense that if we’ve gone this far, we are obligated to see it through. This need must stir in both those making the show, and those watching the show. Otherwise, “This Slide of Paradise” should never have been made, because there is nothing here to justify its existence short of inertia.

This season has become an experiment in endurance, and it takes all the stamina the viewer can muster to sit through this episode. It is a plodding, banal hour that often cannot generate enough enthusiasm for a quality act break. It’s your standard escape/capture plot employed since the beginning, but unlike the first season they forgot the alternate history, biting satire, and attempts at meaningful character development. There is comedy, but it is of the unintentional variety. What keeps us in our seats is the vain hope that by episode’s end the three remaining Sliders will make it home, and we’ll never have to see Colonel Rickman (either one of them) or Maggie Beckett again. Unfortunately, we’re first required to sit through 50 minutes of ‘homage’ to the Fox Movie of the Week.

Tonight’s entry is the critical and box office bomb “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, which itself is an adaptation of the far superior novel of the same name by the legendary H. G. Wells. For those unfamiliar with either, they both detail the disastrous consequences of Dr. Moreau’s attempts to create human/animal hybrids. While a compelling sci-fi theme, there’s nothing parallel about it to our culture or history, at least not as presented. Essentially we’re dropped into a loony scenario that could presumably happen anywhere at any time, akin to a radioactive worm secreting the elixir of life. But that’s another horrendous Sliders episode.

The backdrop to the story is stolen whole cloth from the movie as the episode takes place on a small, isolated jungle island inhabited by rejects from the musical Cats. As an added bonus, these off-Broadway actors are led by Rickman (Neil Dickson), who has undergone his second metamorphosis of the series. With no humans to steal brain fluid from, he’s been forced to use those of the animal hybrids, and has altered his DNA and appearance to match theirs.

After a quick dip in the ocean, Quinn and company are immediately confronted by these creatures. Fortunately for our Sliders, the hybrids are more adept at bouncing around and snarling than fighting, and the four lose only the timer before they’re rescued by Allesandra (Melinda Clarke), a slightly more civilized cat person. It is she who leads them to Dr. Vargas (Michael York), the stereotypically brilliant, mad scientist who’s been making manimals in his laboratory. By combining animal DNA with his own, he’s been able to grow dozens of these ‘huminals’ (his term) to full maturity in just a few short years. Why? For the only reason our dear producers can ever give us for these crazy adventures — to cure disease by making the perfect human! It doesn’t make much sense, but our Sliders nod their heads anyway.

Vargas is also a perfectionist and demands only the highest standards of discipline from his huminals. So far, only two — Allesandra and the somewhat mentally challenged Daniel (Mark Riffon) — have met his criteria. The rest have been banished from his home to the jungle, where they are forced to live out their existence in disgrace. His rules are strict and harsh, as demonstrated by his rejection of a baby huminal simply for biting him. Rembrandt resents Vargas’s treatment of his creations, thus allowing an additional capture and escape moment later in the story. We’ve got other capture and escape moments to cover first.

Having recovered the other timer in the jungle, Rickman knows the others will come looking for it and he sets a trap. Naturally, they walk into it. Rembrandt manages to avoid the rope net and escapes back to Vargas, but the others are locked up in cages where they promptly fall asleep. Exciting stuff, huh? Fear not, it does lead to a startling revelation — Rickman and Maggie had an affair! It’s startling because there was no hint of this relationship since we were introduced to these characters, aside from Maggie’s proclivity toward promiscuity. Looking back, I suppose it explains how someone who could be disarmed by civilians and locked in a trunk could rise to such prominence. Quinn and Wade barely react to the news; he’s too infatuated with Maggie for it to register and she’s long past caring. And so am I, so let’s fast forward to the big finish.

Using Vargas as a distraction, Rembrandt breaks out his fellow Sliders and the four escape with both timers, all of which had been inexcusably left unguarded by Rickman. Unfortunately for the producers they still had an entire act to fill, so Rembrandt decides to rescue Allesandra from the mad scientist and take her back home with them. Like everything else in this episode, he fails in his attempt. However, he’s saved from donating his precious DNA when the Rickman-led hybrids break through the perimeter and destroy Vargas. Helpful hint: if you’re ever storming an electric fence with friends, send the guy you least like into it first. It shorts out the whole system and you can just walk right in! Or so Sliders would have me believe.

Rembrandt and Rickman both make it back in time for the slides. Unwilling to leave Maggie to fight the hybrids alone, Quinn sends the other two home and stays to fight. Rickman makes his final bad move as he dives off a cliff to try and catch the vortex. Quinn and Maggie attempt to track the others home, but the fight must have damaged the timer, for they land “in the future.” One final failure, for an episode bursting at the seams with it. I can only hope Wade and Rembrandt made it home, but I’m not feeling too good about it.

Of the laundry list of suggestions one could make to improve this tale, better pacing may be the quickest fix. Absurd or not, there are revelations in this story. Rickman’s reveal as a hybrid is shocking. Given that this is the finale, we know Rickman’s in it. Why not give us that reveal at the end of the teaser? Instead, we’re left with Quinn ambling away from a still unseen threat. Show the threat! Give me a reason to come back from commercial other than a sense of duty. The same point can be made for the first act, which is spent running. Show us what we’re running toward. Reveal your special guest star before the commercial.

The fourth act is painful. Rembrandt’s decision to potentially sacrifice everything for a cat person he barely knows — on the verge of making it home no less — doesn’t sell. The others allowing him to go it alone is even worse. And where’s the drama in having the other three standing around waiting for his return, which they never for a moment doubt? We’re subjected to awkwardly advancing the Quinn-Maggie love story (with Wade forced to watch.) Maggie’s affair with Rickman isn’t broached, making me wonder why they thought this was important to add at all. In the end, Rembrandt simply reappears. He’s not being pursued, there’s no mad dash; he just strolls up to them in time to slide. Guess Quinn had it right by not worrying.

Then there’s the obligatory misguided attempt at heavy handed morality, and this one is a doozy even by The Breeder’s standards. I’m not talking about the attraction between Rembrandt and Allesandra, despite her being no older than five (and part leopard!). No, we’re once again looking at the grim visage of slavery, as the treatment of the hybrids by Vargas was supposed to be analogous to the 19th-century American South. You can miss it for much of the episode because it’s not quite as blatant as previous episodes, but there are clues leading up to the final revelation that the hybrids are meant to be slaves docile beyond reason. The mansion Vargas resides in is a former plantation, and there’s an odd bit of dialogue where Allesandra reveals she’s never seen a black man before. The forbidden love between Rembrandt and Allesandra is less bestiality, and more a play on interracial affairs of prior centuries. It fails a) because it’s really creepy having a woman in cat make-up meow lustfully after Rembrandt, and b) because we can’t accept the hybrids as stand-ins for racial oppression without giving in to some really awful stereotypes of the slaves themselves. The ending is more reminiscent of a monkey house without a trainer than a noble race rising up against its oppressor.

This is par for the course at this stage. Those in charge clearly can’t see the forest for the trees. Nowhere is that more evident than in their failure — again — to understand the source material they’re ripping off. While Vargas and Wells’ Doctor Moreau ostensibly work for the same purpose, the Sliders version ends up twisted backwards, and not in a parallel earth way. Wells argued that try as you might, you can’t take the beast out of man. That is why the attempts to civilize the hybrids, making them more human by giving them laws to live by, ultimately fail. Contrast that with Vargas, who’s attempting to put the beast INTO man. They’ve missed the point. Having men and women in make-up prance around while desecrating an H. G. Wells novel can be tolerated once — witness the embarassing The Last of Eden — but not twice.

Maybe “This Slide of Paradise” isn’t offensive enough to really warrant a no star rating, but it doesn’t do anything that deserves credit. I’m tired of giving Sliders points for showing up.

Fortunately, with the season being over, I don’t have to.

Previously: Next: